The Dulwich Society Journal for Summer 2015.
As, at last, a mild, if somewhat wet and windy, winter gives way to spring at Upper Dulwich Wood, the melancholy song of the Robin is accompanied by the raucous calls and song of other garden and woodland birds as they renew their territorial claims. During the working week I catch the first Overground train out of Crystal Palace to Docklands; I crest the hill walking past the Woods on my way. I can tell that the days are lengthening by the advent of the dawn chorus. The Robin was joined in song by several species including Blue and Great Tits, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Greenfinch singing across the treetops to one another; quite an aural experience.
Quiet in the wood.
Cradled in the branches.
Carping in the startled tree-tops.
Keen in the secret, the secret thicket.
In late February the local Great Spotted Woodpecker starts to drum, again to establish its territory. The male Great Spotted Woodpecker can be told from the female by its flash of red on the hind crown. The Wood’s Green Woodpecker also becomes vocal in early Spring - its yaffle call is both startling and somewhat demented! It digs for worms on garden lawns as well as searching for insects amongst the bark of the trees in the wood, which, for a bird its size, it does remarkably quietly.
The mild winter has been good for the Wren, again this year, with as many as five or six nesting territories in the Wood, each announced by the explosive tune from the little bird. I am always surprised by how powerful the song is:
When I heard that little bird at first
Methought her frame would surely burst
During a walk round the Woods in early April I watched as a pair of Magpie tried, unsuccessfully, to defend its nest from a raid by a Carrion Crow. A scavenger scavenged.
Introduced to France from America in 1601, the False Acacia is now naturalised throughout much of Europe, with many variants. It was introduced to England in the 1620s by John Tradescant the Elder, possibly from seed acquired from Robin, the French royal gardener, during the celebrations in France to mark the marriage of Charles I and Henrietta Maria. It is widely spread in southern England.
It is part of the pea family, seen in its leaves, flowers, pods and fixing of nitrogen, which allows it to thrive on poor soils. It grows to 10-15+ metres (30-45+ feet) with a large and irregular crown and soft green pinnate leaves emerging in early May. Hanging clusters of white, pea-like flowers in June become bunches of brown seed pods in the autumn. The bark is grey with long, deep fissures in it, making it easily recognisable even in winter. It is not good in windy locations as it has rather brittle branches which can break off easily. It grows vigorously.
Popular cultivars include Casque Rouge (profuse and highly-ornamental lilac-pink flowers) and Frisia, which rarely flowers but displays a golden yellow foliage from spring through to autumn. Frisia also tolerates dry conditions and copes well with reflected heat from buildings, so it is often seen in urban locations. However Frisia has proved susceptible to disease in recent years, failing to come into full leaf. The causes are unclear but may include leaf-spot fungus or honey fungus in the roots, and ultimately stress caused by recent wet weather (Robinia perform best on well-drained soils).
What’s not to like? Large thorns on either side of the leaf buds on its shoots, and proness to persistent, sometimes aggressive suckering. Its invasive habit means that planting is banned in Scotland.
What’s false about it? Its thorns mimic those of most acacia trees (thorn trees).
Where can you see them? Dulwich Park has a thriving colony of Frisias on its northern perimeter to the east of the Court Lane gates, one over 20 metres (65 feet) tall. (A sucker from the colony has grown rapidly into a small tree near the vegetable bed in my garden, where its own suckers are proving irritating).
One for your garden? Be wary - pretty they may be, but size, shading and suckering means that they’re not for smaller gardens, their neighbours or near buildings.
Jeremy Prescott Trees sub-committee
Walking down Turney Road in early April, there was a break in the traffic, and for a few minutes I could hear the trees vibrating with the hum of honeybees collecting their first nectar of the year from the flowering trees lining the street. Dulwich is a bee haven, with a number of beekeepers in Dulwich - you may have spotted hives in Rosendale, Grange Lane, and Grove Lane Allotments, as well as in some private gardens. These hives not only produce excellent local honey, but the bees provide the essential service of pollinating many of the flowers in parks and gardens - vital for anyone growing fruit and vegetables as well as those who save seed year on year for their gardens.
Paul Bond has been keeping bees for over 40 years, and for 35 years in Dulwich. When he first moved to Dulwich, Paul was able to place his apiaries in a corner of Dulwich Park. After this site was developed into the carpark, the Dulwich Estate kindly offered him the use of Grove Meadow for his five hives. Paul describes the site as perfect: the hives receive morning sun, and at midday are shaded provided by the copse behind the meadow. The annual rent to the Dulwich Estate for the use of the field is six jars of honey.
In a good year, Paul’s hives can produce 35 pots of honey per hive, but one hive produced an extraordinary 120 pots one year - the result of careful husbandry combined with the excellent forage provided by the parks, gardens and other green spaces nearby (honeybees commonly fly up to one and a half miles to collect nectar to return to the colony).
