The Dulwich Society Journal for Summer 2016.
It is no coincidence that so many local people have been on various campaign trails in recent months (or in one case, years). It is the result of a rising frustration that events are moving very fast,the familiar isd disappearing or is under threat and the sense of stability is shaken. People are feeling themselves increasingly powerless against forces over which they have little or no control. Yet, there is a large percentage of society who feel equally powerless and frustrated for another reason.
The oldest campaign, which only reached a conclusion in April, was, very belatedly, a success story. This was final agreement by the Dulwich Estate to lease the site of Beechgrove and its grounds, which formerly stood on Sydenham Hill, to the London Wildlife Trust. This will enable the Trust to incorporate the site (which has reverted to woodland) into Sydenham Hill Wood which it already operates. The campaign to prevent the site from being covered with housing (the plan was to build somewhere in the region of 30 houses) was orchestrated by the Dulwich Society’s Trees Committee under the leadership of the late Stella Benwell, who successfully argued that building permission should be refused and it should remain as woodland. The planning inspector agreed with her. Now, twenty years later, this has, at last, been guaranteed.
Elsewhere you will read in this issue that other groups of concerned residents have banded together to preserve well loved amenities such as the Carnegie Library, the Herne Hill Velodrome and Metropolitan Open Land in Greendale. In former times, the local council might have been expected to intervene on their behalf, now it seems, the local authority is often part of the problem.
The involvement of local authorities in matters like libraries and open space was, of course, as a result of Victorian pressure groups, similar to those springing up today. While philanthropists like Alexander Carnegie or John Passmore Edwards provided new buildings to house libraries in many towns, the books themselves were usually gathered long before by concerned groups or individuals. At the Herne Hill Velodrome, run for many years by the London County Council and later by Southwark Council, there is a similar story, the velodrome was started by individual effort and later taken over by the local authority. In the case of Greendale, the council are actually the owners of the land.
The organizers of these recent campaigns, as well as the demonstration against the closure of local shops in Herne Hill, reported in a previous issue, have successfully used social media to get their messages across and to raise support. On the other hand a large percentage of the population, generally the elderly find themselves increasingly excluded from much of daily life because of a reluctance to embrace the new technology.
As we have previously observed, the internet is affecting the pattern of retail trade to such an extent that only service businesses not affected by online shopping such as hairdressers, cleaners, restaurants and take-aways are able to pay the rents being demanded by landlords and now make up most local shopping parades. This has been the example at Herne Hill which led to that local protest being staged.
It should be no surprise that 40% of the Dulwich Society’s membership has not signed up to receive an online news bulletin. This same number is almost certainly reflected nationally. Many older people now feel excluded from events because either they do not trust or cannot grasp the internet’s use. They decline to operate online banking for fear of fraud, preferring instead a friendly and trusted face at their local bank. Now that local banks are closing down even this comfort is removed. The deniers of online blame the internet for destroying their personal freedom. Although the Grim Reaper will eventually remove such objections, they may indeed be valid.
It is therefore not surprising that protests and campaigns are breaking out as all this frustration seeks an outlet. In his Chairman’s Comment, Ian McInnes outlines the arguments in yet another campaign, one which would make an excellent model as a question at a Civil Service exam. Interestingly it also pits the young against the elderly. Should the grounds attached to the new Judith Kerr School in Half Moon Lane be used as a playspace for the children or the site of a replacement almshouse to Edward Alleyn House which is considered by its trustees as failing to meet current standards?
The Dulwich Almshouse Charity is proposing to build a new almshouse building in the land fronting Half Moon Lane near the junction with Village Way. Originally leased in the 1960s by King’s College London as its botany school, the buildings on the site were last used as the Sir James Black Laboratory. The site has been empty for some time and the CfBT Schools Trust (now the Educational Development Trust) approached King’s to assign its lease to allow the site to be used for a new bi-lingual school free school - the Judith Kerr Primary School (JKPS). As the lease had less than 50 years to run the Education Funding Authority (EFA) who funded the purchase of the assignment asked for it to be extended for a longer period, 125 years.
In its negotiation with the Dulwich Estate the CfBT agreed that it would surrender part of the site previously leased to Kings (the open area north east of the old laboratory building) in return for a new 125 year lease on the remainder. For its part the Estate agreed to make a planning application for the surrendered part of the site by the end of 2018. If this was successful, the future of the School was assured under a 125 year lease. If the application was unsuccessful the whole site reverted to the school at the end of the current lease, in 2062.
The Dulwich Estate’s view is that the proposed application by The Dulwich Almshouse Charity to build new almshouses on the open site is in line with the legal agreement between CfBT and the Estate and that CfBT opened the new school in the full knowledge of its agreement to surrender part of the site. In its planning application to regularise the school use on the site in May 2014 the supporting statement says that “This open grassed area has been retained by Dulwich Estates”.
