Have you heard the one about the Frenchman, the Pole, the Englishman and the Welsh woman? Well, if you haven’t, then in 2011 you certainly will. The lives and characters of these four players who between them, in life and death, created their remarkable benefaction in Dulwich, has all the ingredients of a play. A perfect four-hander. There’s the minor heiress, who is undoubtedly past it in looks, who elopes with a dodgy foreigner years younger than herself who suddenly develops an interest in art. What would the readers of Jane Austen have made of that? Throw in a young second rate artist with some connections with the Polish court who had such a paranoid sense of death that he leaves money so that he would not be buried underground. Lastly, for good measure, add a complex, self-made, ill-tempered architect who was so estranged from his two sons that he spread the story that one of them had been exchanged for a cad by his wet-nurse.
Stir this oddest of firm friendships with various turns of fate, such as a Russian invasion, an introduction to a peculiar and impoverished charity which had a near derelict picture gallery above a set of virtually uninhabitable bedrooms for its six female pensioners; spice it up with the scandal of a falling out with the Royal Academy over criticism of a living fellow architect during a lecture, and perhaps round it off with a world war in which the entire confection is blown sky-high. A true bombe surprise.
And there you would have a partial account of the wonderful institution we are privileged to have within our midst which, perhaps, sometimes, we take for granted. What keeps Dulwich Picture Gallery so alive, so vibrant, is not only the splendour of its collection or even the brilliance of the design of the Gallery itself; but the other aspects which continually stimulate interest and excitement – the changing and challenging exhibitions, a gallery so alive with children being exposed to art, often for the first time, the building almost pulsates enthusiasm, an adult programme of courses and lectures to stimulate interest amongst the crustiest of us, and of course a social centre without parallel, where, selfishly, we can enjoy countless entertainments without even stirring from Dulwich.
It is probably just as well that the Dulwich Picture Gallery receives no public funding for its support as it no doubt would, in its bicentenary year, be taking a 40% cut if it did. Instead it relies on other means, and this perhaps is the real secret of its success – its continual need to fight for its existence. And it fights extremely well.
The new coalition government talks positively about the ‘big society’ which, according to David Cameron at the last Tory Party Conference, is all about empowering communities, redistributing power and fostering a culture of volunteerism.
Some cynics may see this as a government ploy to save money but it seems that some Dulwich area residents think differently. They have taken the idea of local empowerment to heart and are working together to save the Herne Hill Velodrome - the home of cycling events in both the 1908 and 1948 Olympic Games.
Unfortunately it is now in a very run down condition and despite the valiant attempts of the current tenants, British Cycling and Velo Club de Londres, it is possible that it may have to close as there are insufficient funds to maintain the track. The ground landlord is the Dulwich Estate and it was let for many years to the GLC and, on its demise, to Southwark Council. The latter did secure funds to resurface the track in the early 1990s, but they did very little else, and were ejected from the site in 2003. British Cycling and the Velo Club de Londres took over the lease and have tried very hard to generate interest through cultivating programmes for local children and local schools.
Their low key approach has paid off as, just when it seemed that there was no real future, a group of local residents has come together and set up an active group to save it. A public meeting was held at Dulwich College on 6th October and over 600 people attended. A large amount of money was pledged by local residents and interested cyclists, underpinned by a generous grant from Southwark Council.
There is a positive feeling in the air and tremendous enthusiasm to go forward. It shows what can be done in a very short time with volunteers who are prepared to put in the effort. As I said in the last Journal, nobody is forced to live in Dulwich; these volunteers have thought why they like living in the area and have done something about it. They deserve our support.
Unveiling ‘The Red Post’
Around seventy people were present for the celebration of the inauguration of a replica Red Post in the grounds of Herne Hill United Church at the top of Red Post Hill on Saturday 2nd October. The post was officially dedicated by the deputy mayor of Southwark, Councillor Lorraine Lauder and brief speeches were made by the chairmen of the Dulwich and Herne Hill Societies which had seen the project through to completion, and by Councillor Robin Crookshank -Hilton who had supported the Dulwich Society’s bid for Community Council funding.
Accompanying the Red Post is an explanatory plaque, mounted on a specially built brick plinth. It bears the following inscription:
THE RED POST
A red painted signpost stood here for almost a hundred years.
It was first recorded in 1768 and became an important point of
reference. Red signposts exist in small numbers in the West Country
but no others are known in or around London which
made the one here so significant. Around 1834 the road then called
Aspole (Ashpole) Lane, first mentioned in documents dating from the
Fourteenth century, was renamed Red Post Hill.
