The Dulwich Society Journal for Winter 2015.
Weather and the seasons are the theme for this report on the birdlife of the Upper Wood. Above average temperatures made for a warm and sunny mid-summer that helped nesting birds fledge their young in good numbers. I counted a family of eight Blackbirds on the lawn of an Upper Dulwich Wood garden. The adult birds had clearly chosen a good site for their nest, one that could withstand general disturbance from humans whilst protecting the eggs and chicks from cat, grey squirrel and other predators.
August and early September were cooler and wetter, and the small party of Swifts that grace the skies of Upper Dulwich had departed for their winter quarters by mid August. The RSPB are concerned about the steep decline in numbers of these summer visitors and encourage us to support efforts to halt their further decline. Summer would be an unhappier season without them:
Spring comes little, a little. All April it rains.
The new leaves stick in their fists; new ferns still fiddleheads.
But one day the swifts are back. Face to the sun like a child
You shout, 'The swifts are back!'
Sure enough, bolt nocks bow to carry one sky-scyther
Two hundred miles an hour across fullblown windfields.
Swereee swereee. Another. And another.
It's the cut air falling in shrieks on our chimneys and roofs.
As summer draws to a close and gives way to autumn so birds take to the wing. Summer visitors leave for warmer countries; and those from the north fly in to our more temperate shores. The young of resident species disperse to find territories of their own. In early October I heard a Tawny Owl calling from the Wood, most likely a dispersing adolescent.
In October the British Trust for Ornithology reported large numbers of Goldcrest arriving, with Scandinavian thrushes already here: I saw a small party of Redwing in the Village School playground in mid-October. The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reported the unseasonably early arrival of large numbers of arctic-nesting Bewick’s Swan. All these winter visitors are, perhaps, harbingers of a long, cold season to come:
Who hath chased the birds so gay
Lark and linnet, all away
Who hath hushed their joyous breath,
And made the woodlands still as death?
Ditching concrete for wildflowers - London Wildlife Trust helps local people to de-pave
By Helen Spring
An ambitious project by London Wildlife Trust to replace the hard standing at the forecourt of Rosendale Allotments with new greenspace, which also helps to reduce local flooding, has won the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Award for Community Partnership. The award recognises the strong partnership between local people, London Wildlife Trust and the Mace Foundation that made the project possible and in turn, benefits the people living and working in the local area. Many thanks to everyone from the community who has given their time to contribute to the project through scheming, planning and planting; we hope that the contribution of proactive local people to improve this corner of Dulwich will inspire others to ditch the tarmac and do the same!
Previously at Rosendale Allotments, large amounts of rainwater used to run downhill from the site through the bottleneck at the forecourt area and flow into Turney and Burbage Road, increasing risk of flash flooding in this area through sewer overflows in times of heavy rainfall. Through replacing concrete and tarmac with cellular paving, the area can now store up to 80,000 litres of rainwater (enough to fill 8,000 baths), whilst also converting hard grey paving into a soft green landscape for plot holders and passers-by to enjoy. The paving is strong enough to support the delivery vehicles that visit the allotments and is seeded with wildflowers and a grass and clover mix to create over 100 square metres of new green space for the benefit of people and wildlife in Herne Hill and Dulwich.
This project is an example of reversing a worrying trend sweeping across London and the UK. Every year an area of green space equivalent to two and a half Hyde Parks is lost from London’s private gardens; as green space is replaced with paving, decking, parking spaces and buildings. This is a huge loss to the city’s wildlife, a risk to the health of our urban environment and can significantly increase local flood risk. Depaving is a simple way to reverse the negative impacts of this loss, creating greener and healthier places for us to live.
If you would like to find out more about London Wildlife Trust’s Lost Effra project, that partners with communities in the catchment of the culverted River Effra to reduce flood risk through working with nature, please email Helen Spring, Lost Effra Project Coordinator at
Dulwich is a green oasis bejewelled by its gardens. In reality, it is the back gardens of Dulwich - hidden from view - that are the jewels. Visible to all, many of its front gardens are also lovely - but some are distinctly unimpressive.
The purpose of this article is to encourage members give their front gardens a facelift in 2016, and to provide some pointers on how to do this. Our Spring talk in 2016 will have advice from three professional garden designers - see the box below - and we will have a front gardens competition with awards later in the year.
What are the ingredients of front garden design?
Because a front garden fills a number of roles and space is normally limited, its design can be challenging. Luckily, there is an enormous palette available to help achieve attractive designs and planting.
Ingredients in the palette include hedges, which also introduce vertical lines to balance the horizontals of hard landscaping; evergreen shrubs; screens for cars and bins (see below); suitable trees; plants that have different coloured foliage, textures and height; perennials and spring and autumn bulbs; scented plants that can add fragrance throughout the year; climbers for walls or grown over screens; ground covering plants and grasses; and containers to allow planting where there is no soil. Aim to have some interest throughout the year. And don’t forget wildlife, for which shrubs, trees, hedges and ivies can provide shelter and food, and flowering plants which attract and provide nectar for bees and butterflies.