The counter argument from the school’s parents, who were unaware of the terms of the original legal agreement, is that the disputed open space is an integral part of the school and that to take it away and build on it is unreasonable.
The situation is complicated by two things. The first is the principle of the proposed development which relocates the historic almshouses (which fail to meet modern standards) from the site of the Old College, and the implied political discussion over the benefits for old people versus the young. The second is the current consultation over the new Southwark Plan. In 2007, when the building on the site was empty, the approved plan designated the whole of the school site land as a ‘development site’. In the first draft of the New Southwark Plan (published in 2014), the site was still earmarked as a 'potential site for development' and this was only amended following parents, and some local residents, challenging the designation and requesting protection for the playground. The current draft of the new plan identifies the site as ‘Other Open Space’ which cannot be built other than in exceptional circumstances. The parents view is that the development potential of the site was realised when the site was taken over by the CfBT Trust as a free school.
Parents have now set up the Judith Kerr Primary School Green Space Campaign to seek the retention of the site as a playground for the school. Pointing out that the removal of the open space would severely restrict opportunities for play and sport for the school children, it also notes that, even including the playground, the school still only has less than half the Department of Education’s recommended minimum external space for P.E and play, which would fall to 19% of the site area without the playground. It contrasts this with the Dulwich Estate’s three local beneficiary schools (Alleyn’s School, Dulwich College and James Allen’s Girls’ School) whose extensive playing fields enjoy Metropolitan Open land protection. They consider it inequitable that this protection should not also be afforded to the Judith Kerr School and are looking to the Dulwich Estate to recognise that physical education is no less important for JKPS children than for the pupils at its beneficiary schools.
Beechgrove - Dulwich Woods
Members with long memories will recall the Society’s fight to prevent development on the site of Beechgrove House on Sydenham Hill. The Dulwich Estate has now confirmed that it has agreed to lease the site to the London Wildlife Trust to expand the area of the Sydenham Hill woods under its management. This is good news, although some might think that almost a quarter of a century is a long time for the future of the site to remain in limbo. However, limbo is just what the land, which was once formed the extensive gardens of the house where King George V1 received therapy for his speech defect from Lionel Logue, requires to revert to woodland once again.
Cycling Quietway 7: Now that the Mayoral and London Assembly elections are over, the final proposals should be available at the next Dulwich Community Council meeting. There was an online petition against the scheme and the Society sent a comprehensive response setting out residents’ concerns over the potential impact of the plans on pedestrian safety.
Double Yellow Lines in Dulwich: Surprise proposals for the blanket introduction of yellow lines at 126 junctions in and around Dulwich were discussed at the Dulwich Community Council in March. Criticism over the lack of initial consultation forced a temporary halt so that all stakeholders could be properly briefed. A low-key consultation was held during April but, whatever the outcome, it seems clear that the Council intends to push forward with its proposal very soon.
Loss of Community Council powers: The Society has raised concerns about rumoured plans to centralise Traffic Management issues in Tooley Street and away from local scrutiny at the Community Council. Ward Councillors are currently being consulted but it seems to us that residents should also be asked for their views
The Generosity of Mary Boast
Mary Boast died on 21 June 2010 at the age of 88 and an obituary by Bernard Nurse and Stephen Humphreys was published in the Journal. In April, this year, the Society received a cheque from her estate to the value of £10,000. This was a complete surprise but perhaps typical of Mary who was a quiet and modest lady. She was particularly well known for her series of neighbourhood histories published by Southwark Council. Mary was a member of the Dulwich Society’s Local History Group from the 1980’s
It is with deep regret that we also record the death in recent weeks of Hilary Rosser, a former member of the Local History Group, and also of Jill Manuel who served for many years as a knowledgeable member of the Trees Group and who succeeded Stella Benwell as its chairman.
Dulwich Library Receives Listed Status
Ian McInnes reports
As part of their ongoing thematic listing review on public libraries, Historic England listed the Dulwich Library on Lordship Lane at Grade II on 17 March. Describing the building as an accomplished design by a notable architect, they drew attention to its varied elevations, good decorative features and well-crafted brick and stone. They were also impressed by the survival of the original butterfly plan, and most of the fittings and original room divisions. The only change from the original design was the reconstruction of the single-storey wing. to the west of the main entrance, as two floors in 1950 - following bomb damage in WW2.
