Autumn is a more conservative time for our birds; the days of plenty, of lush fruits and buzzing insects is over and now the natural larder is arguably more prosaic, with seeds and berries at the heart of Nature’s menu. Enter the finches and thrushes. Our resident populations start to flock and seek food in greater numbers and are joined by rural individuals and Northern and Scandinavian cousins.
As we walk in the parks and gardens and spot our more sedentary Blackbird, Song Thrush and Chaffinch populations, they will be interspersed with birds that have come from far afield seeking richer pickings in our comparatively warmer settings. Additionally new species arrive and stay until spring before returning to their breeding grounds.
Just as the Chiffchaff and Swallow are signatures of the arrival of spring and the temptation of summer, the Redwing is a herald of colder more austere times; the flash of red on their underwings a welcome relief on our shorter greyer days. Slightly smaller than a Song Thrush, the scientific name of the Redwing, Turdus Iliacus translates as thrush of the flanks indicating its distinctive field characteristic whilst a prominent pale eyestripe adds to the ease of identification.
As with most bird species the Redwing has the ability to see part of the ultraviolet spectrum which means that even on the greyest of days, waxy berries appear as bright beaming beacons and are easy for the bird to locate; rowan and hawthorn bushes being particular favourites, and as the early morning frost clears they can also be seen feeding on the softer ground for worms.
As this Scandinavian invasion proceeds during late October and through November, Mistle Thrushes aggressively defend berry yielding yews, perched at the top of the bush screeching out their strangulated alarm call, whilst Blackbirds and Redwings dart in to surreptiously gorge themselves. After any snow disappears, flocks of hundreds of Redwings can be seen on open ground, such as Dulwich Park and Peckham Rye, desperately restoring their lost fat reserves.
Their presence is a sign that despite human pressures there are some natural processes that are still working and congratulate yourself if you have berries in your garden as you are providing a much needed winter larder for our birds whilst being a perfect winter host for the Redwings.
London Wildlife Trust Sydenham Hill Wood update
by Ashley White
The autumn-winter months are the busiest time of year with regards to practical habitat management. Management activities in the wood during this period include brush cutting and raking to maintain the open, sunny glades and rides that are so valuable for wildlife, coppicing, dead hedging, pond clearance and management of invasive plant species such as cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) and rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum).
As recent visitors will be aware London Wildlife Trust has embarked on an exciting project to enhance the quality of the Ambrook, the stream that flows through part of Sydenham Hill Wood, and the dew Pond in Dulwich Wood, which is fed by the stream. Both pond and brook had been in poor condition for many years with heavy shading and build up of leaf litter causing acidification and an unpleasant smell, which resulted in the dew pond being known locally as the “sulphur pond”.
The project has been made possible with a generous grant from SITA Trust and match funding from the Dulwich Estate. The enhancements began at the end of September with a bat tree roost survey, closely followed by tree works to allow light to reach the water and prevent future build up of fallen leaves. A mini-digger was used to de-silt both the brook and pond, which will fill with water naturally, and to create a scrape between the two. Over the coming months volunteers will be involved in planting native aquatic plants, building crossing points over the stream and constructing a boardwalk and dipping platform for visitor access. The area will soon be fenced off for a period of three years with limited access to allow the new plants to establish and we ask visitors to be patient during this time- it will be worth the wait!
Previous surveys revealed there were few species of invertebrate able to tolerate the anoxic conditions of the stream and pond. Improvement of these freshwater habitats will result in an increase in invertebrates that will benefit many animals, including bats. The project will also enhance the visitor experience of the wood through improved access to the Ambrook and the dew pond for recreation, environmental education and for public events.
Over the spring and summer we recorded 19 species of butterfly in the wood, most notably ringlet, brown Argus, purple hairstreak and white-letter hairstreak, a Priority Species. This year we also started up a monthly moth survey. As the site is open access at all times this entailed volunteers sitting up over a light trap for three hours over four consecutive nights every new moon. The first survey took place in July and to date we have found a total of 303 moths of 44 species, that included tree lichen beauty (Cryphia algae), swallow-tailed (Ourapteryx sambucaria), and ruby tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa). While carrying out the moth surveys we also observed feeding bats and squeaking tawny owl chicks.
