The Dulwich Society Journal for Winter 2012.
by Richard Jones
I never got to see the hornet nest in Dulwich Park last year. By the time I had been alerted, it had been destroyed. My first thought was: interfering busybody or state-sponsored ecocide? Sadly, it was all too obvious that the nest had been targeted by the park’s own contractors, who removed it for the usual well-meaning, but ill-informed reasons of ‘health and safety’.
The hornet, Vespa crabro, is Britain’s largest wasp, and with queens reaching 50 mm (2 inches) long they are astonishing and awe-inspiring creatures, but with this size comes unease, or fear, and an undeserved reputation - for despite their bulk, hornets are also the most docile of wasps. They can sting, and I’m sure the venom is as potent as any, but it is the smaller yellow-jackets, that are much more likely to attack the innocent victim straying too close to the hidden nest.
The naturalist Edward Step recounts a lovely tale in his book on the bees, wasps and ants of Britain, of how he was slowly descending a precipitous slope and lost his footing; he grasped a small tree stump, only for it to come away in his hand and several dozen huge hornets emerge loudly into the air. He dumped it back roughly into position and backed quickly away to avoid their attack. He soon realized he was not being pursued by a squadron of irate insects, so gingerly crept back to see what they were doing. They were doing house repairs, trying to patch up the broken nest using the same chewed-wood paper with which they construct the brood combs. They ignored him completely, as they went about their business.
It is exactly right that Dulwich should be home to hornets, but it has taken them rather a long time to arrive here. Hornets are woodland dwellers, and they almost always make their colonies inside hollow tree trunks or rotten logs, unlike the ‘common’ wasps (actually several very similar closely related species), which tend to nest in holes in the ground or in lofts. Dulwich is one of the most heavily wooded areas of London, but for reasons that nobody is quite sure of, was part of a large segment of south-east England that remained hornet-free for many years. I grew up in East Sussex, and despite the large and ancient woodlands of the Sussex Weald, it too failed to support the hornets that were common in neighbouring Surrey and Hampshire. It was a mystery for sure.
Hornets have long been known in Richmond Park, Wimbledon Common and other parts of south-west London off into the Surrey Heaths and then down into the New Forest; this was their British heartland. But something happened in the early 1990s and the hornets of Central England started to spread. They arrived in Sydenham Hill and Dulwich Woods around 2001 and the London Wildlife Trust warden showed me the remains of a nest in a tree hole in Cox’s Walk. Since then I’ve seen the occasional foraging worker hawking after their fly prey around the compost bins of the allotments near Dulwich Golf Course.
As with all wasps, hornets are predators, catching flies and other insects to feed to their grubs, back in the nest. As autumn arrives, and there are no more young to rear, hornets will start to feed on fallen fruit, but unlike their small wasp relatives, they seldom bother the picnicker after jam sandwiches.
The photos taken shortly after the Dulwich Park nest was destroyed show mostly male hornets; these (along with new queens) only appear at the end of the year, as the nest matures and comes to an end. All of the workers (sterile females), which built and stocked the nest, captured prey, fed the grubs and cleared the colony of debris, die off. Eventually all the males die too, leaving only mated queens to survive through winter. They each find some dry nook, behind loose bark, under a large log, tucked deep into hedge-bottom leaf litter and hibernate, with their wings tucked tight under their bodies.
In May the queens emerge and each will have to start a new nest, from scratch, making the delicate paper comb and capturing insect prey until the first cohort of workers is reared through to help her. In the days after the infamous nest removal, I saw several large insects, which I thought must be hornets, flying about the streets of East Dulwich. My hope is that these will have been the queens, displaced early from the nest perhaps, but mated nevertheless, and that very soon Dulwich Park will be abuzz with hornets once again.
Threats to Dulwich Trees - Oak Processionary Moth
by Tony George
The oak processionary moth is a native of mainland Europe and has now been located in various London boroughs of which Lewisham is the closest. It has a wingspan between 25 and 35mm and a pattern of brown, tan and white which makes it difficult to see against oak bark. The caterpillars feed on oak leaves and produce silken nests on the trunks and branches of affected trees. Apart from the damage to the tree it can also be a risk to human and animal health.
The caterpillars have tiny hairs which can be blown in the wind causing skin irritation as well as sore throats and eye problems in more extreme cases; it is therefore essential that if the caterpillars are located the local authority or forest research are contacted. Certainly you are advised not to touch the caterpillars or their nests as the necessary treatment requires specialist expertise.
Threats to Dulwich Trees - Ash Tree Die Back
by Jill Manuel
There has been a great deal of news in the media of an alarming threat to our ash trees. South East England is the most wooded part of the UK. Our 80 million ash trees make up almost a third of these woods, and particularly on the calcareous soils in the Midlands for instance, the loss of the local native ash would have a devastating effect on the whole appearance of the landscape.
Ash die-back is a fungal disease (chalara fraxinia), not insect caused. It was first observed in Poland in 1992 and in the last 20 years or so has moved inexorably across north- western Europe, being found now in Germany, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, where it is reported recently there has been a terrible loss with 80-90% of the ash trees dead or dying. There is some evidence from Europe that the beautiful Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus) is affected too, being also part of the natural host range of this fungus.
The Forestry Commission has announced that this fungal growth disease has now been found at a number of sites, though forested areas are more likely to be susceptible. The disease may have come from the importation of stock from the Continent which is a very significant source of plant material used in the UK for both large and private schemes.
Ash is also found growing in hedgerows, and once infected these can act as a corridor of infection from the wind blown fungal spores. We all remember favourite views utterly changed by the loss of the elms. For Ash to succumb would leave us with a truly stricken countryside.
Visit to Audley End
by Jill Manuel
The Trees Committee of the Dulwich Society arranged a visit in October to Audley End House and Garden, with a guided tour of the trees from one of the deputy head gardeners. We first saw at the entrance the astonishing 100 year old CLOUD HEDGE of Yew and Box, its irregular and undulating long length needs to be kept in hand once a year. We caught the gardeners starting on the four weeks worth of pruning and shaping, with the help of their bright blue Cherrypicker (see photo).