Designed in 1896 in ‘Elizabethan Revival’ style by Charles Barry and Son (architects of the new Dulwich College), it was one of 24 libraries funded by wealthy benefactor John Passmore Edwards at the end of the nineteenth century. He was a successful journalist and had made large sums of money as the publisher of the Builder Magazine and the Echo newspaper. Like his sometime friend, and fellow wealthy benefactor, Andrew Carnegie, he believed in education for all via access to free libraries. He gave £75,000 to the project and requested that the library should also be a memorial to Edward Alleyn, the famous actor manager and founder of Dulwich College. The site, on the edge of the Dulwich Estate, was donated by his charity, Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift.
When opened the building had a lending library containing 20,000 books, storage facilities for an additional 17,500 volumes, a large news room, and a reading room to accommodate about 100 readers. It originally operated on a closed access system where books could be selected from a catalogue and retrieved by staff for viewing - open access libraries where you chose a book on a shelf followed later.
The famous actor, Sir Henry Irving, laid the foundation stone in October 1896. As well as Passmore Edwards himself, others at the ceremony included Councillor Matthew Wallace, chairman of the Camberwell Vestry, and Sir J Blundell Maple, Dulwich’s MP. Responding to a vote of thanks, Irving quoted Sheridan saying "A library in a town is an ever-green tree of diabolical knowledge" and went on to say how “London was in process of being furnished to its remotest suburbs with fine libraries . . . . .the mechanism for good which public libraries afforded was of incalculable value, and the influence on the race exercised by these beneficent institutions must be vast, especially as their use became the help of the young at the library, would give intellectual food and comfort to thousands yet unborn.”
Carnegie Library campaign
As members will know, there has been a determined public effort to stop the Carnegie Library, operated by Lambeth Council, from closing, purportedly to change its use by combining a reduced library service with a commercially run gym. The protest became a sit-in which in turn became a sleep-in occupying several days and achieving maximum national publicity. It focused attention on Lambeth’s policy of reducing its library facilities with the additional closure of the Minet Library.
According to Lambeth Council’s statement - the borough needs to cut £4m from its cultural service budget by 2018 as part of the overall need to reduce council spending by at least £90m. This means the budget available for the borough’s parks, sports, the arts and libraries will be cut from £10.5m to £6.5m. Lambeth, which has ten libraries states that although one library will be closed (Waterloo) it will reopen in an interim space (Oasis Hub Waterloo) pending a new building; two will be re-purposed into gyms with a limited book service (including the Carnegie) and the Upper Norwood library building will expand its range of community uses - the library service run jointly with Croydon will continue as now in the building . In addition, West Norwood Library is closed for refurbishment and is currently operating from another building in Knights Hill.
Dulwich Society member Glynis Williams reports:
“The occupiers left the library to great applause from the crowd, which must have been in the thousands. Many local families with their children (and dogs) marched, as well as political and union groups. The march to Lambeth Town Hall took up the whole road, so traffic in both directions was stopped by the police. The Carnegie librarians were there under the Unison banner, as well as many Carnegie library users.”
Dulwich Society’s secretary, Sue Badman, suggests that Lambeth Council could have handled the whole affair better, as it was they lost the PR war. “These days you access the library and order the books you need online - either physical books or e-books for collection at your local library, or indeed DVDs & CDs. On the other hand, there is a big demand for study spaces and access to reference books at most libraries so it makes sense to change the way libraries operate as entities to reflect these changed needs.”
Other members however, might prefer to browse books on shelves and indeed may not be comfortable with being obliged to conduct their affairs online.
In Southwark, the situation is rather more promising with the refurbishment of Dulwich Library and the opening of a new library at Camberwell Green. At Grove Vale, East Dulwich, planning permission has been granted to rebuild the Grove Vale Library on a larger site next to East Dulwich Station. Southwark’s new Canada Water library is now the second busiest in London. There are also plans to open a community hub and library as part of the Aylesbury Estate which will replace the existing East Street Library. Southwark has twelve public libraries operating and one local history resource at the John Harvard Library in Borough High Street.
Visit to Nymans and Sheffield Park - Tuesday 21st June
Our ever-popular annual coach outing will be to Nymans and Sheffield Park in Sussex. Full details and an application form are set out in the Dulwich Gardens open for Charity brochure, and also on www.dulwichsociety.com/garden-group . All are welcome. At the time of going to press, there are just a few places left for the outing.
City Gardens walk - Wednesday 13th July
We have arranged a City Gardens walk with Marion Blair, a horticulturist and official guide for the Corporation of London specializing in the gardens and green spaces in the City. We will visit some ten gardens, including a private wildlife garden and Nigel Dunnett’s newly planted Beech Gardens in the Barbican, Rebecca Louise Law’s hanging garden installation, Evershed’s rooftop vegetable garden, the Barber Surgeons’ herb garden and the Goldsmiths’ prize-winning garden. The walk will last about 2 hours and cover some 2 miles.
The tour costs £10 a head. All are welcome but places are limited and must be pre-booked - please complete and return the form on page *.
