The Dulwich Society Journal for Winter 2016.
In the Dulwich Village graveyard lie the bodies of 35 of the 42 victims of the great plague of 1665. It has been estimated that approximately one in six of the population of Dulwich fell victim to this horrendous disease. The cause of plague then was entirely unknown, although in later years it was identified as due to a bacterial cause, namely Yersinia pestis, spread by fleas from rats.
Plague is a severe, transmissible and often fatal disease, until recently poorly understood, and without known cause or means of treatment. During the 5th century BC, plague was attributed to “the anger of the gods who in their wisdom had sent plague to punish mankind for its sins”. In another age in Venice, Jews were accused of poisoning the wells, this led to attempts at their expulsion. Many major epidemics occurred around the 14th century in overcrowded populations with poor sanitary conditions, foul sewers, and proximity of cattle, and were endemic from the Far East to the Mediterranean. Epidemics were common up to the 17th century, culminating in the severe epidemic of 1664 - 1665, after which it virtually disappeared without satisfactory explanation.
The illness was characterised by extensive body pains, terrible lassitude, and a high mortality. The development of painful swellings on the limbs (buboes) leading to a generalised and usually fatal illness are the added features of bubonic plague, a plague which may have killed approximately 20 million people during three years of the 14th century - hence the title of “the Black death” of 1347. Between one quarter and one third of Europe’s population may have died from the plague at that time.
Mankind has been prone to epidemics of different diseases throughout history. They may involve entire populations, are frequently fatal, often of unknown cause and without effective treatment. They tend to occur where there is overcrowding, dirt and poor sanitation. Characteristically, the disease spreads rapidly and widely in a particular area and for a limited period. An epidemic represents an outbreak of a disease over a limited period when a significantly greater number of persons in a community or region are affected. Thus, an epidemic represents a temporary increase in prevalence. Its extent and duration are determined by the interaction of such variables as the nature and infectivity of the causal agent, its mode of transmission, the degree of pre-existing and newly acquired immunity.
An epidemic can be caused by a great variety of diseases, some described here. A pandemic occurs when the illness spreads rapidly across the planet. A good example is the influenza epidemic after World War 1 which caused at least 20 million deaths. Epidemics of diseases such as smallpox and measles led to the collapse of the Incas and Aztecs, while typhus halted Napoleon’s expedition into Russia. Malaria may have been carried to the Caribbean and the Americas.
The high mortality during the many recurring epidemics of Cholera, worldwide, during much of the 19th century was of much concern. Major epidemics occurred in Britain in 1832, 1848 and 1854, the latter two occurring in London. The disease is characterised by diarrhoea leading to devastating intestinal loss of fluid and electrolytes carrying a very poor prognosis. Its cause was unknown, and the idea that it might be water borne was highly controversial and indeed vilified by the Lancet over many years. However, the experimental work of John Snow (1813-1858), who prevented access to contaminated water by removal of the Broad Street pump handle, left little doubt that water was the source of the epidemic. It is interesting to note that my own ancestor Robert Webb Watkins (1792 - 1844), surgeon apothecary in the small town of Towcester, made similar observations during the autumn of 1854 when cholera “visited for the first time the small town of Towcester with great severity”. It was described as “raging to a fearful extent spreading more to the wealthy whose houses were nearer to the river than the dwellings of those of the poor. No one then knew either cause, prevention or treatment. He reduced the incidence of cholera by rebuilding some of the brick sewers in the town. Latterly it was shown by Robert Koch (1883) that the offending cause of the disease was due to the bacterium Vibrio Cholera. Cholera now occurs predominantly in Latin America and Asia, and particularly in India. It occurs only in man and there is no animal reservoir.
Down the ages, Dulwich parents have naturally been anxious about diseases which might threaten their children. Among these was Smallpox, a viral infection and a major cause of mortality in England, with severe outbreaks (including Dulwich) in the 18th century. This has now been eradicated by vaccination. Similarly, Diphtheria, a bacterial infection affecting the upper respiratory tract, particularly in children, proved a “killer” in epidemics in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today this has largely been eliminated by immunisation.
Streptococcal bacterial infections were responsible for many of the illnesses including puerperal fever, throat and skin infections and sometimes might lead to rheumatic fever - in the last with possible cardiac damage. Again, these infections have been significantly reduced by antibiotic use.
More recently, Poliomyelitis, a viral infection, with faeco-oral spread, caused major epidemics, the last in the UK in 1947, 1950 and 1955. These might, in 1%-2% of cases, result in infantile paralysis, with a significant morbidity. Immunisation again has largely eliminated this scourge.
Robert Koch (1845-1910) at a presentation in Berlin in 1882 described the tuberculosis (TB) mycobacterium. TB (Consumption) has taken a vast toll of humanity, one in seven of all humans were dying from this cause in the 19th century. Sufferers rushed to Berlin - “the walking dead of Europe” having heard that the great scientist had discovered a new remedy. But he had not, and sufferers were dying everywhere - in their cars, their hotels and their hospitals. From his experiments, Koch drew a single but crucial conclusion, namely that the “germs” he had described were bacilli causing death through the disease of TB. It was not until 60 years after discovery of the causative organism that the first effective treatment - streptomycin - was discovered. The WHO has estimated that deaths from TB are likely to rise from the current 2.5 million a year, to 3.5 million by the end of the 21st century. However, infectious diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, polio and smallpox have greatly diminished as major causes of death following intensive immunisation programmes.
