The Dulwich Society Journal for Winter 2014.
An excellent visit to Kew, with a specialised Guide, was focused on their Zelkova collection, in view of our local interest in the fate of the 250 year old one at at the College cross roads, now surviving but growing in an atypical form. We have two types here in Dulwich, Kew has several , and we could see how the species can vary... We knew that the spread of roots can be equal to the spread of the branches, but we were astonished at the distance the tree reaches out , feeding through minute fungi bringing nourishment back to the tree and also forming an underground network with other trees in the vicinity
We used the HOP ON-HOP OFF transport through the Gardens, with commentary, with a view to using the afternoon, perhaps to visit the Glasshouses, or the gallery of the Victorian Marian North's paintings of the exotic flowers she encountered on her far flung expeditions.
The autumn day and colours were wonderful, and it is a very easy journey from Victoria through to Kew
2015 Gardens visit and talk
Chiswick House Gardens & Camellia Show - visit
11am, Tuesday 3rd March 2015
We have arranged a private tour of Chiswick House gardens including the magnificent camellia collection, normally in full bloom during the Camellia Show in March. The visit is free for Dulwich Society members, but places are limited and by reservation only.
Car parking and café available. Nearest railway station is Chiswick (Waterloo line, 10 minute walk), nearest tube is Turnham Green (District Line, 20 minute walk).
To reserve places, please email or write to Jeremy Prescott, 142 Court Lane, London SE21 7EB /
In June 2015 the annual coach outing will be to Great Dixter and Sissinghurst - more information about this with the Spring issue.
Ahead of our visit to Great Dixter, which is one of the pre-eminent gardens in south east England, we have been fortunate to be able to arrange a talk on Monday 16th March 2015 by Fergus Garrett, the Head Gardener and CEO of Great Dixter. His subject will be “Designing with plants the Great Dixter way”. Tickets will be £5 each and can be obtained from Will Anderson, 141 Rosendale Road, SE21 8HE. A ticket application is set out on page 37.
Walking around Dulwich it is easy to miss the many allotment sites. Hidden from view from the main thoroughfares, lie over 920 of the UK’s 330,000 allotment plots, providing fresh fruit and vegetables - and a lot of enjoyment - to many local families, as well as valuable wildlife habitats and community resources.
These sites do not have continuous histories of cultivation, unlike some rural allotment sites. Gunsite Allotments in Grange Lane were founded in 1966 on the site of the WWII gun battery. Grove Park Allotments in Camberwell are part of what was once eighteenth century physician Dr John Lettsom’s gardens; this site was established when allotments in Camberwell had to be moved. And Grange Lane Allotments, below Dulwich Wood, was a barrage balloon emplacement during the Second World War, but according to Adrian Hill, chairman of the Camberwell & District Allotment Society, the fragments of clay churchwarden pipes that are unearthed when digging suggest that prior to that, the land was a staging post for cattle on their way to the slaughterhouses of the city; the drovers using the rest to take the opportunity to enjoy a pipe.
The variety of produce grown on these plots is vast, including fruit and vegetables that are now difficult to buy on the high street, such as redcurrants, gooseberries, quinces, medlars and an extraordinary range of pumpkins and squash. The Allotment Secretary of Grove Park, Grant Smith, knows of a class at Dog Kennel Hill School which grew a crop of Canadian wheat on their plot at Grove Park which they milled and baked into bread. But the benefits of Dulwich’s allotments extend far beyond what can be grown for the table.
The massive Rosendale Allotments (18 acres, 480 plots, of which 450 are workable) has its own community building, shop and café for plot holders. Many allotments sites have beehives, providing honey and pollinators for local gardens. And the community aspect of allotments is important - Grove Park has a plot held by the Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers, and Rosendale Allotments leases a plot to a group of adults with learning difficulties. Rachel Sharp, Treasurer of Rosendale Allotments, explains that following consultation with the horticultural charity Thrive, Rosendale is also currently raising money for changes that will make its site more accessible to people with mobility difficulties. These include simple solutions such as benches half way up the (steep) hill and a plot that is fully wheelchair accessible.
Other benefits of Dulwich’s allotments are less tangible than the vegetables or the sense of community. The views across London from the open sites at Rosendale and Grange Lane are magnificent, sweeping from Battersea Power station, past the West End and the City, all the way to the Millennium Dome - an extraordinary panorama, and a good reason to stop digging once in a while (many plots have benches for just this). These benches are not just for admiring the view: Dulwich’s clay can bring some hard physical work - one website warns uncompromisingly that “the soil is pure bog in winter, baked brick in summer”.
The allotment sites also provide havens for wildlife. As well as the crows, parakeets and pigeons of south London, Dulwich’s allotments provide habitats for slowworms, woodpeckers, sparrowhawks, hedgehogs and on a smaller scale stag beetles and Jersey tiger moths - and of course the ubiquitous slug. Philip Milner, chair of the Gunsite Allotments, tells of a founding member who used to feed part of his sandwich lunch to a young fox, which would put its paws on his knees.