What grows best depends on soil, sun and shade - neighbouring gardens can give ideas on what is likely to grow well in your own garden. A note of caution on trees - check their likely fully-grown size and root spread to avoid future problems.
What advice is available?
There are local garden designers - ask around or look at the many excellent front gardens in Dulwich to get names, as well as ideas. The RHS website (www.rhs.org.uk) has advice on designs, materials and planting ideas (search “front gardens”). For suitable trees, advice is available from the Scheme of Management’s Tree Consultant. And of course garden centres can help.
These can be screened behind evergreen shrubs, trellis panels or “hurdle” screens, covered with climbers; or they can be hidden in bin stores, preferably of wood - with or without that green roof. If all else fails, ivy and floral stickers are available. Google “wheelie bin stores/screens/stickers” for ideas and suppliers.
Hard surfaces - and the rules
Hard surfaces should be kept to a minimum, with interesting and (to help minimise the risk of flooding) permeable materials used.
In Dulwich, the Dulwich Estate’s Scheme of Management requires its prior approval to hardstanding for off-street parking, with the aim of conserving the traditional character of Dulwich’s front boundaries. Approval generally requires that at least half the garden area be retained as a planted area, and that the landscaping and materials used are in sympathy with the property and adjoining streetscape. Planning permission is required from Southwark Council if an area of more than five square metres is to be covered with non-permeable materials - the Council’s planning portal has the detailed rules and some practical advice.
Spring Gardens talk - “Let’s be front garden proud”
7.30pm, Wednesday 9th March 2016 at Alleyn’s School, Townley Road, SE22 8SU
We are delighted to have an expert panel of speakers, Pamela Johnson, Nigel Watts and Anthony Noel. All are professional garden designers. There will be time for questions and also for informal discussion after the talks over a glass of wine. All are welcome but booking is essential - more detail with an application form is set out on page 37.
A resolution for 2016?
Do spend more time and effort on your front garden in 2016. You will meet more people, and your efforts will undoubtedly provide pleasure to many - and yourself!
By Brian Green
Somehow Harry Powell has slipped through the net of those influential people who have lived in Dulwich. He is not to be found in the Dulwich Society’s Who Was Who in Dulwich. In much the same way he has been missed out from the Dictionary of National Biography. It is of course how Harry probably would have preferred it; after all he almost declined to accept the CBE for his work during World War 1 until his daughter Muriel penned him a terse note on behalf of herself and her husband Professor Herbert Baker -
We both think you ought to accept the CBE for Mother’s sake. I am sure she would be very pleased if she could know about it. Please don’t be pig headed and fill in the form quickly. Of course you fully earned lots more honours and please take this one.
With best wishes and mind you do what I ask you.
Your loving daughter
Harry then, apparently, not only kept his long-suffering wife in the dark regarding the award but his reticence to accept it was typical of a man who felt his co-workers at Whitefriars Glass Works were equally entitled to the honour offered to him. While Whitefriars was not a co-operative, it did adhere to the principles of the Arts & Crafts movement and its staff were respected as true artists and craftsmen. Unusually for Victorian employers, pensions were awarded on retirement and a week’s paid holiday was granted to the workers each August. Not unexpectedly this paternalistic stance was rewarded by loyalty and long service, indeed some of the glassblowers could trace their employment with Whitefriars back for generations. On one occasion, silver mounted walking sticks were presented to seven of the craftsmen to mark terms of long service. Another indication of the firm’s relationship with its workers was shown when Harry married his wife Emma in 1875 and two large tables at the wedding reception at Mercers Hall were reserved for the glassblowers and glass makers.
Whitefriars glassworks had been founded in 1680 on the site of a former Carmelite monastery between the Thames and Fleet Street in an area popularly called Alsatia and was acquired by Harry’s grandfather in 1834 as a means of keeping his three sons occupied. Harry entered the firm in 1873 after graduating from Trinity College Oxford where he studied mechanics, physics and chemistry. His father virtually handed the reins over to his son and in reality Harry ran the company from the time he was appointed manager in 1875 until his retirement in 1919. He was admitted a partner in 1893.
Powell had an investigative mind but not necessarily an ordered one. He tended to write everything down, either in note form or graphically. As a consequence, his copious notebooks and diaries contain a fascinating and disparate mixture of information; from the ingredients and formulae required for producing various colours of glass to observations on freak weather, the cost of coke used annually to fuel the glassworks’ furnaces and even the gas meter readings for his home in Alleyn Road. It is here we find the recipe for dark amber glass which could represent gold in stained glass windows and which he names as Dulwich in 1910 as requiring 28lb flint glass, 1lb 8 oz borax, 5lbs Devonshire ore and 1 lb of common manganese. The name ‘Dulwich’ also occurs in the colours of two examples of mosaic invented by Harry Powell shortly before his retirement in 1918; Dulwich flesh - thick, almost solid, and another version put on thinly for drapery. The notebooks were continued for the whole of his 45 years running the works. Failures were written up as well as successes.