Over the past year renowned entomologist Richard “Bugman” Jones has also been undertaking a repeat invertebrate survey of Sydenham Hill and Dulwich Woods. 197 species were recorded during this period, bringing the cumulative species total for the woods up to 783. Numerous unusual and scarce insects were found at the sites including: Agrilus laticornis, a nationally scarce jewel beetle associated with oaks, Mordellistena neuwaldeggiana, a nationally rare flower beetle and Auplopus carbonarius, a nationally scarce spider-hunting wasp. In his survey report Richard ranks the woods at 41st position in the chart of the top 100 British Woods. Richard goes on to say “The beetle fauna associated with dead and decaying timber is shown to be an important assemblage, and its collective character definitely supports the suggestion that the woods are of metropolitan importance for nature conservation. They may also be of national importance.”
Events have now wound down for this year, but will take place approximately once a month from early spring. 2012 will be a special year for us as the Trust will celebrate our 30th anniversary of managing Sydenham Hill Wood. A programme of celebratory events will be available at the beginning of next year and will be advertised on our website www.wildlondon.org.uk .
Volunteers continue to meet every Wednesday and on the second and fourth Sunday of each month, but we are especially looking for new volunteers for our recently formed Thursday group. If you are interested in volunteering with us please contact Ashley White, Conservation Project Officer for more details: email@example.com / 020 7252 9186.
Sydenham Rise - Who Lived in a House Like This?
by Sharon O’Connor
Looking back into the past, some parts of Dulwich have shown a fairly cosmopolitan flavour but the residents of Sydenham Rise were quite a local bunch geographically. Only six of the residents in the 1881 Census were born outside Britain and only four in the 1901 Census. About a third of the residents in 1881 were Londoners and this had risen to over 60% by 1901. The servants had often travelled further to live in Sydenham Rise than their employers: in 1881 they came from thirteen English counties, Wales, Scotland, Switzerland and Prussia compared to seven English counties, Scotland, Australia and Germany for their employers. Perhaps employers preferred servants who didn’t come from the Dulwich area because they feared the young girls might gossip in the neighbourhood, have suitors or even run away back to their families.
Practically everyone who lived in Sydenham Rise in the 1880s was British, just one resident had been naturalised and one cook was Prussian. Twenty years later, in the early part of the 20th Century, the road was even more local and wholly British. Just one servant was born outside England and then only in Scotland. Their employers came from London and just five other counties, although in addition one was born in India and three in Turkey.
Sydenham Rise seen from Horniman Gardens, c 1907. From the left: Nos 9, 11 and 13.
Sydenham Rise was a highly fashionable road and although none survive today, the houses were rather grand and imposing. Unlike smaller Dulwich houses, few of these houses were maintained by just a general servant or maid of all work. Instead, every house had a cook and a housemaid and most had a parlour maid too; life for servants here must have been considerably more sociable as a consequence. Larger families usually had a nurse and often a kitchen maid too. The large proportion of domestic servants, who were usually women, would have made Sydenham Rise a rather female dominated place, especially during the day when the busy husbands were at their City desks. This was typical of well-to-do Victorian suburbs and meant that the working class districts were left rather more male dominated.
The uniformity in birthplace is also reflected in the type of occupation pursued by the residents of Sydenham Rise. In 1881 there are lots of merchants, a barrister, a solicitor, a ship owner and some with a private income. By 1901 the majority are merchants and a couple are retired. This uniformity may not have been a coincidence as some of the residents worked for each other or had offices close together in the City of London and even married each other.