Contrary to expectation, honeybees thrive in cities due to higher air temperatures, a greater range of plants grown in parks and gardens than monoculture fields in rural areas, and less heavy pesticide use. However, urban bees are still threatened by the parasitic varroa mite, and by the more recent phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder. While the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder are still being investigated, there are a number of steps Dulwich gardeners can take to support the health and foraging opportunities for local honeybee populations, and by extension, the welfare of other pollinating insects including bumble bees, butterflies and moths. The campaign Bees’ Needs (run by The Wildlife Trusts) recommends the following to improve available forage. Firstly, grow more flowers, trees and shrubs. Next, let patches of land grow wild, and cut grass less often. Don’t disturb insect nests and hibernation sites, and finally think carefully about whether to use pesticides.
Those with the space can build a bug hotel to support a large range of pollinating insects, such as the bug hotel in Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses, and if you are considering keeping bees, find a course run by an experienced beekeeper before you start (details below).
There is one problem for beekeepers that even the steps above cannot combat. Once a year, DUCKS Kindergarten and Infants’ School hosts a fireworks display that causes panic amongst Paul Bond’s bees, which, if they are left in situ, may cause them to die of shock from being woken from hibernation. DUCKS alerts Paul to the date of the display, and he seals the hives, loads them into a van with the help of a friend, drives them to the Crown and Greyhound for some refreshment (for the beekeepers), returning the hives once the bangs and pops have finished. Yet another aspect to the hobby which makes it so appealing!
London Beekeepers’ Association http://www.lbka.org.uk/courses.html
Friends of Bromley Beekeepers http://www.kentbee.com/bromley/courses/index.shtml
Walworth Garden Farm (free 10-hour introductory course) - www.walworthgardengardenfarm.org.uk/beekeeping
Further reading: Plants for Bees: A Guide to the Plants That Benefit the Bees of the British Isles by William Kirk and F. N. Howes. Published by International Bee Research Association (2012)
An online list of plants for pollinators: https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/conservation-biodiversity/wildlife/encourage-wildlife-to-your-garden/plants-for-pollinators
And if you see a swarm?: you can locate your nearest Swarm Collector through the London Beekeepers’ Association website (there are an astonishing 8 collectors within 2 miles of Dulwich Village)
Continuing the study of Sydenham Hill
By Ian McInnes and Brian Green
When the old Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift was reformed by Act of Parliament in 1857, the newly appointed board of governors, led by the 2nd Duke of Wellington, was required to use the potential income from the Dulwich estate to fund the formation of new schools. To comply with this requirement of the Act, the governors had surveys conducted with the assistance of Charles Barry Jnr, the Board’s surveyor, with a view to develop more housing. There was a conscious effort made to preserve the former common and woods but also to create generous size building plots where houses would not impair the views. One of the earliest examples of this exercise was the laying out of Crescent Wood Road, initially named Wood Crescent Road, along the ridge of Sydenham Hill. This road was constructed very quickly, being completed by 1858. A developer soon came forward in the person of Francis Fuller, managing director and surveyor to the Crystal Palace Company. It was his intention to build on the site as part of his Sydenham Place Estate. He had leased 105 acres of land on the west side of Sydenham Hill from the Dulwich Estate - running from the junction with Westow Hill to Kirkdale.
Work was slow to start, Stanfords’s 1862 map only shows the pub, the Dulwich Wood House, and two large houses, ‘Beltwood’ and ‘The Woodlands’ (both with Sydenham Hill addresses), plus a small number of outhouses and small cottages along the south side of then, Wood Crescent Road. It soon became obvious that Fuller’s aim to develop an exclusive neighbourhood of nearly two hundred large houses (to be designed by Banks and Barry) plus three taverns, two hotels, and a church and a parsonage was going nowhere and instead the land reverted back to the Estate who leased the plots individually.
Although only a fragment of Fuller’s grand scheme was ever realised and he entered bankruptcy, eleven substantial houses were built between 1862 and 1872, on the north side of Crescent Wood Road. Generally speaking, the first occupants were well- off merchants who were conducting trade in the Far East or Russia, together with one of two bankers and lawyers who made up most of the remainder Virtually all employed well-staffed households.
By the 1930’s, the houses were too large for less affluent single families, the cachet of living in the area had long since gone and the houses were mostly let out into flats. During WW2 many were empty and let by the Dulwich Estate to Messrs Evan Cook and Company to store the furniture from bomb damaged or abandoned houses. Some of the houses themselves were bomb damaged, left unrepaired and suffered deterioration.