He was chief designer of glassware at Whitefriars and his delicate designs of vases, bowls and glasses attracted a considerable following from the start, buoyed along first by the interest in the Arts & Crafts movement and later by enthusiasm for Art Nouveau. He exhibited widely both at home and abroad. In Britain his work was displayed at various Arts & Crafts Society and Royal Institution exhibitions but also at international fairs held in Turin and Paris. There is an example of his work in the British Museum and frequent glass fairs held around the country today illustrate display his skill.
From the start of his career he was interested in the history of glass and glass making. He had ancient glassware scientifically analysed and then experimented in replicating what he found. His interest in old glassware also extended to their design and in his notebooks, interspersed with his other jottings and observations, often written in a minute hand, are his careful and graceful drawings of ancient glassware, bowls and vases that he had observed in his trips abroad or in museums in England which he went on to adapt and produce commercially. These studies included Egyptian, Roman and Venetian glass. While he adopted their shapes he invariably used his own artistic skill to give them new decoration and colours.
As early as 1877 he was successful in producing new opalescent glass, two in particular were very popular in the American market, a milky opaque straw opal and blue opal. He was constantly experimenting. He found that by exposing glass to higher temperatures he could obtain changes in the colour. A dull red at 977 ºfhr became cherry red at 1472ºfhr and deep orange at 2012ºfhr and dazzling at 2732º
As manager of the glassworks he had the constant problem with costs of the coke-fired furnaces. The works was operating in a small space and when it became necessary to replace a furnace it presented a logistical nightmare. He was also responsible in negotiating the wages of the craftsmen and in 1904 when a national economic slump coincided with the arrival of cheap imports, he asked and got from the workers an agreement for a 5% reduction in wages with a promise that when trade improved the old rates would be reinstated. Another year, in an effort to increase production, he introduced an incentive scheme but was obliged to end it when it proved too expensive. During this difficult period, table glassware sales halved but the stained glass side of the business rose almost 50% as the demand for memorial windows in churches increased. It was, however, an increase in demand for scientific glass that would keep the company afloat.
Although Harry Powell was constantly experimenting to produce new coloured glass, an experiment in 1906 in which he introduced oxide of Tallurium to the flint glass and borax resulted in a pale pink shade, it was his development of toughened glass for thermometer tubes, optical glass and ultimately for toughened glass for use on naval mines in WW1 which not only earned him his CBE but brought the company through the difficult war years and able to expand vigorously afterwards.
Production of toughened glass required less space in Whitefriars’ cramped works than the decorative range thus allowing Powell to consider a number of applications for its use. Samuel Plimsoll was supplied with this glass for use in his improved miners’ lamps, X-ray tubes were produced in 1896 and thermometer glass the following year. Powell also developed special ‘eye-saving glass’ for optical use in the treatment of cataracts, glass which reduced heat and ultra-violet rays and bulbs for cathode ray lamps.
In 1905 his daughter Muriel married Herbert Baker, a brilliant chemist, who had been head of science at Dulwich College and then headmaster of Alleyn’s where he only remained for a year before proceeding to Oxford as Reader in Chemistry from 1904-12. The following year Baker was appointed Professor of Chemistry at Imperial College and later, during the Great War became scientific advisor to the War Office. He worked with his father in law in the development of the specially resistant glass for the ‘horns’ of the submarine mines. Whitefriars produced 600,000 of these glass horns, individually testing them by taking them from boiling water and plunging them in to ice cold water before dropping them twice onto a lead sheet from a height of 10 feet to test their strength. Other wartime developments were dense black glass for use in airmen’s goggles and production of artificial eyes.
When his uncle John died in 1914, the last of the three brothers, Harry took on the management of the window glass division of the company. His role was not the design or the setting out which was left to the talented James Hogan and his team, but for the production of the coloured and painted glass needed. Whitefriars had by then expanded into the American market and made a number of windows, including the great west window, for St John’s Cathedral, New York City; a remarkable coup considering the competition in New York from Tiffany’s.
Even before Harry joined the company, Whitefriars had produced opus sectile mosaics and had a long association with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement, especially Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Philip Webb. One of Harry Powell’s tours abroad was to see the mosaics at Ravenna. He took a scientific interest as well as an artistic one in the production of mosaics. He found that it had been the custom to scrap fragments of flint glass contaminated with clay and he successfully experimented with grinding this surplus to a fine powder and baking it to make slabs for mosaics which were then enamelled. When he ran into difficulty with gold and platinum flaking off mosaics he solved the problem by reheating the slabs and pressing and stamping them with a criss-cross on the reverse.
Mosaics became an important aspect of work at Whitefriars from the 1890’s and prestigious commissions came to the company from St Paul’s, Liverpool and Westminster Cathedrals. At St Paul’s, the mosaics designed by Sir William Blake Richmond reflect the continuing popularity of Burne-Jones style of design while Westminster Cathedral’s tympanum embraced that of the Byzantine Revival. Locally, Harry Powell presented the beautiful mosaic reredoes depicting the Epiphany, to Christ’s Chapel, Dulwich where he was church warden and the company also made mosaics at Kings College Hospital. Other works around Dulwich by Harry Powell and Whitefriars were the stained glass east window of St Barnabas (destroyed in the fire of 1992) and several of the memorial windows at Christ’s Chapel and St Stephen’s.
It is remarkable that aside from his busy working life that he was able to serve the local community so generously. At the suggestion of Sidney Webb be became a governor of Dulwich College, an office he held for 21 years. He was deputy-chairman 1907-19. He also served as an Estates Governor and a governor of James Allen’s Girls’ School. He served on the first and second councils of the newly formed London County Council and the Board of Education committee of advice for Education and Art and the Technical Education Board. He lived at four different houses in Dulwich, Melford Lodge Underhill Road, 506 Lordship Lane, 125 Thurlow Park Road and 80 Alleyn Road. He announced his retirement in 1918 but continued working for a further two years before his death in 1922. In 1923 his book ‘Glass Making in England’ was published posthumously.
References The Whitefriars Glass Company Archive Museum of London
Dulwich College Archives
Reviewed by Brian Green
Jan Piggott is uniquely qualified to write about the life and work of P G Wodehouse, once described as England’s greatest comic writer. He was head of English and Keeper of the Archives at Dulwich College; the very school attended by Wodehouse and which influenced nearly all his early writings. Not only that, Piggott is somewhat of a Wodehouse buff, and in the first half of Wodehouse’s SCHOOL DAYS, he provides a narrative of the author’s life at Dulwich. Part Two is a fascinating deconstruction of Wodehouse’s school stories and demonstrates his close observance of his fellow pupils, masters and customs.
There was something comic from the start of P G Wodehouse’s life when his mother decided to name her three sons after their respective godfathers, or rather append them with their surnames. And grand they were. Hence we have the eldest, Peveril, then Armine, the golden boy who excelled at sport, music and his studies and in whose shadow Pelham Grenville Wodehouse carved out his own life at Dulwich College. Actually his middle name of Grenville was chosen by his mother because of her admiration for British heroes. It did not really matter what he was named because he invariably used his initials or his nickname Plum.
Plum, perhaps, disappointed his father, a colonial judge in Hong Kong, who had taken an early retirement in 1895 after suffering severe sunstroke and whose pension had fallen in value because of the collapse of the rupee. Plum’s brother Armine’s glittering career at Dulwich had been crowned with a Classical Scholarship to Corpus Christi where he would later take a Double First. Two years his junior, Plum emulated his brother’s sporting prowess but his examination results were erratic. Arthur Herman Gilkes, the inspirational Master of the College noted his deficiencies.
“Continually he does badly in examinations from lack of proper books; he is often forgetful; he finds difficulties in the simple things and asks absurd questions whereas he can understand the more difficult things.
He has the most distorted ideas about wit and humour; he draws over his books and examination papers in a most distressing way and writes foolish rhymes in other people’s books. Notwithstanding, he has a genuine interest in literature ………one is obliged to like him in spite of his vagaries…..If he perseveres he will certainly succeed”
Wodehouse senior could not have been impressed by this end of year report for 1899 and his reaction was summed up by Plum two years later in a poem found in the Public School Magazine.
For he heard the voice of his father say
In tones devoid of pity:
You aren’t going up to the ‘Varsity,
For I’ve got you a place in the City.
Fifty years after he left the school he wrote to a great friend from his schooldays: ‘to me the years between 1896 and 1900 seem so like Heaven that I feel everything since has been an anti-climax’. They must have done, because at the time he dared not return to Dulwich from post-war France for fear of being arrested and charged with treason, a fate that had already befallen a fellow Dulwich resident |(but not alumnae) William Joyce - Lord Haw Haw, and which ended in the latter’s execution.
Of course we must not overdramatize Plum’s six radio broadcasts from Nazi Germany. Unlike Joyce’s they did not seek to undermine British morale but instead were humorous transmissions directed to a (then) neutral American audience by the world’s most famous comic writer who rather stupidly failed to exit France before the Germans marched in. British newspapers pilloried him and the Establishment shunned him. Wodehouse readily admitted the error of making the broadcasts, which at his old school, Piggott tells us, led to boys who carried any of Plum’s books in their briefcases being caned by a prefect, or even more damningly goes the legend, that in the Pavilion, held so sacred by Wodehouse, the sports team’s photographs in which he appeared were turned to the wall.
That his rehabilitation, in the form of a knighthood, took time and came rather grudgingly from his mother country only five weeks before his death in 1975 must have hurt badly. Wodehouse never returned to England after the war but neither did he lose his affection for the College. In 1972 he wrote to Charles Lloyd, the Master: “If I do come to England the only place I really want to see is Dulwich”.
This was the second time that Plum had been forgiven and a lengthy endnote in the book throws light on the first occasion. Dr Piggot discards sentimentality in favour of intellectual rigour to question Plum’s account that he failed to join the colours in the First World War because of his poor eyesight. The reader might question further; the army eye-test was not that rigorous. Men with poor eyesight were given duties in the lines of communication. It is difficult not to conclude that Plum took the opportunity to go to the United States in 1914 and stay there for the duration in order to avoid the war. As far as his eyesight was concerned, the case is not proven either way. A summary of his cricketing success in the 1st X1 in 1900 praises his bowling and commends his batting but his fielding is ‘rather hampered by his sight’. That Plum was not photographed in glasses until years later could be put down to youthful vanity but his prowess as a member of the 1st X1 and 1st XV also seems to confirm he could see well enough. Wodehouse, who had written accounts of school matches for the school magazine in the years immediately after he left Dulwich, stopped receiving The Alleynian from 1914-17. Was he conscious stricken? Two of his team mates in the 1st X1 cricket team were killed and three in the rugby 1st XV. After 1920 Plum resumed his accounts of school matches he regularly watched at Dulwich in The Alleynian.
In Part Two, cricket and rugby, as well as boxing, in which Wodehouse also excelled, feature prominently in the six books and almost forty short stories he sets in a public school very recognisably, Dulwich College, which he wrote between 1902 - 1909. These fictional schools - Wrykyn, Beckford, Sedleigh, Eckleton and St Austin’s are a thinly disguised Dulwich College and like the College are set between the Village and the Woods on the hill. Did he unconsciously adopt the name St Austin’s from the large house of the same name at the corner of Dulwich Village and Village Way and now the home of JAPS as one of his fictional schools? Elsewhere in his school stories he calls Dulwich - Valley Fields and sets his famous character Psmith in Mulberry Grove (Acacia Grove). Piggott suggests that his characters, Sir Eustace Briggs and Sir Alfred Venner MP are based on Sir Evan Spicer, the owner of Belair, the mansion where Plum went on skating expeditions on the pond one hard winter after nipping out of Ivyholme where he was a boarder.
Significantly, Wodehouse judged his happy days to start when he became a boarder at the College in 1896, rather than when he started as a day boy at the age of 12. It has long been argued that the Dulwich College gave him the stability of a home life which he lacked by reason of the absence of his parents abroad. He was brought up by a succession of aunts and aunts feature heavily in his Jeeves and Wooster books. One devotee of the genre has calculated that he actually had as many as twenty aunts in total!
Wodehouse’s SCHOOL DAYS is required reading for anyone interested in the phenomenon of the golden age of the English public school as well as exploring the well-spring of ideas of this genius of comic literature.
WODEHOUSE’S SCHOOL DAYS by Jan Piggott is published as the first in a series of books in celebration of the Quatercentenary of Dulwich College in 1619. Available from Dulwich College Commissariat £20
Reviewed by Bernard Nurse
Dulwich and its immediate surroundings at their best are celebrated in words and pictures in this beautiful book printed throughout in full colour, the first of a series planned on London suburbs. The author, Mireille Galinou, has gathered a talented and experienced team from former colleagues at the Museum of London to compile this work. Torla Evans, who was Head of Photography is rightly credited on the title page for contributing stunning recent pictures. The author, who was Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Museum, has complemented the contemporary images with a superb selection of historic illustrations, many of which have not been reproduced before.
The text and design is more akin to that of a colour magazine, with short features on subjects such as local personalities, shops, buildings, parks and art, both now and in the past. The deliberate and successful effect of this novel approach is to relate the contents more closely to the experiences of the reader and provide a flavour of the place where they live and or might visit. The structure makes it a book that you can dip into at any point rather than have to read as a narrative. The contents are highly selective and are intended to have a wider appeal than a more academic local history brought up to the present day.
As a result, old and new are juxtaposed to highlight change and continuity. Thus John Ruskin’s thoughts on Herne Hill in Victorian times are contrasted with experiences on life there today by two architects. The illustrations are well integrated into the text with illuminating comments. For example, a double-page spread depicts a lively print of the Grove Tavern, Lordship Lane in the 1870s. This is accompanied by remarks of the dress historian, who also happens to be the editor, on the dress of the lady croquet players illustrated. Their dress provides evidence for dating the print.
Dulwich is defined very broadly to encompass more than the area covered by the Estate, whose boundaries are shown on the introductory map as they were in 1806 rather than currently. Four admittedly artificial zones are identified for the purpose of the book, with a long section on each. The central area has Dulwich Village at its heart; East Dulwich, focused on Lordship Lane, extends to Denmark Hill station and north of Goose Green; West Dulwich, defined by Croxted Road, incorporates the eastern side of Herne Hill as far as Ruskin Park and the Carnegie Library, and includes a mysterious extra railway station on the map between Herne Hill and West Dulwich. Finally, South Dulwich, characterized by its open spaces, mostly keeps to the Estate boundary. However, included here is the Horniman Museum, described as ‘technically’ in Forest Hill ‘but its spirit belongs to the “wilds” of Dulwich’. Some of our neighbours may take exception to the author’s definition of Dulwich, but on the whole she does establish interesting connections with surrounding places undoubtedly familiar to Dulwich residents.
The Dulwich Notebook does what the title suggests, giving a highly individual snapshot of the area, both informative and a valuable source for future historians. Curiously, from a historian who has written the definitive account of the St John’s Wood Estate, the reasons why Dulwich has so many open spaces and the changing policies of the Dulwich Estate over time are not explored in any depth. The historical background is based largely on readily available secondary sources and does not replace the histories of Brian Green and others. However, the author is to be congratulated for providing us with a popular account, superbly produced and offered for sale at a remarkably low price, and for taking on the daunting task of publishing it herself. She deserves to be successful.
Mireille Galinou, The Dulwich Notebook. Your London Publications, 2015. 256pp,
Reviewed by Sharon O’Connor
David Weston went to Alleyn’s School where he was taught by Michael Croft and became a founder member of the National Youth Theatre. He has been an actor for more than fifty years, and is also the author of books such as Covering McKellen, Covering Shakespeare and latterly the Dodger series of books, which follow the adventures of Jack Dawkins, the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist. George MacDonald Fraser had the idea of using a minor character from another novel as a hero in Flashman and, like Weston, Terry Pratchett and James Benmore have also written interpretations of Dodger. In his latest book Weston extends the idea by blending literary characters from other Dickens novels with historical figures and characters from his own imagination, all leavened with his own theatrical experience and expertise
In Dodger Treads the Boards, Jack becomes the servant of Ira Aldridge, the nineteenth century African-American Shakespearean actor who himself trod the boards in Britain and across Europe. Weston’s portrayals of London (including, for sharp-eyed Dulwich historians, several places connected to Edward Alleyn) and its theatre are pertinent and vivid and we see Dodger become an habitué of Covent Garden before he journeys to Russia with Aldridge where he meets Pushkin, Browning, members of the Russian nobility and, poignantly, his long-lost mother. He returns to London before following Aldridge to Ireland where he witnesses the horrors of the historical land clearance evictions with their attendant violence. He is himself imprisoned though Daniel O’Connell, the Irish political leader, gets the charges dropped. While the historical elements are fascinating, the level of detail is sometimes over-generous and can affect the pace a little. In one paragraph alone we come across Sir Joseph Bazalgette, J M W Turner and Charles Dickens. Having said that, the narrative generally develops at a cracking pace with some humorous encounters - look out for a young Queen Victoria - and a surprising amount of pathos
The parallels between Aldridge’s struggle for artistic recognition as a black actor in Victorian London and the working-class Dodger’s attempts to escape his lowly economic status are lightly drawn throughout the novel, though the depictions of Russian serfs and poor Irish tenant farmers are rather less subtle, probably due to their secondary role in the novel. The story culminates in a plot twist which resolves a part of the narrative relating to Dodger’s identity before tying up several plot strands in a satisfying manner while also paving the way for the next instalment.
A pacy read from an entertaining writer.
Dodger Treads the Boards by David Weston is published by Thistle Books. £10.95 375 pps
Reviewed by Brian Green
Co-author and Dulwich resident, Polly Bagnall grew up at Shalford Mill near Guildford where her family had been living since the 1930’s when the Mill had been saved from dereliction by a feisty group of middle class women. The group called themselves ‘Ferguson’s Gang’ and were unified by their passion to preserve at least some of the fabric of a rural England that was fast disappearing. Although several notches down the social scale from the Mitford sisters or the Bloomsbury set, they nevertheless shared some of their eccentricity and verve.
Polly had learnt something about the Gang from her mother but it was a request from some American visitors in 2011, to see the room in the Mill which the Fergusson Gang had used for thirty years as its headquarters that led Polly on a path of discovery. After the Gang’s closure in 1960, her father, the cartoonist, Peter Bagnall, had used the room as a studio. When tidying the ‘cell’ up for the visit, she found the cash box the Gang had used to collect the money for their long crusade and a ceremonial staff used in the Ferguson’s Gang’s meetings and Ritual Hauntings. Although her family had often talked about the Gang, and Polly had met some of them, she realised that when her mother and her sisters had passed away, the full story would be lost forever.
Her mother knew the real names of the gang members and her father, Polly’s grandfather, the architect John Macgregor was a member. The real find however was The Boo. Short for The Book but named The Boo because the calligrapher failed to reserve sufficient room for the final letter! Entries in The Boo were written in ‘mockney’. The gang members were given fictitious names - hence John Macgregor, the architect was called The Artichoke, the founder and leader of the gang, Peggy Gladstrone was named Bill Stickers. The result of this initial research was the staging of an exhibition at Shalford Mill. The research and the exhibition seemed to demand something more and a meeting with journalist and writer Sally Beck, who became co-author, was the catalyst for the book.
The money raised by Ferguson’s Gang was always delivered in person to the National Trust with tremendous panache, by masked gang members. The Trust responded in kind and the national press seized on the antics of the Gang with relish, resulting in priceless publicity for the National Trust’s work. The Boo was central to the story, not only recording the meetings at their HQ at the Mill, the first building they saved, but also details of the indulgent picnics supplied by Fortnum & Mason’s which accompanied the hilarious meetings. Ferguson’s Gang went on to also save the Old Town Hall Newtown IOW, and other buildings and landmarks.
The biographies of the gang members is a fascinating read, although the space devoted to each is uneven; more is discovered about some of the women than others. A slightly tighter editing would have been an advantage. Nevertheless, as a fascinating window into the antics and lives of a group of like-minded and spirited women united in their determination to save a little bit of England - and still have a hell of a lot of fun, Ferguson’s Gang is a must-read. Put it on your Christmas list!
Ferguson’s Gang by Polly Bagnall and Sally Beck published by the National Trust 232 pages £15.99
Most roads in Dulwich reveal their history in the fabric of their buildings and College Road is no exception. A narrative of Dulwich unfolds as you walk south along the road passing the old College, the Picture Gallery, Georgian houses and Victorian villas, Barry’s new College, the railway station and more modern architecture. However, there was a side-road of which the only trace remaining of its former heritage is a Victorian letter box set into the wall. The 1970s development known as College Gardens replaced an imposing set of eight semi-detached houses which were set back from College Road behind a small grove of trees. Built for the confident middle classes then colonising Dulwich, these were large residences with twelve proper rooms and a 50’ frontage. Originally called Manor Place, its name was changed to College Gardens on the houses’ completion.
The builder was W J Mitchell of Loughborough Junction and in 1865 he secured an agreement to build on what was formerly the Master’s garden, adjacent to the Picture Gallery. While he was building College Gardens, Mitchell acquired an existing building, blacksmith’s and plumbing business from Henry Goodman Adams and occupied what would henceforth be named Mitchell’s Yard in the middle of the Village. In time this yard would be redeveloped as Mitchell’s Place.
College Gardens lasted less than a century but during that time housed the hopes and fears, thoughts and feelings of a host of families, many of whom, just like families today, moved to Dulwich for the schools, the green spaces and the proximity to London. Though they had settled in a quiet corner of suburban London, many of the residents had travelled extensively across the world and there was some homogeneity in their livelihoods. They grew up to create wealth as merchants and to teach the younger generations while also fighting for their country.
Henry Kent bought the first house available and moved in with his wife, Anna, and their servants. He described himself as a retired coal merchant but he had also been an auditor for companies such as the London General Omnibus Company and a property developer, building many houses in West London, in the area between Warwick Road and West Cromwell Road. He built versions of Prince Albert’s ‘model dwellings’ to house the workers from the neighbouring canal (which later became the railway). These model dwellings had been exhibited at the Great Exhibition but were a world away from the well-appointed brand new mansions in College Gardens. Kent was extremely successful, amassing a five-figure fortune.
John Wrangham had been a chemist but became a leather merchant, setting up a firm with his brother in Cowcross St. Wrangham diversified from selling leather into making boots and shoes and his factory at 64-69 Cowcross Street survived until WW2 when it was bombed. In Victorian times the area was full of slaughterhouses and other connected trades such as soap making and catgut factories for violin strings and Wrangham must have been very happy to make the journey back to leafy Dulwich each evening, though there was no Thameslink from Farringdon to Herne Hill in his day. He had two daughters and two sons, the boys went to Dulwich College as did his grandsons, one of whom won an MC in 1918.
Peter Hazeon was the ‘secretary of a foreign railway’ and a import/export merchant who had tried his luck in Shanghai before transferring to Mexico and Argentina. He ran out of luck in Mexico too when in 1858 General Garza tried to extract loans by force from British and American merchants. His case was raised in the House of Commons and The Times published correspondence illustrating the attempts to seek restitution. Hazeon was ‘dragged from his house by brute force’ and marched to the barracks ‘like a vagabond in the pouring rain’ despite the protestations of the British Consul. He was forced to hand over £1,400 as a ‘loan’ and he had 500 (unspecified) bales seized in Tampico port. The Foreign Office lamented the ‘disturbed state of public affairs’ in Mexico which hindered them assisting Mr Hazeon but assured his brother that Lord Malmesbury was doing all he could to seek redress. It is not clear whether Mr Hazeon was reimbursed but the case attracted publicity over several years. He died in 1906 after ‘years of suffering’, leaving an estate of over £9,000.
Another merchant, Frankfurt-born John Henry Jost, also sent two sons to Dulwich College. Charles sadly died aged just 16 just two months after he left school. Clarence married and moved to Argentina but returned to England before travelling to Australia to work as a financial agent. There he was involved in the bringing to Australia a replica of ‘The Light of the World’, a celebrated painting by Holman Hunt. This painting caused pandemonium when it was exhibited in Sydney. It was said that a staggering 300,000 people went to view it (which equates to 11,000 daily) and hundreds of extra police officers had to be drafted in to control the crowds.
Thomas Nowill was a cutlery and silver manufacturer from Sheffield and descended from a long line of cutlers dating back to at least 1700. His factory was still in Sheffield but his office was in Hatton Garden. His firm produced canteens of cutlery which began to be used in the late 18th century and meant that guests no longer had to bring their own cutlery to dinner. Nowill won a prize at the Great Exhibition for ‘knives for the Levant trade’.
The tea dealer, Samuel Cheshire, was a partner in the tea broking firm of Stenning, Inskipp, based in Mincing Lane, at that time the centre of the world tea trade. Stenning, Inskipp were involved in the change in consumption from Chinese to Indian tea. Previously the East India Company and the tea merchants bought tea from China in exchange for opium grown in India but when the Chinese began to grow their own opium the tea merchants decided to start growing tea themselves in India. After a few false starts Indian tea was even more appealing to British tastebuds than the tea in China and Stenning, Inskipp was well placed to take advantage of the change in demand. Samuel Cheshire retired a rich man but died eight years later, aged 80. His sons followed their father into the family business. Harley became a tea planter in Dooars in the Himalayas and retired aged 51. Leslie went to Chile where he married a local girl.
Typical of many of the confident, adventurous Victorians who lived in these big houses was Captain Joseph Wells. He had joined the family firm of East India merchants before becoming an officer with the East India Company’s navy, then called the Bombay Marine, spending a large part of his life in India but he took a lease in College Gardens in 1866. He sent his sons to Dulwich College and they followed him into the family firm. Possibly he was away when his house was burgled in 1882 by Jonathan Lowe, a ‘determined looking fellow’ who was charged with stealing a gold watch, a concertina, several pairs of boots and other items.
The Wells family were unlucky: in 1887 they were burgled again. This time Thomas Morrell was charged with ‘burglariously’ breaking in and stealing a box, salad bowl, teapot and cake basket from Mrs Wells, ‘value £8’ and a jacket belonging to Ethel Clements, the cook. Reginald, Mrs Wells’ son, had been woken by his sister at around 5am, when she heard noises downstairs. He took a loaded revolver and seeing broken glass in the hall, fired his gun and ran outside where a man was climbing a wall holding a box. On Wells telling the man to drop the box or he would shoot, the man dropped the box but escaped with the cook’s jacket. Luckily a police constable was walking his beat by Dulwich College when he saw the defendant with a bundle under his arm and heard Mr Wells shouting ‘Stop thief!’. Both Mr Wells and the policeman gave chase but the man (bizarrely) took off his shoes and jumped over a gate, dropping his bundle which proved to be Ethel’s jacket but escaping into Dulwich Park. He was later picked out of a line-up at Dulwich police station and taken into custody.
Sir Robert Kennaway Douglas was the first Keeper of the Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts at the British Museum (now British Library) and had also been Consul of China. He and his wife, Rachel, needed a house the size of the ones in College Gardens to house his family of six sons and two daughters although interestingly, they did not have a large household retinue. In fact, most of the houses had just a cook and a housemaid living in (though they probably had ‘dailies’ and outdoor servants such as gardeners) while those with young families also had a nursemaid. The son of a vicar from Devon, Douglas had been a solitary, sickly child. In 1855, aged 17 he was sent to New Zealand to be a sheep farmer but the climate did not agree with him and he returned after two years. In 1858, having studied Chinese for just a year, he went to China as an interpreter in the diplomatic service where he spent six years witnessing such moments in history as the anti-Christian riots, the Taiping rebellion and the sacking of the Summer Palace.
However, his health was suffering so he looked around for a job back home. His knowledge of China fitted him for a job in the newly created department of Chinese at the British Museum and he took on the task of bringing together all the Chinese books and manuscripts which were dispersed throughout the Museum’s collections and he produced the first catalogue while also publishing translations and more than a dozen general books on China. He also taught himself Japanese, consequently when the Museum merged various departments, he was ideally placed to become the first head of department for Oriental materials.. His reputation as a formidable scholar notwithstanding, he also became known in Japan for his support for Minagata Kumagusu, a pioneer ecologist. Kumagusu, the first non-European to contribute to Nature magazine, frequently clashed with other scholars in the Museum’s Round Reading Room, variously accusing them of racial prejudice or of being too noisy. Eventually, the Trustees banned him from the Museum and Kumagusu was only allowed to continue studying there when Douglas took responsibility for him and let him read books in Douglas’s own office. Douglas introduced him to Dr Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the republic of China; Douglas and Sun had become fast friends through their mutual dislike of the ruling regime in China, a dislike that Douglas rather incautiously demonstrated when ‘Prince’ Tokugawa had asked to rent a room in his house: Douglas refused. Douglas stayed at the British Museum for more than 40 years, lived in College Gardens for nearly 30 years, sent his sons to Dulwich College and became a Governor of the College too. In 1903 he was knighted and retired to Devon where he died in 1913 at the age of 75.
Built just as Dulwich emerged from its rural isolation, College Gardens typified the confidence of the industrious middle class. The merchant and the administrator lived side by side with the scholar and the clergyman, all benefitting from the increased scale of commerce and the systems needed to regulate and run it. Their brand new houses in College Gardens telegraphed their social aspirations, how strange to think that within a century not a single house would still be standing.