Forest Hill and the surrounding neighbourhood housed a sizeable German community of mostly rich merchants. Mr Adolph Heinrich Gottleib Segnitz was born in Germany in 1856, the son of a prominent German wine merchant whose company still exists today. He worked for Rosing Brothers, a firm of general merchants also from Germany (his employer, Ferdinand Rosing, lived at No 13 Sydenham Rise). Segnitz married Helene Rosing, the boss’s daughter and together they lived at Holly Bank (No 1), just six doors up from her childhood home. He later became a naturalised British subject. While working for Rosings he was involved in building the first ship to fly the flag of the Republic of Panama. The ship was launched at Millwall with great fanfare and was christened with the traditional bottle (perhaps of wine from the family firm) by Adolph’s daughter, Gladys. In a wonderful memoir the Rev Ehrmann describes working at Rosing Brothers before his ordination. As a young clerk in the firm he remembers Mr Segnitz as having “a rather severe nature”. Later, when Mr Ehrmann left to become a clergyman he was given a beautiful gold watch by Mr Segnitz, so perhaps he wasn’t that severe after all. Towards the end of his life Adolph took his wife on a cruise to New York. They sailed on the Kronprinz Wilhelm, a German ship which later went on to sink fifteen ships in WW1 before being seized by the US.
A notable silversmith, John Henry Hill, also lived at No 1. His mark is found on beautifully designed and executed work such as letter openers, bookmarks, card cases and placeholders.
Mr Richard Nevill who lived at No 2, Ashbourne, was a barrister but from a family of Turkish bath proprietors who owned a large number of Turkish Baths in London, including some in the streets where other Sydenham Rise residents worked, such as this one in the City which remarkably has survived the war, the Bishopsgate bomb and redevelopment all around it:
Richard Nevill married a Sarah Tetley of Tetley’s Tea, Forest Hill’s other famous tea merchants. Their parlour maid was born in Switzerland which may or may not have been something to boast about at Sarah’s “at homes”.
Elsmere, No 5 Sydenham Rise
The most distinguished person to live in the road was the artist, William Powell Frith who lived at Ashenhurst, No 7 Sydenham Rise where he offered drawing tuition in his studio. He was described as “the greatest British painter of the social scene since Hogarth” and was the subject of a very interesting article by Brian Green in 2008.
William Powell Frith in his studio at Ashenhurst, 7 Sydenham Rise
The Rosings at No 13, Melrose, were from Germany and Prussia (before their unification into Germany). Ferdinand became a naturalised British subject and lived here with his wife Cornelia and their children, Helene, Arthur and Gustav, their Prussian cook, Marie, and other staff. Arthur went to Dulwich College. The family firm, Rosing Brothers was in Basinghall Street in the City. Described as a general merchant it was, amongst other things, one of London’s largest coffee importers and owned many coffee plantations.
After the Rosings left, Melrose was occupied by Sir Walter Peace, KCMG. He had been living with his wife and daughter in Crouch End next to the Hornsey Wood Tavern so Sydenham Rise must have been a step up the property ladder for him. The son of a music professor he went to the colony of Natal in South Africa aged 23. He rose to become Britain’s first agent-general for Natal but before that he had been a merchant like so many of his neighbours. He was one of the great and the good: an original member of the Board of Trade and a member of the Tariff Reform Commission amongst other appointments. He seems to have been something of a “go to” person for quotes on South Africa and is variously quoted in newspapers of the period. He thought “peace in South Africa can only be accomplished by war … (which) … would not last more than two months … Great Britain must assume absolute control over the whole of South Africa”. In fact the second Boer War lasted about eighteen months and the Chicago Tribune thought that his “outburst” was “a fine example of the sort of thing that would better have been left unsaid”. He later said “I have known the Boers as well as any man. I have lived among them and I have fought them. To exist peacefully so close to them is an utter impossibility”. He was involved in a plan for the resettlement of Norwegians in Natal in 1882 and in his will he set up the Sir Walter Peace Education Trust for Natalians of British descent. He probably met Gandhi and he is mentioned in some of Gandhi’s speeches. In particular, Gandhi refers to Sir Walter’s assertion that Indians are better treated in Natal than anywhere else: “he must have very queer notions of good treatment”.
Sir Walter Peace (1840-1917) who lived at No 13.
