The Dulwich Society Journal for Winter 2016.
Dulwich Society Party
The Society’s ‘un-birthday’ party was a great success with a large attendance. The enjoyable evening opened with a reception accompanied by Charles Cary-Elwes performing some great jazz at the piano. Later in the evening the audience enjoyed the solo guitar of Cameron May. A résumé of the Society’s recent activities was given by the chairman Ian McInnes, who was also responsible for the exhibition depicting the history of Dulwich’s (once open) pubs. The new book on local pubs’ history which Ian co-authored was on sale. The evening closed with a splendid concert by the a capella group The Hasty Nymphs who had performed at this year’s Dulwich Festival. In attendance during the evening, and expertly serving wine and canapés, were the three granddaughters of Alastair Hanton.
Alastair Hanton wins Lifetime Achievement Award
A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Alastair by Andrew Gilligan, the former Mayor of London’s Cycling Commissioner, at the end of a conference on transforming London streets. The particular achievements recognised by the Award were, first, identification of a potential cycling route along a disused railway alignment at the back of Millwall’s New Den, and then persistent advocacy for it over twenty years. This now provides a safe off-road link between central London and the south eastern suburbs. It has resulted in a large increase in cycle commuting in this corridor. Secondly, he pressed for safer Heavy Goods Vehicles. HGVs in urban streets kill disproportionate numbers of cyclists and pedestrians. Safety requires that drivers have a direct view of the road around them, not dependent on indirect vision from an array of mirrors and sensors. The Mayor of London recently announced his intention to ban the most dangerous HGVs from London’s streets from 2020.
Alastair continues to promote transport safety and is chairman of the Dulwich Society’s Traffic and Transport committee. He is currently promoting safety concerns surrounding the site of the demolition of the SG Smith workshop in Dulwich Village for house-building where the proximity of schools is an issue, by insisting Direct Vision lorries be used for this project.
More Local History on the Dulwich Society website
This year several new sources of local history information have been added to the Dulwich Society website. Some are there already including Who was Who in Dulwich, The Gazetteer of Dulwich Roads and Place-names and The World War I interactive map produced with the Herne Hill Society. Now it is also possible to search the Society’s Newsletters from 1974 to 2003 to see discussion of issues such as traffic in Dulwich Village, lighting in Court Lane as well as an account of a day trip in 1827 to the ‘rustic spot’ that was Dulwich (Winter 1997). The complete King’s College Hospital Ward Name Directory which has featured in instalments in recent journals can be consulted (without the illustrations). Finally extensive notes on the history and graves of the Old Dulwich Burial Ground are now available online. These provided the basis for the free leaflet (available from The Art Stationers, Dulwich Village) and on the information board on the railings. As much information as could readily be traced on the individuals buried there has been entered, but it is hoped that those who know of any more about this or any other subject on the website will contact the local history sub-committee. The website is very easy to update and many people in Dulwich and elsewhere have given us useful information in the past, some of which has led to articles in the journal.
Basements and Hoardings
Those of you who walk or drive through the Village will have wondered what is happening behind the London Basement Company’s hoarding in front of No 111 Dulwich Village (it has been in place for over two years) - the Society has repeatedly pressed the Estate to find out, but no luck so far. There is another site right next door at look No 113 (but at least work appears to be actively progressing), and the work at No 5 College Road, where the rear wall and most of the floor structure has been removed and replaced - has provided the interested observer unusual views of the sky behind through the front windows.
If you thought it must all end soon and the Village aspect will revert to its normal appearance, you are in for a disappointment. Current applications to build substantial rear extensions and basements at No 57 Dulwich Village (the pleasant Georgian house next to the Burial Ground), No 1 College Road (the old house with the blue plaque for James Allen’s Girls’ School on the front) and No 19 College Road, (just south of the Dulwich Picture Gallery), will mean that yet more hoardings will be visible. And this is all before work starts on the former S G Smith workshop site in the centre of the Village! At least the Crown and Greyhound will be finished soon.
Crown & Greyhound
The projected opening date remains officially as the week beginning 16th January but it may be up to a month later as the completion of the roof on the new hotel building at the rear seems to take longer than expected.
Society contribution to new native hedges in Dulwich Park
The Society has agreed to match the Dulwich Park Friends’ contribution towards the replacement of the cherry laurel hedges in Dulwich Park with native species. The total cost of the work is just over £3000. The Society is also in the process of ordering tree species labels to go on every important tree in the area.