The Dulwich Society The Herne Hill Society
The following speech was then made by Brian Green, who as part of the Local History Group had seen the project through:
Dulwich has a relatively modest history in comparison with that of many towns and villages around England. What separates it from most of the other suburbs of London and elsewhere, is that it might cherish its history a bit more and through its institutions of schools, Picture Gallery, and especially the Dulwich and Herne Hill Societies, it has a tradition of seeking to preserve this modest history.
Thus the unveiling today of a replica Red Post is part of that preservation of heritage. Why bother? one might ask. The answer is that people of this country take great satisfaction from reminders of the past. The fact that this road is named Red Post Hill today comes from this same tradition. Although I am bound to say that probably, if the Dulwich and Herne Hill Societies had existed in the nineteenth century, they would have fought tooth and nail to keep its former name of Aspole or Ashpole Lane!
So what is all the fuss about? A red painted sign post stood here, we know, from 1768 when on 30th May that year, Richard Randall who was the organist at the Chapel and one of the Fellows of the College took a walk as far as it and recorded it in his diary.
Actually it may have been here much earlier because in 1697 legislation was passed which enabled magistrates to order the placing of direction posts at cross highways. In 1773 the General Turnpike Act required the trustees of turnpike companies to erect signposts giving distances from nearby towns – but as I have said we know this particular Red Post was here already.
In 1789 J. Edwards surveyed the route for his Companion from London to Brighthelmstone which was actually published in 1801. The Companion describes the route up from Camberwell and along Denmark Hill – “ On the right is the 4 mile stone from the Standard, Cornhill and 4 from the Treasury, Whitehall. Division of roads, at a cross of direction called the Red Post – the oblique road which leads to the left is the road to Dulwich . On the right, about 60 yards distance, is a small genteel white house just built by Mr Smith. A gradual descent begins and continues to a road on the left which leads by Ireland Green to Dulwich” Mr Edwards obligingly supplied his Companion with a map upon which is marked, in the middle of the road - Red Post.
Sometime around 1830 someone in what was then the Dulwich College Estates office had the bright idea of renaming Ashpole Lane ( it had long since been called Aspole, Red Post Hill ) – so perhaps by then the Red Post had gone. Or maybe it was then realised how unusual it was. And Red Post Hill it remains to this day – perhaps until this event a source of mystery to those who use it.
In 1963 a Government commission sought to standardize all road signage and existing fingerposts were required to be replaced by a standard format, chevron armed posts. Then some years later, of course, it was realised that a part of England’s heritage was disappearing and orders for the conservation of any remaining fingerposts were issued! Only a handful of red posts exist – two or three in Dorset and a couple in Somerset. There is a tradition that a Red Post marked the route of convicts’ transportation or the direction of a gibbet; neither explanation of which seems to make sense here in Dulwich. What we do know is that the only red sign post in and around London stood here for a hundred years and why shouldn’t we commemorate this curious part of our heritage?
After the inauguration the assembled spectators adjourned to the church hall for light refreshments.
More Improvements at The Grove
Following criticism by the Dulwich Society of the rundown appearance of the area at the junction of Dulwich Common/Lordship Lane opposite The Grove Tavern, readers will be aware that through the intervention of the Society and with the benefit of monies from Southwark Council (CGS grant) and the Dulwich Society itself, the fence in front of the Streatham & Marlborough CC ground has been replaced. David Roberts, Chairman of the Society’s Planning Committee saw this initiative to conclusion and was also instrumental in obtaining a further CGS grant to improve pedestrian access through the gate to Cox’s Walk, especially for families with buggies.
A further initiative by David, with the assistance of Michelle Pearce, is to attempt to negotiate with the Deeper Life Christian Church which currently occupies the former St Peter’s Church to conform to the Listed Buildings requirements for this Grade 2 church hall building and wall. At the same time they are in contact with Southwark Council conservation department regarding the enforcement of these requirements.
The Concrete House
The long-running saga of the fate of The Concrete House, 549 Lordship Lane, the forlorn and derelict Listed Victorian house opposite St Peter’s Church, will hopefully reach a conclusion. We reported in 2009 that Southwark Council had obtained a compulsory purchase order on the property. This process can be challenged by the owner; however, on the first day of the Public Inquiry the owner and his representatives dropped their objection. Southwark Council has confirmed that they are anticipating restoration work to commence on the site in the New Year.
The Concrete House, named Lyddon House, was built in 1873 by Charles Drake’s pioneering Patent Concrete Company with its walls constructed of mass concrete and is one of the earliest surviving examples of this type of construction in Britain and has been awarded Grade 2 Listed status.