The shipowner, George Thompson Henderson lived with his family at No 17, called Springfield. He worked in Leadenhall Street in the shipping firm founded by his grandfather George Thompson which traded as the Aberdeen White Star Line (not to be confused with the White Star Line of Titanic fame). The company owned magnificent sailing ships including Thermopylae arguably the greatest tea clipper of all time. The Cutty Sark was built to compete with her but Thermopylae beat Cutty twice in a race.
Thermopylae, one of the sailing ships owned by George Thompson Henderson.
Despite her fame as a tea clipper Thermopylae more often sailed to Australia, carrying emigrants out and wool back. On her maiden voyage, she sailed to Melbourne in just 60 days, breaking records previously set by steamer ships. Eventually sold to the Portuguese navy and used as target practice she was sunk in 1907. In 2003 divers identified her hulk off the Lisbon coast. Henderson’s father, Sir William Henderson, was himself the son of a farmer who joined the Aberdeen White Star Line, and like, Adolph Segnitz at No 1, married the boss’s daughter and was made senior partner. He became a noted philanthropist.
William Phillips, original member of the London County Council, JP, noted social reformer and philanthropist also lived in Sydenham Rise with his first wife, Fanny, and then following her death from consumption, with his second wife, Emily at St Clair’s, No 19. In 1880 he hosted the meetings of the incipient British peace movement. He fought for Home Rule for Ireland and for aid for the starving cotton workers in Lancashire.
St Clair’s, No 19 Sydenham Rise
St Clair’s was later the home of the Edwards family. Joseph Slatterie Edwards was part of the Edwards Brothers family firm. They were corn merchants in Blackfriars Road but Edwards had also been a tea merchant in the past. He was also something of an inventor and in 1857 filed a patent for “the preparation and novel application of certain foreign fruit…to be used in the manufacture of sugar”.
Henry Churchman Gregory lived at No 19 after the Edwards family. His family moved to Australia when he was a child. In 1846 he joined two of his brothers in exploring the Australian interior where they discovered coal. He was a member of the North Australian Exploring Expedition in 1855 and was considered “the life and soul of the organisation”, being addicted to practical jokes. He must have returned to England at some stage because in 1901 he is living in St Clairs with four servants and his daughter, Elizabeth (who later left a bequest to the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia to perpetuate the names of her father and uncles).
Last, but by no means least, not all the houses in Sydenham Rise were grand with cooks and parlour maids. Sydenham Cottage, in between Nos 13 and 15 (Melrose and Durham House respectively) was inhabited by Edmund Pankhurst, a gardener from Kent, his wife and two children.
On The Street Where You Live - Sydenham Rise
by Ian McInnes
World War II was not particularly kind to the large Victorian houses along Sydenham Rise which Sharon has written about., Sydenham Rise lies at the southern extremity of the Dulwich Estate. Two, Nos. 7 and 9, had major bomb damage while, from 1943, No 11 was used by Messrs Evan Cook as a furniture depository - storing the contents of other bombed out houses. Austin Vernon, the Estate Architect & Surveyor, sketched an initial redevelopment scheme in March 1949 and followed this, in May 1951, with a preliminary scheme to convert No 11 into 5 flats - Evan Cook moved out in December that year agreeing to pay £2500 in dilapidations - by instalments.
Nothing more happened until 5th June 1952 when the London County Council issued a compulsory purchase order for all the land between Sydenham Rise and Eliot Bank (the County of London (Eliot Bank, Lewisham) Compulsory Purchase order 1952). This included all the Estate properties on Sydenham Rise (Nos. 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17 and 17A), 50 & 50A Sydenham Hill, and 61 and 63 London Road. The Estate objected and a public enquiry was held at Lewisham Town Hall on 9th October. Mr J Scott Henderson QC and Mr Walter Gunbel of Counsel represented the Governors, and the Chairman, Manager and Architect were all called as witnesses – the latter bringing along his 1949 development proposal to show that the Governors were serious in their intention to redevelop the area themselves.
