The Dulwich Society Journal for Winter 2018.
It took Pelham Greville Wodehouse - or ‘Plum’ as he was nicknamed, ninety-three years to gain a knighthood. It was granted a few months before his death in 1975. It has taken another forty-three years for the Nation’s greatest comic writer to be finally acclaimed by the announcement that a memorial stone will be laid in Westminster Abbey.
The reason for the delay lies in the fact that he and his wife stayed too long in France when it was being overrun by the Germans in WW2 and he unwisely agreed on his internment to make some humorous broadcasts on German radio. After the end of the War, Wodehouse was persona non-grata in England, and remained in the United States where he had taken out American citizenship until his death.
He had huge affection for his old school, Dulwich College, basing his fictional school ‘Wrykyn’ on Dulwich where he had been a star pupil and sportsman.
In his Will, he left a number of personal items to the College including his desk, pipe and typewriter. These, together with copies of his almost 100 books are displayed in the school’s library. How fitting it would be if the memorial was laid during 2019, the 400th anniversary of his alma mater?
As an added tribute to his genius, the Wodehouse estate has given Ben Schott leave to write another tale of Jeeves, Wooster and Aunt Agatha. Entitled, Jeeves and the King of Clubs it is published by Hutchinson £16.99. Interestingly, it is Schott ‘s (of Miscellany fame) first novel.
Plum left a very useful piece of advice to such authors -
“It has been well said that an author who expects results from his first novel is in a position similar to a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for an echo.” (Cocktail Time)
We shall see.
Desmond Shawe-Taylor, the Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures will talk about the Royal Collection at Bell House, College Road on December 11th. Desmond was previously the Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Tuesday December 11th 7 for 7.30 pm Drinks from 7 pm
Tickets £10 available from Eventbrite on the Bell House page, or on the door.
For queries or more information please contact Barbara Richardson:
I spotted this Penny Token in a recent antiques fair and thinking it could carry local interest that should not be lost acquired it. I showed it to Brian Green who had not seen anything similar before and I have therefore done a little internet research on the token.
It came from the Collection of a Mr. R.C. Bell who was a Plastics Surgeon who practised in Shotley Bridge in Durham. He was born in 1917 and trained in St Bartholomew’s Hospital. He was a distinguished numismatist and author of many books on the subject. His huge collection of tokens came up for auction in 1996 and this token came up for auction again in June of this year.
Basically it is a token struck about 1797 by a firm P Skidmore of Clerkenwell and is one of what was known as their Clerkenwell series. Around the rim is engraved I PROMISE TO PAY ON DEMAND THE BEARER ONE PENNY. Apparently these were trade tokens minted in the late eighteenth century presumably to promote custom. Many were clearly directed at particular businesses but some minted by Skidmore, of which this engraving of Dulwich’s Old College is one, were of notable buildings in London including amongst others, the then House of Commons, the Smallpox Hospital in St Pancras and Addington House in Croydon. Many of the tokens were engraved by a man named Jacobs who engraved his name below the image of the engraved building. The engraving is very well preserved and of high quality, the token being described as rare and of course may now be unique. The coat of arms on the reverse side is fictitious and is repeated on other Skidmore tokens.
I am not a numismatist and am therefore curious to know who might have instigated the minting of a token depicting Dulwich College. Was it a commemoration or was it an attempt to promote the college as a place of learning? I note that another token exists depicting St Paul’s School. Was there an element of competition or rivalry between the two educational establishments? I would like to know whether any readers or Old Alleynians that have more knowledge than myself are able to tell me whether this is an item of local interest or importance and have more information about its provenance.
When asked to name the three priorities of his government, Tony Blair stated firmly ‘Education, education, education’. So it was appropriate that during a tour of China he should open three versions of Dulwich College in Shanghai, Beijing and Suzhou. Now all three schools thrive in buildings reminiscent of the mother school here in SE21, and places for pupils are in huge demand. The students are international, but lessons are in English (apart, obviously, for modern languages) and academic results are outstanding.