Of the original houses, only Nos.1 and 3 remain, No. 5 was replaced in the late 1930s by the current house on the site, while the remainder were demolished in the late 1950s and early 1960s for the construction of Peckarmans Wood. (for the story of the development of Peckarmans Wood, see Journal 2008 summer edition online)
‘Lyncombe’, No. 1 Crescent Wood Road:
The first prospective lessee was a Mr J G T Sinclair who lived in Norwood but had been told that his house was likely to be compulsorily purchased and demolished as it was on the projected new rail route. He made an offer on the site in February 1863 at a ground rent of £200 a year and said that he would build a house worth £6000 - which was much larger than the Estate was looking for, they would have been satisfied with a £1500 house on the site. Sinclair was unhappy with the proximity of the pub and said that he would put the house a long way back on the site so he would not be disturbed by its clientele. Although the railway company changed its route he nevertheless decided to pull out.
Interest was then shown by a Mr Thomas Griffiths, perhaps a builder, but the site was finally acquired in 1865 by Henry Gover (1835 - 1895), a well-known City solicitor and educationist. The house, designed by Barry and Banks, dates from 1868, as a plaque over one of the windows confirms. He also had a Pulhamite folly built in the garden and it can still be seen from Low Cross Wood Lane though now heavily overgrown.
Gover was a prominent member of the Methodist Church and, in 1871, was elected a Common Councillor of the City. He was also an elected member of the School Board for London and was known for his opposition to the payment of school fees to denominational schools, although he was in favour of non-sectarian religious teaching in schools. In several of these capacities he mirrored those of his neighbour at ‘Roby’, No 7 Crescent Wood Road - Francis Peek, an Anglican. Peek was a successful tea merchant and was an active figure in Dulwich, being instrumental in the creation of Dulwich Park and the building of three churches, St Saviour’s Coplestone Road, Emmanuel Church South Croxted Road and St Clement’s, Friern Road. ( a full account of Francis Peek will be found in ‘Who was Who in Dulwich’ published by the Dulwich Society).
After Gover, the house’s other most notable resident was Madame Lily Payling. A popular Australian contralto, she was chosen to open the first ever concert broadcast by radio. It took place in The Hague and she sang ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. Newspaper reports of the time said the she was widely heard in France and Belgium but only in coastal towns in England. The Payling Concerts were a feature of the Royal Albert Hall’s programme in the 1920s and 30s and she was a well-known singing teacher. She was quite a wealthy lady; the May 1928 Estate Board meeting minutes noted ‘the present coach house is only 14 feet in depth, and the extension is required for a large car, which Madame Payling is now purchasing’. The extension is still visible today. The house suffered some minor bomb damage in WW2 and was let to Messrs Evan Cook. In 1950 the Estate agreed to convert the house into four flats, one to each floor, and the work was completed at the end of 1953.
No. 3 Crescent Wood Road:
The most famous resident of No. 3 was undoubtedly John Logie Baird, the television pioneer, who leased the house between 1931 and his death in 1946. The Estate gave him special dispensation to construct temporary laboratories in his garden to conduct his experiments but, in the end his system was not used by the BBC, and the first television broadcast in 1936 used an alternative system invented by Marconi. The house was converted into flats in 1950/51 to the designs of architect Lewis Erdi - he later built a house for himself further down across Sydenham Hill in Dome Hill Park.
The first tenant however, was one Lady Stanley de Lusigna who signed an Estate lease in 1863. However, either she had insufficient funds or was a speculator, as she assigned the property to a German merchant called Julius Ohlenschlager in 1866. He built the house we see today and his wife was still living there as late as 1926. The census returns show him as a merchant - but his actual business was importing leather hides from Europe, mainly Germany, and America. His city office was in Shanghai House, Botolph Lane. Julius Ohlenschlager also took advantage of the Estate’s offer of guaranteed access to Dulwich College for the sons of purchasers of properties on the road, both his sons, Julius George and Albert Frederick were pupils there. They later took over their father’s business.
One other interesting point is that this house was the only one to be always known by its number, it never had a name.
‘Eastnor’, No. 5 Crescent Wood Road
John Crompton Nunn, an Australian Merchant - is he, or a son, Frank Nunn, one of the founders of the Dulwich & Sydenham Hill golf club and, later, treasurer and secretary? The household in 1871 included himself and his wife and two children, 3 servants and a coachman (who lived in the stables with his wife)
‘Hazel Bank’, No. 11 Crescent Wood Road
The house was built by the developer J P Waterson and the first occupant was Thomas Betts, a youngish Russian merchant who was born in Scotland who lived there in some style with his wife, 5 children, an 18 year old nephew who appears to be employed by Betts, with a cook, nurse, coachman, groom and 2 maids. The Suffolk born coachman’s family of a wife and four children all lived in.
‘Tyersall’, No. 13 Crescent Wood Road
The house was also built by J P Waterson and lived in by Henry M Simmons - East Indies merchant. He named the house after his place of birth in Yorkshire. In addition to a governess for his 4 children aged 7-12, Simmons also employed a butler, a sixteen year old page, a schoolroom maid, coachman and 3 other maids.