New epidemics will continue to threaten global health with a potentially high mortality. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), Ebola, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and now the arthropod Zika viruses are recent additions to the list of threats, the latter not just as a cause just of illness but also a small but significant risk of microcephaly (small head) developing in pregnancy. On the other hand, it is comforting to note that the widespread research in the development of new vaccines may help to prevent many of these infections and adds hope for the future.
Peter Watkins is a member of the Dulwich Society’s Local History Group, who, before he retired, was Consultant Physician and specialist in Diabetes at Kings College Hospital.
I write as a former Trustee of the Dulwich Almshouse which has been written about in the last two issues of the Journal, to emphasise a consideration that should not be ignored. The amenity of Dulwich, with its many large and varied open spaces derives from the single ownership of the estate bequeathed by Edward Alleyn. But this amenity was not any part of his purpose. As has been well set out, he intended a school for poor boys and an almshouse for the elderly poor.
The educational object has been amply achieved with three large schools standing in spacious grounds with plenty of room to expand and adapt to future needs. Over half a dozen other schools, well provided with recreation space stand on lands that Alleyn bought.
Not so with the Almshouse. In all the spacious lands of Alleyn’s estate there should be room for a new Almshouse, but the enhanced restrictions of the planning system - for the benefit of the residents - make it very difficult to find a suitable site to carry forward Alleyn’s intent. This is a bitter paradox. Surely all who benefit from and defend the amenities of Dulwich should give whatever support they can to the Trustees in their efforts to provide a new Almshouse suitable for now and the future.
72 College Road, SE21
Letter to the chairman of the local history group...
Dear Mr Nurse
I have a carte de visité which figures a photographic image of Tit-Bits Villa, and has information printed on the reverse which states that the house was a competition prize offered by Tit-Bits magazine at Christmas 1883, and was won by Private William Robert Mellish of the 8th Hussars. He is figured standing at the entrance of the house. I understand that the house was/is in Dulwich, but beyond that I cannot discover any information.
Does the house still exist? If so, what is the address for it? Is it known whether Private Mellish actually lived in the house, or whether he realised his unexpected windfall and sold it on? Any information which might add to the picture would be invaluable.
George Newnes was a businessman with a great flair for publicity and also a publisher, most notably of The Strand where Conan Doyle published his Sherlock Holmes stories. In 1881 he founded Tit-Bits magazine, a miscellany which coupled human interest stories culled from other publications with works of fiction either supplied by their own readers or writers such as Rider Haggard (it serialised She) and Isaac Asimov. P G Wodehouse had his first humorous article, Men who missed their own weddings, accepted by Tit-Bits. The magazine had a highly personal style, one of the first publications to address its readers familiarly, rather than formally. Tit-Bits had an inclusive dialogue with its readers, answered their questions exhaustively, accepted their stories for publication and became the most popular penny paper of its day.
Newnes had innovative schemes to increase circulation. In November 1883 he offered a seven-roomed house worth £500 as a prize for the Christmas competition (prizes were typically a guinea). This prize appealed to his upper working/lower middle class, commuting, salary (not wage) earning, ‘self-helping’ readership. The competition was for the best Christmas story (in 3,000 words of prose or verse) ‘open to every one of our readers irrespective of age, sex, nationality or colour’. The story did not have to have a Christmas theme, it did not even have to be original, it could have been previously published.
Newnes reasoned that this opened the competition up to every single reader, not just those who were writers. Tit-Bits answered dozens of queries about the competition terms and conditions in a Q & A column: can you enter more than once? yes; do you have to live in the town you choose for the house? no; are there any conveyancing costs? no; can I have a cash equivalent? no; is the prize actually a dolls’ house? no. The magazine sold about 450,000 copies a week and some 22,000 competition entries were received, some containing up to 20 stories. Conan Doyle entered the competition and was so irritated when he didn’t win that he offered Newnes a bet: his entry and the winning entry would be submitted to an impartial judge. If his story was deemed the better he would win £25, if not Conan Doyle would pay Newnes £25. The editor chose not to reply. Joseph Conrad also wrote a short story, The Black Mate, for the competition.
Interestingly, the magazine did not buy a house beforehand then offer it as a prize but instead allowed the winner to choose their own from anywhere in the UK. The only stipulations were that the house had to be in a town of more than 200,000 inhabitants, it was to be called ‘Tit-Bits Villa’ and it should be detached or semi-detached (‘otherwise the name of villa would not be appropriate’). The week before the winner was announced readers were urged to buy two copies of the magazine, one to read and one to put away for posterity, ‘as copies will be at a premium in the future’.
The winning story, Miss Wilmer’s Adventure, was published in the Christmas edition on 22 December. It was originally written by Max Adeler and had been published by Ward, Lock five years earlier but submitted by the winning contestant, Private William Robert Mellish. Max Adeler was the pen name of Charles Heber Clark, an American writer, music critic, humourist and director of the firm Johnson & Johnson, whose work was wildly popular at the time. It wasn’t the only time Clark was ‘plagiarised’: he accused Mark Twain of copying his work and Twain accused him back in a long running feud.
The magazine gave a full account of the judging process and pre-empted criticism such as ‘That’s not worth a seven-roomed house’ or ‘The author should have the use of the house, not the man who has simply copied it out of a book’. For ‘the satisfaction of unsuccessful competitors’ Newnes reminded readers, the competition was specifically designed to be open to every Tit-Bits buyer, not just ‘clever literary men’. Of course, the rebuttals also had the advantage of drawing attention to the prize and the magazine even more. The judges complained that the 22,000 entries were ‘on the whole a very poor lot indeed’. Somebody had sent in a meticulously sealed registered letter which actually contained nothing - the judges said they ‘wished there had been more like that’. Even Mellish’s winning entry was a ‘disappointment’ to them.