Electric cars come to Dulwich
Eight planning applications have been submitted to Southwark Council to install a total of 24 electric car charging points in the Dulwich area. Leaving aside the fact that the applicant, French owned BluePoint London (who won the tender to operate the electrical charging network in London in 2014) failed to obtain the Dulwich Estate’s consent for the private roads, this will mean a loss of car parking for residents - you are only allowed to use the parking spaces if you are charging your car. If an electric car parks in the bay, but doesn’t charge, or an ordinary car parks in it, they will receive a penalty ticket.
Many residents are concerned over the lack of consultation and the apparently random placing of the new points. Councillors have been involved and are seeking further clarification and discussion before any decisions are made.
The proposed locations are
- Woodwarde Road - 16/AP/3942 (3 No)
- Eastlands Crescent - 16/AP/3905 (3 No)
- Pickwick Road - 16/AP/3933 (3 No)
- Townley Road - 16/AP/3933 (3 No)
- Crescent Wood Road at Sydenham Hill - 16/AP/3903 (3 No)
- Hunts Slip Road - 16/AP/3913 (3 No)
- College Road at Grange Lane - 16/AP/3901 (3 No)
- College Road outside Breakspeare - 16/AP/3000 (3 No)
S G Smith housing development
On 20 October local MP Helen Hayes chaired a meeting between McCullogh Homes, Village Ward Councillors, and local Resident Association representatives to discuss the development of the former S G Smith workshop site. The RAs were looking for reassurances that the building work will be well managed and cause minimum disruption to the area - and respond particularly to the safety of school children who go to the schools nearby. it was agreed to set up a small contact group (of local RA street reps) to monitor and direct queries, concerns and complaints. Work is due to start on site in the summer of 2017, with a contract period of 18 to 24 months.
Dulwich Community Hospital site
Planning consent for the new Charter School East Dulwich and the adjacent Health Hub was granted on 11 October. The school opened on a temporary site in September in Camberwell and expects to move to the new school in 2019. The Health Hub should open at the same time.
New Dulwich Park Café: Southwark Council have awarded the café concession contract to Colicci ECSI Ltd. They are a family run business that currently operates in eight other parks in London including Roehampton Gate (Richmond Park) and Kensington Gardens (Italian Garden Cafe).
7.30pm Thursday 23rd March 2017 at the Lecture Theatre, Alleyn’s School, Townley Road, London SE22 8SU
This year’s talk will be given by Matt Keightley. In 2014 at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, he was awarded a Silver Gilt Medal for his “Help for Heroes” Show Garden dedicated to the wounded men and women of the Armed Forces. At the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, working with Prince Harry for his charity Sentabale, he was awarded a second Silver Gilt Medal for his “Hope in Vulnerability” Show Garden. Matt was awarded the BBC People’s Choice Award for Best Show Garden for both these show gardens.
Matt’s talk will focus on “The Chelsea Experience” telling us about his journey to Chelsea, getting the show garden just right and life after Chelsea.
After the talk there will be the opportunity to meet Matt Keightley over a glass of wine. Tickets are £8 each and may be purchased on the Eventbrite website - https://dulwich-society-spring-gardens-2017-talk.eventbrite.co.uk
Daniel Greenwood has taken a special interest in the wonderful old boundary oak trees in Dulwich Park. They are remnants of the old Dulwich Common and Daniel generously agreed to give a guided walk of Dulwich Park for members of the Society, with particular emphasis on these veteran trees. This took place one Saturday in October. Daniel took us on a tour of all these old oaks, about 10 trees, examining each one individually. It was amazing how much he was able to tell us about each tree.
English oaks (quercus robur) are said to grow for 300 years, stabilise for 300 years, then slowly decline for 300 years and Daniel was able to differentiate between signs that the tree was under stress and features which were part of the natural ageing process. Several had lost limbs, but Daniel assured us that this was quite normal for a tree of their age (mostly 250-350 years old, with some over 400 years old) and that they should recover well. Apparently oak trees restructure themselves to balance - they actually change shape, increasing their girth and becoming shorter and this can clearly be seen in the oak tree by the toilet block near the cafe. Daniel measured some of the trees and estimated this one to be the oldest of all, at over 500 years.
Daniel was pleased with the way Southwark Council are managing these trees, but he was concerned to notice that one of the trees (300-400 years old) by the lake, is displaying damage to the bark at the base, so will discuss with our new Park manager, Will Walpole, whether this tree should be fenced for protection.