The sites are very different in character but one thing all the allotments in Dulwich have is oversubscription - Rosendale has closed its waiting list and Grove Park has an estimated waiting time for a plot of around fifty years. There are some local community projects such as the Dulwich Vegetable Garden behind Rosebery Lodge, and the Community Greenhouses in Brockwell Park, giving everyone a chance to try growing their own food, but the waiting lists for allotments just show what a valued, and very special, resource these sites are for Dulwich.
Dulwich’s allotments contacts:
Grange Lane, Grange Lane - http://grangelane.org/
Grove Park Allotments, Grove Park - http://groveallotmentsdulwich.wordpress.com/
Grove Allotments, Dulwich Common - http://www.groveallotments.org.uk/
Rosendale Allotments - http://www.rosendale-allotments.org.uk/
Gunsite Allotments, Grange Lane - http://gunsiteallotment.co.uk/
Cox’s Walk/Lordship Lane Allotments - http://www.dulwichallotment.org.uk/
See also http://www.southwark.gov.uk/ for other nearby allotment sites.
Not quite the 'Lambton Worm' of legend, but volunteers at the Dulwich Vegetable Garden behind Rosebery Lodge in Dulwich Park grew an extraordinarily long 'tromboncino' courgette this year. Guessing the weight of the monster vegetable, an Italian heritage variety, was part of the fun at the DVG's Open Day in September. More wriggly worms taking a star turn were those in the garden's very active wormery, which provides one of the natural fertilisers used on the all-organic plot.
Community gardens provide fresh produce and plants as well as a sense of satisfaction, community and connection to the environment. The DVG was set up with these aims by Dulwich Going Greener, a local environmental charity, and to encourage local people to learn how to grow their own produce. The land on which the DVG stands was formerly an overgrown wilderness but five seasons on, the garden is thriving. Unusual vegetables are produced as well as more familiar ones, chosen by volunteers. Pests such as slugs and snails are kept at bay with non-toxic kitchen cupboard potions, with a reasonable amount of success. From toddlers to schoolchildren, young professionals to sprightly third-agers, people from all walks of life come to help or visit the disability-friendly garden. Work sessions are open to all and held on Sundays and Wednesdays, 10.30-12.30 during the growing season (Sundays only in winter). No knowledge is required if you fancy having a go and if you're working in the garden when produce is harvested, you'll get to share it.
After acquiring the necessary skills, some volunteers have been inspired to start their own projects. One has set up a community garden in Walworth with funding from Southwark. Another is assisting Ronald McDonald House at Camberwell (which provides accommodation for families while their children are in King's) to build its own vegetable garden, play area and 'chill out' zone. See www.dulwichgoinggreener.org.uk/dulwich-vegetable-garden for more about the DVG.
It is quite a coincidence that two major movies are being released at the moment, the principle characters of which were members of the Herne Hill art set. However, like the elephant in the room, a central figure - Elhanan Bicknell, has been excised in Mike Leigh’s award winning film Mr Turner. As indeed has the subject of this article, the artist Stephen Poynzt Denning, a prominent member of the Herne Hill art set and friend of the Bicknell family.
The early life of Stephen Poyntz Denning is something of a mystery. His father, Thomas Denning was born in Gloucestershire in 1767 and moved to Newington, Southwark where Stephen was born in 1795. There is no information regarding his mother. His middle name, Poyntz had customarily been used by the Denning family.
There must have been some tragedy or misfortune early in Denning’s life. It was partially revealed, when, soon after he was elected curator or custodian of the newly opened Dulwich College Picture Gallery he received a group of Royal Academician visitors, led by Joseph Farington and including Sir Thomas Lawrence. The reason for the visit was to inspect the pictures and select some to be copied by students at the Academy. Denning, who may already have been acquainted with Lawrence, got into conversation with them and clearly impressed Farington who wrote in his diary, “Mr Denning is an artist and excels in miniature painting. He gave us an account of his low extraction saying that when he was a boy, he was a beggar. He told us he acquired some knowledge of art - of his being an apprentice for 7 years to a person who employed him colouring prints. He informed us how he was enabled to go to Italy and the whole story of his progress is extraordinary....”
Through what good offices we do not know, but the young Denning had been taken under the wing of the miniaturist artist John Wright. John Wright was well connected, being acquainted with the leading artists of the day such as John Hoppner as well as Lawrence. Stephen’s apprenticeship with Wright may have required him to spend seven years employed in colouring prints but he also learnt the art of miniature painting from his mentor. Denning actually lived with the family from 1814-17 in Burlington Gardens, perhaps as a companion to the Wright’s son, John William, whose mother had died when he was an infant. John William was a delicate child; and had to be withdrawn because of his poor health from school at Loughborough House, Brixton. John William Wright was apprenticed to Thomas Phillips and became noted for his illustrations of characters from literature, especially Shakespearean subjects, many of which were engraved.