Meet outside Barbican underground station, 10.30am for 10.45am start.
Follow us on Twitter!
We have set up a Twitter account @DulwichGarden to publicise local garden events.
The South London Botanical Institute (SLBI) has just received £99,600 towards its project the restoration of their historic herbarium. The Institute, based in Tulse Hill, has been awarded the grant for an exciting project, ‘Plant recording for all ages’, which will bring the herbarium up-to-date, make it accessible to all and enable visitors to use it for a range of activities. The project will start in May 2016 and will take place over the next two years.
The herbarium at the Institute contains around 100,000 pressed plant specimens, some of them about 200 years old. They are all housed in the original cabinets designed by the Institute’s founder over 100 years ago. The new project will help to conserve these fragile specimens and install digital interpretation facilities so that visitors can view them online. The Institute will also widen its range of already popular educational activities for school children, adults and young people to complement the refurbishments.
The SLBI was founded in 1910 by Allan Octavian Hume, a dedicated social reformer, with the aim of bringing botany to the working people of south London. This aim continues today, with people from local communities and further afield able to explore the plant world, enjoy the botanic garden and library and participate in a wide range of activities for all ages and levels of ability.
Commenting on the award, Marlowe Russell, SLBI Trustee, said: “We are delighted to have received further support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. We have already made huge developments at the Institute using their last grant and are looking forward to updating our herbarium so that visitors have even more to enjoy and learn about when they come here.”
Stuart Hobley, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund London, said: “Rare flowers, strange fungus, not to mention thistles and moss… the historic plant collections of the South London Botanical Institute are home to fascinating examples of our botanic heritage. Many of these are beautiful, extraordinary and intriguing but also very fragile. Thanks to Lottery players, our grant will use digital technology to help many more people access and enjoy these remarkable plant specimens.”
About the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
The SLBI was founded in 1910 by Allan Octavian Hume, with the aim of bringing botany to the working people of south London. Hume was a servant of the British Raj, a founding member of the Indian National Congress in 1885 and a dedicated social reformer. He bought the1860s Victorian house and converted it for his purposes early in the twentieth century, installing the library and herbarium and laying out the garden. The herbarium cabinets were designed by Hume, are still in use and contain plant specimens dating back as far as 1802. The garden has evolved and now has a thriving pond, particularly popular with our visiting school children.
The SLBI is open to the public on Thursdays 10am-4pm, for frequent and varied events and activities and by appointment (subject to volunteer availability).
It runs a wide-ranging botanical and environmental programme of educational and social activities for many ages and levels of knowledge. SLBI collections are used for research and are online at Herbaria@Home. SLBI and its collections help understanding about botanical collecting and how botanical discoveries fuelled developments in medicine and agriculture as well as generating income. Elements of the collections are presently contributing to external academic research programmes.
SLBI 323 Norwood Road SE24 9AQ, near Tulse Hill Station Open Thursdays 10-4
With the warmer months now with us, the annual argument over the length, or rather the lack of length, of girls’ skirts worn at schools, particularly co-ed schools, has arisen again. “Girls are requested to dress modestly” declares the headmistress of one school. What is modesty for some might be viewed as very immodest by others. Some firm rule seems to be required, and we discover, hey presto, that a rule existed at James Allen’s Girls’ School from the 1920’s to the 1950’s.
The enforcer was the formidable Miss Knott, an All-England Hockey captain and the school’s gym mistress. Each morning every girl on arrival would have to pass by Miss Knott who was stationed at the front door and holding a piece of card 3¼” - 4¼” in depth which was the measurement gym tunics were required to be from the ground “when kneeling upright”.
Fresh Fish in Dulwich Village
Le Poisson de Mer deli in Dulwich Village has now opened a fresh fish department offering a wide choice of fish and shellfish. The proprietor, who is Portuguese, has a long experience as a fishmonger.
Pillar to Post
The move of Dulwich Village’s post office from one end of the village to the other went smoothly after Christmas. Independent enterprise by Rumsey Chemists has ensured the service operates well. At the vacated old post office, the new ‘pop-up’ art gallery, another independent effort by local resident Ingrid Beazley, also adds interest and colour there. It is all the more galling that while such entrepreneurs are willing to risk their own money on making their businesses a success, the two corporate bodies involved - the landlords - the Dulwich Estate and Post Office Counters/Royal Mail cannot agree on which one pays for the moving of the pillar box, an operation that would take all of a couple of hours. Will we still be posting next Christmas’s cards in the old box?
Meanwhile the new PO counter in Rumsey Pharmacy, 47 Dulwich Village is receiving positive reviews. It is open until 6pm six days a week (including Saturday) with friendly, efficient staff and generally no queues.