The walk was well attended and although we looked at other trees as well, Daniel was most enthusiastic about these old, veteran and ancient (i.e.over 400 years old) oaks - he considers some of them to be among the most important trees in the borough.
Daniel is a most interesting guide and is the London Wildlife Trust warden for Sydenham Hill Woods and a member of the Dulwich Society Wildlife Committee. The walk was free of charge to the public and a donation was made by the Society to LWT.
Glynis Williams, Trees sub-committee
Lib-Dem Scheme of Management Survey
There's often criticism of Dulwich’s Scheme of Management. The purpose of the Liberal Democrat survey was to find out if, after 42 years, residents in general felt it was 'fit for purpose' in today's very different world. Approximately 2,500 letters were delivered with 402 replies: a 16% response rate (compared with a statistical average of 5-7%). It is clearly an issue that matters to people.
A majority recognised that the Scheme had helped to protect the area from 'inappropriate alterations and development', though opinion was evenly divided when asked whether planning controls (including conservation) were now adequately covered by Southwark Council. Only 38% of respondents, however, thought it acceptable to have to pay for planning permission from both the Estate and Southwark.
Nearly half (48%) of those who replied were unhappy with the conditions imposed by the Scheme, compared with roughly a third (34%) who were content. This was reflected in more detailed questions where well over half (57%) were unhappy with the fairness/efficiency of the Scheme's procedures.
Overall, over half (53%) thought that the Scheme should be reformed, whereas 37% were content with the status quo. The majority of those who wanted change were happy to pay a charge for the maintenance of the amenity spaces but not at all happy with the limitations on their freeholds.
At the time of going to press we await the results of the Estate's own survey and their reaction to ours, before deciding on future action, preferably through a Neighbourhood Forum.
Full details are available from
The Dulwich Estate - Scheme of Management Survey
The Dulwich Estate sent out the fourth edition of the Charity’s newsletter Bulletin to the 4,000 households which are subject to the Scheme of Management. This invited residents to complete an on-line survey the purpose of which was to enable the Trustees of the Charity - as Managers of the Scheme - to assess its perceived effectiveness. There were 100 respondents, 58 respondents backed their replies with specific comments. These will be analysed and carefully assessed by the Trustees but it is clear that there is some confusion over what is within the control of the Estate and that of the local authority , e.g., posts and chains in the Village (the dilapidated ones are the Council’s), the proliferation of rubbish bins, the highways and footpaths and the proposed ‘quietways’.
To the question whether the Scheme is effective in preserving the overall character and amenities of the Dulwich Estate for the common benefit 70% considered it was quite or very effective. 27% considered it totally or quite ineffective. 70% thought the Scheme effective in Amenity areas (Dulwich Woods, and Millpond) 16.5% ineffective. 62% thought it effective as regards the urban streetcape, 28.5% ineffective.
On the question of response when contacting the Scheme of Management regarding building works, 53% were satisfied, 24% dissatisfied. For tree works 47% were satisfied, 25% dissatisfied.
To the question whether residents would be prepared, in principle, to pay more for an enhanced service 51% said no, 35% said they would.
The detailed results of the Dulwich Estate Survey may be seen on the Estate’s website with a commentary on the responses received. www.thedulwichestate.org.uk
400th Alleyn Anniversary Celebrations go with a swing
The several celebrations marking the building and consecration of Christ’s Chapel and the opening of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift including the Dulwich Almshouse (Edward Alleyn House) and the Burial Ground all went extremely well, thanks to good planning and fine weather.
On 1st September a packed Christ’s Chapel, led by a splendid choir, heard the Bishop of Southwark preach at an evening service of Holy Communion, before moving into the Picture Gallery grounds for a reception. The balmy weather made the delightful setting even more pleasant.
A week later the residents of Edward Alleyn House (Dulwich Almshouse Charity) had their own celebration when they were joined by representatives of the Foundation parishes for the launching of the new history of the Dulwich Almshouse by Brian Green. During the evening, when the weather again stayed fine, a 400th anniversary celebration cake was cut by centenarian Carole Carver who has been a resident for the past twenty-five years.
During Open House Weekend at the end of September, the old Burial ground was opened and the Dulwich Society’s local history group gave guided tours, highlighting the story of some of those buried there. Altogether, some 475 visitors people made a visit during the afternoons of the weekend.
An information sign has been placed on the railings giving a brief history and the names of some of the better- known people interred there. Funded by the Mary Boast legacy, this is the first of a number of similar signs that the Society hopes to install around Dulwich over the next few months.