This well wooded estate, a Capability Brown landscape, managed by English Heritage, has a parterre garden, just being replanted for the Spring and there are many impressive Cedars and Wellingtonias, the latter always towering over everything else.
There is a long Lime Tree Walk, all the trees colouring at different stages of greens, yellows and gold. We were also shown a unique Oak species, named after the property as Quercus Audleyensis.
There are several very well grown Chestnuts in the old Pleasure Ground which have been allowed to grow to their full natural form, the branches dipping to the ground and rooting there. There have been no grazing cattle to mar them with a 'browse' line. (see photo)
We were wonderfully lucky with the one dry day of the week, and even if it was quite a long coach journey, most said that in fact they enjoyed the run through unfamiliar countryside, with the autumn brilliance of spindle, cornus and crab brightening the way.
Cedars are very splendid trees and we have several in Dulwich. They are evergreen conifers, members of the Pinaceae family. In Dulwich, there are four different kinds: Cedars of Lebanon, Cedrus libani; Atlas Cedars, Cedrus atlantica; blue Atlas cedars, Cedrus atlantica glauca; and lastly, the deodars, Cedrus deodora.
The name ‘cedar’ is given to many coniferous trees with aromatic timber which are not cedars. True cedars have rosettes of thick side shoots on their branches and oval-shaped cones. The most magnificent is the Cedar of Lebanon – King Solomon’ temple was built with their timber, the ancient Egyptians used their resin in the mummification process and it has been valued ever since, because of its insect-repellent quality.
Sadly, in Lebanon itself the trees are suffering from climate change – they need a cold winter. The outline of the Cedar of Lebanon is very distinctive. The foliage is in level planes with wide horizontal branches, ending in a broad dome. It was brought to England in 1740 and graces the lawns of many of our great country houses. There is a huge one at Audley End – the house visited by the Dulwich Society in October. Two were lost in Dulwich Village in the 1987 hurricane, but there remains a fine one in Dulwich Wood Avenue,
The Atlas Cedar comes from the mountains of Algeria and Morocco. The branches are ascending. The blue Atlas Cedar is similar but the foliage is blue-grey. There are examples of both near the end of the boardwalk in Dulwich Park. The blue is a particularly beautiful tree and is planted in many gardens.
The deodar has drooping branches and comes from Afghanistan and the Himalayas. It has bright green foliage and is a very elegant tree. When old, it begins to look increasingly like a Cedar of Lebanon because the foliage droops less. There is a splendid one in Park Hall Road. There is a tree in Burbage Road called a Japanese red Cedar, which is an example of a tree which is not a true cedar. It is tall, narrow, conical-shaped tree with orange-brown bark, and therefore similar in appearance to a cedar.
Dulwich Trees Committee
Dates Of The Unveiling Of World War II Commemorative Plaques To Dulwich Civilians
All unveilings take place at 12 Noon
The full list of dates for the unveilings in 2013 is as follows:
- Court Lane SE21: 7 killed on 6 January 1945. Installation Sunday 6th January 2013 at junction Court Lane/ Dovercourt Road.
- Melbourne Grove, Lytcott Grove, Playfield Crescent SE22: 20 killed in 2 incidents – 16 September 1940 & 17 January 1943. Installation Saturday 12th January 2013 on the green at junction of Lytcott Grove/Melbourne Grove
- Burbage Road SE24: 8 killed in 2 incidents – 17 April 1941 & 22 June 1944. Installation Saturday 13th April 2013 on the green at the junction of Burbage Road/Turney Road.
- Rosendale Road & Lovelace Road SE21: 6 killed in 2 incidents – 23 June & 1 August 1944. Installation Sunday 23rd June 2013 on the railings at the junction of Lovelace Road/Rosendale Road.
- Woodvale SE23: 14 killed on 6 July 1944. Installation Saturday 6th July 2013 in the grounds of 1c Woodvale.
- Park Hall Road SE21: 3 killed on 4 July 1944. Installation Sunday 7th July 2013 on the green at the junction of Park Hall Road/Ildersley Grove.
- Lordship Lane SE22: 23 killed on 5 August 1944. Installation Sunday 4th August 2013 on the wall on Co-operative Chemists, 114 Lordship Lane.
- Albrighton Road, Wheatland House shelter SE22: 29 killed on 9 September 1940. Installation Sunday 8th September 2013 on the railings of the community centre Albrighton Road
- Quorn Road, Goldwell House SE22: 6 killed on 15 September 1940. Installation Sunday 15th September 2013 on the railings at the junction of Quorn Road/Dog Kennel Hill.
- Woodwarde Road SE22: 3 killed on 24 September 1940. Installation Sunday 22nd September 2013 on the railings of Dulwich Library
- Dovercourt Road SE22: 4 killed on 19 October 1940. Installation Saturday 19th October 2013 on the railings of Alleyn’s School at the junction with Dovercourt Road.
- Friern Road & Etherow Street SE 22: 24 killed on 1 November 1944. Installation Saturday 2nd November 2013 on the green at the junction of Friern Road/Lordship Lane.
The Dulwich Society is to unveil a commemorative plaque to World War II victims of Court Lane on Sunday 6th January 2013 at 12 noon (at the junction of Court Lane and Dovercourt Road)
In commemoration of those killed there by a V2 rocket on 6th January 1945
ETHEL CARTWRIGHT 55, JAMES CARTWRIGHT 59, PEGGY GOULD 20, WILLIAM GOULD 58, EMILY HOLLAND 54, PATRICIA HOLLAND 6, JOSEPH STONE 59
A childhood in Dulwich during the bombing
by Corinne Wakefield
We asked former local resident Corinne Wakefield to recall life in Dulwich during World War ΙΙ. She has been able to provide such a graphic account partly from her own memories and also by using the her mother’s wartime diaries.