Mellish was given a week to say in what part of the UK he would like his house to be and that was announced with due ceremony in the magazine. Then he had another week to choose several houses from which Tit-Bits would select one to be bought. This was to avoid ‘unscrupulous’ price-hiking by the vendor. Mellish chose London and the following week the magazine reported the purchase (direct from the builder) with details of the solicitors involved, the costs (all covered by Tit-Bits) and reiterations of how everything had been done above board - the magazine offered ‘a whole street of houses’ to anyone who could find fault with the competition or transaction. Then on 12th January 1884, in an excitable full page of coverage, readers learnt the villa’s address: 15 Southville Park Villas (now 101 East Dulwich Grove), ‘an excellent villa residence adjoining the Dulwich College Estate and recently erected by Messrs Cooper and Kendall of Champion Hill’. It seems that the magazine did not expect the winner to live in the house as when it gave details of the price paid it also announced that it had protected Mr Mellish from loss of tenancy by guaranteeing a rent of £40 p.a. (including £8 10s ground rent payable) for five years. It also stated that the house was well designed to minister to the comforts of Private Mellish’s tenants.
The villa was offered as a kind of ‘ideal home’ designed to appeal to aspirational Tit-Bits readers who were usually of the clerical class, and they were all invited to visit: ‘alighting at Champion Hill station, a short walk brings us in sight of [it]. Passing by several of these elegant homes we come to the renowned Tit-Bits Villa, a house celebrated wherever the English language is spoken’. It was described as ‘within 3 minutes walk of Champion Hill station’ (now East Dulwich) fifteen minutes walk from the Greyhound at Dulwich and two miles from the Crystal Palace. The house is described as having eight rooms plus bathroom, scullery and cellars. A description of the interior invited readers to enter a fully furnished and decorated home, though in fact at that stage the house was unoccupied and empty.
We are invited through the front door into the hall, to admire the lofty dining room with noble bay window looking on to Dulwich Grove and to the adjoining room which ‘a vulgar person might call a back sitting room’ but Tit-Bits preferred to call a ‘bijou drawing room’, the kind of room that the author of Home Sweet Home was thinking of when he composed ‘those immortal lines’. The florid description runs like this for a third of a page, noting that ‘All the furniture and appointments are in the most exquisite taste. (NB There is no furniture at the moment but if there were it would be in the most exquisite taste)’. All this was part of appealing to the magazine’s readers and Newnes was not above sentimentality of the most Victorian kind. When we are invited upstairs to see the bedrooms we are told we can see the Trossachs even though we are not in Scotland, as the builder of the houses behind Tit-Bits Villa has been inspired by the ‘loveliness of the district’ to call his road Trossachs Road.
There was a public ceremony at the house where the keys were handed over after Private Mellish had been formally asked, in the presence of witnesses, if he was happy to accept his prize. He was then photographed outside the front door, the editor first having trespassed on the kindness of the neighbours to borrow curtains and flowerpots to make the house look lived-in, though Newnes rather subverts the illusion by telling his readers exactly what he borrowed and why. The neighbours were happy to play along because they appreciated ‘the honour of having Tit-Bits Villa in their midst’. The actual taking of the photograph is described using military imagery. Private Mellish shows a countenance as undaunted as his comrades at Balaclava, facing the formidable battery without flinching, just like a true British soldier. One feels it was a delight for Newnes that a humble soldier (always described as ‘Private Mellish’) had won the prize: so suitable for presenting to Tit-Bits readers, so deserving of the good fortune. Tit-Bits arranged for some of Mellish’s fellow ‘brave defenders’ to visit their comrade’s house. Only a cynic would wonder if the winner was chosen with an eye to the later marketing.
Newnes used this image of Mellish and his prize well. He didn’t publish it in the magazine, instead he described it and then sold it to his readers for 3d or 3½d p&p. However, readers must not expect to receive the image by return of post as ‘this is the largest order known since the introduction of the photographic art’. 100,000 photographs were sold which even then did not meet demand (allegedly).
When Tit-Bits reported on the large numbers of visitors to the house the magazine described the ‘lively appearance’ of Dulwich Grove and the visitors arriving by train and by vehicles ‘from the coster’s cart to the four-in-hand brake’. It intimated (presumably with tongue firmly in cheek) that there was talk of special trains being put on to cope with demand (it also reminded readers that the competition had generated an extra £200 revenue for the General Post Office). One day the crush to see the house was so great that people didn’t wait for the door to be unlocked but broke it down and also broke in through the bay windows. Tit-Bits then had to pay someone to guard the house. Newnes slightly glossed over this vandalism, noticing instead that once inside readers conducted themselves with propriety, ‘as subscriber to Tit-Bits is only another name for respectability’. The magazine reminded readers unable to reach Dulwich that the photograph was still available for purchase, in some ways better than visiting the house as not only is ‘the winner seen standing in the porch’ but he is ‘in the uniform of his regiment’.
Surprisingly Newnes did not prolong the story for as long as you might imagine, an extra 10,000 readers (or 2%) a week over the period of the competition would have covered his costs and any further circulation increase would have been profit. He believed a story could run its course and then make way for ‘some other novelty’. However, there was room in February for a related competition, asking for parodies on the theme of the Tit-Bits Villa. 682 entries were received, though ‘scarcely as humorous as we anticipated’. The winner was a parody on The House that Jack Built and the magazine was at pains to point out that it disapproved of the line ‘These are the black looks by losers worn’.