So why do such schools exist? A couple of decades ago they were very rare, and expat British parents seeking a British education probably had to send their children home as boarders. My own father didn’t see his parents in Burma for three years whilst he boarded in Scotland. Clearly a good school teaching English eases many problems.
Dulwich College was one of a handful of schools that led the way in starting schools overseas (it now sponsors 10), but literally hundreds have followed suit. So, what is their motive? Surely it isn’t some latter-day imperialistic condescension, loftily offered as an ideal to a needy neighbour? Absolutely not. Those colonial days are thank goodness over. The very first thing we insisted on in China, was that every child learned both Cantonese and Mandarin, absorbed the stunning Chinese culture, so many thousand years older than ours, and experienced the joy of working with different but delightful friends.
When Sherborne set up its school in Doha it was realised that the Qataris needed a place to worship. Hitherto they had to pray in any old space available, but we quickly adapted a classroom for the purpose. By chance the Crown Prince’s tutor was a parent and with his help we soon converted the room it into a mosque with a carpet so deep you could barely see over it! Again, the essential message to all the pupils was that they respect each other’s beliefs.
Of course, the native British school hopes to make money out of the venture, and a sizeable chunk of the fees usually reverts to the UK. But these are not Dotheboys Halls and the profits are very largely ploughed back to the original school, often creating scholarships for the eligible in Britain.
Other advantages are very fruitful. Sporting fixtures, teacher and student exchanges, concerts, plays, indeed everything that makes schools worthwhile, creating above all fun, is immensely enhanced by the excitement and enrichment that comes of foreign travel. Friendships are made that may have a huge impact. The three times prime minister of Thailand, Anand Panyarachun, owes his love of Britain to the fact that he went to Dulwich College. From such overseas links, made in so many ways, much good can surely come.
In our troubled political times, we can be thankful that these international schools will make people literate and competent in other languages, broaden minds and foster mutual respect.
Editor’s note: Colin Niven OBE was the founding headmaster of the three schools opened by Dulwich College in China from 2002, and later in Doha for Sherborne School, St George’s School in Tbilisi, Georgia and is currently helping to start the British School of Latvia.
Bell House’s inaugural Dyslexia Fair in September saw 700 parents, children and educational professionals arrive through the door to access resources, information and support for those with dyslexia. They came for the opportunity to talk to the 20 dyslexia specialists who were exhibiting that day, and to hear talks and workshops delivered by professionals in the field. The house buzzed with ideas exchanged and knowledge imparted. The sheer number of guests, and the distances they travelled (as far afield as Brighton and Romford), demonstrates the crucial role that Bell House charity is starting to play as a hub for dyslexia support. The Dyslexia Fair allowed more people to find out how Bell House supports dyslexia - future courses on Supporting the Dyslexic Learner are now fully booked. Bell House are also working in collaboration with Helen Arkell Dyslexia Charity to run dyslexia assessments - a vital step in accessing good support at school.
This old Georgian house, with its garden, was bought two years ago by an educational charity now named Bell House Dulwich. Since then a team of volunteers have been hard at work turning what was a private house into a beautiful welcoming home for the community; a place where people can unleash their creativity and learn in ways not catered for by the mainstream curriculum. Initially, this has meant a lot of work on the fabric of the house itself. Committed renovators (Andrew, Richard, and Merlin) are restoring and insulating the house’s 54 windows and Matt the bricklayer has been repairing the walls and the ha-ha in front of the house. And of course, they have repaired the eponymous bell tower. Listen carefully and you will hear it ring out when a new guest is shown around the house!
The restorative work has allowed more and more people to experience Bell House.
Alongside the focus on dyslexia support, Bell House runs creative and educational courses and events. The newly renovated front rooms offer a home to the Quilting Academy, who run a drop-in session every Thursday teaching people their skills. Dan Robb, one of our film makers joined them weekly to make a film about the group, now on our YouTube channel. Local volunteers have run creative writing courses, poetry meetings and cookery courses. The renovation of the Gardeners’ Kitchen has supported the ever-growing group of garden volunteers, who now meet every Saturday and Wednesday morning to learn from each other how to maintain the gardens surrounding Bell House. The beautiful gardens house the apiary, allowing us to run courses on beekeeping and honey. Bell House filmmakers have filmed many of these courses, so they can be accessed by even more people.