When the war started in September 1939 I was eleven years old and living at 69 Dovercourt Road, Dulwich with my parents Dora and Stanley Ashmore. My aunt and uncle lived next door at number 67 and we were a close family unit.
My school, James Allen’s Girls’ School was evacuated and I had the chance to go with them, but it had been decided that, in the event of war, I would take up the opportunity of a private evacuation with one of my school friends Dorothy whose father worked for a city underwriters, where his boss had offered a home to any children of his employees. I was invited to go as her friend. Off we went to their home in the village of Underriver in Kent. It was a beautiful old house set in extensive grounds and thought to have been built about 1400. Our hosts were kindness itself and we were soon on ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ terms. We led a much more luxurious life than we were used to at home, as there was a large staff at that time before they all went off to various war jobs and the services. By an amazing coincidence JAGS had moved to share Walthamstow Hall School in Sevenoaks, four miles away, so we were able to continue attending, sharing mornings or afternoons with the other school. We were driven there and back by a chauffeur. Unlike what was to come there were no shortages then and we really had a lovely time. I kept in touch with the family for many years afterwards.
We stayed at Underriver till March 1940 by which time JAGS had reopened in Dulwich where it was to remain throughout the war, so we returned. The school attendance was greatly reduced, but we all carried on as usual and things were quiet until August when the air raids really started and we had them on and off all the time. An air raid shelter for our family had been built next door at my aunt and uncle’s house, and took the form of a blast wall built outside their hall window. We started sleeping there, my parents and I in a row on the floor. Uncle and auntie slept in the cupboard under the stairs and as the noise of gunfire increased, so did uncle’s snores. The gunfire was terribly noisy coming from the gun battery on Dulwich Common, as were the sounds of falling bombs and explosions, and the sky was lit up by search lights.
Saturday 7 September saw the worst air raid so far. There was a loud explosion at noon and the London docks were badly hit with many killed and injured. Peckham also received many hits. It was a terrible night and we slept late the next day catching up on sleep. We heard that a large number of German planes had been shot down. Another very bad night again on the ninth and we all slept in our clothes. The air raid shelter in Albrighton Road was hit with twenty nine killed and Dulwich Library received a hit and also Barry Road
During the day we all continued with everyday life, my mother making pastry, doing housework etc. at home during raids and dashing out to get the family shopping during the ‘all clear’. Baths were taken whenever possible during the day instead of at bedtime. School went on as usual, but sometimes a raid would keep me at home all day, or alternatively we would be kept at school. During raids lessons continued in the basement shelter. We were required to have a tin of ‘iron rations’, kept there at all times in case we were detained by a raid. Sometimes we were caught by one on the way to or from school and had to lie down in the road at the whistle of an approaching bomb. Later in September JAGS received a fire bomb which caused a lot of damage and on arriving at school next day we were sent home for a week. When we returned to school there was a big mess and we were down to ten girls in my class. About a month later the basement there was flooded with rain coming in through the temporary roof and we were sent home again for several days.
My father, who was a scientist, worked at the Government Laboratory near the Law Courts in the Strand and often found the journey there and back very difficult. He had to take whatever public transport was available and sometimes had to walk quite long distances, getting home very tired. As well as public transport there was sometimes disruption in the post, telephone and electricity supply and we would have to use candles. There were raids on and off all the time now but we continued going to the cinema, to church, and for bike rides in the park during the ‘all clears’. Petrol rationing began in September 1939 but we retained the use of our car till June 1942 when all private cars had to be laid up for the duration. After that we got around on bicycles.
On the night of 24 September 1940 there was a bomb in Woodwarde Road opposite the Library which demolished the Post Office and several shops, and four people were killed. For us the worst night came on the of 18th October when two landmines exploded, one in Dulwich Park and the other in Court Lane at the junction with Dovercourt Road . We were all asleep when a terrific explosion woke us. Several houses were demolished and our two were badly damaged. Our roofs were off, windows and doors blown out and ceilings down. I went into the kitchen with my aunt where she had a dresser with rows of plates propped up. All those plates were intact but dangling dangerously over the edge of the shelf. Together we carefully put them back again. I shall never forget those plates. The clearing up began, windows and doors were replaced, roofs mended and houses made secure. But it was a terrible mess and the whole road looked derelict. The next day 13 Dovercourt Road was bombed and four people killed.
We couldn’t remain in the house, so the five of us departed to Guildford where we lodged with a widow lady. Father travelled to London each day by train and I went to Guildford County School. I was not happy there, .there was no room for me in the right class and I was put into a higher one. This was not easy. The weather was very cold and snowy and then I became ill with measles. At the end of January my aunt and uncle left for Shrewsbury to where uncle’s office had been evacuated. It was a sad parting of the ways, and a break - up of the little family unit that had gone through a lot together and provided mutual support. The three of us were not happy in our temporary accommodation and after due consideration it was decided that we would return to Dulwich, which we did in mid-February. We were to remain there for the rest of the war.
Back we went to a derelict house, the tank had burst, the ceilings were down, it was damp and getting ruined. We all set to with clearing up the terrible mess and the local builder came and put in a new tank, and repaired the ceilings. But we were so glad to be home, our spirits, which had been at a low ebb, rose. I went back to JAGS again, I had lost a lot of education. The raids continued, some of them very bad, but they were not so frequent. Fire watching was now taking place, and my parents took their turn at four hour stints during the night. On 13 May there was a heavy raid, the Elephant and Castle area was devastated and we were sad to hear that a JAGS girl, Pauline Jones had been killed.