What’s in a name
There is a growing chorus of disapproval at the renaming of the Michael Croft Theatre at Alleyn’s School as the MCT. In addition to an increasing number of the alumni who found fame on the stage through Michael Croft, who founded the National Youth Theatre at the school when he taught there sixty years ago, other actors whose career started in the NYT have added their names to the protest including Ian MacShane and John Shrapnel.
Dog Kennel Hill Wood
The Friends of Dog Kennel Hill Wood have organized a couple of work days by volunteers so far this year which has been concentrated on creating a new glade within the wood and weeding the hedge on the northern boundary. Glades are very important within woodland settings because they provide valuable habitat for sun-loving plants and insects that differ from those found in dense tree cover. We are clearing the invasive cow parsley and nettle and hope to plant native bulbs in the Autumn that will provide a display of colour.
Southwark Council have awarded the group £10,000 as part of the Cleaner, Greener, Safer fund. They will be using the money to improve the paths in the wood as the gravel is slowly disappearing. If funds allow we would also like to replace the path that runs through the park to Sainsburys as this has many holes in it and gets a lot of traffic.
Jasia Warren reports
We have also been campaigning vigorously against planning application 16/AP/1232 to demolish Dulwich Hamlet’s football stadium, build 155 flats on it and build a new 4000 seater stadium on nearby Green Dale. Like DKH Wood, Green Dale is designated as Metropolitan Open Land and should have the same protection as Green Belt. Sporting facilities, like the current astro turf pitch, are permissible on MOL as long as they “maintain the openness“. A football stadium with covered terraces, walkways and high walls will enclose the area. We want DHFC to remain in Champion Hill and believe that there are alternatives to this planning application that will benefit the club, the local community and wildlife. Please read the documents here: http://www.friendsofdkhwood.org/greendale/hadley-property-group-plans and make your comments known here: http://ow.ly/4n3HDX.
Lack of Cutting Edge
It is reported elsewhere in this issue that Lambeth Council is cutting its expenditure on parks and gardens. Nowhere is this more obvious than Ruskin Park. There, the poor state of this once beautiful park is getting worse by the day. Limited planting, unkempt grass and last year’s leaves spoil this former jewel in Lambeth’s crown. The park is the nearest recreational space for the residents of the Bessemer and Sunray estates.
Although not as bad, Belair Park is also looking a trifle down at heel. The large scale works undertaken by Thames Water to reduce surface flooding by using Belair as a reservoir have succeeded in creating a second lake, almost as large as the original one. Brambles are taking over much of the wetland area and flower planting is conspicuous by its absence.
Dulwich Society members will recall the public meeting held in support of the Herne Hill Velodrome in 2009 out of which sprang the 'Save the Herne Hill Velodrome' which raised awareness of the Velodrome’s plight, both locally and nationally. The approach of the 2012 London Olympics further highlighted the need to preserve the historic velodrome, the scene of the cycling events of two previous Olympic Games. Lord Coe, the chairman of the Olympic committee launched the official campaign at City Hall.
The Herne Hill Velodrome Trust was set up in 2011 as a response to the highly successful Save the Herne Hill Velodrome campaign. The Trust is responsible for securing the future of the Velodrome for generations to come. The trust is a registered charity and is reliant entirely on volunteer funding and support from individuals, companies and funding bodies as well as the fundraising activities of the Friends of Herne Hill Velodrome.
As well as managing specific improvement projects such as the Southwark Olympic Legacy Project, the Herne Hill Velodrome Trust works on a day to day basis to increase participation at the track through a management committee and the new cycling development officer. The Trust is particularly keen to increase participation amongst women and girls, young people, disadvantaged communities, disabled riders and educational establishments.
In 2011 the Trust was able to obtain a longer lease from the Dulwich Estate for the track area and British Cycling and a local beneficiary put up the funds to resurface the track and to pay for a new track fence.
In 2014 Southwark's Olympic Legacy Fund guaranteed (for the first time in the track's long history) the installation of floodlights, an inner warm up space and a children's track and a ‘Multi Use Games Area’.
The most recent, and probably the most anticipated development is the building of the new pavilion. Work began in April to demolish the old and derelict grandstand and replace it with a new structure which reflects its former design. The Trust has negotiated with the Dulwich Estate and been granted a 99 year lease on the area occupied by the new grandstand. The £1.8 million project is funded by The Marathon Trust, Sport England, Southwark Council and the Mayor’s Fund.
The pavilion is designed by local supporter Mike Taylor of Hopkins Architects, the partnership which designed and built the the iconic indoor cycling velodrome, the first completed building for the 2012 London Olympics, it is due to be completed in January 2017.