This is just the beginning - we are working on a community project called Learning to Care, which will use events and short films to educate and support those who find themselves looking after their older family members and neighbours, with the first event organised for November. An adult literacy group will be meeting here twice a week in the new year, teaching vital reading and writing skills. The ‘Wednesday gardeners’ are working to make the walled garden a community vegetable garden, with an opportunity for local people and community groups to experience the physical and mental health benefits of learning gardening. Revision workshops and touch-typing courses for young people with dyslexia are planned for the new year, alongside a continuing schedule of talks on the topic.
The house and charity have greatly benefited from people’s help, giving time and support in organising events or courses. Financial support from generous individuals has maintained the house - fixing the step in the front porch for example and repairing an old roof. With this period of expansion Bell House needs more people to get involved. We are a volunteer led organisation, with only one permanent position co-ordinating the activities. Whatever your specialism - from gardening to coding - Bell House would love to see where you could fit in, so you can be part of this new venture in Dulwich. If you want to know what’s going on you can join the mailing list at www.bellhouse.co.uk.
We were meant to leave London long before 2018. We’d come here in 1987 on an 18-month assignment from my wife’s New York law firm. But during that time our eldest son Teddy was born. A child focuses your mind, and it focused ours on London, which seemed a better place to raise a child than New York. We lived briefly in Chelsea, then in Putney. But Sarah wanted a better commute to the City and, one Sunday, driving east from Putney to have a look around Blackheath, she suggested a diversion through Dulwich, a place I’d heard of only in the context of Maggie Thatcher. Dulwich, at first sight, seemed a place we wanted to be. There were children. There was a park. There were playing fields. Traffic, such as it was, moved at a pace you could live with. There was a pub and shops. In front of Village Books, I stopped the car. We entered Spencer Kennedy (now Knight Frank), an estate agent. It would be more than a decade before we ever set foot in Blackheath.
We agreed to rent a house on Ardbeg Road. The owner was an oil engineer due to be transferred with his family to Abu Dhabi. With the first Gulf War about to begin however—this was February 1991—they decided to remain at home. We rented, instead, a cottage on Roseway and never once regretted this lucky consolation prize.
There are different ways of feeling like a foreigner and being an American in Dulwich felt distinctly different than being an American in, say, Chelsea. Chelsea was a fully populated, sprawling English film set where it was easy to go unnoticed. But in 1991 Dulwich, even a bog-standard American had rarity value—if value is the appropriate word for it. If I went into a shop and said something, I would sometimes notice—at the end of an aisle—a head peeking around the corner to get a proper look at me. I felt in those early days as I’ve always felt in Paris—as if I might as well be wearing a ten-gallon hat, walking bow-legged, and shouldering a lasso. Not that I’ve ever particularly minded being recognized as an American. Having one’s shortcomings pre-emptively attributed to national character—rather than to one’s own—has its advantages.
The ambiance of Dulwich Village was also quite different from the other places we’d lived in London. It was a village, after all, and in that sense, almost by definition, agreeably retro. Besides the bookshop, the village had two greengrocers, two butchers, two wine shops, a stationery shop with a secret toy cave in back, a dry cleaner, a chemist, a hairdresser, several estate agents, a car dealership, a petrol station, Bartley’s Flower Shop, Park Motor Garage, and a bakery where, every other morning, I bought an uncut loaf of granary bread, always with exact change from our change jar. There was an interior decorating shop with its lush window display, which we suspected of being a front for some nefarious activity because it never appeared open. There was a travel agent, a beauty salon, a timber merchant, Sweeney Todd’s, The Crown and Greyhound, a small grocery, a Barclays Bank, and a celebrated art gallery. There was a tiny electrical shop that smelled funny but was run by two lovely, elderly brothers who engaged in an activity known, once upon a time, as “fixing things.” There was also, next door to Anvil—a gift shop—a post office and haberdashery under the same roof, where, in one go, you could buy postage stamps, thread, and a hat for Royal Ascot—Dulwich Village’s gentler and more eccentrically parochial response to the comprehensive mercantile panache of, say, America’s Walmart, where you can pop in for shampoo, a chest of drawers, and a semi-automatic weapon.