By mid-1942 food shortages were getting worse and my mother found feeding the family more difficult. Meat and many foods were rationed, with small amounts for each person, vegetables and fish were not but the latter was not always available. When word got round that there was fish in the shop a large queue arrived. Much time was taken up queuing. In August that year I went to Laleham Park Agricultural Camp at Shepperton with a party of JAGS girls. We slept in tents and spent every day potato picking. I have never worked so hard in my life. If we wanted a day off the only other option was peeling potatoes for the other hundreds of workers. We got tremendously hungry and on Saturdays went to the local ABC cafe for an enormous tea. In the autumn I joined the Girls Training Corps and cycled off to evening meetings wearing a tin hat because of the danger of shrapnel falling. My father had become a Sector Fire Captain and we had fire exercises at times. My mother had joined the Women’s’ Voluntary Service (WVS) as an assistant Billeting Officer and helped with the victims of raids at incidents, doing anything she could. During the next few years she went to many incidents and helped in many different ways, always saying how impressed she was with people’s bravery.
On 17 January 1943 there was a sudden raid and a terrific explosion.. Playfield Crescent, Lytcott Grove and Melbourne Grove had been badly hit. My mother went to help and was shocked, the area was devastated and they were digging people out. Many people were killed. Jones and Higgins, the department store in Rye Lane, Peckham had also received a hit. That summer I gained School Certificate, fortunately there were no raids during the exams, but many while we were studying beforehand.
I left JAGS, and in the autumn of 1943 went to the City of London College in Moorgate, with my friend Mary, also from Dovercourt Road. We began a year’s secretarial course and travelled from North Dulwich Station to London Bridge. One day on our return home the London Bridge area was bombed and the Principal of the College telephoned to make sure we had returned home safely.
In June 1944, on my father’s birthday the 13th we had the first flying bomb – Doodlebug V1. You could hear them coming with a funny chuntering noise which was alright till the engine cut out. That was the time to take cover. It was summer and sometimes we stood in the garden watching them till the last minute. Once it was silent you dashed indoors to the cupboard under the stairs and waited for the explosion. We once stood in the garden watching the Spitfires overhead and saw them shoot down two V1s. On the 22nd it was a very bad night and a bomb fell on Burbage Road. We were sad to know that a friend Barbara Wilson, had been killed. It was a difficult period; there were so many raids we returned to sleeping on the floor under the blast wall. In July a bomb in Dulwich Park brought my bedroom ceiling down again and a couple of weeks later Eynella Road received a hit which blew our windows out and damaged the roof. The WVS Clothing Centre was bombed and Carver Road hit, which badly damaged a friend’s house. We were away staying with relatives for a week in August and were sad to hear on our return of the bomb on the Co-op in Lordship Lane on the 5th killing 23 people. This was followed a few days later by a bomb on Milo Road in pouring rain. Just before we left college Mary and I were queuing up for lunch in Lyons teashop in London Wall when a bomb exploded, damaging the college and causing us all to lie on the floor while glass etc. blew in on us. College had to close early. We now had a Morrison shelter put up in our dining room. It was like a large strengthened metal table you could sleep under, and you could have your dinner on top. So back we were to sleeping three in a row, this time in the Morrison, which was a bit weird.
In September 1944 we heard sudden explosions. These were the rockets (V2s) and you didn’t hear them coming, they took you by surprise. On Saturday 6 January 1945, when we were all looking forward to an end to the war, we were sitting having tea round the fire in our dining room when a V2 rocket fell on the corner of Court Lane and our road. There was a loud explosion then a roar, the lights went out and the blast caused the fire to be sucked out into the room and then back again, and the windows all blew in. My boyfriend on leave from the RAF was with us and my mother was holding out to him a glass cake stand with a stem, on which stood the Christmas cake, and when the lights came on again, she was still holding it out but the stem had been sliced off by flying glass. We were all uninjured, except my boyfriend who had a minor cut, because the glass had blown in sideways. If we had been in the back of the house we would have been badly cut as the glass came in sharply and was sticking into the sofa. The house was badly damaged, with the roof and doors off, ceilings down and no windows, but we were all o.k. Seven people were killed. We all started clearing up and tried to get straight. Tarpaulins were supplied to cover the roofs before they could be mended, and ceilings and windows were repaired by workmen from the Council but the rest was up to us. It took us a long time and the weather was bitterly cold with fog, snow and ice. We were very cold. My parents were tired and sad to see their home devastated a second time, but we had a lot to be thankful for.
The Dulwich Society will unveil a commemorative plaque to World War II victims of Lytcott Grove, Playfield Crescent and Melbourne Grove on Saturday 12th January 2013 at 12 noon (at the junction of Melbourne Grove and Lytcott Grove)
In commemoration of those killed in an air raid on 16th September 1940
GRACE BUSBY 68, ANNIE HINTON 41, ELLEN HINTON 64, JANET HINTON 36, KATHLEEN HINTON 34, WILLIAM HINTON 69, OLIVER PITCHES 60, SARAH PITCHES 61, CHARLES WRIGHT 48
And those killed in an air raid on 17th January 1943
EMILY AYERS 62, CHARLES BRACE 60, CHRISTOPHER DIX 31, EVAN EVANS 46, LILY EVANS 41, GERTRUDE MASON 62, WILLIAM PHEASANT 60, ETHEL ROBERTS 58, WINIFRED ROBERTS 30. ETHEL SPELLER 55, HARRIET WALES 65
Lytcott Grove, Playfield Crescent and Melbourne Grove 17th January 1943
Alan Woodfield’s Story
Between the Blitz (the nightly bombing of London and major cities during 1940-41) and the flying bombs and rockets of 1944-45 there were few air raids. In London, in 1942, bombs were dropped on 13 August and there was an air raid alert but no bombs on 31 October. As a result of this comparative lull in enemy air attacks many evacuees returned to London. My family was one of these.
My father was a schoolmaster and had obtained a post in East Meon in Hampshire and had evacuated to there in 1940. Our home, to which we returned in 1942 was 43 Playfield Crescent, a road behind Alleyn’s School playing fields in East Dulwich. Our family comprised Father, Mother, Peter (10), Margaret (7), Olivia (1_ ), Gilbert (16) and myself (17) Gilbert and I were both employed in London at the time; Philip was away training in the Royal Artillery, another brother, Owen, was still evacuated with his school in Lancashire.