Christ’s Chapel 400th Anniversary Exhibition
An exhibition celebrating the 400th anniversary of the consecration of Christ’s Chapel of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift will be open to the public at Dulwich College on Friday 2nd and Friday 9th December between 10 and 5pm. Guided tours by the curator Robert Weaver will take place at 10.30am, 11.30am, 2.30pm, 3.30pm. The exhibition will display manuscripts and artefacts connected with the chapel and also with the almshouse which was founded at the same time. Visitors should report to the Reception Office, Dulwich College where they will receive passes and be met by Mr Weaver. Entry is free.
Brian Wildsmith, the influential and prolific artist turned author of children’s books, died recently in France, aged 86. He wrote 82 books and has a museum in Japan dedicated to his works. He made his name in the 1960s and 70s with a number of colourful but simple books; his first, an illustrated ABC, won the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal in 1962, the year after it came out. Other well-known publications include Birds (1967) named as the best illustrated book of the year by the New York Times, The Owl and the Woodpecker (1971) and A Christmas Story (1989). Before moving to Grasse in the south of France in 1971, apparently to get away from the dull British weather, he and his family lived in Dulwich, and were early residents in Ferrings, one of the Wates developments off College Road.
South London Botanical Institute is awarded City Bridge Trust grant
The South London Botanical Institute (SLBI), based in Tulse Hill, has been awarded £76,500 for an exciting new project, ‘Botany on Your Plate.’ The project will provide a range of activities introducing both children and adults to the science behind our food plants, helping people to understand where the food on their plate comes from. The project will start this autumn and take place over the next three years.
‘Botany on Your Plate’ will help people to engage with the plants and natural world around them, through discovering the environmental wonders of food plants. The project will encourage children and adults to grow food and to understand the local and global environments affecting what they eat. The Institute already offers a well-established, popular programme of educational activities around plant science, from curriculum-based school visits to adult workshops, talks and walks. ‘Botany on Your Plate’ will build on these activities to offer new topics around food plants - with the help of numerous plants growing outside in the SLBI garden. Whilst some people might already grow food at home or in their school garden, the Institute offers the opportunity to examine these plants under a microscope and to see the environments in which less familiar species such as hops, marshmallow and loquat grow.
The SLBI was founded in 1910 by Allan Octavian Hume, a dedicated social reformer, with the aim of bringing botany to the working people of south London. This aim continues today, with people from local communities and further afield able to explore the plant world, enjoy the botanic garden, library and herbarium, and participate in a wide range of activities for all ages and abilities.
The SLBI is open for frequent and varied events and activities, as well as general public openings on Thursdays from 10am-4pm. For more details see www.slbi.org.uk, call 020 8674 5787 or email
Sylvia Myers, senior site and projects officer with London Wildlife Trust at the Centre for Wildlife Gardening, shares her tips on successful wildlife gardening.
The question you might ask is why do you want to encourage wildlife into your garden? Firstly, a lot of declining wildlife lives (and can thrive) in our gardens - hedgehogs, house sparrows and the majestic stag beetle. Secondly and more selfishly, wildlife can help us - toads eat slugs, ladybirds eat aphids and worms make compost. Thirdly, wildlife is a wonder in our gardens that can bring so much colour and life - blackbirds’ sweet morning chorus, iridescent damselflies paired in a wheel and hummingbird hawkmoths hovering with exotic flair.
Making small changes and additions to help wildlife is easy, and a lot of the activities can be fun projects as well. Even one or two tiny additions can make a huge difference. London’s private gardens make up about a quarter of London by area. That’s a lot of London - and it’s even more in Dulwich. If we all do our bit to help wildlife we can create a giant nature reserve that is fantastic for both people and wildlife.
The first change you can make is the easiest of all - do a little less in your garden and let a few patches grow wild. You don’t need to let a thicket of brambles grow - just a small undisturbed corner or mini-meadow will allow local wild flowers to grow and give cover for animals. Skipper butterflies lay their eggs on long grass stems and red admiral, tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies lay their eggs on nettles. Bumble bees make nests in abandoned field mouse burrows - a buried terracotta plant pot with hole at the surface can be an artificial substitute and the bees will appreciate it more if it is hidden by long undisturbed growth.