Henry James once said that the two most beautiful words in the English language are summer afternoon. My memories of 11 Roseway, where we lived from 1991 to 1995, are drenched in sun. Lest you think rose-tinted glasses feature in this retrospective, I will remind you that, during this period, London enjoyed consecutive summers when a hosepipe ban was in force. Our garden bordered both the Griffin Sports Ground and Dulwich Hamlet School. During term time we were regularly serenaded by the school orchestra; in the spring and summer, with the rear windows open, we enjoyed the timeless, ineffably civilized loop of sounds emanating from the nearby cricket pitch.
Sarah worked in the city. I worked at home. We imported the first of our wonderful string of Swedish au pairs. Every afternoon I taped “Sesame Street,” which Teddy and I would watch after his tea. We watched tapes of Postman Pat, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Fireman Sam as well. After he started school, Teddy would one day come home from a friend’s house humiliated by the fact that he hadn’t understood that the telly was something that didn’t require a tape; you could just turn it on. But that was later. At Roseway he basked in an innocence that would have been impossible to preserve in New York. Nowadays, in the digital age, it would be difficult to preserve anywhere. His oldest friends date from Little Flowers Nursery, which, until the church burned down at Christmas in 1992, was at St Barnabas. After the fire and a short interlude in the Parish Hall, Little Flowers moved to the corner of Turney and Croxted. In time, all four of our children would be proud graduates.
Our son Billy arrived in February 1992 and, the next year, Teddy entered Dulwich Village Infants’ School, less than a minute’s walk from our door. In June 1995, Stephanie made her auspicious debut. I have five brothers and Sarah has three—not a sister between us—so Stephanie seemed a miracle. I have a photograph of Sarah cradling her in the hospital bed with Teddy and Billy on either side. Teddy, who is six, is in Tottenham Hotspur kit. Billy, three, sports the kit of Man United. Our abiding red and blue Crystal Palace period was yet to begin.
A month before Stephanie was born, we learned that we would need to leave Roseway—our landlords required their house back. Shortly thereafter, at Dulwich College’s old swimming pool, where Teddy took Saturday morning swimming lessons, I was told by a neighbour that the people at 92 Burbage were moving to the States and might be looking to rent their house. I popped round. Within a few minutes we’d agreed that Sarah and I would rent it. Sarah’s three-month maternity leaves we always spent with our families in the States, and so we did with Stephanie. By the time we returned to Dulwich, now to 92 Burbage, it was October 1995. On our first morning back, people who’d never spoken a word to us or acknowledged our existence in any discernible way, upon seeing Teddy and me rushing to school, became abruptly animated, stopping us, telling us they’d heard we’d gone back to America and how wonderful it was that we were back! Dulwich suddenly bloomed with technicolour, as if we’d just landed in Munchkinland. In wonderment we hurried along as doors to houses and upper-floor windows seemed to fly open for inhabitants to smile and wave and shout “You’re back!” Birds sang, the sun shined. There was no place like home.
On Burbage, we lived opposite the Alleyn’s Old Boys Sports Ground, now the Edward Alleyn Club. It became customary for the boys in the neighbourhood to gather there for a kick-around. They called themselves The Burbage Sharks. On Saturday mornings in Dulwich Park, a noteworthy fellow by the name of Richard Goat would hammer tall stakes into the ground with a wooden mallet, marking out a football pitch, marking out goal posts. Saturday morning footie in the park soon became the high point of our boys’ week, and that of many other Dulwich boys as well. Football was rampant. In the summer of 1996, England hosted the European Championships. The “Three Lions” anthem was inescapable, ringing with hope and yearning after 30 years of hurt. Alas, England lost in a semi-final penalty shootout to Germany—again—plunging our house into mourning. “I can’t stop thinking,” Billy, our four-year-old, inconsolably sobbed, “about Anderton hitting the post!”