Private Mellish wrote to the magazine thanking correspondents for the large number of congratulatory letters and books, which ‘I shall value as long as I live’. The letter also assured all ‘doubting friends’ that the prize was genuine: he would happily answer their letters himself but there are so many that he has not time and anyway, they mostly forget to enclose stamps for a reply.
William Robert Mellish was born in 1857 in Chertsey, Surrey and his father was a baker. William’s own first job was a shop boy for a grocer but aged 18 he joined the 8th Hussars at Aldershot as a private, where he put his trade as baker. While in the army he did not see service overseas and was stationed in Aldershot, Hounslow and Canterbury. In 1881 he married Emma Parfitt and they lived in barracks in Canterbury. Mellish was 27 years old with one child when he won the house in January 1884. By May 1884 he was discharged into the army reserves having served 8 years and just missing an unpleasant and dangerous posting to Afghanistan which began for his comrades in the December. He was assessed as having a ‘regular very good temperament’ on discharge. One assumes the discharge was in response to winning the house. He does not seem to have any connection with Dulwich and may simply have chosen the house as one most likely to give him a good return.
Mellish never lived in Tit-Bits Villa but either sold or rented it. Either way it enabled him to set up as a baker as in July 1884 he bought into the firm of ‘baker and confectioner, provider of refreshments and provisions’ at Woodfield House, aka Frederick Felton’s Bakery and Tea Rooms in Ashtead. Woodfield House on Ashtead Common served as the village bakery but also a tea house and caterers. It was a popular destination for the crowds of Londoners who came to play and picnic on the Common and 2,500 people could be seated in its marquees and refreshment rooms. By the turn of the century he had nine children, some of whom were working with him, a baker’s assistant and a general servant. Things went well for him, the business expanded and won prizes in competitions.
Mellish died in August 1924 aged 67 at the London Hospital for diseases of the heart, though he was still living at Woodfield House. Probate was granted to his daughter Violet Winifred Perry and he left £10,151, a large amount and testament to the way he had not wasted his windfall.
In his history of Pickwick Cottage (Journal Summer 2012), Bernard Nurse noted that the author Maurice Baring lived there from 1918-1921. Who, one might ask was Maurice Baring? A century ago, even a half a century ago he was the well known author of some fifty volumes of books, poems and plays, a man with a distinguished pedigree who was at home in the highest social circles. Today he is largely unknown. When a publisher decided to re-issue one of his books in the 1990’s the editors acknowledged the diminished stature of their subject in the Preface by recalling the story of someone going into a Charing Cross Road bookshop and asking “Have you any Maurice Barings?” The reply was “This is a bookshop, sir, not a garage.”
Baring was the eighth child, and fifth son, of Edward Charles Baring, first Baron Revelstoke, of the Baring banking family, and his wife Louisa Emily Charlotte Bulteel, granddaughter of the second Earl Grey. The family had a large house in Charles Street, Mayfair and an estate named Membland near Newton Ferrers in south Devon where Lord Revelstoke was lord of the manor and where he built the present church of Noss Mayo , on a hill overlooking the river Yealm.
As a child, Maurice Baring was, as was the custom in high society families, taught at home. In his case in the schoolroom in Charles Street, where he, his younger brother and three older sisters were taught by an English tutor and a French governess named Cherié. Cherié meant the world to Maurice and from her he learnt impeccable French from an early age. The children conversed in French and put on plays in that language. However, Maurice soon discovered that he was hopeless at mathematics, no doubt something of a shock in a family of bankers!
At the age of 10 he went to a small prep school near Ascot. The school was full of petty rules and Maurice was decidedly unhappy. It was not until he went to Eton that he found a niche. He excelled in languages and won the coveted Prince Consort prize for French when a year younger than his fellow competitors. This more or less coincided with the disaster that beset the family in what was called the Great Panic in the autumn of 1890. Lord Revelstoke who had become head of Barings Bros Bank, took risks and invested too heavily in South American stock. When the price collapsed, Barings was left exposed and had to be rescued by the Bank of England and a consortium of other banks. It would be Maurice’s older brother John who would step in and rebuild the bank’s reputation ( in 1995 Barings Bank finally collapsed through the actions of its market trader Nick Leeson, working unsupervised in Singapore)
The Mayfair house, and the estate in Devon had to be sold off together with pictures and other items. The staff and horses all went and Cherié moved to a cottage in Hampshire where Maurice visited her. Even his last year at Eton was cancelled and he was dispatched to Hanover to learn German in order to read Modern Languages at Cambridge. It was probably in Germany, where he stayed both in Hanover and Heidelberg that he discovered his interest in people and travelling which would later form the basis for writing, both as a journalist and as an author.
After a year, he was admitted to Trinity College Cambridge despite his inadequacy in mathematics and despite being privately tutored in the subject. Cambridge was not a success for him, even though he entered into its social life by joining the amateur dramatics society and launching a varsity newspaper. This venture lasted for four issues and Aubrey Beardsley, who was just becoming known as an artist, designed one of the covers. It was probably still as a result of the trauma of his father’s fall from wealth and the unsettling effect on the family and losing his beloved Membland that affected his time at Cambridge. He says in his autobiography The Puppet Show of Memory that he did not like the curriculum, and he barely attended any lectures. Notwithstanding his success in winning literary prizes at Eton, he seems to have had a dislike of being tested and was nervous of formal examinations and left Cambridge after his first year.