After his own apprenticeship with John Wright, Denning travelled to Italy and had lodgings in both Bruton Street and Conduit Street, not then a fashionable area but a masculine one where single gentlemen might find a room above the shops and ticket agencies. It was in one such agency that admission tickets for Dulwich College Picture Gallery might be obtained.
Denning had his first painting, a miniature, accepted at the Royal Academy in 1814, when he was only 19 and still living with the Wrights. He had pictures accepted annually at the Academy until 1852, 48 in total. At some point he became the great friend of the artist and engraver John Burnet and co-operated with him by painting reduced size copies of Burnet’s oil paintings of both Chelsea and Greenwich pensioners for engraving purposes. In 1842, Burnet dedicated his Discourses of Sir Joshua Reynolds to Denning.
In 1821, Denning succeeded Ralph Cockburn, the gallery’s first custodian, who had died the year previously. As well as being responsible for the collection, his job description included instructing in drawing, such of the poor scholars at the College as he recommended. He received a salary of 200 guineas per annum and accommodation. He was assisted by James Bonham who was paid £80 per year and had rooms in the former French Horn and had his livery supplied. The gallery was the open daily except Fridays and Sundays and admission was free on production of a ticket. Perhaps inconveniently, tickets were only available in London at principal printsellers and bookshops
It is not known how or when precisely, Denning came to the notice of the Royal Family, but the association certainly had started by 1823 when he painted the famous portrait of Princess Victoria aged 4. The painting was never engraved despite its significant popular appeal and remained in the artist’s possession. It was purchased by Dulwich Picture Gallery for 30 guineas in 1891 and immediately became the most popular picture in the collection.
Another commission for the Royal Family, possibly by Denning, took place in 1825 when a miniature (6cm) of the future Queen Victoria was painted and inscribed: “Presented by the Princess Victoria to her dear old General Wetherell” . Wetherell was the ADC and equerry to the Duke of Kent, Victoria’s father. It seems likely that Denning was actually engaged by the household of the Duchess of Kent, which was at Kensington Palace, as a portrait by Denning exists (now in New York) of a sitter once believed to be Lucinda Bicknell, Elhanan Bicknell’s third wife, but now believed to be that of the Duchess herself.
There has also been some discussion as to whether the painting of the infant Queen Victoria at Dulwich Picture Gallery is in fact that of her eldest daughter, also named Victoria and painted twenty years later. The fact that Denning’s style never altered throughout his career makes identification difficult. However, expert opinion comes down in favour of Queen Victoria.
Other Royal commissions followed; William IV ordered a copy from Denning of Lawrence’s portrait of Sir Jeffry Wyatville, the architect and garden designer which was presented by the King to Wyatville. It was also engraved. Denning is also credited with painting a portrait of the future Prince Albert which is now in Gotha. Finally, in 1846 Queen Victoria commissioned a copy of Franz Xaver Winterlatter’s portrait of the Royal Family from Dennng for a fee of over £200 and lithographs were made in Paris of the portrait, one of which was given to Louis Phillipe, perhaps as a ‘thank you’ to the French king for giving permission for Winterhalter, who was France’s court painter, to carry out the commission from Queen Victoria.
Denning must have had an engaging personality because he made friends easily and widely among those living in Dulwich. One amusing observation is given in the diary of Joseph Romilly, a Cambridge academic and bachelor who lived at The Willows, on Dulwich Common. In December 1834 he unwisely attended the tea and supper party of his nephew, George Romilly. At first all went well, ”they danced 2 Quadrilles & a country dance - some very pretty fireworks of George Allen’s were let off extremely well by him - they lasted about an hour and a half. George Romilly appeared to great advantage, he danced very gracefully, did the honour of the table well and was altogether a complete gentleman - some of the children behaved like rude blackguards, these were the Pages, Denning and Warner. The young ladies were very correct”.
Numerous Dulwich residents had their own, or their children’s portraits painted by Denning. They included the political radical and classical historian George Grote and his wife, who lived at Woodhall, the Rev John Vane, chaplain and 1st Fellow of the College and Ozias Linley the 4th Fellow who bequeathed his family portraits by Gainsborough to the Gallery. Indeed, it might have been the latter’s friendship with Denning which commanded this gift.
Over the years Denning made numerous copies of pictures from the collection at Dulwich. A Murillo and a Rubens copy hang in the Cottonian Collection of Plymouth Art Gallery, and their donor, William Cotton and also his wife’s portraits were also painted by Denning.
In 1844 John Ruskin, who was a regular visitor to Dulwich College Picture Gallery received permission to make water colour copies of some of the collection. Both Ruskin and his father were part of the circle of friends and artists, which included Denning, who was also a family friend, who gathered at Carlton House on Herne Hill (now the site of Danecroft Road), the home of Elhanan Bicknell. The Ruskins had lived at 28 Herne Hill, on the opposite side of the road to the Bicknells, since 1815 when John Ruskin was aged 4, and four years before Bicknell moved in opposite. John Ruskin senior and Bicknell had something in common other than a love of art, in that they had, through their own efforts, both risen from fairly modest origins to positions of considerable position and wealth, the former as an agent of the wine company, Domecq, the latter through the importing of whale oil for lighting purposes.