(see the article Charles Drake and the Concrete House page ?)
Herne Hill Velodrome
A campaign to save the Velodrome was launched at a packed public meeting in the Great Hall of Dulwich College on October 6. Over 600 people attended, with an overflow meeting as well as many standing in the Hall.
The meeting was organised by an alliance of residents and cyclists formed to save the former Olympic stadium from closure. They were encouraged to launch the campaign by renewed interest in cycling, recent British sporting successes and the Olympics in 2012.
The Herne Hill Velodrome is the oldest cycling track in the country and was the home of the 1948 Olympic Cycling Championships. But it now faces closure due to deterioration and lack of funding. There is no alternative track in London for the hundreds of children who ride and race there. In the past, that has included Bradley Wiggins, the three-time Olympic gold medalist, who began his competitive cycling career at Herne Hill.
In recent years the Velodrome has been run by a dedicated group of mainly volunteers on a series of short term leases from the freeholder, the Dulwich Estate. The track and buildings need substantial renovation. Nevertheless, the Velodrome attracts good numbers of youngsters each week during the season, in addition to many adult users. It has the potential for much increased use by schools throughout Southwark, Lambeth and beyond and as a centre for cycling for south London.
The meeting on October 6 demonstrated overwhelming public support for the campaign. Strong statements of political support were delivered by Val Shawcross, London Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark, by Kate Hoey, the Mayor of London’s Commissioner for Sport and by our MP, Tessa Jowell. From Southwark Council support came from Peter John, the Leader, and from Veronica Ward, Cabinet Member. The Dulwich Estate confirmed their willingness to grant a long lease. Local residents’ associations added their support.
The meeting heard that there would be a funding gap, both for capital expenditure and for ongoing operation. People and businesses were invited to pledge financial support and they responded eagerly. Continuing commitments were made, adding up to over £34,000 in the first year. In addition, Southwark Council offered a capital sum of £25,000 and Lambeth Council £10,000.
Following this successful launch, the Save the Velodrome committee is now developing its plans for the establishment of a charitable trust, the construction of a viable business plan, negotiations for a long term lease from the Dulwich Estate, further fundraising and the development of the Velodrome site.
Developments will be posted on the Campaign’s website: www.savetheVelodrome.com
Improvements at Belair
The Dulwich Society was represented amongst councillors, wildlife groups, the Dulwich Estate and other interested parties for the official opening of the new sports facility building in the park. The long, low building whose red brick frontage will be covered in time with plant material, is providing a much needed changing and meeting space for the many teams using Belair.
Two further occasions were the opening of the refurbished and most attractive car park and the official launch of a new hedgerow. The latter, as a contribution towards the National Year of Biodiversity, on the west side of the recreation field, is now growing vigorously and is planted with native material to encourage plant and insect life. All of these improvements have come through the interest and hard work of local groups in our area.
The Mark Evison Foundation
Lt Mark Evison was shot while leading a British Army patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in May 2009. In spite of his serious wound he remained conscious and continued to issue orders to his men, and the entire patrol returned successfully to their base. Mark died shortly after being flown back to England: he was 26. There was wide public interest in his diary, written in Afghanistan to the time of his death, and published in the Daily Telegraph in July 2009.
Mark was a local South London boy, and was loved by many. The Mark Evison Foundation was set up after his death by a group of his friends, all energetic and involved. The Foundation aims to promote the personal, mental and physical development of young people, particularly those who have less opportunity. It provides funds to enable young people to stretch themselves constructively and so gain more confidence, courage and self-reliance, as well as new skills.
If they are between 16 and 30 and wish to pursue a specific personal project they can apply for capital grants of up to £5000. There are also awards of up to £500 for specific efforts in selected schools. To obtain funding they need to show initiative, evidence of a can-do attitude, and a willingness to develop. They must show that they are caring and that they understand the importance of mutual support, collaboration and team work, so that their activities may inspire others.
The Foundation has grown apace, with a board of trustees of largely young people, and many supporters and those interested in the Foundation and its aims. We are about to launch a wider advertising programme, and the Heroes for Schools Scheme, whereby young achievers go into schools to talks to final year students about what they have done and why. There has been specific support from HRH Prince Charles, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the present Chancellor the Rt Hon George Osborne.
Costs have been kept to a minimum by the use of volunteers and the good will of many businesses and organizations. We now need a volunteer to help us with administration, perhaps one or two days a week. Time would be flexible, and an amount of work could be done at home on one’s own computer, with occasional visits to the main office in Court Lane, Dulwich, London SE21 7EA. The person would be joining the team of a young and expanding charity, with broad horizons for the way ahead and a fantastic vision, and a fascinating programme of activities.