It was then agreed that he should enter the diplomatic service, a prerequisite of which was passing the Civil Service exam. His hopelessness at maths meant more cramming for the exam was required. It would take Maurice Baring three attempts and five years of cramming to finally pass the Civil Service exam but the burden was eased because much of it took place in Oxford where he was notionally attached to Balliol. This allowed him to enter the social life there and he became a great friend of Auberon Herbert, Lord Lucas, known as Bron. They were of a similar character, very patriotic, engaging and daring. Herbert became a war correspondent covering the Boer War, where he lost a foot, and later entered politics, reaching government in 1914 as President of the Board of Agriculture. Maurice Baring shared the house in North Street of Herbert and his sister Nan prior to World War 1 and during the five uncertain weeks before the declaration of war, the house at Westminster became a gathering point for many of the prime movers in the drama. This connection would later bring Baring to Pickwick Cottage.
Baring finally began his diplomatic career in 1898 with a post in the British embassy in Paris. His social position opened all doors and he became friends and a fervent admirer with the much older Sarah Bernhardt. From Paris he was posted to Copenhagen (where he quickly learnt Danish) and finally to Rome. It is quite clear from his autobiography that while he enjoyed meeting people, the tedium of the work in the chancery department of the embassies was too great and he abandoned diplomacy in 1904 and embarked on what would turn out to be a love affair with Russia, by becoming a foreign correspondent for The Morning Post. In this capacity he travelled widely, covering the Russo-Japanese war in Manchuria.
As a war correspondent in both the Russo-Japanese war and the Balkan war, Baring showed a fearless character and was even-handed in his reporting of the conflicts, displaying an empathy with the ordinary soldiers of each nation. In Manchuria he was embedded with a Cossack artillery regiment on the front line and witnessed the most appalling effects of modern artillery and machine gun fire on the soldiery. He warned against defensive tactics like trench warfare, warnings which would go unheeded a decade later in the larger conflict.
Following the end of the war in Manchuria, Baring stayed on in Russia as the Morning Post’s correspondent in St Petersburg where he identified the rumblings of the Revolution which he accurately predicted. His method of gauging the tenor of the Russian people was not to stay in the cities and chance meeting them but travelling in the third class compartments of trains running all over Russia. In this way he could converse with peasants, soldiers, and petty officials who were only too glad to break the monotony of the long train journeys by conversation.
Baring developed an affection for all things Russian, its people, its landscape, its music and its literature. It is said that he introduced the works of Chekov to western European audiences. It is odd, but entirely in character, that when on long leave in England he not only wrote a number of books on Russia but reviewed the latest offerings of the London stage for the newspaper.
Baring was firmly grounded in the peak of high society but remained impervious to its imperfections. He was a fringe member of the Coterie, the intellectual aristocratic set, descendents of the ‘Souls’, who met at the Café Royal or the emerging nightclubs of Edwardian London, They were more serious than their post-war successors personified by Evelyn Waugh in Vile Bodies. He was described aptly as the kind of person at a party who would be at the edge, part of it but a little distant - leaning against a wall.
He was one of the triumvirate of sometime newspaper correspondents, writers and poets known as the Three Musketeers - Baring, Hilaire Belloc and G K Chesterton. All three wrote poetry, prose and humorous articles. All three converted to Roman Catholicism in their thirties and all three had a deep affection for England, its landscape and tradition and wove these interests into their writing, for example, Chesterton with ‘The Rolling English Road’, Belloc ‘The South Country’. When the three writers came to be painted by Sir James Gunn, satirists had a field day, labelling the painting - “Baring, Overbearing (Chesterton) and Beyond Bearing (Belloc)”.
Before WW1 Baring contributed a hilarious series of articles in the Morning Post which were later gathered into a book published in 1913 called The Lost Diaries, a spoof conceit purporting to be the discovered lost diaries of a number of famous historical and literary figures ranging from George Washington to Sherlock Holmes. Equally amusing are the short stories, also published in the Morning Post, and gathered in Orpheus in Mayfair (1909). Particularly pertinent in 2016 is the piece entitled A Chinaman on Oxford. Happily these stories, like The Lost Diaries have been digitalised and can be read online.
Travelling widely in Europe as he did, Baring was incredulous that war could be contemplated but when it became a fact, he threw himself wholeheartedly into it. In his mind there was no finer way to serve one’s country than to fight or perhaps die for it. Thus, at the beginning of August 1914 and at the age of 41 he deliberated as to where he should make his contribution; should it be in Russia, which he knew so intimately, or in France? Believing he could get into the war more quickly by deciding on France he called on an old friend who just happened to be the Director Military Training at the War Office. “I told him that I wanted to go to France and that I could speak 4-5 languages. I heard nothing for a week and then on August 8th I was told to report and that I was to go to France next day.” Baring was assigned to the Intelligence Corps as a Lieutenant and attached to the HQ of the fledgling Royal Flying Corps in order to make arrangements for an air presence in France. With this news he called at Downing Street to make his farewells to the Prime Minister’s son, his great friend Raymond Asquith who he had met at Oxford. Tragically, Raymond Asquith, like Bron Herbert and so many of ‘The Coterie’, would also be killed in the war.