Elhanan Bicknell ( 1788-1861), named after the American preacher Elhanan Winchester, was the younger of William Bicknell’s two sons. William had dutifully carried on the family business of serge manufacture in Blackman Street, Southwark until the death of his devout mother, a friend of John Wesley, and then commenced a second career as a schoolmaster, opening a school firstly in Ponders End and afterwards in Tooting. It was at this school that his son, Elhanan, acted as a junior teacher until he was 19. Elhanan Bicknell then tried his hand at being a gentleman farmer with a friend who lived near Shrewsbury. Elhanan abandoned this venture and in 1809 entered into a partnership with a cousin, John Bicknell Langton at the invitation of his uncle who was considering retiring from his business which comprised whale oil importing and ship-owning. Langton had earlier discovered a process of refining sperm whale oil which would produce candles and smoke-free oil lighting. The new partnership prospered and the firm expanded, owning 30 ships and monopolizing the Pacific sperm whale oil fishery.
By 1840, Bicknell had anticipated that his whaling empire would suffer as a result of free trade opening up the market to competition, but he continued to direct the business for another twenty years. He married and was widowed four times. His first marriage was in 1810 to Hannah Wooton Langton, his cousin and the sister of his business partner. They had a son, Elhanan (1813-1860) and two other children, one who died along with his mother in childbirth in 1815. His second marriage was to Mary Jones in 1817 which produced two children. In 1829 he married Lucinda Browne, the sister of Dickens’ illustrator, “Phiz” - Hablot Browne. The marriage lasted 21 years until her death in 1850 and produced a further eight children. In 1851 he married his fourth wife, Louisa Holland, a widow.
He was a close friend of the artist David Roberts (who does feature in the Mike Leigh film), and one of his sons married Christine, Roberts’ daughter. It was Roberts who introduced Elhanan Bicknell to the art world. It was a world he completely embraced and established a sort of club where social gatherings were held at Carlton House.
In 1838 Bicknell began to collect British modern art, the collection adorning the principal rooms of the house. Edgar Browne, whose aunt was Bicknell’s wife Lucinda, describes the drawing room of Carlton House, “The pictures in this room were all water colours, and were not hung in the usual manner, but inset, the gilded mouldings acting as frames”. (A similar method was employed at Petworth to showcase some of Turner’s London scenes ) …“Turner’s ‘Rivers of France’, if I remember rightly, served as decoration of the doors”.
Bicknell had a flair for correctly judging the value of modern sculpture and painting, rather like an earlier version of Charles Saatchi. His wealth and enthusiasm for contemporary art drew numerous artists, sculptors and connoisseurs of modern art around him. He collected art and also commissioned works from his circle. When Turner’s fame was at a low point and before he was championed by the young John Ruskin, Bicknell had bought a number of paintings which Turner had exhibited at the Royal Academy and which were unsold.
Although Turner was a frequent visitor, there was on one occasion some tension between him and Bicknell. Turner had written to Bicknell, somewhat tongue in cheek, - My Dear Sir, I will thank you to call in Queen Anne Street at your earliest convenience, for I have a whale or two on the canvas. Turner’s ‘Whalers’ now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is one of four, and seems to have been painted and offered to Bicknell because of the latter’s involvement in whaling. Bicknell declined the picture, even complaining that when he rubbed it some chalk came off on his finger! It debuted to mixed reviews at the RA exhibition of 1845.
Another mixed review greeted ‘The Snowstorm’. “Turner”, wrote Ruskin, “was passing the evening at my father’s house, on the day that this criticism came out; and after dinner, sitting in his armchair by the fire, I heard him muttering low to himself, at intervals, “Soapsuds and whitewash” again, and again, and again. At last I went to him asking why he minded what they said. Then he burst out, “Soapsuds and whitewash! What would they have? I wonder what they think the sea’s like? I wish they’d been in it.” He was referring to the discomfort and danger he had endured in in preparation for the painting,. At the age of 67 he had, according to Ruskin, put to sea in a hurricane and ordered the sailors to lash him to the mast, from where he studied the scene for four hours. The Ruskins also possessed Turner’s controversial painting, the Slave Ship.
Bicknell had 10 oils and 18 water colours by Turner in his collection. He purchased Giudecca, La Dionna della Salute and San Giorgio from the RA Exhibition 1841 for 250 guineas. This oil painting of Venice now holds the record for the most expensive British painting sold when it went under the hammer earlier this year to the owner of the Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas for $35.8m. His purchase of the water colour, The Blue Rigi: Lake Lucerne, Sunrise, in 1842 for 80 guineas was arranged by the art dealer Thomas Griffiths of Norwood who also arranged the sale of the companion picture, The Red Rigi , to John Ruskin senior. It was Griffiths who introduced John Ruskin to Turner. Ruskin said of these pictures, “Turner had never made any drawings like these before and never made any like them again. He is not showing his hand in these, but his heart.” The Blue Rigi was sold in 2006 for £5.8m, a record for a water colour. Dulwich resident and honorary chairman of Christies, Noel Annesley. took the gavel himself at the sale. A ban was placed on its export and it was saved for the nation through the Art Fund.