Much to the Governors’ surprise the order, published on 1st July 1953, confirmed the enquiry inspector’s acceptance of their argument and the Estate properties were excluded from the order. The Manager started marketing the site immediately and in January 1954 Mr C B Curtis, a Beckenham based Surveyor, working for Mr Leslie Marsden, a builder, of ‘High trees’ Sunnydale, Farnborough Park, submitted an initial proposal - eight blocks of 2 storey flats and one block of 4 flats with 4 maisonettes above.
In February Austin Vernon submitted his own scheme – to be carried out in phases so that “persons are not without housing while it is in progress”. The plans showed part refurbishment and part new build, and produced 53 flats and 4 maisonettes. Nos. 13 and 17 Sydenham Hill were retained as houses as they were still on long leases.
The Estate Building Committee discussed the options. The Manager was worried that an Estate -led development scheme would not be commercially viable as he did not think the level of rent the Estate could charge would cover the cost of the loan to fund the building cost. He was concerned that it might have to be subsidised from Estate income and the Governors agreed that it would be better to do it on a building agreement with a builder.
Austin Vernon was not best pleased. He was determined not to lose his scheme and prepared a scathing report which said “I have examined the scheme for the development of this large site prepared by Mr C B Curtis, Surveyor . . . . . The proposal as presented is in my opinion ill conceived and lacking in imagination…..The flats are all exactly alike . . . . the maisonettes are unbalanced and of poor design and much improvement could be made – in my opinion the elevations as presented are not attractive and there is no variation – the roofs are particularly overpowering being the height of about two floors. Generally as I examine the plans of these dwellings I see the lack of imagination; no provision for the storage of coals, bicycles or prams: no facilities for washing and drying of clothes; no provision for garages nor the disposal of refuse. – it should be redesigned”
The Governors ignored him and instructed the Manager to negotiate a building agreement with Mr Marsden, but they added a caveat that the Architect could ask for the layout to be amended, and he was also instructed to help negotiate the scheme through the planning application process.
In June 1954 the Architect reported on his visit to the LCC town planning department. He noted that the latter considered that the application should have been made by the Governors themselves rather than a builder - who would only have a short term interest in the site. He added that the LCC officials had suggested that the site was suitable for taller buildings and that three floors would be better than two. He could not resist saying “I might mention that the plan which I prepared and which was used at the Public Enquiry provided for three storey flats.” On 9th October he reported that he now had planning consent for three storey blocks but nothing further happened until October 1955 when Mr Marsden pulled out of the deal, apparently owing to the amount of building he was undertaking elsewhere.
The Manager discussed Austin Vernon’s original layout with other developers but was having trouble in dealing with the properties that were still held on long leases, or were occupied by statutory tenants - obtaining vacant possession was a serious obstacle. In the end Wates were the only developer prepared to take the whole site on terms that included provisions to deal with the problem of obtaining vacant possession - to help in negotiations to remove the tenants, Wates indicated that they would agree to take over the properties as landlords. The proposed development would be a mix of houses and 3 storey flats and maisonettes – 93 units in all.
In January 1956 a revised layout reflected the contours of the land and showed the blocks of buildings nearer to the street frontage. The houses had been omitted and the back land was to be used for residents’ gardens and garages. There were now 32 ground floor flats, 64 maisonettes and 48 garages.
Six months later, in July, the Architect reported that Wates had asked him to vary the scheme again because of the difficulty experienced in obtaining Building Society loans for flats - they intended now to start the project by building 3 blocks of 5 three story terrace houses. Austin Vernon added that the houses would be built so that the entrance hall, staircase and garage were on the ground floor; the first floor at the front would be level with the ground at the back and would include the living room, dining room and kitchen, with three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. The elevations were to be designed in a ‘contemporary modern’ manner.
There were further detail revisions to the flats and maisonettes on the rest of the site in September and the building agreement was finally signed on 24th November - for 15 houses on the site of 7-11 Sydenham Rise (Section 1) and flats and maisonettes on the rest. Wates were allowed a total building period of 5 years to complete the scheme - from 25th December 1956. The total ground rent was to be £1500.