As a man of the pen, it is all the more surprising that Baring is credited as one of the architects of the formation of the future Royal Air Force. By his own admission he knew nothing about the Royal Flying Corps or even that there was one. He also confessed not being able to read maps and was well aware of his deficiencies as a soldier. However, he had the unique ability to get on with people and initially his role was that of an interpreter; liaising with the French forces and with the mayors of local towns to get approval to requisition land for airfields and buy provisions for the squadrons which were to follow. To facilitate the negotiations and pay for what was immediately needed, one of his fellow officers had with him a portmanteau full of gold!
Initially he worked with the handful of staff led by his old friend Lt General Sir David Henderson, acting as his general factotum. When Henderson was ordered back to England to reorganise the Royal Flying Corps there, he was succeeded by General Trenchard. Trenchard, a solitary figure who found it difficult to socialise was initially unimpressed with Baring and considered getting rid of him within a month . Instead Baring became Trenchard’s greatest friend and an indispensible aide, earning the RAF saying “Make a note of that Baring.”
Baring’s account of the war, HQ RFC (published in 1920) is a hugely enjoyable read. Written from notes and scribbling in his diary, it combines a military narrative with observations on people, the landscape and the beauty and the horror of what he witnessed. Often very funny and sometimes very poignant it vividly describes establishing an air force from scratch close to the front line. “A lovely and really hot day. We went for a long tour (of the airfields). The birds sang and the poppies flared in the wine-covered clover, and tethered cows made a sleeping noise. Clips are wanted for the clock-mounting on the FE-2B. Longcraft was shot at while he was in a kite balloon by a Lewis gun and I suppose someone must have let off the gun.” (22nd June 1916)
His duties as a staff officer did not allow him to write articles for the newspapers but he did contribute poems, sometimes in memory of fallen pilots. His lengthy poem ‘In Memoriam’ in tribute to his friend Auberon Herbert, Lord Lucas was published in full in The Morning Post.
Towards the end of 1918 he assisted with the establishment of the Indian Air Force and was awarded an OBE for his services with the RFC during the war. In 1925 he was made an honorary wing commander in the Royal Air Force. In 1935 he was awarded the French Legion of Honour. It was through his friendship with Bron Herbert’s sister, Nan that Baring took Pickwick Cottage in College Road, Dulwich when the war ended. Nan Herbert had inherited the title of Baroness Lucas after her brother’s death and had moved into Bell House next door, in 1916. The following year she had married a Royal Flying Corps officer, Lt Col Howard Cooper.
During the three years that he lived at Pickwick Cottage Maurice Baring wrote both HQ RFC, and The Puppet Show of Memory. He also found time to write the novel Passing By and organised his collection of poems 1914-1919. His book The Lonely Lady of Dulwich (1934) uses Pickwick Cottage as the setting of the for the house in which the subject of the book resides - “People who would see her walking in Dulwich Village and Dulwich Park would wonder who she was and what her story had been - that is to say if she had a story which they thought unlikely. The called her the Lonely Lady”.
He lived for ten years in Rottingdean (where is also unknown) and was debilitated by Parkinson's Disease for fifteen years, nevertheless he continued writing until his condition became chronic in the last few years. He died amongst his family in Scotland in 1945.
This year marks the 175th anniversary of the launch, on 17 July 1841, of Punch magazine, a publication that had many links with Dulwich and the surrounding area. In its early days the magazine's editorial board used to meet occasionally in a local pub, a Dulwich street was named after one of its co-founders and Punch was the source of the description 'the Crystal Palace'. In addition, its first art editor and a number of its contributors used to live in the village or nearby, and the author of The History of Punch even went to Dulwich College.
This part of South London seems to have been a magnet for cartoonists and humorous writers over the last two centuries. The world's first children's comic, Funny Folks, was published by James Henderson who lived at Adon Mount off Lordship Lane and between 1905 and 1943 more than 4000 drawings by students of the Press Art School in nearby Forest Hill had been published in Punch - including some by its celebrated pupil, Kenneth Bird CBE (Fougasse), who would become the only cartoonist ever to be editor of Punch.
Even before Punch was founded some of its future leading lights frequented the old Greyhound Inn (also home of the Dulwich Club for many years), which stood almost opposite the current Crown & Greyhound. These included Mark Lemon, who became the first editor of Punch, and W.M.Thackeray who drew nearly 400 sketches for the magazine and contributed numerous articles. Indeed, it is possible that they may even have discussed the setting-up of the magazine in the Greyhound's rooms.
Once it was founded, the editorial board of Punch (known as the Punch Table) used occasionally to meet at the Greyhound in the summer months. According to the diary of Punch writer Henry Silver (now held in the British Library), the Punch Table met at least six times at the Greyhound between 1860 and 1866 (6 June, 28 June and 26 July 1860; 3 July 1862; 1 July 1863 and 1 August 1866).
In M.H.Spielmann's The History of 'Punch' (1895), a description is given of the writer Francis Burnand being elected to the board, or Punch Table, in June 1863 and making his first appearance in that role at the Greyhound, six months before Thackeray died.
'My first appearance,' he tells me, 'was at the Inn at Dulwich where Punch sometimes dined in the summer in those days. Thackeray drove there, and left early. He had come on purpose to be present on this occasion, and before quitting the room he paused, placed his hand on my shoulder, and said, "Gentlemen, I congratulate you on the 'New Boy'!" I felt, and probably looked, very hot and uncomfortably proud; and then he shook me very warmly by the hand.'