According to Clarence, one of Bicknell’s sons, Turner, frequently dined at his father’s house, and objected to having his portrait taken. At one such dinner around Christmas 1845, “Count D’Orsay and Sir Edwin Landseer, devised a little plot to defeat the result of this antipathy. Whilst Turner unsuspiciously chatted with a guest over a cup of tea in the drawing-room, D’Orsay placed himself as a screen beside him to hide, when necessary, Landseer, sketching him at full length in pencil on the back of an envelope. Landseer gave what he had done to D’Orsay, who after re-drawing it at home and enlarged the figure to eight inches in height, sold it to J Hogarth, printseller in the Haymarket, for twenty guineas”. Sixteen copies of this print were included in the Bicknell sale at Christie’s in 1863 after Bicknell’s death.
One of Stephen Poyntz Denning’s most interesting sitters was also a member of the Bicknell family. Sabrina Bicknell’s portrait was painted in 1833 when she was 73 years old, and was engraved a number of times. The reason for this interest was that Sabrina was the subject of an experiment carried out by Thomas Day (1748-1789) who was influenced by the writings of Rousseau, which was to acquire and educate a young girl to become the perfect wife. In 1769, at the age of twenty-one and in possession of an inheritance he went with an old school friend, Thomas Bicknell, to the Foundling Hospital in Shrewsbury where he picked out a girl and named her Sabrina Sidney (after the River Severn and his hero, the Whig martyr Algenon Sidney). They then went to Coram’s Fields in London where a second girl, Lucretia was selected. The girls were aged 11 and 12.
All Day was required by the hospitals to do was to promise he would apprentice one girl to a trade, and give her £400 on her marriage, the other he intended to marry, and if he did not he would place her in a good family and give her £500. He also “solemnly swore not to violate her innocence”. He took the girls to France, teaching them to read and lectured them “to hate dress and luxury, and fine people and fashion and titles”. He tired of France, the girls squabbled and a French officer spoke to the girls too freely and had to be challenged to a duel. After eight months Day was exhausted by his experiment and returned to England. Lucretia was apprenticed to a milliner but Sabrina he kept, lodging her with Bicknell’s mother. He then embarked on a further experiment, if Sabrina was to be a model wife she had to teach her own children fortitude and endurance. Day’s eccentric methods of imparting such qualities were a disaster - when he dropped hot sealing wax on her arms she screamed, when he fired pistols at her petticoats she leapt aside and shrieked. She never came round to the regime and was packed off to a boarding school. (For further information on Thomas Day and his experiment see - Wendy Moore How to Create the Perfect Wife 2013.)
When Sabrina left school, Day gave her an allowance and at the age of 26 she married Thomas Bicknell who by this time had become a successful barrister. Day gave her the promised dowry of £500. She was widowed within a decade and with two small sons to raise she was apprenticed to a dressmaker who went bankrupt. She then became housekeeper in the family of Fanny Burney’s brother, Dr Charles Burney, nursing Burney through an illness and becoming his assistant at his academy at Greenwich. She continued to assist at the academy when Burney’s son succeeded as principal on his father’s death. Her two sons prospered, benefitting from Burney’s education, one becoming a founder of the Westminster Bank, the other becoming senior Registrar in the Court of Chancery.
Elhanan Bicknell died in 1861. His plan to retain his collection for the benefit of the public apparently frustrated by so many claimant children. He is buried in West Norwood Cemetery with his third wife Lucinda and beside his friend David Roberts. His collection of 112 paintings was sold at Christies in 1863 and realized £80,000, the Marquess of Hartford purchasing half the collection.
Stephen Poyntz Denning died in 1864. His son, the Rev Stephen Poynzt Denning was headmaster of St Andrew’s College, Reading and had assisted his father in the preparation of An Historical and Descriptive Catalogue of the pictures in Dulwich Picture Gallery. The catalogue was only in manuscript and was removed by Denning’s widow but acquired later by the Gallery.
Mr. Turner is a forthcoming 2014 British biographical drama film, written and directed by Mike Leigh, and starring Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Paul Jesson, Marion Bailey and Ruth Sheen. The film concerns the life and career of British artist J. M. W. Turner (played by Spall). It premiered in competition for the Palme d'Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, where Spall won the award for Best Actor
Effie Gray is a 2012 British biographical drama film directed by Richard Laxton and scheduled for release in 2014. Its subject is the love triangle involving Victorian art critic John Ruskin (played by Greg Wise), his wife, Euphemia "Effie" Gray (Dakota Fanning), and Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge). The script was written by Emma Thompson, who also appears in the film as Lady Eastlake.
Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer by Michael Smith
Reviewed by Colin Niven
As a small boy at Dulwich College my friends and I would bowl in the cricket nets, then when we were tired we’d hop into a pretty little white boat that lay stranded nearby. To us it was just a rowing boat, rather less useful than the ones on the lake in the park. Then someone woke up to this sacrilege and put it behind bars near the school theatre. Then the authorities remembered they were guarding a national treasure and placed it on Antarctic rocks in the north cloisters. And when the new science labs are complete the James Caird will be carried to its next home between the two new blocks with the same reverence that the Norwegian sailors bore it from South Georgia.
In a way this reflects the story of the hero’s reputation, so vividly told by Michael Smith in his biography ‘Shackleton: by Endurance we Conquer’. From a rather dull and frustrating start, including his time as a dreamy child at the College, he found he loved adventure and quickly became a legend, admired by the Royal Family. Gradually some of the glamour wore off, for Scott was a hero to rival him, Amundssen won the race to the Pole and the carnage of the First World War made the survival of a small boat, though awesome, seem less unique. Now the full story can emerge clearly and the life of Shackleton is still inspirational to all.
Smith’s biography does full justice to this utterly exceptional man, but it may come as a surprise to those who see him as a modern saint. For instance, we read many examples of his total lack of business acumen. His marriage to Emma succeeded because she throughout showed a loyalty as heroic in its way as his at sea, for he had a roving Irish eye. And Smith bluntly criticises some mistakes he made as an explorer: his refusal to take more dogs and skis despite Nansen’s advice, and indeed a few extra pounds of pemmican and biscuits would have won for him the race to the Pole. So do not expect endless adulation from this book. However, Smith readily gives the great praise that is due, especially to Shackleton’s skill in judging character, which in turn enabled him to save the lives of his comrades.
His kindness, generosity, decency, above all his devastating charm come out again and again. Who but he, exhausted to the limit, would pause to ensure that a young man with both legs broken should be carried ashore so he could be the first to have the honour of landing? In each of Shackleton’s famous voyages Smith compulsively captures the hopes and despair, the agony, rivalries, starvation, improvisations of men reduced to the depths but raised up time and again by a leader whose courage and cheerfulness were beyond belief.
Michael Smith meticulously plots Sir Ernest’s career on land and sea and creates an unforgettable picture of a man of action who at heart was the ultimate romantic dreamer.
Ever the optimist, he himself was inspired by Browning’s poetry:
“I was ever a fighter, so one fight more
The best and the last!
....For suddenly the worst turns into the best to the brave.”
Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer by Michael Smith published by Oneworld Publishers £20
What is the issue?
‘A river can sometimes be diverted but is a very hard thing to lose altogether’ - J.G. Head: paper read to the Auctioneers’ Institute in 1907
Residents of Dulwich and its surrounding area will be no strangers to the link between the historic river Effra and the region’s ability to flood. After the river was banished underground in the mid 19th century, repeated flooding plagued the new Victorian developments above as the Effra forced its way back to the surface. In April 2004, 10cm of rain fell in 30 minutes causing dramatic flooding in central Herne Hill, scenes that were seen once again when a water main burst in August 2013, flooding the area in just 10 minutes. Lost rivers have a desire to return, and the increasing unpredictability and intensity of downpours that we are experiencing is giving them the helping hand they need.
The word Effra is believed to originate from the Celtic word for torrent. John Ruskin, who grew up in Herne Hill, thought it was ‘doubtless shortened from Effrena, signifying the “Unbridled” river’. In fact, there is no record of the name before 1810. Old maps (such as John Rocque’s 1746 London… and the Country Near Ten Miles Round) call the river the Shore or the Washway.
The main stream rose in Norwood, ran through what is now Norwood Cemetery and along Croxted Lane (now Croxted Road) to the bottom of Herne Hill, an area once known as Island Green, where a bridge carried the Norwood Road across it. Here, it was joined by at least two tributaries. One flowed via Belair Park - where it was dammed to form the ornamental lake that still exists - behind what is now Burbage Road to Half Moon Lane; the Ambrook, which still runs through Sydenham Hill Wood to the round pond, flows down via the golf course to feed the lake in Dulwich Park; while another branch originated in Brockwell Park.
From the confluence of these streams, the Effra flowed along the side of Dulwich Grove and Brixton Water Lane, across Gresham Road and Canterbury Crescent to Brixton Road by the police station. From there it flowed along Brixton Road as far as St Mark’s Church, where it turned west along the line of Prima Road, under Clapham Road, curving south around Kennington Oval - whose shape it dictated - to emerge in a creek at Vauxhall.
As early as the 17th century, the lower reaches of the Effra were seriously polluted: on a map of Vauxhall Manor dated 1691, the river is already labelled ‘Common Sewer’. As the city expanded south, effluent was discharged into it further and further upstream until, by the early 19th century, the river was an open sewer as far as north Brixton. The inhabitants of the houses on the east side of Brixton Road had to cross footbridges over the malodorous channel to reach their front doors, so by the middle of the century it was bricked over as far as Herne Hill.