In December Wates surveyed the Section 1 site and set out the houses slightly differently - in one block of 11 houses and another of 4. In June 1957 a further building agreement for the 15 houses and 81 flats and maisonettes was signed and in September 1958 the first houses, Nos. 21, 23, 25 & 27 Sydenham Rise were finished. The others followed on through March 1959.
In May 1959 there were further changes to Section 2 on the lower part of the site on London Road - the Architect said that “After mature consideration and discussion it has now been suggested that houses with gardens would be more attractive on this section of the site.” He had obtained verbal approval from the LCC planners for a scheme for 22 houses including a terrace of 9 on London Road - the elevations both front and back to be tile hung with slate covered roofs. Further up the hill, located on a service road off Sydenham Rise, Section 3 was to have one block of 7 and another block of 6 houses - Austin Vernon noted “In my opinion this development is preferable to the original proposal for flats and maisonettes and is more attractive” – but he also had an alternative layout showing 32 flats if required. The Governors agreed to the houses.
In October 1959 the final design submitted for Section 3 provided 11 four bedroom houses, with their garages in a block off the new estate road, and thirteen 3 bedroom town houses at the rear. The four bedroom houses were similar to those already erected a year earlier in Dulwich Wood Park. At the top of the site, on the corner with Sydenham Hill, there was to be a tall block of 33 flats, on the lines of the new blocks recently built along Farquhar Road.
The quarterly progress report, issued in November, confirmed that the houses fronting London Road in Section 2, and the new estate road and sewer for section 3, were complete. The houses at the front of Section 2 were now expected to be ready in the spring of 1960, with those at the back to start on site in the New Year. There was some discussion over the name of the new road for Section 2. The Manager suggested Wellington Close, after the Duke, a former governor of Alleyn’s College, with an alternative of Benson Gardens, after the bricklayer whom Edward Alleyn had contracted to build the College. The LCC did not like either and suggested Tarleton Gardens, its name today.
In April 1960 the numbers of flats in the tall block were revised down to 18, following an LCC requirement for lower density, but in September the scheme was revised yet again because Wates wanted slightly larger flats and maisonettes - the revised layout removed the tall block and showed 11 maisonettes and 5 flats in 3 storey blocks.
Tarleton Gardens was complete and occupied by December. At the same meeting names were discussed for Section 3 and the three suggested were Little Brownings, Pynners Mead, and Bowyers Close after Sir Joseph Bowyer. The LCC agreed Little Brownings in February 1961.
The last amendment was In October when Wates decided that the cost of the three storey blocks of flats and maisonettes was too high relative to the original tall block scheme and they went back to the tower - Frobisher Court was finally finished in July 1962.
The triangular field bounded by Sydenham Rise, London Road and the lower part of Sydenham Hill is now a popular local playground but, until the early 1950s, it was an agricultural small holding, with an old house called ‘the Chalet’ at the top of the site. Contemporary reports and old photographs show that it was an old stable or farm building roughly converted into a dwelling with bedrooms in the old lofts. Most of the house was timber framed, with lathe and plaster external walls, on a brick base. Its drains were apparently connected to the main sewer but it had no electric light.
‘Ophelia in Pieces’ is the first book by Clare Jacob, a local resident and until recently chairman of The Camberwell Society. She was brought up in New York and London. She read English at Oxford and became a barrister because she loved John Donne. After years of defending clients accused variously of terrorism, hiding cocaine in coconuts, and stealing underpants she decided to capture the lunacy and mystery of it all in a novel. She is married with three children.
The premise of the book is about Ophelia, who, as a barrister, is consumed by her job. Clearly her husband Patrick, has been neglected and their relationship has been put on the back burner for far too long and he has had enough, and sought affection elsewhere. Now it is just Ophelia and her son, who, she feels she needs to get closer to and therefore takes a sabbatical from work. Not being great company during the summer, Ophelia is lucky that, kids being kids forgive and forget easily and her son seems hardly affected by her mood. Due to her break from work, she is concerned about money; however, she is far from struggling, it’s not as if the bailiffs are 'coming-a-knocking' or that she would even have to give up her Au-pair. If that is broke - most of the country would be able to declare bankruptcy!