Billy entered the Infants’ School. Teddy entered Dulwich Prep. We got Crystal Palace season tickets. Between ourselves and three other Burbage families we held a block of 12 seats in the first two rows of the family enclosure—precisely where, a year earlier, Eric Cantona had notoriously kung-fu kicked a Palace supporter, earning himself a season-long suspension. In the front row that night, Burbage Road’s own Fletcher family had their eternal fame sealed by umpteen newspaper photographs of the Cantona incident in which, in assorted aspects of astonishment, they featured. In March 1997—again, against the run of play—Katherine greeted the world. There are earlier baby pictures of Katherine no doubt, but the one that has endured, framed on our mantle, is of her at two-months-old held in Teddy’s lap, outfitted, like each of her siblings, in full Crystal Palace kit. The boys and I are about to leave for Wembley, along with 40,000 of our closest friends, to watch Palace win improbable promotion to the Premiership. In all of sport, there is nothing comparable to the sudden, astonished ecstasy of a football goal: 89th minute, David Hopkin looking to curl one… Say no more.
Sarah and I had been in London for ten years now. Our four children had been born here. We said tomato, they said tomahto. In another context, we’d be said to have “gone native.” Sarah decided to leave her New York law firm and became a partner at Freshfields. We bought the house on the corner of Dulwich Village and Aysgarth. We moved in with little furniture, no beds, a million things to do and no idea that Princess Diana had died the night before. In all of Britain, we were the last to know.
Life went on. The Saturday morning football match had morphed into three or four matches, all with pitches staked out by Richard Goat. Together with the fathers of two of Teddy’s friends, we launched an under-10s football team to compete in the Tandridge League. We called it Dulwich Park FC. It was sponsored by Wates of Dulwich—now Pedders. The club’s insignia—in tribute to Richard Goat—was a goat holding a wooden mallet. Billy followed Teddy to Dulwich Prep and began playing club football for Croydon FC. Stephanie followed Billy to the Infants’. There were putative Cruise and Kidman sightings, as the Hollywood couple was rumoured to have bought the Georgian mansion across the street from us. Cool Britannia. The internet had bedded in with email, ecommerce, and eejit stockbrokers peddling hot dot-com stocks. On the eve of Y2K, I had Oddbins deposit a pallet stacked with bottled water in our garage. Our computers didn’t crash, but the stock market soon did. Saturdays we watched Palace, who, following their 1997 promotion, had been ignominiously slam-danced back to the first division. Sundays the boys played football for their clubs. Birthday party invitations meant a quick trip to Village Books or Mr Green’s. During warm weather, after-school visits to the Italian Deli for gelato cones beckoned. At the playground in Dulwich Park, in the evening shortly after six, the Concorde would appear from the south and gently bank in our direction before roaring overhead. A car drove through the window at Oddbins. There were football stickers, Go-Gos, Pokemon, and Sylvanians. There was Harry Potter: first the books, one every year or two, with queues forming outside Village Books on the eve of pub dates, the doors opening at the witching hour; then, eventually, the movies, one at a time, incomprehensible if you hadn’t read the books, which at least one Dulwich father hadn’t. The Steam Fair would come and go with its redolence of locomotives and a lost age. On July 4th we celebrated our independence from the country we lived in. November 5th was our wedding anniversary, when bonfires were lit all over Britain and fireworks set off in our honour. On Remembrance Sunday a drumbeat would summon us to the street or to our upper-floor windows to watch the solemn procession through the village to the war memorial at Christ’s Chapel. Thanksgiving was a holiday our children were convinced their parents had invented. Christmas Eve meant Christmas carols at the 4pm crib service at St Barnabas. Although our children did not come in costume, many children did and were invited, in turn, to the altar: angels, shepherds, Marys, Josephs, wise men and, for a regrettably limited engagement, Shrek. Every year the minister would ask, “Are there any donkeys here?” Every year I’d nudge Billy and say, “Go on, get up there.”
There is much to be said for tradition.
(Greg concludes his reminiscences in the next issue)
Greg Barron is a lecturer and writer.
Fans of ITV’s popular costume drama Vanity Fair may be interested to know that it has a number of connections with Dulwich.