Tel: 020 8693 2254, 07789 765 867 •
PO Box 59519, London SE21 9AL
Registered Charity Commission Nº 1130281
News from Dulwich Picture Gallery
Celebrating 200 years
England’s very first public art gallery will be celebrating its momentous bicentenary in 2011. To get the bicentenary of the Gallery off to a lively start, the Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery have organised THE BIG BANG, a celebratory family day on Sunday 9 January from 11am onwards. The programme will include art workshops, music, food, falconry displays and will culminate with a spectacular firework display. The cloisters will come to life with music from the 30’s to 50’s with singer Alexandra Carter. In the Gallery (which will have free entry to the Permanent Collection) there will be a performance of 16th century music by Emily Atkinson and Kaitlin Ersey followed by a selection of American songs by Gershwin and Cole Porter performed by Suzanne Holmes and Martin Byatt.
Students from Dulwich College, JAGS, Alleyn’s, The Charter School, Kingsdale Foundation School and Dulwich College Preparatory School will play music in the adjoining Christ’s Chapel.
The Gallery is looking outwards for 2011 to enrich the public experience using the latest technology with the launch of its multimedia iGuide programme. By the end of 2011 the Gallery aims to have produced informative videos on over half of the works in the permanent collection.
In 2011 Dulwich gets its Domenicino back – but for only one month!. The Adoration of the Shepherds by Domenicino Zampieri was sold by the Gallery in 1971 to the National Gallery of Scotland. Its one and only sale of a painting from the collection which was claimed would never be broken up and which went against the wishes of its bequest by Sir Peter Bourgeois was widely criticised at the time. However, the finances of Dulwich Picture Gallery were in such a parlous state that the Trustees of the day took the decision to sell the painting to provide an increased endowment in order that the Gallery could continue to function. The Gallery still receives no government funding and relies on the number of its visitors and grants from various charitable sources, including its own Friends organisation, to exist. The Domenicino will be on exhibition in the Gallery in December 2011.
In the meantime there will be a ‘guest masterpiece’ on view each month to celebrate the Gallery’s bi-centenary. The series starts in January with the portrait of the Gallery’s architect, Sir John Soane by Thomas Lawrence from the Sir John Soane Museum. In February Velasquez’s ‘The Bufón’ – Don Sebastián de Morra from the Prado, Madrid, in March – Vermeer’s ‘The Music Lesson’ on loan from The Royal Collection. There will be a lecture to accompany each month’s painting (see What’s On in Dulwich page 15)
Mary Boast Walk
A passageway linking Camberwell Grove and Grove Lane has been renamed MARY BOAST WALK by Southwark Council in honour of Mary Boast, a member of the Dulwich Society’s Local History Group and the author of a number of guides to various parts of the borough, whose obituary appeared in the last issue of the Journal. The Council is to be congratulated on so speedily recognising the distinguished public service of Mary.
Alasdair Aston was once a resident of Aysgarth Road and was appointed to the English department at Alleyn’s School in succession to Michael Croft. He became the head of the department on the retirement of Edward Upward in 1962. He later was appointed Inspector of English with the Inner London Education Authority and in 1986 was appointed the authority’s Chief Inspector of English. He retired in 1990.
His twin passions were a love of poetry and an intense interest in natural history. It was while at Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1953 that he displayed his gift for the former, by winning the Chancellor’s medal for his poetry and he recited his poem, Gloriana Redivva, which made reference to the accession of the present monarch and the 350th anniversary of the death of first Queen Elizabeth, in the Senate House, after which he was carried down to the river for the ‘bumps’.
He went on to win eight further Cambridge poetry awards between 1974-1994 for the Seatonian Prize awarded for “the best English poem on a sacred subject”.
While living in Dulwich he was a leading light in the Dulwich Poetry Group which met at the Crown & Greyhound and he served as its chairman from 1969-1975. He was also chairman of the Poetry Society’s education committee from 1970-1979.
He was a lover of natural history from boyhood and became a member of the Suffolk Naturalists’ Society at the age of 11 remaining a member for 69 years. His particular enthusiasm was moth collecting and he was constantly in their nocturnal pursuit during his time in Dulwich, a hobby handicapped by his lifelong inability to drive a car. He was fascinated by all aspects of the natural world and was an entertaining companion on plant gathering expeditions in the more acceptable conditions of daylight. In his retirement he made his home in Selborne in Hampshire, most appropriately in a house next to the one once lived in by Gilbert White.
Alasdair Aston died on July 17th aged 80.