Sadly on returning to work, Ophelia seems to go back to her old ways by trying to win back the trust of her associates which helps her justify becoming all encompassed with work once again. Occasionally a fleeting thought is given to her estranged husband, though the matter is not explained and the story is not developed as one would expect. Ophelia also has moments of remorse about the way she is rarely around for her son and consoles herself with a glass or two of wine when she gets home of a night, (she is hardly drinking herself into oblivion) and should perhaps have opted for red wine instead and made the old excuse of 'a healthy heart'.
The court cases on which Ophelia works are well scripted, highlighting how the judicial system seems to place the representing barrister at a disadvantage by allowing very little time to prepare before stepping into court. As the cases step up in detail, there tends to be a feeling of deeper knowledge of the defendants and their problems than of the main characters in the book, which is a shame as Ophelia and her relationships could have been expanded a lot further to give a better sense of connection with the reader.
The book jacket review is a little misleading and the reader expects high drama and trauma, making out Ophelia to be a drunk who is broke and drawn into a love entanglement and life threatening chaos. One thing that springs to mind is if Ophelia is really 'in pieces' (as she seems to cope pretty well) then the rest of us must be hopeless wrecks!
However, the book in reality is easy going, with interesting court cases. "Ophelia in Pieces" is closer to real life than most fiction books, which tend to be a bit far fetched. It is a simple glimpse into one woman's life, which holds your attention and keeps the pages turning.
Apparently, the Autumn programme of the Dulwich Players had run into some difficulties, not that this was apparent in this brilliant production directed by Nicky Cole. ‘Nuts’ is a very tense play concerning the supposed mental illness of a high-priced call girl indicted on a charge of first degree manslaughter after allegedly killing one her clients in self defence. It made a successful film
of the same title in 1987 starring Barbara Streisland and Richard Dreyfuss. The entire play, of three acts, is set in the courtroom of the psychiatric wing of Bellevue Hospital, New York.
The defendant’s mother, (Lydia Dickie) and step-father (Roger Orr) attempt to have their daughter declared mentally incompetent for fear of the scandal which would descend upon the family when her chosen line of work was revealed. The District Attorney (Edward Langley) attempts to prove that the defendant, Claudia Faith Draper (Lucy Fletcher) is mentally unfit to stand trial and should be incarcerated in the mental hospital until she is deemed to be sane. His medical witness is Dr Rosenthal (Hugh Blake-James) who appears intent on keeping her there ad infinitum. That is the opposition the twitching, strained Claudia faces. There is just no one that she can trust. The action in the play derives from the exchanges between these witnesses and the defending counsel Levinsky (Georgina Hickleton) as she seeks to shake their testimonies and explore their prejudices.
It is wordy play, dependent for its success on ability of the actors to maintain the pace and to subtly display the emotions of their characters. There are some lighter moments; the pricking of the balloon of ludicrous pomposity of Arthur Kirk, the hapless Claudia’s father-in-law, but most of the play is absorbing in its exploration, through the cross-examinations, of the characters of which the most gripping is that of the defendant herself, superbly played by Lucy Fletcher.
The Burbage Players returned to their favourite playwright, Alan Ayckbourn, for their Autumn production at the Michael Croft Theatre, Alleyn’s School. A strong cast, with a simple but attractive single set of the garden of a Victorian vicarage set in the 1970’s was admirably directed by Kathy Blackeby and Stefan Nowak.
Tom (Terry Brownbill), the mild-mannered and shy vet, makes constant visits to the garden, ostensibly in pursuit of his cat but perhaps unconsciously in pursuit of his neighbour Annie (Gill Daly), who has remained at home to care for her invalid mother. Her brother Reg (Carl Gilbey-McKenzie) and sister Ruth (Angela Horne) make occasional visits with their spouses to the family home to see the ageing matriarch.