The plants you choose can have a favourable impact on the wildlife that will visit your garden. Bees, butterflies and hoverflies are all important pollinators and many species are declining rapidly, which could have major consequences on food production. Pollinators can be helped by choosing flowers that have not been overly cultivated - double blooms confuse pollinators. Recent trends in climate and the urban heat island effect mean that pollinators are now active for most of the year - try and ensure that whatever time of year it is, something is in flower in your garden - right from early crocuses in January to ivy flowers as autumn draws to an end. A broad range of shapes and colours will add aesthetic appeal to your garden and will also cater for the preferences of different pollinator species. Runner beans, thymes and honeysuckle are great for long tongued bees and butterflies, daisy shaped flowers (asters, tansy and sunflowers) are popular with hoverflies and open cup-like flowers such as buttercups, cranesbill and corn cockles will attract beetles and bees with shorter tongues. Trees that produce fruits, berries or nuts are fantastic choices - providing nectar and pollen through their flowers then food for birds and mammals later in the year. Native trees are usually the best as our fauna has evolved alongside them - hawthorn, crab apple, hazel, dogwood and blackthorn are great choices and can easily be kept pruned to a manageable size in a small garden. A dense hedge or patch of shrubs will provide nesting spots and roosts for wrens and house sparrows. Apple trees, plum trees and cherry trees are close enough to our native trees to still be good for wildlife.
Living plants are great for wildlife but the benefits don’t stop when they die. Wood piles or even a single log left in a shady corner of a garden will provide food and shelter for woodlice, centipedes, millipedes, beetles and maybe toads and newts if there is a pond nearby. Dead wood is the food source for stag beetle larvae which can spend up to seven years chomping their way through old tree stumps before emerging and spending a few short weeks as adults. The stag beetle is endangered throughout Europe but Dulwich and south London are strongholds. Dead wood is also food for fungi, much of which grows into fascinating and beautiful forms. Compost bins reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill and provides homes for worms and other invertebrates.
Animals need homes to raise young and to shelter for the winter - in ancient woodland the older trees would have provided many holes and cracks for creatures to make those homes. With less woodland around creatures need a few extra holes to hide in. Making an insect hotel, a bird box or a bat box is a fun project to do with a child or a grandchild and you will hopefully be rewarded by being able to see a happy family of blue tits, pipistrelle bats or leaf cutter bees. Commercially made boxes are also available.
A change for which the whole food chain will thank you is to stop using weedkillers and pesticides in your garden. They do so much harm to far more than just the unwanted ‘pests’ in your garden - they also upset the food chain so there will be fewer natural predators to defend your garden. There are many organic permaculture techniques that can be really effective such as companion planting, using homemade deterrent sprays (using garlic, for example) and simple barrier techniques to slow down slugs.
Last, but certainly not least, do consider adding some water to your garden. If you have enough space you can dig a pond but just a barrel of water with a few plants and stones to help animals get in and out will make such a difference. Frogs will happily breed in a tiny pond and the water will attract aquatic insects such as pond skaters and water boatmen. Ponds also provide valuable drinking water for birds, mammals and insects. Ponds are an important breeding ground for invertebrates and these in turn will feed bats as well as hungry young chicks.
Winter is a great time to plan out your garden and is also the perfect time to plant trees and put up bird boxes ready for spring. If you need more advice or ideas get in touch with London Wildlife Trust, have a look online at The Wildlife Trust’s wildlife gardening PDF guides, or pop into the Centre for Wildlife Gardening in East Dulwich. We have demonstration wildlife gardens with a range of mini-habitats, and are open from 10.30am - 4.30pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Visitors are always welcome.
Centre for Wildlife Gardening, London Wildlife Trust
28 Marsden Road
London SE15 4EE
There is usually something new to report in the regular wildlife article and this time it is the first proven breeding record of Hobbys in our woods and the accompanying photograph taken by Daniel Greenwood is of the two recently fledged juveniles. The flight silhouette of the Hobby has often been likened to a large Swift and this photo amply demonstrates this. The Hobby is the one transcontinental summer migrant falcon, following its prey to Africa for the winter. It is an extremely aerobatic aerial feeder specializing in large insects such as Dragonflies and also Martins and Swallows. It is not surprising that the adults were not often seen here as they travel rapidly over a wide range taking feed at heights of over 100 feet and the actual nest was not found. When observed with binoculars they can be seen to be transferring prey from talon to beak in full flight which shows that there must be a surprising wealth of large insects flying at this height.
Other wildlife news is not so good. Our once thriving House Martin colony was down to one pair, that arrived late, reused an old nest, and appeared to fledge just one young at the end of August when they immediately departed. Matthew Oates, writing the wildlife column in The Times from somewhere out in the country described his colony of twelve or more nests each producing one or two broods of young. So what has happened to ours? Clearly they are not producing enough young birds to withstand winter and migration losses and I am tempted to think that there may be a significant reduction in the flying summer insects here for their adequate food. Is the London pollution level which we are told is so damaging to our health also affecting our insect population and therefore the resulting food chain?
The availability of food is key to the survival of many of our well loved species and although we often provide winter feed, a long dry spell as we have had in the south east through the high summer to early Autumn will have made difficulty for ground feeders to find invertebrate food and there may have been losses. It has so far, perhaps because of this, been a quiet Autumn with fewer Starlings, Blackbirds, Thrushes and Finches showing themselves in our gardens than in previous years. Nationally too it has been one of the worst years for home grown butterflies which surprised many of the experts. One explanation may be that the heavy rains of the early summer may have drowned all the caterpillars. However migrant butterflies such as Red Admirals did turn up in small numbers and the Holly Blues have survived. We will have to hope for better luck with Peacocks Tortoiseshells and Commas next year, as well as the less spectacular species such as Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Skippers which also suffered this year.
There are reports of winter migrants arriving in good numbers on the north east winds and as there is a good berry crop there may be good winter watching. We already have reports of Firecrests singing in the Sydenham Hill woods which are clearly annual winter visitors. Just before going to press a Water Rail visited Dulwich Park and was photographed by Daniel Greenwood. Water Rails are similar to and most closely related to Moorhens but smaller with brown upper parts and attractive blue grey breast and belly. They spend most of their lives concealed in reed beds and often the only evidence of their presence is a call note that is rather like the squeal of a piglet. They do migrate in the Autumn which is perhaps the best time to see them. This bird could elect to stay here as a few spend the winter at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes, but you need to be lucky to see it. A record in Dulwich Park is a first at least for many years and a benefit from the planting of reeds around the margin of the lake.
As ever I shall be grateful for your records in particular any hedgehog sightings as there is a current investigation on their decline. Any comments or observations you may have on your experience of our local wildlife will be most welcome.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (Tel: 020 7274 4567)
I have been running a moth trap this year in our garden in Dulwich Village. A moth trap is basically a box with a bright light on top and a funnel arrangement so that when moths fly in, they cannot easily fly out again. You put egg boxes inside for them to sit on, then in the morning, you open up the trap to see what’s inside, and let them go.
It’s a bit like Christmas morning, as if Santa mainly brought moths (and assorted caddisflies, leafhoppers, midges, daddy-long-legs, beetles and wasps). I am not the only one who takes an interest in what’s in the trap. I quickly learned to keep the cat inside because he enjoyed chasing and eating the moths. In the late summer I started having problems with wasps raiding the trap, and there is a friendly but irritating Robin who now hangs around and grabs moths when my back is turned.
The most striking thing, compared to, say, birdwatching, is the sheer variety. This year I’ve run the trap 71 times so far and caught just over 300 species. At the peak, in July and August, I was regularly catching over 70 species and well over 200 individual moths. This meant it took over two hours to empty the trap and photograph anything that looked interesting, and then another few hours identifying anything new and updating my records. The biggest one-night total was 375 moths, although 230 of them were of just 3 species.
They have terrific names: Toadflax Brocade, Seraphim, Pebble Prominent, Knot-grass, Maiden’s Blush, Phoenix, Vestal, Blood-vein, Smoky Wainscot, Rusty-dot Pearl, Clouded Drab, Shuttle-shaped Dart, August Thorn, Yellow-barred Brindle.
They come in all shapes and sizes; the smallest species I have managed to identify was probably Ectoedemia decentella, about 3.5mm long whose larvae form mines in sycamore seeds. The biggest was Poplar Hawkmoth with an 8cm wingspan. Some are camouflaged to look like deadwood, leaves or lichen and a surprising number are camouflaged to look like bird droppings. Although most of them are various patterns of brown and grey, some are more colourful like the Brimstone Moth (bright yellow), the White Ermine (which is white with black spots) or the Small Emerald.
The moths fill a remarkable range of niches as caterpillars; they eat the leaves of native trees and flowers, or garden plants like azaleas and Leylandii, or grass, lichen or leaf litter. Many of the smaller ones form mines inside leaves and there are species that live in bird’s nests or in the nests of bees and wasps. Some even live underwater, as caterpillars, feeding on pondweed. Identifying them is much easier than it used to be. There are now several excellent field guides, as well as lots of information and photographs online, and moths groups on Facebook where you can ask for ID help. In particular, micro moths, which are some families of mainly smaller species, are much more accessible for the beginner than they used to be. They can still be very challenging but with care and patience (and a macro lens for your camera) you can puzzle most of them out.
And at the end of the year, when I submit my records to the County Moth Recorder, I can feel I’m making a small contribution to science.
In this issue we have slightly departed from the usual pattern of profiling a specific tree, in order to look at the fruits of some of the Conifers to be seen around Dulwich, either scattered on the ground or decorating the branches of their often sombre parents.
There are only three British native conifers, the Yew, which has poisonous red berries, the Juniper, a spiny shrub whose berries are used to flavour Holland Gin, and the Scots Pine which has proper cones. However, a wealth of exotic conifers also flourishes here, each with its own distinctive fruit, from slender elegant fir cones, hard, woody pines to Cedars and Cypresses. Each has a unique and surprisingly different cone, Many cones open and disperse their seeds while still on the tree, allowing them to be spread by the wind, each being equipped with a small wing. Others hold on to their seeds for years, only releasing them after fire has swept through the forest. The cones then open and the seeds fall to the ground and rapidly re-colonize the devastated area, the seedlings benefitting from the newly opened canopy. In areas where forest fires are frequent, many plants use this means of survival. The Eucalypts do so and the Restios, a large reed-like plant from South Africa, has seeds which will only germinate after being thoroughly affected by smoke.
But to get back to the conifers, perhaps the most easily recognised is the Bhutan Pine (an example is in Lings Coppice, Croxted Road) whose long banana shaped cones are so tempting to pick up and so sticky to touch! A less sticky treasure, also seen on the ground, belongs to the Douglas Fir (Pymers Mead, Croxted Road). This slender cone is about 8cm long, with a little tongued bract sticking out between every cone scale, giving it a slightly fuzzy appearance; it is the only conifer to do this.
Scots Pine cones are shorter, woodier, often numerous, lying all over the ground, their seeds already dispersed. There are several trees in Dulwich Park where the similar, but much larger cones of the Black Pine can also be found. The Monterey Pine, from Southern California, has much larger and harder cones which cling onto the tree for years waiting for fire to release them. There is quite a large specimen in Peckham Park, the cones clear to see. The Umbrella Pine is rare here (there is an example at Kew) but seen everywhere in Southern Europe, which gives us the delectable Pine nut, happily without burning. Cedars and Monkey Puzzles hold on to their cones for several years, then they disintegrate on the tree leaving a little spike still standing above the foliage.
Cypress cones are rather different, resembling a miniature football, at first green, then turning brown or grey and splitting open along the seams to release their seeds as they drop (a specimen is in College Road). Larch trees tend to hold on to their cones, which are small and rather soft. They cluster along the bare branchets like tiny roosting birds, unlike the Japanese Larch where each cone scale is turned back at the tip, so they look more like miniature roses! Sunray Gardens has a Larch and they are widely planted in woods and parks, but not really suitable for gardens.
This is just a small sample of what is to be seen around at this time of the year, but I hope it will encourage you to explore more widely.
Growing vegetables, fruit and flowers has, in Dulwich, like many places, a long history as Edward Alleyn’s diary and the statutes he compiled for running his foundation bear witness. However, the cultivation of exotic species, especially citrus fruits, requiring protection from frost and the application of heat in the winter months, was, until the mid 19th century, the preserve of the wealthy. The equipment needed in the form of glasshouses, particularly ones with a heating system, was expensive. This cost was made even more of a burden by the imposition of two taxes: the window tax on buildings, and a tax on glass.
Two particular local residents took particular pride in their gardens. John Coakley Lettsom lived at Grove Hill, Camberwell, overlooking the Dulwich valley, in the late eighteenth century. The site of his garden remains partly cultivated today and is retained as an open space accessible to keyholders who pay an annual charge. Lettsom, a distinguished medic, allowed his passion for gardening to become an obsession and his reckless spending on it ultimately reduced him to financial ruin.
Not very far distant from Grove Hill, on Denmark Hill, was the large estate of a wealthy lawyer, Richard Shawe. His is the massive tomb in the old burial ground in Dulwich Village, inscribed with the name of his house, Casina. Shawe employed John Nash and Humphrey Repton to design his house and garden. The lake in Sunray Gardens is the only surviving feature and was created by using the clay soil removed to make the bricks for the new house.