On Saturday night 16 January 1943 British bombers raided Berlin in force and Hitler immediately ordered two revenge attacks on London. Twenty-five to thirty bombers came over between 8-10pm on Sunday 17 January and the same number between 4.30-6.00am on Monday 18 January. At 8pm the air raid warning sounded, followed immediately by the noise of continuous, furious, deafening anti-aircraft fire. We did not have time to hurry down the garden in the blackout and climb into our Anderson shelter. In any case, as will be seen, it would have been risky to do so. The traditionally safest place in a house was in a cupboard under the stairs, but there wasn’t room for the seven of us. Five managed to crowd inside. Gilbert was in the front room and I was in the back room. The only bombs the German planes managed to drop on London that night came down on us – all seven of them – four in front of the house and three at the back.
Gilbert managed to get down in time as the blast from the front blew in the windows and hurled a wireless set on to the floor, the acid from its battery burning a hole in the carpet. I crouched down against the dining room wall near the cupboard as the blast from the back blew in the window, tore down the blackout curtain which wrapped up all the glass and carried it across the room, avoiding our canary in its cage suspended from the ceiling and hitting the wall just above my head. When the All Clear sounded we inspected the damage. The front door had been blown along the hall. In the upstairs front bedroom all the window glass was shattered and rows of jagged shards were sticking out of the wall on the opposite side of the room. Large lumps of plaster had fallen off the ceiling onto the bed. Father went to have a look round outside and reported seeing several bodies, obviously dead.
The family couldn’t stay the night so Mother and the three younger children went to stay at her father’s house in Crystal Palace Road, and took the canary with them. Father, Gilbert and I spent the night moving all the furniture into the room downstairs ready for storing it elsewhere. Then, at 4.30am the air raid warning sounded again. This time we managed to get into the Anderson shelter. The guns from local batteries were again making a deafening noise and for an hour and a half as we shivered in the cold.
Later that morning the street was a hive of activity. With the entire area uninhabitable, neighbours were lowering their furniture from upstairs windows by ropes into the street. The whole of Lytcott Grove, a stone’s throw away, was utterly devastated. A few doors along from our home, the complete side wall of a house leant at an angle across an alleyway against the next house. That same day Mother, Father, Peter, Margaret and Olivia moved to friends at Guildford where, in 1939, I had been evacuated with Strand School. Gilbert and I went to stay with our grandparents in Norbury.
Artists in Residence - Percy Horton (1897-1970)
Resident of Pond Cottages from the 1920s to the late 1930s
by Judy Fitton
In 1947, Percy Horton was invited to record in drawings the 150 mile Youth Railway being built by voluntary labour in war-ravaged Bosnia. His illustrious colleagues were Paul Nash, Laurence Scarfe and Ronald Searle, the latter having famously depicted the horrors of life in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and the building of the infamous Thailand-Burma Death Railway in 1942/43, where labour was hardly voluntary. Horton’s assignment, in which he was commissioned to draw the leading figures, was a professional highlight in a distinguished life which began modestly on 8th March 1897.
Percy Frederick Horton, the eldest of three brothers, was born in Brighton into a working-class family. His father Percy was a bus conductor and his mother a nurse who had worked in service. Both parents, especially his mother, encouraged the boys’ education in every way they could. This included providing music lessons for their eldest child who learned the violin – though they were financially unable to extend such lessons to Ronald and Harry who made do with being choir boys. The nurturing of the boys’ education by the parents paid dividends as they all won scholarships to Brighton Municipal Secondary School. On leaving school, Percy and Ronald also won scholarships to the Brighton School of Art .
By the time Horton left art school in 1916 it was the year of First World War Conscription and he had become a socialist and member of the Labour Party. He had also joined, with fellow student Royle Richmond, Brighton’s No-Conscription Fellowship. Horton had formed the opinion that war was a massive manipulation of the working man, agreeing with Fenner Brockway who wrote in the Labour Leader in 1914 ... ‘Workers of Great Britain, you have no quarrel with the workers of Europe. They have no quarrel with you. The quarrel is with the ruling classes of Europe ...’
During the First World War, conscientious objectors (COs) were dealt with in three ways according to the reasons for their objection. They were given work to help the war effort which did not compromise their fundamental beliefs. Those who accepted non-combatant service under the military usually joined the Non-Combatant corps and were put through military training in squad drill without arms and trained in the use of tools for field engineering. The second and most popular choice was to accept alternative service under civilian authority such as working in munitions factories or on the land. However the third category comprised COs who were unwilling to conform to any form of discipline or service which could help the war effort and who claimed absolute exemption. Of this group, about 350 were granted exemption on religious grounds. There were, however, at least 1000 who were not granted exemption and who consistently resisted all attempts to make them accept alternative conditions. Horton belonged to this group.
As an absolutist objector and for his refusal to report for duty Horton was sentenced to two years’ hard labour at Calton Prison in Edinburgh. For his subsequent refusal to carry out non-combatant war work of any sort, he was court-martialled twice more and not released from prison until the end of the war.
According to an article by an unknown prisoner (generally considered to be by Horton) entitled Life in a Scottish Prison which appeared in The Tribunal in 1917, conditions in the prison were harsh. It was extremely cold and all clothes except shirts and undershirts were confiscated at night, even during winter. The diet comprised porridge, sour milk, soup, with the ‘treat’ of potatoes once a week. The COs were treated more harshly than the other prisoners and suffered greatly from lack of exercise, fresh air and insanitary conditions. It was so bad that after the death of Royle Richmond from heart trouble exacerbated by his treatment in prison and the subsequent adverse press coverage, the Home Office demanded a list of prisoners ‘at risk’. Horton appeared on the list and thus obtained some temporary respite in hospital before being released at the end of the war.
When Horton was finally released from prison he and Lydia Sargent Smith, the former fiancée of his friend Royle Richmond, decided to get married. Lydia, a remarkable woman, was eleven years older than Horton. She had been a suffragette in her youth and was so incensed by the treatment of suffragettes at the hands of the police that she joined the newly formed women’s police force. She was also a Quaker and her religious and political convictions had led to her strong opposition to conscription. Lydia and Horton were married in 1921 and later had a daughter, Katherine.
After the war Horton resumed his art studies at the Central School of Arts and Crafts where, under the respected tutor Archibald Hartrick, he learned to draw direct from life, expressing the form by line and striving to acquire a technique which would reflect the ‘seen’ reality. Later Horton was influenced by the new art emerging from France and for him it was the work of Cezanne that had the most profound influence. This can be seen in his landscape paintings of the early 1920s through to those painted in Provence in the 1960s.
In 1920 after just a year at the Central School, Horton took a job as art teacher at Rugby School but resigned after two years to study again, this time at the Royal College of Art (RCA) under the new Principal William Rothenstein. While there, he was awarded the ARCA Diploma with distinction in painting and the RCA drawing prize for 1924. Fellow students included Henry Moore, Edward Bawden and Eric Ravillious. After leaving the RCA, Horton was appointed part- time Drawing Master at Bishop’s Stortford College. This was fortunate for him because, for five years after the end of the war, COs were disenfranchised and consequently had severe re-employment problems. Bishop’s Stortford College, however, followed a non-conformist tradition. The headmaster employed three former COs on the staff and refused to continue military training for the boys in peacetime, despite pressure from the Home Office. Horton enjoyed his time there and played an active role in the art department and general activities. This was greatly appreciated with an article in the school magazine saying how the ‘art had gone up in leaps and bounds since Horton’s arrival’.
In 1930, Horton was invited to return to the RCA as a member of staff by William Rothenstein. He stayed for nineteen years, teaching in the painting school. While there, he volunteered to also teach at the Working Men’s College at St Pancras where, under James Laver (the famous art historian who made the study of fashion respectable, not to mention his work for the 1951 Festival of Britain) he helped to re-organise and update the tired teaching methods of the institution. In 1933, Horton began teaching at the Ruskin School in Oxford but when the RCA was evacuated to Ambleside in WW2, he found travelling between the two venues impossible and resigned from the Ruskin School. At this time, Horton was living in Dulwich. I know this for a fact because my parents were living next door to him in 10 Pond Cottages .
A welcome re-appointment to the Ruskin School, this time as Master of Drawing, came in 1949, where Horton’s pupils included the painter RB Kitaj who studied there in 1957 and wrote of Horton...’a gentle man...he created the conditions in those great old Ashmolean rooms that I needed most, where one was not just able to but required to work from the figure every day without interruption. He was a gentle English Cezannist who could bear down if needed on rough-hewn American ex-soldiers from whom he could not tolerate too much neurotic art-jargon and half-formed modernity in practice’. John Updike was another pupil who intriguingly wrote a story based on his experiences as a student at the Ruskin. The story, Still Life was published in the New Yorker and reprinted in his collection Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories.
Before and during WW2, Horton characteristically supported many causes. He exhibited with the anti-fascist AIA (Artist International Association) and was on its advisory committee with, amongst others, Henry Moore, Oskar Kokoschka, Lucien Pissarro (another Dulwich resident) Augustus John and my father James Fitton. He also supported artist refugees who had fled from Germany, in particular Edmund Mehimann who married his daughter Katherine.
After retiring, Horton moved to Lewes near Brighton. He continued working two days a week at the Sir John Cass School and for one day at Hastings School of Art of Art with Vincent Lines with whom he made frequent visits to Provence. Horton’s work is held by Sheffield Art Gallery, The Ruskin School, The Tate Gallery, the Imperial War Museum and the British Museum amongst others.
Being a House Detective: Ash Cottage
by Brigid Gardner
Ash Cottage stands at the bottom of Court Lane, opposite the Old Burial Ground. I have always wondered who built my unassuming house in such a key position, and why. I wanted to know what sort of people had lived here before me and I particularly wanted to know when and why it was divided in two, as it was for many years. With help from many documents and many people I have pieced together most of the story and here it is.
In September 1811 the Rev. Charles Brent Barry (at one time briefly a Fellow of Alleyn's College) was granted a 42 year lease on two fields, totalling 11 acres. These are crucial to much of the story. The larger field, called Brownings, was bounded on three sides by what are today Court Lane, Calton Avenue and part of Woodwarde Road; rather interestingly the fourth side was exactly the same line as currently divides the gardens on the north side of Druce Road from those on the south side of Desenfans. The smaller field's boundary continued that same line and encompassed the houses and gardens the other side of Woodwarde Road and then diverged to include all of what is today Alleyn's running track. Most important for me, the terms of the lease included a 'Covenant to expend the sum of Two Hundred Pounds or upwards in Erecting one Dwelling House on the Ground …. on such place as the College shall appoint.' Whether he had been encouraged to do this bit of building rather against his will, or whether he just changed his mind we cannot tell but a year later the Rev. Brent Barry had disappeared from Dulwich records and Benjamin Fayle had taken on the lease.
Benjamin Fayle was a wealthy entrepreneur. Originally from Ireland, by 1787 he was well established in the City, with interests in many trades and also insurance. He was a member of Lloyds by 1801 and a Freeman of the City in 1817. He owned claypits in Dorset and in 1805 built one of the first railways in England: for the transport of his high quality clay to Poole harbour for shipment to Josiah Wedgwood's pottery. In 1797, he had taken a lease from the College on: 'A messuage, with stables, two small houses next adjoining, and four other houses and a piece of ancient meadow land for 21 years.' The four houses, all let out, were where the shops of Tomlinsons, ex-Oddbins etc. are now. The 'messuage', which was of modest size but with a very large garden and the 'two small houses', which were both let out, stood roughly where 'North House' and 'South House' stand today. The 'ancient meadow', west of Gallery Rd., is now used by the Pelo football charity. Probably Benjamin Fayle, for whom various addresses in the City are also given, only used his Dulwich house as a retreat for weekends.
In 1814 Benjamin Fayle built a cottage in a corner of Brownings field . However, by the end of that same year he too had given up the lease. A Mary Adams, seems to have taken on the smaller field and a Rebecca Tawle had Brownings and was receiving rent for the cottage and garden. By mid-1817 Fayle had also surrendered his 1797 lease on his own house, and vanished abruptly from the Dulwich annals. After briefly belonging to Ely Cordingley during 1817, in March 1818 Brownings field changed hands for the fifth time in seven years, this time to Peter Wynne who had also already taken on Fayle's original property. Two hundred years later it seems impossible to account for this sudden flurry of exchange, but it was a period of wider economic turmoil.
The new tenant, Joshua Thornback, was a wood-dealer, a local man who had been was christened in Christ's Chapel (in 1768), as were all his nine children and some of his grandchildren. Did Fayle build Ash Cottage as a speculation, or did he know his prospective tenant? Certainly there were to be Thornbacks in the house for the next 75 years and, though they were only sub-tenants, they took out leases on additional land and expanded their holdings, throwing interesting light on how Victorian society worked. Joshua, for instance, in 1826 acquired a large field lying east of Court Lane, roughly where Dovercourt Road is now, and by 1833 was also renting out a 'compound' of sheds in his garden (on what is now Calton Avenue roadway) which paid for a good part of his cottage rent. To whom he was actually paying this rent is not entirely clear, however, since Wynne had surrendered his part of the 1811 lease in 1834. Perhaps nobody was clear because, after Joshua's death in 1845, the College granted a new lease to replace that of 1811(not due to expire until 1853).
In 1847 Edward Ray, surgeon and doctor to the College, was granted the complete lease on the two fields, 'with the cottage thereon', at £62 p.a. (3.3% increase after 35 years!) for 12 years to 1859, then extended to 1877. Though still only thirty-two, Ray was a familiar Dulwich figure: from 1839 he had rented the southern end of what is now 105 Dulwich Village and then just recently moved to another grand rented property, Mr Adcock's house (now 97 Dulwich Village). Why he acquired the cottage remains a mystery: he certainly never lived there. Perhaps it enabled him to have some property of his own while living grandly in property he could afford to rent, but not to buy. There is some suggestion that the families were on good terms and perhaps this arrangement suited both parties. John Thornback, Joshua 's eldest son, who took over the house from his younger brother, Richard, in 1851, was doing rather well. He rented a house and field in Half Moon Lane from 1833 to 1851 and in 1846 he rented another 11 acres from the College. He was described in the 1851 census as a 'dairyman employing two men', and by 1856 he was renting (from Sperring, the village butcher) an additional sixteen acres and a slaughter house 'near the college grammar school'.
When John Thornback died in 1865, his daughter, Mary Ann aged 36, was left living in a solid house but with no obvious income and probably little inheritance. Mary Ann, however, was clearly a survivor. As early as 1861, a year after her mother's death, the census lists a 'visitor', Harriet Moore, aged 29, 'a dressmaker'. Ten years later, Harriet is still there dressmaking and things have rapidly moved on. There are two separate households listed: in 'Ash Cottage' (the first time the name is recorded), there are Frank Champion (plumber), his wife, Eliza (dressmaker), three small children and their granny; next door (in the slightly larger half, to the left or north) there are Mary Ann, Harriet, and three boarders (two schoolboys and a builder's apprentice). Eleven people in total.
So that was how the house got divided and how Mary Ann made ends meet very comfortably – a very English solution: simple, pragmatic and unofficial. Indeed in the 1871 census she described herself as a 'dividend holder' and on the Ordnance Survey map of 1870 which rather surprisingly has a list of the great and good (relatively) in Dulwich, she is included within its ranks.
However, Dulwich too had significantly moved on in the 1860s. Alleyn's College of God's Gift, reformed by Act of Parliament in 1857, had overcome its previous resistance to change and made a fortune in selling land to no less than four railways companies. This had realised not only a magnificent new college, but an enormous increase in the value of land now within easy reach of both the City and West End. When Edward Ray's lease came to an end in 1877, the College did not renew it,
'in order to offer a site to the Dulwich Cottage Co. …. for which a large portion of the garden attached to Miss Thornback's cottage was needed ….. she is very anxious to stay in the cottage and would be willing to pay £20 as a yearly tenant'
It is odd that, although maps as early as 1876 clearly showed the de facto division of the house and garden, in 1878 the College seems to be aware of only one cottage and it is not until 1885 that the surveyor reports, in apparent surprise:
'Mr Ray gave up these two cottages in Michaelmas 1878 and the rents have since been paid to the governors, viz: Mrs Champion £18.6.0; Miss Thornback £20.6.8; but this arrangement has not apparently been recorded in the Minutes'.
In 1890 the redoubtable Miss Thornback died, after nearly forty years in what the census now rather clumsily calls 'next Ash Cottage' and in 1901 Mrs Champion next-door followed her. The old village and its agricultural world went too. By the turn of the century the pattern for the new suburb of Dulwich had been laid out and the amazing Edwardian building spree had begun. The Ordnance Survey maps show it all. The village of 1894 is almost exactly the same as that of 1870 except for the newly laid out Park. Though Woodwarde Road. is tentatively marked out, Ash Cottage sits, as ever, in the corner of the large fields that stretch up east of Court Lane. Most of Calton Avenue is still a footpath. Only twenty years later, the 1914 map shows Benjamin Fayle's house, a hundred years old, now densely surrounded with new housing stretching off in all directions.