The audience does not see Mother, instead it is allowed to view the private lives and often eccentric behaviour of her offspring and their partners. Certainly the most eccentric is Norman, brilliantly played by Humphrey Waterhouse, the louche husband and absolute opposite of his wife, the fantastically organised Ruth. Norman is unable to resist making passes at any woman and this includes his sisters-in-law, the wistful Annie who pines in vain, for the hopeless Tom, and the haughty Sarah (Carole Coyne). Yet Norman is successful with both. Annie clearly deciding that by her age, a bird in the hand is better than one in the bushes looking for a cat, agrees to an illicit weekend away with him. When her affection for Tom stops her going, she is replaced in the attention of Norman by the rapidly melting persona of Sarah.
Ruth, however knows her husband and how far he can be allowed to stray and when the characters depart for their respective homes with the same partners they arrived with, the audience thinks the play is over. It is not. A loud car crash is heard and back they all troop for hilarious recriminations and happy conclusion for the two gormless lovers, Tom and Annie.
Dulwich Picture Gallery has announced the first commission of a Canadian Artist in Residence, to coincide with the exhibition Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven.
There was a strong shortlist of three excellent Canadian artists and Liz Charsley-Jory was appointed to the year-long position.
The role involves working with adults and young people who enrol on the Gallery’s Public Programmes, with schools, with Urban Youth on city estates, with the elderly and on a variety of city Reach-Out programmes for which Dulwich Picture Gallery is famous. This residency is a rare opportunity for the artist to advance their practice and to celebrate and promote the work of Canadian art. Previous resident artists include Michael Kenny RA, Humphrey Ocean RA, Eileen Cooper RA, Graham Crowley and Hurvin Anderson. After the residency the artist will have shows of their own work at Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Liz Charsley-Jory has long admired the work of the Group of Seven, having first visited the McMichael Collection as a child growing up in Ontario. Her grandmother took painting lessons from Arthur Lismer in Montreal, where she was born, and received demonstration sketches and paintings from him. These hung on the walls of her grandparents’ house alongside works by other Canadian artists they knew personally – John Koerner, Joe Plaskett, Molly Lamb Bobak – all of whom celebrate Canadian art. This early indoctrination of Canadian art, and her upbringing on the west coast of Canada gave Liz ample opportunity to immerse herself in pristine landscapes, almost exactly as those viewed by the Group of Seven. This well qualifies Liz to interpret their works in a teaching role.
Liz moved to London after graduating from the University of Victoria in Fine Art and Theatre. She completed an MA in Drawing at Camberwell College of Art and joined the South London Women Artists on their Steering Group. She teaches and leads workshops as part of the visiting artist programme that she helped establish. She has taught art history and is currently mounting a group exhibition of work by contributing visiting artists.
Liz said, “I am looking forward immensely to working with Dulwich Picture Gallery to celebrate and promote Canadian art and culture during and beyond the Group of Seven exhibition. I cannot think of a more enjoyable task than producing a body of work in connection with these vibrant landscapes. People are always astounded by the beauty of western Canada that I capture photographically, and I anticipate a similar response from the Gallery visitors when they see this exhibition.”
Gillian Wolfe CBE, Director of Learning and Public Affairs, said: “We appointed a Canadian artist who currently exhibits and teaches in London, whose art resonated most powerfully and appropriately with the forthcoming Painting Canada exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Liz Charsley-Jory’s work has a palpable Canadian flavour, she has wide experience of teaching across age ranges and she most closely matches the brief agreed with our Canadian Friends Board. We are delighted with this appointment which will enhance and enrich the gallery throughout and beyond this exhibition.”
As part of her residency, Liz’s first Schools project will be with Ditcham Park School on 9 November. Fifteen students will see the just-opened exhibition Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, before taking a workshop with Liz. Provided with a psychological insight into the meaning of Canadian landscape to artists, the participants will be encouraged to creatively convey personal connections with their own surrounding urban landscapes with interesting outcomes.
The post runs from October 2011 to September 2012. The Canadian Artist in Residence at Dulwich Picture Gallery is generously supported by the Canada House Arts Trust and the Canadian Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery.