With recent celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Christ’s Chapel, the Burial Ground and the Dulwich Almshouse, to say nothing of Dulwich Picture Gallery’s ongoing 200th anniversary, the quater centenary of the foundation in 2019 of the school which would become today’s Dulwich College and Alleyn’s School has been overshadowed. That is not the fault of the schools themselves; Dulwich College for example, has presented a vigorous and successful programme of celebratory lectures by distinguished O.A.’s (Old Alleynians) to provide, as Hollywood might say, a prequel.
However, when the anniversary of 1619, the year Edward Alleyn received the Crown’s Letters Patent giving his foundation legal approval, finally arrives, matters are almost certainly not as the Founder would have wished. As it was originally constituted, the College of God’s Gift meant an almshouse for six poor men and six poor women and a school for twelve poor boys. As we move towards the celebratory year of 2019 we find that, while the numbers of almspeople in residence has risen by just two individuals to 14, the number of boys (and now girls) whose education is partially subsidized by the Dulwich Estate has risen from the original 12 to over 7,000.
How has such a state of affairs been reached? By the mid-nineteenth century the College of God’s Gift was offering a poor education to its twelve pupils despite its vast increase in wealth over three centuries and had become a self-serving institution of Trollopean dimensions. Following widespread criticism, the original foundation was dissolved by Parliament in 1855 and relaunched two years later. It was headed by a board of nineteen governors comprising some experts in the field of education including the Revd William Rogers who had impressed the Prince Consort when he served on the committee set up after the Great Exhibition to maintain its legacy.
Even this reform was inadequate to satisfy the competing demands on the Foundation’s wealth and between 1880-2 some seven or eight new draft schemes were published. William Rogers had been influential in the Charity Commission’s deliberations and his proposals to create new schools or support established schools in those London parishes which formed the original Foundation were accepted.
As readers will be no doubt be aware, the 1882 Act also established a separate board of governors (now called Trustees) to administer the Dulwich Estate in order to generate funds for the Foundation of which the educational side now had the lion’s share. Undoubtedly those schools were needed at the time, as of course they still are, but the huge imbalance caused to Edward Alleyn’s original aims has taken on almost grotesque proportions. In the past 20 years the educational side of the charity has shared capital sums of £54million and the latest annual apportionment has been £6million..
Today, the need for well-run care homes for the elderly has reached a critical stage, one could argue that this need is as great as that of providing schools was in the nineteenth century. It is time for the Dulwich Estate Trustees to carefully examine the present unfair distribution of income and for the eleemosynary branch of the Foundation to have a greater share of the Estate’s wealth and expand in this field. A debate on this topic is now timely and the Board of Trustees of the Dulwich Estate have a duty to address it.