On Miss Thornback's death, Henry Crofts, a civil service telegrapher, and his wife, Elizabeth, moved into the left hand house. Little else is known about them, apart from the fact that they must have been rather cramped since they had four sons and a daughter and only three smallish bedrooms. Nevertheless they were still there in 1906 but by 1911 Henry and Alice Dyer and their three children had moved in. There were to be Dyers in that part of the house for next fifty years which neatly solved the problem of its name: it simply became Dyer's Cottage. Henry Dyer's letter heading said 'H. Dyer Groundsman and Gardener. Hard or grass courts made or repaired. Horse machine and all tools supplied.' He died in 1929, Alice not until 1960. A grandson, Tony, who had known the house from childhood, applied for the tenancy, but the Dulwich Estate wanted one of their own permanent Estate workmen in the cottage and Tony was obliged to move out. Frank and Caroline Thornton were moved in and stayed until Frank's death in 1984. Only four families had lived in that part of the house in 170 years.
Things were a little more complicated on the other side of the fence. Mrs. Champion's daughter, Eliza, who is listed as the occupant of Ash Cottage in 1906, had no need of the 'iron room' erected in the garden which her mother had used for her dressmaking. Unable to pay arrears of rent, the Estate rather surprisingly accepted the gift of this thirty year old early version of a portacabin extension in lieu. It is not easy to piece together who lived in Ash Cottage over the next decade as the Dulwich electoral lists were lost in a flood. What we do know is that, after nearly forty years' residence, the last Champion had departed by the 1911 census when George and Lizzie Carter and their three children were in the house. They were not there very long, since the occupant from 1913 to 1915 was a certain Thomas Green (his family is unknown since he was the only one eligible to vote).
However, by 1915 things return to form. Martha Wall, whose husband was cowkeeper at Belair and had died in an accident on the farm, was rehoused by the Estates in Ash Cottage. There was to be a Wall living in the house for the next seventy years. Mrs Wall died in 1931 and her daughter, Fanny, in 1943, but her younger son, Harry, lived on, alone, until 1986. Harry Wall was born into the agricultural Dulwich of 1895 on the home farm at Belair (where the carpark and recycling is now), then Evan Spicer's home. Every morning on his way to school at Dulwich Hamlet he drove the cows up Gallery Road to the very same 'ancient meadow' that Benjamin Fayle had once owned; on his way home he drove them back for milking, after sometimes calling in at the corn chandlers (where SG Smith is now) if his father needed something on the farm. As a small boy he went on the two-horse bus (with 26 people on board) to see the fireworks at Crystal Palace, the horses perhaps shoed at the forge which stood opposite Ash Cottage.
By the time the Walls moved in, Ash Cottage was a relic of that bygone rural age, very primitive in its accommodation in comparison with the spankingly modern 'semis' surrounding it. The Estates throughout most of the 19th century had seemed only fitfully aware of its existence, though this had gradually changed after Edward Ray had given up the lease and rent was paid directly to the College. Then, from the first few years of the new century, rent was paid weekly (at about 10/- [50p] a week) instead of annually, implying still closer involvement. That did not mean, however, that anything had been done to modernise the house(s), Indeed, so far had they slipped behind in the rising standards expected after the First World War, that in 1936 the Camberwell Medical Officer of Health declared them 'unfit for human habitation' and the tenants were temporarily moved out.. A new roof (of pantiles, not very appropriate for an English Regency cottage), back extensions to provide WCs, damp courses for the dripping walls and deal wood block flooring (at 6/- [30p] a sq. yd) for the whole ground floor (£22 in total and still excellent) were great improvements. However, it was only in 1953 that Harry Wall got electricity (at his own request and expense and then only lighting and three power sockets.) There is no record of Mrs Dyer getting electricity – probably she couldn't afford it. An enquiry in 1970 (under the Housing Act 1969) shows that Ash Cottage had no hot water, no hand basin, no bath/shower: only a kitchen sink with cold water, and a WC.
And so the years passed. After three years fighting in the First World War, Harry Wall spent a working life at a leather company at London Bridge and gave his heart to the local Boys' Brigade: he was their captain for fifty years and still camping with them in his seventies. By the 1980s, however, change was in the air. Prodded by the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, the Estates was now seeking to sell off most of its vast number of properties. In 1980 they were charging a rent (monthly now) of £8.53 for Ash Cottage; in 1981 they applied for a 'fair rent' of £45 a month and by 1982 this was in place; in 1983 their application was for £60 and they were awarded an increase of £4 every year, rising to £62 in 1986 (an increase of more thn 700% in five years!). It was time for old men to move on. They duly did: Mr Thornton died in 1984, Harry Wall two years later. Mr Thornton's widow was moved to Dekker Rd. and in 1985 1a Court Lane (Dyer's Cottage no more, since it had been decreed in 1939 that all should be numbered) was sold for £62,580. A young couple, Jane and Ian Jones, moved in and by their own labour lovingly modernised their somewhat basic dwelling. 1b was sold in March 1988, in a booming market, for £105,000, to very different people: property developers called Runham. They did a slick job and a year later put a 'charming period cottage with every mod. con.' on the market.
My children used to walk home from school at The Hamlet and imagine themselves living in the ‘Playschool’ house. I too had long been attracted to the house, but it was only when 'Ash Cottage' came onto the market in 1989 that I realised that the building was in fact divided into two houses and only the right hand half was for sale. I bought it nonetheless, let it, and waited for the second half. I was lucky: three years later both halves were mine.
And so it was that, one Friday evening in October 1992, drill and hacksaw in hand, I went into the cupboard-under-the-stairs, cut a hole in the wall and walked into the house next-door. After 120 divided years, Ash Cottage was one house once more - and I was able to walk from my sitting room into my study without climbing a back garden fence. That was exactly twenty years ago. I shall not be able to match the Thornbacks or the Walls and probably not the Dyers or even the Champions for longevity of tenure, but it is good to think that they seem to have liked living here as much as I do.