It is based on a novel of the same name published exactly 170 years ago by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63) who is played in the series by former Monty Python star Michael Palin CBE. By coincidence, Palin’s older sister Angela and her family lived in Dulwich (her son Jeremy went to Alleyn’s School) and he talks about visiting them in his diaries (e.g.‘conker hunting along past Dulwich Picture Gallery’). Her husband Veryan Herbert was also on the Traffic Sub-Committee of the Dulwich Society. In addition, in 1977, Palin played a charity football match at the Dulwich Hamlet ground (the team comprised most of the Python actors plus Peter Purves of Blue Peter in goal).
Another of the characters in the Vanity Fair series, Sir Pitt Crawley, is played by Martin Clunes, who is perhaps best known for his starring role in the long-running ITV medical comedy drama series, Doc Martin, created by Dulwich resident, Dominic Minghela. A reference to Dulwich even appears in the original Thackeray novel. In Chapter XIX, where Mrs Bute tries to convince Miss Crawley to alter her will, she decides to take her away to get her into ‘cheerful spirits and health’ before renewing her attempt. However, she wonders where to take her:
‘We must go and visit our beautiful suburbs of London,’ she then thought. ‘I hear they are the most picturesque in the world’; and so she had a sudden interest for Hampstead, and Hornsey, and found that Dulwich had great charms for her, and getting her victim into her carriage, drove her to those rustic spots...
Dulwich is also mentioned in at least two other works by Thackeray. The first is in his essay ‘Round About the Christmas Tree’ in Roundabout Papers (1863), in which he describes a winter scene:
‘... when the girls and boys were sliding on the ponds at Dulwich; when the darkling river was full of floating ice, and the sun was like a warming-pan in the leaden sky.’
The second comes in Chapter XII of The Newcomes (1854). Here Clive Newcome (the artistic son of Colonel Newcome) describes a painting, The Death of Cardinal Beaufort (c.1787), by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which used to hang in the Dulwich Picture Gallery before it was destroyed by bombing in 1944. A rather gruesome picture (Reynolds repeated it later), the subject was taken from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2, Act 3, Scene III, where the King, Salisbury and Warwick witness the Cardinal's death (Beaufort was the Bishop of Winchester and the king’s great uncle):.
‘What for me?’ cries Clive. ‘We are no such great folks that I know of; and if we were, I say a painter is as good as a lawyer, or a doctor, or even a soldier. In Dr Johnson's Life - which my father is always reading - I like to read about Sir Joshua Reynolds best: I think he is the best gentleman of all in the book. My! wouldn't I like to paint a picture like Lord Heathfield in the National Gallery! Wouldn't I just! I think I would sooner have done that, than have fought at Gibraltar. And those Three Graces - oh, aren't they graceful! And that Cardinal Beaufort at Dulwich! - it frightens me so, I daren't look at it.’
The Dulwich Picture Gallery also had another artistic link with the Thackeray family via its recent exhibition (2017) of the works of Virginia Woolf’s elder sister, the painter Vanessa Bell (1879-1961). The first wife of their father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was Thackeray’s youngest daughter, Minny (Harriet Marian Thackeray), which thus makes Thackeray the step-grandfather of Vanessa Bell.
Thackeray’s connections with the occasional summer meetings of the editorial staff of Punch magazine at the old Greyhound Inn in Dulwich in the 1860s have also been mentioned in a previous issue of the Dulwich Society’s Journal (No.191, Winter 2016). Thackeray drew nearly 400 sketches for the magazine and contributed numerous articles. The last recorded meeting of the Punch Table at the Greyhound which Thackeray attended seems to have been on 1 July 1863. The writer Francis (later Sir Francis) Burnand, who was elected to the Punch Table the previous month (he was later himself editor of Punch), described the scene in his memoirs:
'My first appearance 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.'
Thackeray died six months later, on 24 December 1863.