Membership of The Friends of Herne Hill Velodrome costs £15 or a Special Friends of HHV membership scheme costs £30 (+ £1 p+p for the unique membership card) where members get access to a range of exclusive offers at a host of local and London-wide retailers. For details, visit http://www.hernehillvelodrome.com/hhv-friends/)
In the space of two short years Dulwich & District U3A (University of the 3rd Age) has gone from strength to strength. It now has over 400 members and over 60 activity groups. The Dulwich U3A meets in local halls, libraries and members’ homes and has monthly meetings with specialist guest speakers covering a diverse range of topics.
Always popular, the Walking Group has read the routes of the Great Fire of London, literary Chelsea, Victorian shopping arcades and completed, in sections, the 80 mile Capital Ring Walk. The Art History group has visited galleries including the National Gallery, Wallace Collection and Mansion House while studying Italian Renaissance and the Dutch Golden Age.
The Play Reading group has read plays by Shakespeare, Alan Bennet, Tracey Letts and many more. The Book group has covered books which include Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, The Last Runaway and Wide Sargasso Sea. The Poetry group has covered Politics in Poetry, Poems in Translation, Love poems, W.H. Auden.
There is a Quiz group which meets monthly for a friendly quiz, coffee and chat and which recently took part in a charity quiz.
The Gardening group is growing steadily! It has visited Horniman Gardens, Brockwell Park, the Sky Garden on Fenchurch Street ‘Walkie Talkie’ building. It has had demonstrations of ‘potting on’, a Gardeners’ Question Time and a ‘plant and seed exchange’.
Many of our members are keen to learn and keep up with their computer skills and we offer four different Computer groups, which range from virtual beginners up to users of advanced Apple technology. These groups increase members’ confidence when using IT and cover security, safe internet use, emailing, social networks, Skyping and members’ everyday queries.
There are groups covering Philosophy, Theatre Visits, Mah Jong, Geology, Photography, Languages, Music, Creative Writing, Politics, Cycling, Tennis and much more.
Guest speakers to our monthly open meetings have covered topics as diverse as The Magna Carta, Dulwich Park Gardens, Advances in Cancer Research, and The Times Obituaries.
members to attend as many available interest groups as they wish, or have time for.
All the groups help to keep the mind and body active, learning new skills and developing friendships through active participation. The groups are run by volunteers who have an interest or expertise in the subject. There are no exams, certificates or qualifications. It is just learning for the fun of it!
Further information can be found on the Dulwich & District web site www.dulwich-u3a.uk or on Facebook, or by phoning 0843 8860 980.
By Sharon O’Connor
The Dulwich Society local history group receives many enquiries for information, often prompted by articles reprinted from the Journal on its website. The following enquiry produced surprising results.
My mother was born in 1918 and grew up in Dulwich (I may have the address somewhere)
She used to tell the story of having gone to a party as a young girl where there was another girl in a very fine dress who she was told was a Russian princess.
She had no more detail than that and is no longer with us.
Can you throw any light on who this might have been?
He was a Russian prince and has been represented on TV recently, not in War and Peace but in Mr Selfridge. He claimed to be the fifth man ever to fly a powered aircraft. He lived in Dulwich but spent a fair amount of his time in court. He was Prince Serge Vincent Constantinovitch de Bolotoff, born in 1889 in St Petersburg, the son of Princess Marie Wiasemsky and Constantine de Bolotoff. In 1908 Serge took a sub-lease of Kingswood House in Dulwich and moved in with his mother, sister and two brothers together with seven live-in servants (including three ‘hospital nurses’), an unspecified number of outdoor servants and two gardeners who lived at the lodge.
The move into Kingswood House had a whiff of scandal about it. The de Bolotoffs sub-leased the house from the estate of John Lawson Johnston, the inventor of Bovril, but a lawsuit was brought in connection with the transaction by William Thomas Stead, a good friend of the de Bolotoffs and the newspaper editor said by Roy Jenkins to be the most sensational figure in 19th century journalism. As a journalist, Stead crusaded against child prostitution, famously ‘buying’ 13-year-old Eliza Armstrong to expose child trafficking and leading to the raising of the age of consent from 13 to 16. His articles about child poverty in London led George Bernard Shaw to write Pygmalion (naming his heroine ‘Eliza’). As a pacifist, Stead was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was rumoured to have been a contender for it when he drowned on the Titanic in 1912. As a spiritualist, Stead and his friend Arthur Conan Doyle were duped into believing various psychics who were later found to be frauds. Stead himself was alleged to have contacted his daughter ten years after he drowned on the Titanic.