Cuckoo-flowers, the tender meadow-sweet fragrance
Whirled about me as butterfly, orange and white,
While I was wayward and windward scenting my duty
To be turning this way or that and Oh, yearning for flight!
Waterfalls took up my leisure and kissing of swallows,
Movement of minnows, or stickleback fighting to death,
Skimming of pike in the shallows, dragonfly glitter
Led me a dance from the river, led me astray
Where ridiculous magpies strutted insanely unwary
Of the frolics of foxes in between woods
And the air was full of the furry bees all bearing
Silence away in their millions so that I stood
Mesmerised still by their murmuring all afternoon.
© Estate of A E Aston
The maintenance and management of trees on The Dulwich Estate is an onerous responsibility for the Charity, both as a landowner and as Managers of the Scheme of Management. Where trees are implicated as the cause of structural movement to a property, insurers will, almost inevitably, seek to have them removed and failure to do so will expose the tree owner to claims for subsequent damage to the property.
Following structural movement at 11 College Road, three trees facing the property were implicated as the cause. These are situated on the ‘Manor Waste’ - land owned by the Estate - as shown below and which is defined as an Amenity Area under the Scheme of Management.
Insurers for the owner of the property wanted all three trees removed and one (an Ash) was removed. Of the remaining trees, the Tulip Tree is a fine specimen and of considerable amenity value and whilst a common specimen, the Copper Beech also contributes to the amenity of the area. The Estate was therefore reluctant to remove these trees and sought alternative ways to mitigate the risk of future damage to the house. After much negotiation between insurers (and lawyers!) acting for both the Estate and the house owner, it was agreed to put in place a root barrier.
This entailed digging a trench 4 metres deep and 450 mm wide, which was filled with concrete and lined with a membrane, across the 34 metres frontage of the property. The excavations had to be very carefully undertaken in order to avoid damaging a main sewer and the services to the property: two gas, one water and three electrical mains. The cost of this was £32,000; the Estate managed to persuade its insurers to contribute £20,000 and the balance is recoverable under the Scheme of Management.
The Estate was very pleased with the performance of the contractor - the works went according to plan and with no disruption to the services, and no complaints!
Dulwich has many fine and interesting trees and one, which is perhaps at its best in the autumn, is the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipefera) with its splendid golden fall colour and majestic size. There are several specimens growing locally but none of the size of the one in College Road opposite Dulwich Picture Gallery.
The flowers, for which it is named, are pale yellow cup shaped with a green edge about 5cm across but they are rather hidden by the dense shiny green leaves. These, however, are unique, resembling those of a Plane tree but with the tips squared off; a shape shared by only one other tree, the closely related Chinese Tulip Tree which is very rare in Britain.
It is a native of Eastern and Central North America and was brought to England about 1650 by John Tradescant the younger and grown in his Lambeth garden. It was admired by John Evelyn, the diarist, who also had a garden nearby and who did so much to popularise the making of parks and gardens.
Our tree has had many names; John Tradescant called it Tradescant Virgianian White Poplar and although it is not related to Poplars the wood is still called Yellow Poplar in the timber trade today. The heartwood is often a clear pale yellow of fine quality and is used for cabinet making and construction, being easy to work and very stable. Linnaeus settled the naming problem by giving it a generic name Liriodendron (Lerio-lily and dendron – tree) and Tulipifera (tulip-like) for its specific name.
Some other trees from the same part of America were also collected by John Tradescant. Among these were the Red, Scarlet and Pin Oaks and the Swamp Cypress (Bald Cypress to the Americans), the dominant tree of the Florida Everglades.
As you will have read above, our Tulip Tree is in the news for another reason, having been root-pruned this summer to protect the adjacent property from any possible encroachment by its root system. It is being carefully monitored by the Dulwich Society Trees Group to see if any setbacks are experienced by the tree itself. It is an important feature in the Village landscape and would take many years to replace.
Ivy is generally not a loved plant, it is either tolerated or hated with a vengeance; in the United States its import or sale is banned.
Common Ivy (Hedera helix) will climb and spread over almost anything and can actually cause damage to buildings with its aerial roots digging into the mortar and brickwork and encroaching under roof tiles. Ivy will not kill trees or shrubs although they may suffer through having to share water and soil nutrients with this vigorous intruder. Often trees are so enveloped with Ivy it is difficult to see the host specie, and if the tree is dead the weight of the Ivy can cause it to collapse.
Ivy provides an evergreen screen and shelter for small birds and insects during the winter months, it flowers from late Summer through to late Autumn and is rich in nectar therefore an important food source for bees and other insects. The black fruits are also an important food source for birds.