The second half of the summer is a quiet period for some of our wildlife. Most of our birds are in moult and as a result the small birds go into hiding for most of each day, necessary because this is the time when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable to predators and furthermore unlike mad dogs and Englishmen they do not go out in the mid-day sun of which we had a lot this year. Records were sparse apart from a Buzzard spotted flying over Pickwick Road. It was therefore difficult to assess how successful breeding has been until the start of Autumn. Dave Clark has done his regular biennial Dulwich Park bird count and this shows that there are still good numbers of Robins, Blackbirds and Tits but there are very few Song thrushes and Greenfinches are now virtually absent.
However Paul Bond tells me that he has a population of Greenfinches in his Half Moon Lane garden and the clue seems to be that he is growing sunflowers. Perhaps he has the entire local population.
Of more concern and the concern is national there were significantly smaller numbers of Swifts this year. They did not arrive until the third week of May, two weeks late and had mostly departed by mid July, two weeks early. In Burbage Road there may have been just one pair breeding. However, interestingly a neighbour of Dave Clark in East Dulwich during house renovation two or three years ago had fitted three Swift boxes. He had no luck until this year when all three were occupied. Clearly the lesson is that it takes time for these nest sites to be identified and they may have to be prospected by first year old non- breeders before use in later years. The evidence from extensive study is that Swifts remain very faithful to their nest site year on year once established. We shall have to see what future years bring but the general worry is that that a fall in aerial insect numbers is causing a national loss of all insect eating birds.
This year I have been asked, “Where have all the butterflies gone?” Certainly the were many Small (Cabbage) Whites and Holly Blues, but no Tortoiseshells Peacocks Red Admirals and Commas in what should have been an ideal Summer. The probable culprit was the so called Beast from the East, the spell of frost and snow in April that came just as the Nymphalidae butterflies were emerging from hibernation and it killed the lot. Red Admirals should have migrated in from the continent but they too were surprisingly absent. It will probably take years for recovery to take place. Fortunately our woodland butterflies including the Silver Washed Fritillary, Purple Hairstreak and Speckled Woods have survived for another year.
However, what we lacked in Butterflies was made up by Dragonflies and the late summer produced an abundance of Southern Hawkers, a fine photograph of which has been supplied by William Marshall. These typically emerge in late Summer a little later than the similar but larger Emperor with which it would otherwise undoubtedly compete as they are fiercely territorial. There are a number of species of Dragonfly some of which we may see at different times of the summer. The Hawkers are the largest but other smaller groups go under the names of Darters, Chasers and Skimmers, the medium sized Common Darter being the reddish brown dragon fly most often seen. Damsel Flies are mostly much smaller and can be distinguished by folding their wings over their abdomens rather than resting with their wings extended like the Dragonflies. The damsel fly with which owners of ponds will be most familiar is the brilliant blue male Azure Damsel fly that can be seen fixed in tandem with its more dowdy mate while she deposits eggs into the pond surface.
Finally a most interesting contribution has come from Bridget Furst who lives at 110 Dulwich Village and who with friends from 95 and 97 Dulwich Village joined a Bat Walk in Ruskin Park with Dr. Iain Boulton the Lambeth Ecology Officer who introduced them to the use of a Bat meter which could identify different Bat species by their individual vocal clicks. Intrigued they bought a bat meter themselves and the result was a revelation of Bats including the Brown Long eared Bat flying round their gardens that back on to Dulwich Park. They speculate that several species of Bat may be much more widespread in Dulwich than previously thought. Bridget will be happy to share her enthusiasm with any who might also be interested.
It is now Autumn and the winter Thrushes are coming in from Iceland and Scandinavia. Shovelers and a Teal (our smallest British duck) have been seen in the park and four migrating Song Thrushes which unfortunately will not stay.
There will be more to record as the winter comes in.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder
(tel: 020 7274 4567 email:
The summer of 2018 in England was the hottest since records began in 1910. For Dulwich gardeners with hoses, gardens could be kept watered as Thames Water didn’t institute a hosepipe ban. However, what was the effect of the long dry summer on Dulwich’s allotments, notorious for their clay soils?