In 1858, construction began of Joseph Bazalgette’s vast sewage system, designed to channel effluent away from the Thames in central London and out into the estuary where it would pose less of a threat to health. A new pipeline diverted much of the Effra’s flow from Westow Hill away to the east, beneath Peckham and New Cross, to the pumping station at Deptford.
Despite this, the river and its tributaries were still visible - if diminished - in places above Herne Hill: Stanford’s 1864 map shows a tributary of the Effra (labelled ‘Watercourse’) flowing north towards Half Moon Lane and running along it, past the Half Moon pub, to Herne Hill, and another branch from West Norwood alongside Croxted Lane. These are also visible on the 1870 Ordnance Survey map, where the Norwood branch is labelled ‘River Effra’, but by the end of the century, these too had been channelled underground.
Although the river is now largely out of sight, with the exception of the lofty metal stink pipes that emerge along Dulwich Road, the Effra should not be out of mind. When above ground, the water course flowed at a depth of 6ft and an average width of 12ft so it is easy to comprehend the major influence that this volume of water could have. When combined with our increasing household consumption of water and the huge amount of rainwater runoff from an ever increasing expanse of hard surfaces, it is easy to understand how the sewer system designed for Victorian London may become overwhelmed. Water can no longer soak into the ground; it can only flow.
One solution lies in large scale engineering projects, such as those seen in Southwark Council and Thames Water’s Flood Alleviation Project currently underway in Dulwich Park and sports ground and Belair Park. This £4 million project is an example of sustainable drainage on a huge scale, relandscaping the area to give flood water somewhere to collect away from houses while it slowly soaks into the ground and drainage system.
However, another solution lies in small scale landscape features that hold rain where it falls. Widespread adoption of these into our urban areas has the potential to significantly reduce flood risk whilst delivering a wide variety of benefits for people, wildlife and the local climate:
- Green roofs: vegetation on the roofs of our houses, sheds and public buildings absorbs and evaporates rainwater back into the atmosphere, providing urban cooling in the process and reducing the urban heat island effect that keeps our cities warmer than their surrounding rural areas;
- Rain gardens: divert rainwater runoff from your roof through downpipes into a specially designed basin planted with species adapted for intermittently wet and dry conditions - it’s not always raining! Green roofs and rain gardens also provide great wildlife habitats for bees and bugs, as well as the wealth of other species that they provide for including birds and bats;
- Permeable paving: removing tarmac, concrete and other sealed surfaces in favour of reinforced grass, gravel or brick pavers will allow water to soak into the ground beneath. If the area is not needed for car parking or heavy use, you could even use the spaces to create new growing areas for plants, vegetables or wildlife;
- Rainwater harvesting: perhaps the easiest way to reduce the amount of water going down the drain whilst also reducing household consumption is through rainwater harvesting. It can be surprisingly fruitful as one water butt can collect as many as 500 large watering cans worth of water each year! Discounts are available at www.thames.savewater.co.uk
The Lost Effra Project
Led by London Wildlife Trust, The Lost Effra is a busy local project, working with communities to create green spaces and run activities to help reduce local flood risk and restore the relationship between water, our urban areas and their communities. For more information please contact Helen Spring, Lost Effra Project Coordinator on
On 30th August thirty members of the Dulwich Players converged on Stratford on Avon to present two performances of The Comedy of Errors at The Dell, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s open air space. In addition, they were asked to do a ‘pop-up’ performance in the morning, in the form of one scene in front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, to promote the production. . ‘Luciana’ recollects her day!
We started the day with some confused looks from theatre goers as we changed into costume in the toilets at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, but being asked ‘can’t the RSC afford changing rooms?’ gave us an excellent opportunity to talk our production up, even if it was in the midst of awkwardly buttoning ourselves into our petticoats. Standing in costume outside the theatre made it all seem very real - were weactually supposed to remember our lines? And directions? And in front of people? We’d had a good run-through a few days before, but I was suddenly very nervous. Using a wall and some signage borrowed from an ice cream van, the marketplace at Ephesus magically was recreated. Many flyers were handed out to tourists who would hopefully mistake us for actual real actors, and would therefore be convinced to come and see the whole play. Something must have worked, as over 500 people (according to the RSC front of house people) turned up to watch the two performances, and, furthermore, laughed in all the right places!
An hour later at The Dell, seeing the cast all together in costume, even if they were warming up with lunges and shouting random lines at each other, was reassuring, but also quite poignant. It was fantastic to see how confident and happy everyone seemed, even though it had been over a month since we last performed to an audience. I heard the recorder cue, and suddenly we were off again, back in the marketplace, ordering capons for dinner and inspecting fabrics. And then, even more suddenly, the first performance was over, and I was walking to M+S in my costume to get a pasta salad and a packet of crisps even though I’d eaten approximately 1000 chocolate things in tubs backstage. I can actually remember the second performance, and it felt brilliant. The cast moved around the multi-level stage with an assurance that belied the fact that we’d only performed on grass before. Everything just worked, and I only laughed a tiny bit when I said my line that I always got in the wrong place, in the right place. Success. And then we went to the pub, and drove back to London via Burger King, and it was all over.