In 1911 Stead took Arthur Parks, a Brighton butcher, to court. Stead claimed the Dowager Empress of Russia had asked him to take an interest in Princess Marie Wiasemsky. His interest extended to lending her approximately £7,000. Parks and his father had already lent her around £10,000. Either Parks or Stead had lent her £500 as the deposit for Kingswood House but on the day of completion the Princess was not able to pay the £1,100 balance. Through various bills of accommodation and other financial instruments the money was produced and the transaction went through. Kingswood House then seems to have belonged to Prince Serge though his name never appears on any of the leases or sub-leases on Kingswood granted by the Dulwich Estate. Stead and Parks both claimed the other had agreed to pay the completion balance of £1,100 and Stead sued Parks to recover it. At no stage does anyone seem to think that either Princess Marie or Prince Serge should contribute to the house purchase. The judge said that the Princess was ‘a lady with great powers of inducement’ and found for Mr Parks.
Princess Marie appeared regularly in the law reports for recovery of debt as did Prince Serge, except that each time someone sued him he claimed he had borrowed the money on his mother’s behalf and that it should be recovered from her. When his solicitor tried to recover his fees de Bolotoff denied liability, saying the solicitor had agreed to be paid once some property in St Petersburg was realised. The St Petersburg property was mortgaged ‘for a very large sum’ (£300,000) but was actually ‘a piece of vacant ground’. Yes, said de Bolotoff’s KC, but if properly developed it could be worth £800,000. The judge intervened: ‘The son was keeping the mother and the mother was keeping the son’? Yes. ‘But the son had an aeroplane?’ ‘Yes, but that was a company’. The judge found for the solicitor saying it was unlikely anyone would agree to terms whereby it was highly improbable they would ever be paid.
Princess Marie owed astronomical amounts: at least £60,000 in the UK and mortgages of £300,000 on her properties in Russia, which may in any case have belonged to a family trust. One court case claimed she had seventeen servants and four cars at Kingswood, another that she owed the Tsar £100,000. Another court found that Prince Serge’s affairs ‘were as embarrassing as his mother’s.
In 1911 the de Bolotoffs were being sued by, amongst others, a Mr Paterson. Paterson had first sued Princess Marie the previous year for debt recovery, claiming she was living in ‘wealthy circumstances at a house called Kingswood at Dulwich and was entitled to considerable property in Russia’. An order was made for payment of the debt in monthly instalments of £750 which was ignored so Paterson took the case back to court. Before it could be heard her family declared the Princess insane, moved her to a private asylum and put her affairs into the hands of the receiver of the Master in Lunacy. The family said Kingswood was not actually hers, there was no income from Russia and that creditors should apply to the receiver for payment ‘in the usual way’. Paterson told the court he was ‘doubtful about the matter’ and held signed affidavits from her servants that she was ‘simply acting and pretending’ and was deceiving the doctors in order to avoid paying her debts and on top of all that she was ‘addicted to drink’. In addition, he claimed that Kingswood did belong to her and not to her son and that ‘money was being received from Russia and elsewhere by her son which really belonged to her’. The judge made a committal order (i.e. an order to send the Princess to prison) but let it lie so long as she was detained as insane. If and when she was discharged from the asylum the order would be issued.
When William Dederich, a wealthy City businessman acquired the Kingswood lease, he first had to arrange for de Bolotoff and his retinue to be evicted. Dederich’s grand-daughter, Peggy Gunst, recalled her mother telling her there was an airplane in the grounds when the de Bolotoffs lived there.
After leaving Kingswood House the de Bolotoff entourage moved across the road to ‘Eversleigh’, and then moved around a lot, living in Brighton, Sevenoaks and Wimbledon, amongst others. In 1914 when they lived in Kippington Court, a grand house set in 8 acres in Sevenoaks, the Sheriff ordered a sale of all furniture and effects. The sale was later postponed, presumably the de Bolotoffs had cleared the debt which had prompted the bailiffs.
Serge’s great passion was aeronautics, then in its infancy. His first airplane was a triplane built to his specification by the Voisin Brothers of Paris, where he had lived before coming to England. Despite being an entrant in the Daily Mail’s competition to be the first to fly the English Channel, the plane never flew and he withdrew from the race.
During WW1 Serge established an aeronautical company at Combe Bank near Sevenoaks funded by the industrialist, Robert Mond, whose firm later became ICI. At Combe Bank, de Bolotoff allegedly built planes similar to the one the Voisin brothers built for him, though records are sketchy and none of them seems to have flown. With his younger brother, George, he was also involved in manufacturing and selling munitions to the Russian government, but after the war the business closed down. George held onto much of the stock however and in 1922 was heavily fined for possessing a large number of weapons, including machine guns, and over 4,000 rounds of ammunition at the de Bolotoff home in Wimbledon; George went bankrupt two years later. Serge turned his attention from triplanes to biplanes, still funded by Mond, and built the de Bolotoff SDEB 14 at Combe Bank. It too didn’t fly and the de Bolotoff company collapsed with heavy debts.