Burnand later recalled that the others present at the Greyhound that day were Lemon and F.M.Evans (of the magazine's proprietors, Bradbury & Evans); the writers Horace Mayhew (younger brother of Henry Mayhew, co-founder), Shirley Brooks (Lemon's successor as editor), Tom Taylor (Brooks's successor as editor), Henry Silver and Percival Leigh; and cartoonists John Leech (who in 1843 created the first modern cartoon), Charles Keene and John Tenniel (the first cartoonist to be knighted). Burnand later became editor of Punch (1880-1906) and was himself knighted. It was he who, when asked why Punch wasn't as funny as it used to be, famously replied: 'It never was.'
Though Charles Dickens frequented the Greyhound (and even occasionally attended Punch dinners), he was never published in Punch. However, at the end of The Pickwick Papers, Mr Pickwick retires to Dulwich and his cottage was drawn by Punch artist Thomas Onwhyn. The book's main original illustrator was the Punch cartoonist (and designer of its second cover) 'Phiz' (Hablôt Knight Browne, 1815-82). Browne's sister Lucinda married the art collector Elhanan Bicknell, one of the 100 local 'notables' listed in Who's Who in Dulwich.
Punch Table members with local connections who had either died or left the magazine by the time of its first board meeting at the Greyhound in 1860 included Thomas Hood (1799-1845) of Camberwell - whose famous satirical poem, 'The Song of a Shirt' (1843) had tripled the circulation of Punch - and Douglas Jerrold (1803-57), who had christened 'The Crystal Palace' in the magazine in 1850, before it was opened and long before it moved to the area of Sydenham now named after it.
Another was the magazine's co-founder, the engraver Ebenezer Landells (1808-60), who had sold his shares in the magazine when it was taken over by Bradbury & Evans in December 1842. Though his connection with the area is unknown, Landells Road off Lordship Lane was named after him and the nearby Rodwell Road was named after the composer George Rodwell, whose daughter married Landells' son, the illustrator Robert Thomas Landells.
A number of future Punch artists also attended Dulwich College. These included Arthur Watts (1883-1935) and G.E.Studdy (1878-1948), better known as the creator of Bonzo the Dog. Later pupils included comics historian Dennis Gifford (1927-2000), and Nick Hobart (b.1939) who contributed articles and cartoons from 1982
Also not to be forgotten are the Punch writers who were at the College. A.E.W. Mason (1865-1948), best known for The Four Feathers,(1902), became President of the Alleyn Club in 1946 and the same year published his last book The House in Lordship Lane. Another Punch old Alleynian was P.G.Wodehouse (1881-1975), who contributed to the magazine from 1902 until 1963 and joined the Table in 1960.
A more recent Punch journalist was R.G.G. Price (Dulwich College, 1922-9) who also wrote The History of Punch (1957). In one essay Price quoted a poem from Boys and Masters (1887) a novel by the College's famous headmaster, A.H.Gilkes, who is also referred to in a 1913 Punch cartoon by George Morrow.
The College itself is mentioned in another Punch poem, 'The Doom of Dulwich (By an old Dulwich Boy in Doleful Dumps)', written by E.J.Milliken in 1896. It bemoans the rise of 'Jerry Builders' and the threatened closure of the Greyhound (demolished in 1898), adding: 'Next, no doubt, they will pull down the College!'
Meanwhile, at Alleyn's School, were the future Punch artists L. R. Brightwell (1889-1962) and F.H. Townsend (1868-1920). Townsend began drawing for Punch in 1897, joined the Table in 1905 and was the magazine's first art editor (1905-20). His family lived in Derwent Villas, Grove Vale, and later in Ashbourne Grove. During the First World War he drew the famous cartoon 'Bravo, Belgium!' (Punch, 12 August 1914) and designed some striking colour Almanack covers.
A number of other Punch cartoonists have connections with Dulwich. Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910) succeeded Tenniel as the main cartoonist on the magazine and drew 'The Mahogany Tree' for the Jubilee issue (18 July 1891) showing all the members of the Table (which was in fact made of deal). He was a distant relative of the Dulwich College organist Ozias Linley (1765-1831) - who is buried in Christ’s Chapel - and other members of the famous Linley family, portraits of many of whom hang in Dulwich Picture Gallery.
H.M.Bateman (1887-1970) lived in Therapia Road until 1905 and while there studied at Goldsmith's School of Art with the sister of Old Alleynian Ernest Shackleton, who was then working for the publishers C.A.Pearson. Through him Bateman got his first big break, drawing for The Royal Magazine and Pearson's Weekly. He contributed to Punch from 1916.
Cyril Alfred 'Chic' Jacob (1926-2000), who drew for Punch from 1955, was born in Dulwich Hospital and had family living in Clive Road. He was later Chairman of the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain and Secretary (and then Treasurer) of the British Cartoonists' Association.
Leslie Illingworth (1902-79) lived at 67 Dulwich Village, next door to the Crown and Greyhound, from 1959 to 1966. He contributed to Punch from 1931, was elected to the Punch Table in 1948 and in 1949 became the magazine's main political cartoonist (he finally left Punch in 1968). While he was living in Dulwich he was voted Political and Social Cartoonist of the Year (1962) by the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain, and was given a Special Award for Distinguished Services to Cartooning (1965). In 1966 he became a founder member and first Chairman of the British Cartoonists' Association.
Almost next door to Illingworth was another Punch cartoonist, Antonia Yeoman, who drew as 'Anton' and was the only female member of Punch's Toby Club (in 1966 she also became the first woman to be elected to the Chelsea Arts Club). More recent links include Polly Bagnall, artist daughter of Punch cartoonist Brian Bagnall.