From a landscaping and aesthetic point of view I feel it is quite acceptable as a ground cover plant which can suppress weed growth and survive in shady areas where other plants fail. The main problem is that if it is allowed to climb or spread without control it can appear unsightly as an intrusion into the general flora.
I would therefore advocate the removal of Ivy from shrubs, and particularly trees when established along the upper stems and lateral branches; severing at some 3.00M rather than at ground level is often more acceptable in order to provide a screen at low level.
In conclusion I would say that Ivy is not all bad, although it should be controlled and discouraged from encroaching over buildings and too far into shrubs and trees.
Anthony George, Tree Consultant, The Dulwich Estate
Wednesday 1st Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery Lecture Painting in Watercolour: the Light in the Pigment by Timothy Wilcox. Linbury Room 10.30am, £10.
Saturday 4th Rotary Club of Dulwich & Peckham Craft Fair St Barnabas Hall, Dulwich Village opens 11am-4.00pm. In aid of the Gates Foundation for Third World Polio eradication.
The Ionian Singers Concert including music for harpsichord and seasonal music for chorus by Byrd, Morley, Gibbons, J S Bach, Cornelius, Howells, Bax, Barber and Warlock. Timothy Salter conductor, Jane Chapman harpsichord. 7.30pm All Saints Church, Rosendale Road. Tickets at the door or in advance from 020 8693 1051 or
Sunday 5th Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery – Film – Swallows and Amazons 3.45pm Linbury Room £4 free juice and popcorn!
Monday 6th Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery – Film – It’s a Wonderful Life. 7.45pm Linbury Room £8
Thursday 9th Dulwich Decorative & Fine Arts Society Lecture – From Yuletide to Nativity – Christmas in early England by Dr Sam Newton. 8pm James Allen’s Girls’ School 6th Form Lecture Theatre. South London Art Gallery at 7pm Performance – ROTOR – an ensemble of performances, sound, installations and art works by nine creative practitioners who have responded to The Score, a contemporary dance work by Siobhan Davies. Tickets £7 £5 concessions.
Saturday 11th Dulwich Choral Society Concert – The Seasons (Haydn) St John’s Church, Goose Green, East Dulwich at 7.30pm. Dulwich Festival Orchestra with soloists Mary Bevan (soprano) Andrew Staples (tenor) and Charles Rice (bass) . Conductor Aidan Oliver. Tickets in advance £13 children under 17 £6 from The Art Stationers, Dulwich Village or South London Music, Grove Vale SE 22 or phone 020 7274 6159. (£15 on the door).
Wednesday 15th Dulwich Picture Gallery Exhibition Norman Rockwell’s America opens.
Thursday 16th Dulwich Picture Gallery Lecture – Norman Rockwell by Ian Dejardin. Linbury Room 12.30-1.30pm . No bookings. Free admission, collection.
Tuesday 21st The Concordia Chamber Choir will be performing a Charity Christmas Concert at 7pm at Christ’s Chapel, Dulwich Village. Programme includes carols for audience participation and a number of readings. Choir pieces include The Lamb – Taverner, Coventry Carol arr. M Brown and O Magnum Mysterium – Victoria. Tickets £10 (children 16 and under free) from Julie John 020 8670 7465
Sunday 9th Dulwich Picture Gallery Bi-centenary Celebrations – THE BIG BANG - from 11am onwards. Fireworks display 5.15pm.
Thursday 13th Dulwich Picture Gallery Lecture – Masterpiece of the Month – Sir John Soane by Thomas Lawrence by Alan Read. Linbury Room 7 for 7.30pm £10
Dulwich Decorative & Fine Arts Society Lecture – Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves; the Working Classes in Art by Linda Smith. 8pm James Allen’s Girls’ School 6th Form Lecture Theatre.
Wednesday 19th Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery Lunchtime Concert by students from the Dulwich Foundation Schools - From Blues to Bach. Christ’s Chapel 1.30pm to 2.00pm. Admission free. Entrance from Gallery Cloister.
Dulwich Subscription Concerts –Chamber Concert in the Old Library, Dulwich College at 7.30pm Haydn, Bartók and Dvorak String Quartets. Tickets £15 Concs £10 Students £5 Tel 020 8761 6659 or on the door.
Sunday 23rd Christ’s Chapel, Dulwich Village – Organ Recital on the George England Organ by Marilyn Harper at 7.45pm
Wednesday 26th From Blues to Bach (see above)
Wednesday 9th From Blues to Bach (see above)
Thursday 10th Dulwich Decorative & Fine Arts Society Lecture – Petra and the Naboteans: the Arabs before Islam by Sue Rollins. 8pm James Allen’s Girls’ School 6th Form Lecture Theatre.