‘Dunearn’, No. 15 Crescent Wood Road
Another Waterson built house, occupied by Alfred Carpenter a banker who seems to have lived alone and looked after by a cook and 2 maids. He was succeeded in the house by John Purvis, another East India merchant.
‘Purbrook’, No. 19 Crescent Wood Road:
The house was also built by local builder John Patterson Waterson of Forest Hill who also built several of the other houses in the road. The first occupant was Dr James Cornwell PhD (1812-1902) an educationalist, who was to play an important part in the development of education in the nineteenth century. He worked for the British and Foreign Schools’ Society, one of the many organisations promoting schools before education became compulsory. Largely supported by Nonconformist families, the organisation founded new schools and helped train new teachers. Cornwell wrote school text books which were far in advance of his time and later became head of the Borough Road Training College, now the South Bank University. He is buried in Norwood Cemetery.
‘Ashmore’, No. 21 Crescent Wood Road:
Ashmore, No. 21, was the smallest house and had the smallest garden and the smallest number of domestic servants - only two.. Situated almost next to the High Level tunnel entrance, its construction was delayed until the tunnel was completed in 1865. Its most famous occupant was Nicholas Chevalier (1828-1902), a well-known Victorian landscape artist who lived there from 1895 - to the end of his life. He is best known now for his work in Australia and New Zealand, his painting ‘The Buffalo Ranges’ was the first picture painted in Australia to be bought for the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne in 1864.
Born in St Petersburg to a Swiss father and Russian mother he had come to London in 1851 to work as an illustrator in lithography and water colour. He made some useful royal contacts and was reputed to have designed a fountain at Osborne House. His work was first hung at the Royal Academy in 1852, but shortly afterwards he left for further study in Rome. Family pressures led him to Australia late in 1854 and he took a job as a cartoonist on the newly established Melbourne Punch. He later worked for the Illustrated Australian News.
In 1865 Chevalier visited New Zealand. w with his wife, Caroline, also an artist and equally intrepid, who joined him on travels around the West Coast of the South Island in 1866. This sketch by Nicholas shows the difficulties they experienced; Caroline descends a steep track with her long skirts tucked up, using a stick to prevent herself from sliding.
Chevalier travelled widely and a number of his landscapes were exhibited at Melbourne on his return. In 1869 he joined the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s second son, on HMS Galatea on his voyage back to England via Tahiti, Hawaii, Japan, China, Ceylon and India. The pictures painted during the voyage were exhibited at South Kensington.
In January 1874 Chevalier was commissioned by Queen Victoria to paint a picture of the marriage of the Duke of Edinburgh to Princess Mariya Aleksandrovna Romanov. Following this Chevalier made London his base and he was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy from 1871 to 1887. He died at Ashmore on 15 March 1902.
Caroline Chevalier is notable for her contribution to New Zealand travel writing and for the part she played in furthering the reputation of her husband. She presented many of his New Zealand works to the National Art Gallery in Wellington and on her death she left notes for a short monograph of his life.
According to its brand owners, Unilever, Bovril made its first appearance 125 years ago and to celebrate this anniversary it has relaunched Bovril in some of its original styled bottles. As we will see, the product was however, invented somewhat earlier. But what has this got to do with Dulwich? Our cover picture shows Kingswood House, the romanticised mansion now a community centre in the middle of the Kingswood estate. When the original, rather plain, Georgian house was clad in stone to resemble a Scottish baronial hall by the inventor of the product, it was nicknamed ‘Bovril Castle’ by other Dulwich residents.
Bovril was the invention of John Lawson Johnston, the nephew of a Scottish butcher who learnt his trade as an apprentice in his uncle’s shop in Edinburgh, eventually taking over the business. One of the many stories which Johnston told was that It was while working as a butcher that he decided to use a large quantity of surplus beef trimmings to make his own meat glaze - a beef stock, concentrated by heating until it becomes dark brown and viscous and, importantly, giving it a long shelf-life.
The young Johnston also studied dietetics in Edinburgh and came into contact with Lyon Playfair who was professor of chemistry at the university and through him Johnston’s interest in food science and preserving was stimulated. This included the development of ‘marching rations’ for troops. He might have also discovered an interest in Dulwich at this point because Playfair was a Dulwich College governor and years later became a director in Johnston’s company.
Johnston took himself off to Canada around 1870 and established a factory in Quebec. According to some sources, in 1874 Napoleon III learning from the experience of the Franco-Prussian war sought to provision all French forts and the army with iron rations and ordered a three year supply of a million tins of beef from Johnston. What Johnston supplied was what he called “Johnston’s Fluid Beef” but later renaming it, BOVRIL (from Bos -meaning ox or cow and vril suffix from Bulwer-Lytton’s then popular novel The Coming Race published in 1870, whose plot revolves around a superior race of people, the Vril-ya, who derive their powers from an electromagnetic substance named “Vril”. So Bovril is really 145 years old!
Ever the publicist (Victorian inventors invariably wrote their own advertising copy or produced their own advertising stunts), Johnston ensured his product acquired fame when in 1881 he rented the annual Ice Palace in Montreal. He described the enterprise - “I had a gigantic urn 10 feet high and 12 feet in circumference created. This urn was filled with Bovril and heated by a specially adapted stove. During the carnival, thirty waiters were placed to serve and an entrance fee of ten cents to the Palace was charged, which entitled each person to a cup of hot fluid beef. In eight days 75,000 people tested my invention.”
The product was a huge commercial success, although Johnston sold the Canadian end of the business after his factory burned down. Manufacturing was expanded in Britain and in 1896 he sold the company for £2million to his friend Ernest Terah Hooley, who a month later floated the company for £2.5 million. However he stripped the company of its working capital, and promised higher dividends than the company could afford. Hooley walked away with his profit, but John Lawson Johnston (who remained as chairman) was forced to loan the company £150,000 just to keep it afloat.
Hooley was the consumate wheeler-dealer, the Gordon Gecko of Victorian London. He had had a meteoric business career, buying up Dunlop, Raleigh cycles, Schweppes, the Papworth Estate, founding the Trafford Park Industrial Estate Manchester and then acquiring Bovril. Two years after the Bovril deal he was judged to be bankrupt and in 1912 sentenced to a 12 month prison term for obtaining money under false pretences. He later went bankrupt a second time.
Johnston, already a very wealthy man, had earlier sold his yacht Brittania, which he had bought from the Prince of Wales, to Hooley. Johnston then purchased The Whyte Ladye, a yacht previously owned by Lily Langtry. Johnston died on it in Cannes in 1900 at the age of 61, leaving a wife and thirteen children. With the proceeds of the deal with Hooley he had bought Kingswood and began his fantastic transformation of the house and grounds. He bought up fireplaces and fountains which had been stripped from the Palace of St Cloud in France as well as the reputed bed which Bonnie Prince Charlie had slept in before the battle of Culloden. He installed ornate ceilings, panelling, tapestries and displays of armour to the interior. Outside, he added turrets and crenulations to the facade and built a mock medieval castle in the grounds. It could be argued, that without these changes Kingswood House would not have survived when the extensive parkland was built over as a council estate after World War 2.
Bovril continued to be a huge money spinner and Johnston’s son George ran the company which bought huge tracts of land in Argentina on which it ran 1.5million cattle. When Sir James Goldsmith’s Cavenham Foods took over the company in the 1971 the Argentina property was one of the assets it stripped. The brand was later sold to Unilever, its present owners. In 2004, the alarm over BSE commonly called ‘mad cow disease’ obliged the company to change the recipe from beef extract to yeast extract, although the change was promoted to make the product more suitable to vegetarians and Muslims. However, the new recipe was not successful and Bovril is today made from beef.
In January of this year Dulwich lost an old friend with the death of Dr. David Mann. He was the last doctor of a medical family who had been in general practice in Dulwich for over sixty years. Many readers will have had fond memories of both him and his brother James and some also of his parents both of whom were doctors. When he left the practice at Paxton Green David wrote and left us an account of the medical world in which his parents lived and in which he and his brothers grew up and it is the basis of this article.
With the construction of the London South Coast railway in the 1860’s, new roads, the upgrade of the schools and not least the transfer of the Crystal Palace from Hyde Park to Sydenham, had an exponential rise in the population of Dulwich and Norwood over the second half of the nineteenth century. The area was favoured because of the (probably) correct impression that the air was cleaner than in central London. Into this increased population came the doctors, who put up their brass plates, perhaps attracted by the relatively wealthy element that had come to live here, for their patients were exclusively fee payers.
The poor were of course unable to afford medical fees unless supported by philanthropy but available to them were the services of a provident dispensary or sick club of which there were three in the vicinity. These required a weekly payment of about two and a half pence. Too often, if they were in real trouble, the poor had to resort to an infirmary linked workhouse. However the 1867 Metropolitan Poor Act required that infirmary accommodation be separate from workhouse buildings. The local Camberwell workhouse was situated on the borders of Peckham, while neighbouring Southwark’s was in overcrowded Newington near the Elephant and Castle. Following the Poor Act, the St Saviour’s Union, made up of three parishes in Southwark, (Southwark, Bermondsey and Newington) negotiated to build an Infirmary on the site which was to become Dulwich Hospital in later years. This was achieved in the teeth of opposition led by Sir Charles Barry and Sir Henry Bessemer who thought it would lower the tone of the area, but it was opened in 1887 with 723 beds.
Kings College Hospital had originally been a workhouse in Holborn, but had been established as a hospital in 1840 and did not move into its present site until 1913. It was then requisitioned as a military hospital by the War office for the duration of the First World War, dramatically described by Vera Brittain in her autobiographical book A Testament of Youth. Its reputation as a centre of excellence was to develop after the war, particularly after the discovery of Insulin as a treatment for Diabetes.
Alongside, and in many ways independent of the medical profession from the 1860’s, a district nursing service was developing. This was largely due to a philanthropist from Liverpool called William Rathbone who got the ear of Florence Nightingale and together they secured a grant of £70,000 from Queen Victoria in 1887 to establish the Queen’s Nursing Institute. From this emanated a national network of local nursing associations which established provident schemes to enable poor families to obtain a district nurse for around one shilling a year for individuals or two shillings and sixpence for families. The Metropolitan and National District Nursing Association was set up in London in 1875 which established training for district nurses and midwives enabling the poor to be looked after at home.
Dulwich gained its first Queen’s Nurse in the person of a Miss Moncrieff who was recorded in the parish of St Barnabas as having made 723 home visits during the first part of 1893, an unimaginable total, her attendances having been paid for by subscription administered by the chaplain at Christ’s Chapel.
Before the NHS, upwards of twenty five babies per thousand were stillborn or died soon after birth. Indeed prior to the First World War there was little if any ante-natal care, and significant numbers of mothers died in or just after childbirth, often from haemorrhage or overwhelming infections. The name midwife comes from the German “mit” i,e. with the wife and referred to traditional birth attendants, who could be anybody, and some of whom apparently were prostitutes with their services being paid in gin! The Nursing Associations started to provide training but the key moment came in 1902 with the Midwives Act that made it mandatory for midwives to be trained and registered. Right up to and even beyond the start of the NHS the majority of births were at home and the district midwife was a key member of the community, and as a result of the Midwife Act of 1936 the presence of a trained midwife at each birth became a statutory requirement.
The National Insurance Act introduced by David Lloyd George in 1911, heralded the first radical change to medical services by which working men were able to register with a doctor as so called Panel Patients, by dint of their insurance contributions. Because of the First World War this took a little time to take off but by the time Dr. James Mann senior came into Dulwich from his native Scotland in 1922 the Act was becoming fully implemented and the small brown medical records still known as ‘Lloyd George notes’, with which many will be familiar, were created.
The medical scene was very different to that we see today. Most if not all the doctors were effectively single handed, even if nominally in partnership, usually practising from downstairs rooms of their homes. There were no receptionists except on the occasions when the doctor was assisted by his wife. The wealthier patients were seen in the doctor’s home but the poorer were often seen at the back of a shop premises, usually a pharmacy, such as the chemist that was to become Mills & Smith (now the Paxton Pharmacy).
Practices had to be bought and sold and when Dr. James Mann appeared with his wife Dr. Olwen Mann he had to buy a share of an existing practice in what was to become a partnership, but he and his wife were taken on with the expectation that they would look after the poorer patients. A new surgery, located in former shop premises in 231 Gipsy Road was acquired, to conform with the aforementioned insurance act, to split doctors from chemists, so that doctors could no longer see their patients at the back of their shops. David Mann described the 231 Gipsy Road premises originally as a grim site with the bottom half of the windows painted dark green for privacy, a couple of awful pictures in the waiting area and a bench along which the queue of patients shuffled when the doctor cried “Next”.
Patients were offered a consultation and a “bottle” for one shilling and nine pence. The bottle’s contents had an awful taste and dramatic names such as “Mist. Pot. Iod. and Stramon.” or “Mist. Pot. Brom. and Nux Vomica.” The commonest was “Mist. Tuss. Nig.” which really meant the black cough mixture. These were of course the placebos for minor illnesses and the worse they tasted the more good they were thought to do.
However there were much more serious problems to be dealt with. Severe bacterial infections often led to early death and the Streptococcus was a major culprit causing scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, heart disease or nephritis. When it got into the uterus after a birth, the dreaded childbirth fever was a frequent cause for new mothers to die. And the Pneumococcus was a frequent cause of lobar pneumonia which could strike and kill at any age.
Measles, Mumps and Whooping cough were a ritual that every child had to go through and the major dread of every family was Poliomyelitis that could kill or leave a child permanently paralysed. Tuberculosis, historically known as Consumption or Psthisis was still widespread and from time to time in spite of the availability of vaccination outbreaks of Smallpox would crop up. Diphtheria was perhaps the most deadly disease for which often the only remedy was tracheotomy i.e. surgery to make an opening into the windpipe. Dr. Mann senior had in fact caught this himself from a patient while working in a fever hospital before he came to Dulwich, and from which he was lucky to survive. Remedies for many of these infections were limited so that the doctors had to rely on antisepsis and hygiene, or as in the case of diphtheria and tuberculosis radical surgery with the use of sanatoria or isolation hospitals, hoping that their patients’ immune systems would effect cure.