In 1810, Richard Shawe’s head gardener was James Brown (1786-1859) who became an expert on forcing the growth of pineapples through the use of steam (Brown had a paper on the subject published by the recently established Royal Horticultural Society in 1817 and he was awarded a silver medal for his work. He also contributed another paper, five years later on forcing peaches). After Shawe’s death in 1816, Brown moved on to Stowe and there produced a pineapple weighing 12 pounds, which his employer, the Duke of Buckingham, presented to George IV.
In 1804 Lady Holland, on a visit to Madrid, sent some seeds of a new plant from Mexico called Dahlia, which she had been given by the botanist Antonio José Cavanilles, to England. Seeds of two other varieties of dahlia would soon follow. Lord Holland’s librarian. Mr Buonaiuti, clearly a green-fingered expert, succeeded in raising England’s first dahlia, a deep purple bloom. Buonaiuti would continue experimenting with the species and develop variations in form and colour.
Lady Holland must have been enthusiastic about the flower because she planted a dahlia bed (now covered by Holland House’s car park) which would remain for the rest of the century. The connection with Dulwich is through John Allen ( 1771-1843 ) who was employed initially by the Hollands as a tutor and doctor for their son who suffered with delicate health. Allen became a lifelong fixture at Holland House and a distinguished historian as well as being warden (1810) and master (1820) at Dulwich College. It seems he suggested naming a new dahlia cultivar - Beauty of Dulwich.
In 1824, Lord Holland penned a note to his wife which contained the following verse:
The dahlia you brought to our isle
Your praises for ever shall speak
Mid gardens as sweet as your smile,
And in colour as bright as your cheek.
By the 1830’s the Beauty of Dulwich dahlia had been exported to the United States where it was being widely grown in New England and winning medals at horticultural society shows in Massachusetts and Maryland. Much of this was down to the efforts of the Hovey brothers of Boston who were enterprising nurserymen. The only other dahlia named after Dulwich was the Glory of Dulwich introduced in 1948.
By 1840 the first horticultural society had been formed in Dulwich. This was probably the Surrey Floricultural Society which drew members from the clergy and gentry of Dulwich, Herne Hill and Brixton. In 1865 a dispute arose within the society and a break-away society named The ‘New’ Surrey Floricultural Society was formed, thereby causing great confusion to many local subscribers who merely wished to encourage the growing of flowers. Both societies finally agreed to try to resolve their differences and the president of the New Surrey, the Revd Ransford of All Souls Dulwich Road reached a ‘peaceful settlement’ with the Revd. G K Flindt of St Matthew’s Denmark Hill, through the mediation of the Revd Powell.
Flower shows were frequent; there were classes for the professional gardeners employed in Dulwich’s large houses, and also the cottagers who lived in the Village. These were usually held in the infants’ school hall or in the hall of Dulwich Girls’ School next door and on occasions the band from ‘P’ Division of the Metropolitan Police provided a musical background.
The repeal of both the glass tax in 1845 and the window tax in 1851 lowered the cost of owning glasshouses and the development in new materials and construction techniques, notably by Joseph Paxton, led to their appearance in many Dulwich gardens. Some were free-standing greenhouses, others were conservatories which extended from one wall of the house. These were used as winter gardens for the display of tender plants.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, there was much enthusiasm for cultivating exotic varieties of plants such as orchids in these conservatories and by the early 1890’s a specialist orchid grower, Seeger & Tropp, had established nurseries in East Dulwich near Goose Green. By the Edwardian period, the cultivation of chrysanthemums had also become very popular locally among the emergent lower middle class as well as the upper classes. R B Leach, gardener to the chemist and inventor of the famous fruit salts, James Eno, who lived at Woodhall, College Road, won third prize in 1912 in the national chrysanthemum show. In 1916 the Dulwich Chrysanthemum Society was formed, which still exists although it later amalgamated with an allotment society to form the Dulwich Horticultural and Chrysanthemum Society and has allotments in Lordship Lane near St Peter’s Church. The chrysanthemum, Dulwich Pink was raised in Dulwich but its origins are something of a mystery. It is bushy, hardy, 2.5’ high and flowers in October/November and is available from growers, including Norwell Nurseries of Nottinghamshire. It was successfully trialled by the RHS in 2012.
Greenhouses and conservatories became increasingly popular as the detailed Ordnance Survey maps of the area confirm. Their presence remained until World War 2 when so many suffered damage from bombs, shrapnel or just were left to decay. Today, new materials and advances in insulation have seen an explosion in the number of new conservatories throughout the area. Most however, are used as additional living space rather than places to raise exotic plants.