Serge’s fortunes should have improved with his marriage in August 1918 to Rosalie Selfridge, daughter of the American-born department-store owner Harry Selfridge. Rosalie’s mother had died a few months before so according to the Times the wedding was celebrated quietly but other newspapers reported the priests in golden vestments, the quartet of beautiful male voices and the golden crowns held above the couple’s heads which were so heavy they required relays of men to support them. The wedding, all in Russian, was held in the chapel of the Russian Embassy, though they also had a civil ceremony at Marylebone Register Office. We know the de Bolotoffs were in society as Princess Marie’s name appears in the court circular but they must also have been on good terms with the Russian government to hold the wedding at the embassy. The de Bolotoffs honeymooned in the South of France and returned to London planning to divide their time between London and the US, though this may have been curtailed by finances. A few years later Selfridge was himself reduced to living with his daughter “and her fake Russian prince”, as an acquaintance described de Bolotoff. It is not clear whether he was a fake Russian, a fake prince, or just a fake. The three of them lived together in a “cheap rented apartment” and when Selfridge died he left £1,544 to Rosalie which seems to have been his whole estate.
De Bolotoff continued his aviation exploits including starting an aircraft business which made only one plane before failing. He tried to fly from Moscow to New York as a co-pilot in Land of the Soviets but the plane crash-landed near Riga.
In 1939 Princess Wiasemsky died when the de Bolotoff siblings, (though not Serge and Rosalie) were living in Wimbledon Park House with Barbara Perglova, their housekeeper. This was a grand villa, later shorn of 1,200 of its acres to make Wimbledon Park. Their friend William Thomas Stead lived in the same road. During WW2 Nicholas was an aero engine inspector and George was an engineer at the Air Ministry. Marie was described as ‘incapacitated’, though there were no live-in nurses as there had been at Kingswood. Serge de Bolotoff died in 1955 aged 66 and Rosalie in 1977; they are buried together in Putney Vale cemetery. George de Bolotoff died in Yeovil 1944, Marie in Surrey in 1971 and Nicholas in 1982 in Plymouth.
The onset of a genuine Spring as opposed to the repeated false starts that brought Daffodils out in January has brought with it a few records. Perhaps the most unusual for Dulwich was a Tree Pipit in Dulwich Park. This is a summer migrant which breeds in the lightly wooded heathlands in Surrey which would normally be passed off as a “little brown job” (LBJ) but was recognized by Paul Collins as it was singing its mellifluous song with which he is familiar.
Apart from this, a migrating Woodcock was seen wandering about a Burbage Road garden, the only Woodcock report we have had this year, Willow Warblers have been singing in Belair, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps are establishing territories. A Peregrine has been seen overflying Dulwich as have a few Swallows heading northwards. A pair of Egyptian Geese have nested in a tree near the cricket ground by Gallery Road and taken themselves to Belair where they have been attracting attention, with their family of five goslings.
Of further interest Brimstone butterflies have been seen in gardens more often this Spring. These are one of our only two yellow butterflies and the only one which is a true resident (the other being the Clouded Yellow, an intermittent visitor from the continent and most often seen near the southern coast). The Brimstone like Peacock and Tortoiseshell butterflies hibernates in its adult stage and emerges in the Spring to mate and lay eggs. Our mild winter must have assured a good survival. Tragically, having endured the ravages of winter these butterflies die off as soon as eggs are laid and we do not see them again until the next brood of adults emerges later in the summer. The food plant of the caterpillars is said to be Buckthorn, not common here , so they may be feeding on another plant or shrub.
Dave Clark has been doing regular biennial counts of the Dulwich Park birds. Although each count is just a snapshot of a particular day and perhaps dependent on both seasonal variations and weather conditions, comparison of the years begins to reveal trends. Whereas many of our familiar birds such as Robins, Blackbirds and Blue Tits have maintained their numbers; the fall in the number of Greenfinches is obvious and the number of Song and Mistle Thrushes is worryingly small.
The jury still has to be out on the activities of our Parakeets. We noticed that one of our neighbour’s Horse Chestnut Trees was having a massive fall of its young leaves. Further observation revealed that this tree was being visited night and morning by Parakeets en masse which were gorging on the young flowering shoots on the top half of this tree which is now almost bare of leaves. With the assault later in the year by the Leaf Miner moth this depredation is the last thing that Horse Chestnuts need. Why we wondered was this tree selected for the treatment and not its near neighbour and the only explanation would appear to be that it is being used as a staging post for a flock to gather before flying to roost and this is the last meal of the day. We shall be interested to hear if other tree owners have had similar experiences.
With the Spring migration not yet over we await more records and will have particular interest to see whether our House Martin colony can re-establish and that we will still have our breeding Swifts.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (Tel: 020 7274 4567)