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.