With time, the practice clientele of the senior Manns expanded, as they had proved to be skilled and approachable, but with the Second World War Dulwich, including their own home, was extensively bombed. Many residents were evacuated causing a fall in the local population and a temporary diminution in their practice and until the end of the war only limited improvements were possible. Then 1948 brought the start of the NHS with freedom of access to medical care at the point of delivery and this coincided with the discovery of the effectiveness of Penicillin. The discovery of Streptomycin at the same time was the first of a long series of anti-tuberculous agents. The Streptococcus and the Pneumococcus were both sensitive to Penicillin and have indeed, in spite of other antibiotic resistant bacteria remained so. It is hard now to realize how much these two factors revolutionized the spectrum of disease that was encountered and along with both universal childhood immunization and the improvement in public health why the generation in which I grew up regarded the NHS as a gift.
David Mann, who along with his elder brother James, succeeded his parents was largely responsible for negotiating the building of the Paxton Green Health Centre. The movement of the practice from Gipsy Road to purpose built premises pioneered a change in the delivery of medical care in Dulwich and Norwood that would have been beyond the wildest dreams of the pre war doctors’ days. 231 Gipsy Road is now a veterinary surgery and looks a great deal better than ever it did when the patients were members of the human race, although to be fair very considerable improvements had been made in the post war years.
The Further History of Champion Hill article in the winter 2014 edition of the Journal included a photograph, circa 1900, of an imposing villa behind the triangular field that is now mostly occupied by the car park of the Fox on the Hill pub. Officially designated No 3 Champion Hill, this was soon to be styled “Ruskin Park House” by its owner Edith Puckle, a generous contributor to local good causes who, in 1905, subscribed funds for the creation of the eponymous park on the other side of the main road.
In a pleasing piece of continuity, the name “Ruskin Park House” was bestowed on the flats that replaced the original house when the site was redeveloped. Today, Ruskin Park House is known for its attractive and well-maintained buildings and its carefully-tended mature grounds - a settled and calm atmosphere that gives no hint of the troubled construction of the estate or its pioneering role in one of the most significant changes in 20th century housing policy.
On Edith Puckle’s death in 1934, her house and the ones on either side were bought for redevelopment by the English and Scottish Co-operative Property Mortgage and Investment Society, which had just completed Rutland Court on Herne Hill. English
& Scottish was a friendly society, created in 1933, which invited the public to invest money which it would then use to fund various property development schemes. From the outset, it appears to have been a dubious enterprise. In November 1933 the Financial Times advised readers not to invest in it, and most of what is known about it today comes from Court records of fraud and insolvency cases. Raising funds in 1934 for its Ruskin Park House scheme, English & Scottish guaranteed prospective investors a 5% return every year.
The design of the Ruskin Park House scheme was entrusted to Alexander Stuart Gray (1905-1998) - then a young architect who had recently designed a housing estate near Bristol for English & Scottish, and best remembered today as the author of an encyclopaedic book on Edwardian architecture.
Gray’s design comprised two staggered blocks of flats, with bay windows at each step and decorative external sills and lintels which (in most instances) delineated the flats within, facing each other symmetrically across a central garden. It also included a single detached house in the same style, on the north western corner of the estate. The design was inspired by Belvedere Court, a block of flats designed by Ernst Freud (son of Sigmund) then being built in Hampstead Garden Suburb, close to where Gray lived.
Most of the 221 flats had either one or two bedrooms, but there were ten different types, ranging in size from studios to family apartments with three bedrooms and two reception rooms. All but one type had a private balcony. Heat was to be provided by gas fires and boilers in every flat. The scheme also included garages for private cars - indicative of the well-to-do market at which it was aimed.
English & Scottish commissioned its in-house construction firm, Whitehall Contractors Ltd, to build the scheme, and work began early in 1937. Over the next few months, the first block rose to the third storey, the foundations and ground slab were laid for the other, and all the garages were built. By the summer of 1938, however, work had stopped. Whitehall Contractors Ltd was bankrupt. Liquidators found that large and unauthorised payments had been made to the directors, and they concluded that English & Scottish was out of its depth financially. Their report was damning:
“The position of both English & Scottish and Whitehall Contractors was such as to render it impossible for them to hope to carry through the erection of blocks of flats in accordance with the contract … It appears that the Directors were guilty of rash and hazardous conduct in entering into a scheme of this kind.”
English & Scottish was reconstituted as a limited company in October 1939 with an entirely new set of directors, and Whitehall Contractors was finally wound-up a decade later. The Ruskin Park House site, meanwhile, was abandoned. It was to remain boarded up for a decade, although there is a colourful story that the unfinished buildings were used as an emergency mortuary during the Blitz.