NEXT PRODUCTION -
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
Based on the children’s book by Joan Aiken and adapted for the stage by Russ Tunney
At St Barnabas Hall, Dulwich Village, SE21 7BT
A thrilling and funny musical adaptation of Joan Aiken's classic children's novel. Set in an alternative history of England, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase tells the story of two brave and determined girls as they fight against ferocious wolves, snowy wastelands and their very evil guardian, Miss Slighcarp and her equally evil side-kick, Mr Grimshaw. It is 1832 in the reign of James III and the opening of the Channel Tunnel has led to dangerous wolves roaming Britain. But this is not the only danger that cousins Bonnie and Sylvia and their friend, Simon the Goose-boy, must face as they encounter unforgettable characters and mysterious scheming.
Suitable for children aged 6 upwards
Wednesday 17th and Friday 19th December at 7:30pm ,Saturday 20th
Monday 22nd December at 7:30pm
Come and start your Christmas celebrations with CREATION, the Dulwich Mystery Play adapted from the traditional mediaeval dramas by Tricia Thorns.
Starting with the Creation of the world, moving through the Annunciation, the Shepherds’ Play and ending with the Nativity.
There are dances, comedy and spectacle, accompanied by the wonderful St Barnabas Choir and our special guests the Mock Tudor Band with their extraordinary instruments.
Sunday December 7th at 2.30 and again at 5.00, at St Barnabas Church, Calton Avenue SE21. Admission is FREE!
There have always been rumours that Zeppelins dropped bombs on Dulwich in WW1. The Dulwich Estate Board Minutes of 9 December 1917 has a short factual report from the Estate Surveyor saying “I have to report that during the air raid on the morning of 6th December instant, the following properties were damaged by enemy aircraft:
- Covered tennis Courts, adjoining Toksawa; club room and caretaker’s apartments; lessee insured. (The covered tennis courts stood on the site of the current Dulwich College Sports Centre until the late 1960s)
- Cottages adjacent; glass windows damaged by concussion. Governors fully insured (Pond Cottages)
- Cypress House; broken windows and other slight damage; Governors fully insured (the house was demolished in the 1930s and the Cypress Estate now stands on the site)
However, a chance find of a diary, kept by local resident John Greening, in Southwark Local Studies library has shed more light on what actually happened. He wrote “It is no joke to be suddenly awakened before six in the morning by hearing guns firing around you but such was our awful experience at 4:45 AM. As may be imagined we were out of bed and into our clothes in the twinkling of an eye. The din continued for upwards of one hour and three tremendous explosions made us tremble . . . We found out afterwards that they proceeded from bombs dropped at the Rosebery Gate of the Park, which is practically smashed, and the adjoining lodge much injured. Another fell near Potash Farm and the third descended on the garage at the Covered Tennis Courts opposite the College killing a woman and a child. A fourth fell in the Park, near the drinking fountain, but did not explode and two others fell at Beechgrove near Sydenham Hill. I visited the first named spot before breakfast when I beheld an immense cavity in the roadway and the debris scattered around for a long distance. Many windows in the neighbourhood are smashed but, fortunately, ours escaped, but some cement has been forced from around the window frames from the violence of the attack.”
Further research has confirmed the raid early in the morning of 6th December 1917 but it was not by Zeppelins. By late 1916 these were proving too vulnerable to British fighters and the Germans turned to bombers. The first bomber raid on London took place on 28th November 1916, when a lone German Gotha aircraft dropped six bombs. This successful outcome spurred the Germans into creating a special bomber squadron dedicated to bombing raids on England. It was appropriately named the 'England Squadron' - its official title being ‘HQ Kagoul 3’.
On the night of 5/6th December a total of 21 bombers (19 ‘Gothas’ and 2 ‘Giants’) set out from airfields in Belgium. Flying at night to avoid British fighters - they could carry 1100lbs of bombs and had a range of 500 miles - flying at 15,000 feet at a maximum speed of less than 100 miles an hour.
There is a copy of an old WW1 map on the internet showing the bombers’ routes together with timings of the bomb explosions. The three planes that flew over Dulwich arrived over England just north of Walmer in Kent; they flew over Kent and Surrey, and then turned towards London - most likely used the Crystal Palace and its water towers as a marker. They started dropping their bombs almost immediately, the first two near Beechgrove on Sydenham Hill; then on a direct line northwards, to the Covered Courts and Pond Cottages, Dulwich Common by the Rosebery Gate and Dulwich Park.
Of the 21 planes on the raid it was reported that two ‘Gothas’ were brought down by anti-aircraft fire: one, with one engine disabled, attempted a landing at Rochford aerodrome in Essex, but struck a tree on approach and crashed, and the second came down near Canterbury. In both cases all the crew survived. A third aircraft and crew was reported as missing.
Night raids on London continued intermittently into 1918 but improved accuracy from anti-aircraft fire, and the increasing use of barrage balloons, made them less viable. There were no more raids on Dulwich.