Saturday 12th “The Wizard of Oz” – a special adaptation by Tricia Thorns In aid of St Barnabas Church. Two performances 11.30am and 3.00pm at St Barnabas Hall, Dulwich Village Tickets £10 concs £6 children under 12 £3 from The Art Stationers, Dulwich Village.
Wednesday 16th From Blues to Bach (see above)
Wednesday 23rd From Blues to Bach (see above)
Thursday 24th Dulwich Picture Gallery Lecture- Masterpiece of the Month – The Bufón Velásquez by Peter Scott. Linbury Room 7 for 7.30pm £10.
Sunday 27th Christ’s Chapel, Dulwich Village – Organ Recital on the George England Organ by Simon Johnson, organist St Paul’s Cathedral at 7.45pm.
In September we read the welcome news that the way is now clear for restoration to begin at the Concrete House at 549 Lordship Lane. My sister Jo Thom and I have taken a keen interest in this house since, earlier this year, we confirmed our belief that the Charles Drake in our family tree (our great–grandfather on our mother’s side) is the same person as the builder of this haunting landmark on the Dulwich landscape.
The broad facts of Drake’s professional career are well known and documented . Originally he worked as manager for Joseph Tall, a builder who developed a system that enabled the walls of a building to be cast in concrete and completed within as little as a week, using a modular framework of shuttering and support. Drake saw that this method could be improved upon, and when Tall refused to take his ideas on board Drake patented his own version of the system and in 1867 founded his rival business, “The Drake Patent Concrete Building Company”. The use of shuttering to create thin concrete walls was by no means new, but Drake’s achievement was to introduce the concept into “polite” architecture. Using his new “patent concrete builder”, he constructed several grand houses for wealthy clients – the best examples being Fernlands Villa, Chertsey (1870, demolished 1955) and Down Hall (1873) near Harlow (now a country house hotel). Our family history also associates him with the Melrose Hydropathic Establishment in the Scottish borders (1869-71, now the Waverley Castle Hotel), and with a building in London for the War Office that would be “fireproof and practically indestructible” – maybe the prototype for later wartime bunkers (it would be interesting to know if it still exists, and where). Few of his smaller scale domestic buildings remain. Our research has turned up some new information on several of his buildings, including the sadly derelict Concrete House in Dulwich, and we hope it may resolve some of the unanswered questions concerning its early history.
In the course of our research we have spoken to several of Drake’s relatives and earlier this year my wife and I met a branch of the family in the United States, where I was delighted to discover a memoir of the Drakes written in the 1960s by his grand–daughter Jean Thompson. The memoir contains much new information compiled from correspondence with Drake’s son Charles Joseph and other sources.
Charles Drake was born on Oct 26th 1839 in Chudleigh, Devon. His family was a scion of the great sea captain’s, though Sir Francis himself left no heirs. Unusually for a Drake, Charles joined not the Royal Navy but the Army, and was reputedly a crack marksman. His army career was however short–lived as he contracted jaundice and received an honourable discharge. In 1863 Drake married an Exeter girl, Eliza Richards, with whom he was to have three children, including Charlie (Charles Joseph), who was later to join the family firm. By 1869 Drake and his family had moved from Devon to Newington, South London and had entered “the concrete business”. The census of April 1871 has them living in Norwood – but before the month was out Drake’s wife Eliza died, probably in childbirth, aged just thirty. He was left with three children under the age of eight.
We know that Drake was responsible for several buildings in Scotland (some as far north as Aberdeen), including, we believe, the Melrose Hydropathic Institute in the Scottish borders. This was designed by the Edinburgh architect James Campbell Walker and is considered to be “pioneering . . . probably the earliest mass concrete construction in Scotland” . It was perhaps through an association with Walker that Drake was to meet the Dunfermline architect and builder Thomas Bonnar, then living at 28 Scotland Street, Edinburgh. In September 1873 Charles Drake married Thomas Bonnar’s eldest daughter Jane Murray Bonnar. After her wedding in Edinburgh Jane moved down to London, and this is where we pick up the story of the Concrete House.
Charles Drake built what is now No. 549 Lordship Lane in 1873. In some publications and documents the house is supposed to have been built as the rectory to St Peter’s Church opposite, designed by Charles Barry Jnr. However there is little evidence to link the two buildings save a closeness of architectural style and a presumption that a church of the stature of St Peter’s would need a parsonage. The truth is, I believe, rather different, and in many ways more interesting. On the certificate of his second marriage Drake stated his address as “The Ferns, Forest Hill, London”. Just before her marriage Jane’s grandfather gave her a bible in which she and Charles recorded the major life events of the family. The first entry, in Jane’s best italic hand, proclaims the birth of their first son, Francis Glenny, on July 18th 1874, at “The Ferns, Lordship Lane, Forest Hill, London”.