In 1947, the site - now derelict and heavily overgrown - was bought by the London County Council, as part of its effort to meet the huge demand for housing in the aftermath of the war. For the most part, the LCC adopted the original scheme and appointed Gray to oversee its completion. A few modifications were nonetheless made.
The detached house, construction of which had not begun, was removed from the plan; in its place, Gray designed a third block of flats - smaller than the original two and markedly plainer, but echoing their design with a staggered footprint and stairwells that recalled the bay windows. The individual gas fires were replaced with an estate-wide central heating and hot water system, powered by a single large boilerhouse. A children’s playground and 110 pram sheds were added, as were 23 more garages (another 40 were built in 1960, on a strip of land behind Beaulieu Close).
With all the plans duly revised, the contract to build Ruskin Park House was awarded in 1949 to Thomas and Edge Ltd - a well-known construction company, based in Woolwich, which built several other estates, hospitals and schools (including what is now the Charter School) for the LCC and Borough Councils. What should have been a fairly straightforward project ran into problems almost immediately. Surveyors discovered that the unfinished buildings had deteriorated more than had been thought, in the decade when they had been exposed to the elements. On the first block, all the brickwork had to be taken down, and the top storey of exposed reinforced concrete columns and beams dismantled and re-done. More seriously, the foundations of the other block were condemned altogether and had to be dug up and re-laid.
Nonetheless, the western end of the first block was completed within a year, and tenants moved in in the early summer of 1951. The remainder of the block was completed by early 1952, as were the other two in the months that followed. By the Spring of 1954, with the gardens landscaped and planted, the estate looked complete, although another 18 months would elapse before it was fully occupied.
Internally, the flats were finished to a higher standard than most LCC homes. Fully fitted kitchens were installed; kitchens and bathrooms were tiled (with integral soap dishes, loo roll holders, and ashtrays in the tilework); and a telephone line and cable radio service were provided to each flat.
Ruskin Park House was designated as “higher rent accommodation”, a type of public housing that no longer exists, intended for the professional classes. Unlike ordinary council housing, such properties were let at unsubsidised market rents and tenants were responsible for their internal upkeep and decoration. They only ever comprised a tiny proportion of the Council’s total inventory. In 1965, the 241 flats at Ruskin Park House represented more than half of all the LCC’s 446 higher rent accommodation flats - in comparison with some 200,000 homes overall.
When the Council started allowing tenants to buy their homes in the early 1970s, higher rent accommodation was the first to be sold. In 1972 a majority of the Ruskin Park House tenants opted to buy - the price for a two-bedroomed flat was £6,000 - and an association was formed to own the head-lease and manage the estate. Other tenants bought their flats subsequently and, in line with an undertaking given as part of the original sale agreement, the Council has sold rather than re-let its flats as they fell vacant. Some 40 years on, just three flats remain in Council ownership.
The original sale was not without complications (or critics) and, with the time taken to assemble the requisite majority of tenants and prepare for assuming the management of a large and complex property, Ruskin Park House just missed out on the accolade of being the first estate to transfer from Council to private hands.
Today Ruskin Park House is run by an on-site estate manager, under the direction of an elected committee of residents, who keeps the buildings and grounds looking smart and the services working properly and renewed as necessary: the (original) central heating and hot water system is being replaced this year.
While, for all practical purposes, Ruskin Park House is now a private estate, one vestige of its Council heritage endures. To address concerns that owner residents should be subject to the same duties and standards of behaviour as the remaining tenants, the provisions of the LCC tenancy agreements were replicated as covenants in the new leases. As well as the usual prohibitions on putting out washing and beating carpets over the balcony, these lease covenants accordingly prohibit the sub-letting of flats - protecting Ruskin Park House from the twin curse of buy-to-let landlords and transient residents, and contributing to its notably house-proud and neighbourly community.
Thursday 11th Dulwich Decoirative & Fine Arts Society lecture ARMENIAN CULTURE AND MONUMENTS (Pauline Chakmakjian)n 7.30 for 8pm, James Allen's Girls' School Sixth Form Centre. See www.ddfas.org.uk.
Saturday 13th Dulwich Chamber Choir Summer Concert: All Saints Church, Rosendale Road, 7.30pm. Handel's The King Shall Rejoice, Pizzetti's Messa di Requiem and Bach's Cello Suite No.2 played by Tim Hewitt-Jones. Tickets £15 Concessions: £10
Thursday 9th Dulwich Decorative & Fine Arts Society Lecture - LATE ANTIQUITY IN THE NEAR EAST - THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN WORLD (Sam Moorhead)7.30 for 8pm, James Allen's Girls' School Sixth Form Centre. See www.ddfas.org.uk.