By Sharon O’Connor

Local History Group member Gavin Bowyer recently acquired a postcard which was sent in 1911 from Brightlands School, Dulwich Common, to a Mrs Goulding in Tulse Hill. The card is signed ‘LFD’ and we know that this is Leonard Francis Duckworth, headmaster of the school from 1908 - 1935. Mrs Goulding was Maggie Tustin, born and raised in Dulwich, the daughter of a chemical manufacturer whose Peckham factory supplied Bevington’s, the famous Bermondsey leather firm where her husband Harry Goulding was a director. Harry died of pneumonia in 1908 leaving Maggie with three children, the youngest only seven months old. It was her 8 - year - old, Denis, who attended Brightlands, necessitating the postcard. Tragically, Denis himself died the following year aged just nine. It seems the boys had an afternoon off and Duckworth was letting Mrs Goulding know but, surely, he didn’t send postcards to all the parents, perhaps she had specifically enquired?

Although now hidden behind dense foliage, Brightlands lies in a prominent position on the corner of Gallery Rd and the South Circular. There has been a building on the site since at least 1723 but the one we know today was built for Dulwich Estate solicitor Alexander Druce in 1862. He lived here from 1848 to 1892 and had the house rebuilt by Estate Architect Charles Barry Jr.

The story of Brightlands as a school, however, starts elsewhere in Dulwich when, in 1874, a Miss Elizabeth Shorter, opened a school in her house called Brightlands on Rosendale Road, later moving it to Alleyn Park. When she died in 1893, the school was bought by Archibald Collins who became its headmaster and moved it to Gallery Road two years later. After changing hands a couple of times, Brightlands was bought by Leonard Duckworth in 1908 for £1,500. Duckworth was 35 and came to Brightlands with his wife Evelyn and their two - year - old daughter Eileen. He found that the school roll numbered just 19 boys, as the previous headmaster had taken many of the pupils with him to start a new school in Gloucestershire, also called Brightlands. Duckworth cultivated a reputation as a strong disciplinarian and worked on expanding the school - by 1913 the number of pupils had reached 60. The coach house was converted to classrooms and sports fields reaching to College Rd were added, more than doubling the school’s size to 9 acres. The roll crept up, numbering 100 by 1920. The house’s conservatory was converted to a gym, and sport included swimming - with weekly trips to Forest Hill Baths. Boys could either cycle or walk to the Grove Tavern before catching a bus.

In 1924 Duckworth and Evelyn divorced and he married the school’s French teacher Muriel Hayes. In 1932 Ivyholme, the Dulwich College boarding house next door, was added to Brightlands and renamed Tiverton Lodge after Duckworth’s hometown. Duckworth continued to develop his school, increasing the fees commensurately: they were £8 per term in 1935. That year, however, tragedy struck when he died suddenly on Dulwich & Sydenham Golf Course. He was 62 and had run the school for 27 years. His widow Muriel sold the school to flying ace Silvio Paul Bernini de Moyse - Bucknall for £6,000 and retired to Farnham where she died in 1956. His daughter Eileen married and moved to Sydenham.

Bucknall had grand plans for the school. He built a new sports pavilion and planned a swimming pool. His 1930s adverts are a joy, with an aerial view of the school and comments like ‘classrooms sprayed daily with disinfectant’ and ‘school car fetches small boys living at a distance’. In 1936 Dulwich College Preparatory School (DCPS, now known as Dulwich Prep London) offered Bucknall £5,000 for the Brightlands lease and the school. Bucknall refused but DCPS did not give up on the idea and began accumulating a war chest with an eye to an eventual purchase. The outbreak of war in 1939 scuppered Bucknall’s plans: the school evacuated to Kent and then to Sussex where it was renamed Tavistock Hall. Bucknall was called up for military service and the site was requisitioned by the army. Dulwich Brightlands School never did return to Gallery Rd.

In 1944, DCPS took on both Brightlands and Tiverton Lodge, totalling 13 acres, for boarding houses and sports fields, though Tiverton Lodge was returned to the Estate when it was bombed - it was later rebuilt as two private houses. Taking on Brightlands had the joint advantages of increasing DCPS’s size and eliminating educational competition on the site. It also stole a march on Dulwich College, which was expanding its boarding provision at this time and also wanted the house. Brightlands was a boarding house from 1945 until 2021 when Dulwich Prep London handed it back to the Estate who have plans to refurbish it as residential apartments.