The main challenge to keep the allotments green and productive was keeping them well hydrated. At Grange Lane allotments, mains water supply is augmented by rain, water from springs that periodically surface at the site, and streams which form the source of the Effra and Ambrook rivers, all of which is captured in communal water butts spaced throughout the 200 plots. Maureen Erny, secretary of Grange Lane, had to visit her plot to water every two days during the hottest spell of the summer, while June Marks, the plot holder at Rosendale Allotments who inspired this article, had to water daily. At both sites, watering is permitted by watering-can only -, hard work even during a normal summer, and especially good for the muscles in such hot conditions!
This sounds like a recipe for disaster for all but the most dedicated waterer. However, many crops thrived and those that were not so successful are not entirely predictable. The prolonged hot dry weather seems to have greatly reduced the perennial problem of tomato blight, with gardeners from both sites reporting bumper crops of early ripening tomatoes. Tree fruit seems to vary depending on when the trees flowered; a big storm at flowering time meant no apricots for Sarah Knight (lettings manager at Grange Lane). Peter Allen (membership secretary at Grange Lane) had his best-ever crop of almonds, although the weekend before he planned to harvest them, an opportunistic squirrel stripped the tree of all the fruit. Sarah Lyness at Grange Lane reported her first cucumber and fantastic sunflower growth, she had cut sunflowers on her kitchen table for two months without pause. And Patricia Hole, also a plot holder at Grange Lane, had very good yields of soft fruit: tayberries, loganberries, blackcurrants, and jostaberries (a cross between gooseberries and blackcurrants).
June Marks had abundant tomatoes, pumpkins, squashes and courgettes at Rosendale Allotments, but poorer potato crops (suppliers have indicated that seed potatoes and onion sets may be more difficult to get hold of next year).
For plot holders with more unusual varieties there were some great successes. Jan Davison at Grange Lane had wonderful yields of chillies, chickpeas and a variety of Charentais melon called ‘Emir’ - which produced eight ripe melons!
The dry weather was a great help in reducing the numbers of insect pests including aphids and blackfly, and slugs and snails over both sites. This was particularly welcome at Grange Lane where use of metaldehyde blue pellets to remove slugs is being strongly discouraged in order to encourage hedgehogs to the site (they perform the same service). However, at Rosendale an increase in the number of butterflies and caterpillars was noticed - very attractive but not very welcome when growing vegetables.
Aside from the direct effects of the heat and lack of rain on the fruit and vegetables, there were other effects. At Grange Lane some paths became dangerous to walk on as deep cracks developed in the clay soil. On the plus side, grass paths needed less mowing. At Grange Lane a manure ‘gold rush’ was reported - the horses normally in residence at Buckingham Palace, who provide a great deal of the manure used to fertilise London’s allotments, were taken out of London as the temperatures were too high for them. So when manure was delivered to the site, a stampede formed for the limited supplies!
Strategies for preparing for possible future hot summers centre on good soil preparation. Peter Allen practises ‘no-dig’ gardening at his plot, with raised beds with lots of compost and mulch, which helped the soil hold on to moisture. But all gardeners, diggers or not, can prepare their soil in this way. Winter soil preparation will become even more important; incorporating plenty of well-rotted compost or manure into the soil will help drainage in clay soils and maintain hydration during a dry summer. ‘Strulch’ (a proprietary wheat straw garden mulch) is very effective at preventing evaporation, as are mulches in general, ideally applied before summer. Other tips for vegetable plots are planting early to allow roots to develop and keeping growing areas free from weeds to reduce competition for water. Finally, if we continue to have very hot summers, the kind of crops grown may change, Dulwich may reliably grow chickpeas, cucumbers and melons such as those seen this year!
Gardens sub-committee: help wanted
The committee organises a talk, a coach visit and a local visit each year, all open to all members of the Society. I would welcome a new member of the committee who would focus on our annual coach visit, which Will Anderson has dealt with admirably over the last few years but is now stepping down. In 2018 we visited Beth Chatto’s Gardens and the RHS Hyde Hall gardens in Essex, and for 2019 we have in place another interesting double-header, West Dean Gardens and Woolbeding in Sussex.
The task provides an opportunity to scout out suitable locations, and then organising the visit. If it sounds of interest, please contact me.
Jeremy Prescott -