These facts do not prove that The Ferns and No. 549 are one and the same house. Thanks to the delineation of the census districts it is possible to make an identification. In 1881 and again in 1891 the enumeration district boundary ran along the west side of Underhill Road, then north-west up Lordship Lane, covering the properties on its north side towards Melford Road. In both censuses the house on the corner of Underhill Road and Lordship Lane is called The Ferns. This is, of course, the location of No. 549, the Concrete House.
So it would appear that, far from being a rectory, the house was built by Drake as a home for himself and his second wife. By the time of the 1881 census the Drakes had moved. The new occupants of The Ferns are listed as Robert Carter, a linen merchant, his wife and two daughters. The 1891 census records it as occupied by Henry Yeo, a leather manufacturer, his wife and family of eight. No vicars, then.
There is one other intriguing piece of information that associates Drake with the Dulwich neighbourhood. Not far from Lordship Lane is another house that is strikingly similar to The Ferns. Gothic Lodge stands on the corner of Idmiston Road and Barston Road, Tulse Hill. It is also made of concrete, and presumably built by Drake. Fortunately it has not suffered the fate of The Ferns: it was restored some twenty years ago and is now a residential care home. The address recorded in the 1871 census for Charles Drake, his first wife Eliza and their three children was Buccleugh Road, Norwood. This road is not found in the London A–Z, having been re-named in the late nineteenth century. Its new name is Idmiston Road. So in 1871 Drake was living on the street where Gothic Lodge now stands, and was probably still living there while he built The Ferns in 1873 for his new bride.
We know from family history how long Drake and his family lived on Lordship Lane and this leads on to an identification of other houses that Drake built that have sadly since disappeared. Referring to The Ferns, Jean Thompson writes that her grandfather “[in] 1873-6 built and lived in a house at Dulwich” and she goes on to mention their later residences in Clapham and Upper Tooting.
The house at Upper Tooting built in 1878-9 was to be the last house that Drake lived in. Known as Briar Bank, it stood at 10 Wandle Road, near Wandsworth Common, and was probably one of the new buildings that Drake referred to in an article in The Builder in which he details a new method of applying colour to concrete to enhance its appearance without the use of stucco. His grand-daughter’s memoir based on correspondence with Drake’s son Charles Joseph supports this:
“[his houses] were all built to show different processes of building with concrete. The last at Upper Tooting was constructed entirely of concrete – walls, floors, staircase, roof, including baths, sinks, and tanks for water supply. Built “in situ” – all in one piece. This was the first building in England in which small reinforcement rods were used, and it was also the first to have exterior walls finished outside with a cement to which a mineral coloring had been added.”
She goes on to write that “by that time the architects and builders were convinced that the Drake monolithic concrete system was all it claimed to be”, but history records rather the reverse to be the case: the architectural establishment came out against the use of concrete as a suitable building material. Partly this was as a result of the hostility of John Ruskin who saw concrete as a dishonest material, especially when it was made to resemble another. There were also doubts about its durability, strength and colour consistency. It was left to others such as Frank Lloyd Wright in America and Auguste Perret in France to develop more fully the potential of the material of which Charles Drake was so passionate an advocate. But Drake did recognise that, while his own use of concrete was conducted within a conventional architectural idiom, a new style would be needed for it to reach its true potential. In a speech in 1874 he said with great foresight: “Much has been written and said lately about the demand for a new style at architecture. May I suggest that this may be found in studying the right architectural treatment of concrete buildings”
Charles Drake died at Briar Bank in 1892 at the early age of 52. The family firm did not outlive him. Charles Joseph had emigrated to Canada in 1887, where he developed a process for manufacturing paving slabs with integral gutters for the sidewalks of its cities. Writing of his departure, Jean Thompson says: “who ran the business after this, I do not know”.
It is a tribute to Drake’s construction system that the Concrete House has withstood the rigours of dereliction and is considered still structurally sound enough to be restored. Along with those who have campaigned so tirelessly for its salvation, we look forward to its new lease of life, maybe bearing its original name, The Ferns, on its distinctive gateposts. And we hope that its freshly restored walls may also bear a blue plaque in honour of its creator and first occupant, stating that “Charles Drake, 1839-1892, pioneer builder in concrete, built this house in 1873 and lived here 1873-1876”.