The Dulwich Picture Gallery has held two exhibitions of work by Punch artists - Anne Fish (1987) and William Heath Robinson (2003) - and in 1981 the gallery itself was the subject of a double-page Punch cartoon by Kenneth Mahood when its Rembrandt painting, Jacob de Gheyn III, was stolen for the third time.
Mahood also drew 'Dunroamin' in Dulwich' (1986), imagining Margaret Thatcher's house (Thatcher was also the first woman to attend a Punch lunch). On another occasion Dulwich resident George Brown stormed out when called 'not a proper socialist'. Many other inhabitants of the village have been caricatured in the magazine, from Sir Joseph Paxton, Sir Henry Bessemer and Mrs Patrick Campbell to union leader J.H.Thomas, and Old Alleynians Ernest Shackleton and Bob Monkhouse.
The last mention of Dulwich in the pages of Punch was ironically in the address of a letter from a reader decrying its imminent closure. Punch came to an end after 151 years in 1992. It was re-launched in 1996 by Harrods owner, Mohammed Al Fayed, and finally closed its doors in 2002.
The Players have offered its loyal (and increasingly large) audience a varied fare of drama over the past year. Their production in October was no exception and comedy must have brought welcome light relief to the cast and crew following the brilliant but harrowing The House of Bernardo Alba and Murder in the Cathedral. Coming ‘indoors’ also made life for the stage crew easier after the well-received but technically difficult and strenuous production of The Merry Wives of Windsor staged in the Picture Gallery garden and Dulwich Park in the summer.
The venue, the Great Hall at Alleyn’s was new to the Players but not so to some of the older members of the audience who remembered Sir Donald Wolfit congratulating a young John Stride on his Hamlet and where Michael Croft’s embryonic National Youth Theatre first found got off the ground.
Long before The Play That Goes Wrong and its subsequent re-incarnations charting the trials and tribulations of staging both amateur and professional productions appeared, Michael Green provided a joyous tribute to the world of Am-Dram. Here, often, (but not in the Dulwich Players!), actors can ‘remember his (or her) lines, but not in the order in which they come.....or....one who remembers everyone else’s lines apart from his/her own’.
Jan Rae’s presentation was spot-on, and one suspects, quite difficult to achieve. The four playlets, Streuth, The Cherry Sisters, Pride of Southanger Park and The Vagabond Prince helpfully parody well-known works so the audience could mentally fill in the gaps. And there were some hilarious intended gaps to fill. Jenny Gammon admirably played the role of the embarrassing am-dram chairman introducing the plays, perfectly interrupted by an inebriated love-torn Stage Manager and competition from the parish bazaar, but ‘calmed’ by the impossibly optimistic vicar, Gill Daly. Stefan Norwak gave us a splendid interpretation of another cleric and Paul Sykes presented us with a nightmarish butler. A great evening was rounded off with a boisterous musical finale.
There has been some confusion over the two recent surveys on the Scheme of Management. The Dulwich Estate’s survey was flagged up in the recent newsletter circulated with the annual charge invoice - in a strap line at the bottom of each page, while the Village Ward Lib Dem Councillors delivered letters to every household. Neither party knew that the other was doing a survey and, though they asked generally similar questions, though with a slightly different bias, it is unfortunate that both were only available electronically - as this will exclude many local residents of the opportunity of giving their views.
However, since we now have the surveys, what are they trying to find out? It’s no secret that there are differing views over how the Scheme of Management is run. There are those residents who feel that, whatever the problems, the ‘Scheme’ has made Dulwich the pleasant place it is, and that it keeps it that way. Others feel that the Estate is far too prescriptive on what they are or are not allowed do to and with their properties, inconsistent in their decisions, and are ignoring mounting concerns over the growing impact on residents’ amenity of the construction of new basements under existing houses. There is also a vocal minority that think the Scheme is merely replicating Southwark Council’s powers, and that the latter will be able to control what happens in the area through current planning and listed building legislation. It will be interesting to see both the results.
Given its remit of promoting the amenity of Dulwich, the Society sees one of its jobs as making sure the Estate runs the Scheme efficiently, appropriately, and at a reasonable cost. It continues to review and comment on the applications every month and, over the years, has had some successes. It encouraged the Estate to set up a website and it has lobbied hard for it to be more consistent and transparent in its decision making. The Society is also pressing for there to be better enforcement, for the ‘Scheme’ staff, and the Consultant Architect, to check that projects are implemented as approved, and that those residents who believe they can do what they like are prevented from doing so.
The remit of the Scheme of Management was clarified in a High Court judgement, now over forty years old. The ‘Scheme’ can be varied - by appealing to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber), the successor to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal, which reviewed the Dulwich ‘Scheme’ in the 1990s when the Estate wished to convert the quinquennial charge to an annual one. That exercise did show that the ‘Scheme’ can be varied, for example should it be varied to include control over basements, something no one would have even thought of 40 years ago?
Please note that subscriptions for 2017 are due on January 1st. Subscriptions remain at £10 per household. Most members pay by standing order and if so, you do not need to take any action. However if you pay your subscription by cheque (or cash) then please send it, payable to The Dulwich Society, to me at the address below. To save on costs of posting reminders for this it would be appreciated if this was done promptly. As a way to make savings only two reminders (in early February and late March) will be sent to those who have not paid. If the Society has not received payment by the end of March then names will be removed from the membership list.
If you would like to start paying by standing order then please contact me at the address/number below for a form or download it from the membership leaflet on the Society website.
Diana McInnes, Membership Secretary,
11 Ferrings, Dulwich, London SE21 7LU.
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