It is no coincidence that so many local people have been on various campaign trails in recent months (or in one case, years). It is the result of a rising frustration that events are moving very fast,the familiar isd disappearing or is under threat and the sense of stability is shaken. People are feeling themselves increasingly powerless against forces over which they have little or no control. Yet, there is a large percentage of society who feel equally powerless and frustrated for another reason.
The oldest campaign, which only reached a conclusion in April, was, very belatedly, a success story. This was final agreement by the Dulwich Estate to lease the site of Beechgrove and its grounds, which formerly stood on Sydenham Hill, to the London Wildlife Trust. This will enable the Trust to incorporate the site (which has reverted to woodland) into Sydenham Hill Wood which it already operates. The campaign to prevent the site from being covered with housing (the plan was to build somewhere in the region of 30 houses) was orchestrated by the Dulwich Society’s Trees Committee under the leadership of the late Stella Benwell, who successfully argued that building permission should be refused and it should remain as woodland. The planning inspector agreed with her. Now, twenty years later, this has, at last, been guaranteed.
Elsewhere you will read in this issue that other groups of concerned residents have banded together to preserve well loved amenities such as the Carnegie Library, the Herne Hill Velodrome and Metropolitan Open Land in Greendale. In former times, the local council might have been expected to intervene on their behalf, now it seems, the local authority is often part of the problem.
The involvement of local authorities in matters like libraries and open space was, of course, as a result of Victorian pressure groups, similar to those springing up today. While philanthropists like Alexander Carnegie or John Passmore Edwards provided new buildings to house libraries in many towns, the books themselves were usually gathered long before by concerned groups or individuals. At the Herne Hill Velodrome, run for many years by the London County Council and later by Southwark Council, there is a similar story, the velodrome was started by individual effort and later taken over by the local authority. In the case of Greendale, the council are actually the owners of the land.
The organizers of these recent campaigns, as well as the demonstration against the closure of local shops in Herne Hill, reported in a previous issue, have successfully used social media to get their messages across and to raise support. On the other hand a large percentage of the population, generally the elderly find themselves increasingly excluded from much of daily life because of a reluctance to embrace the new technology.
As we have previously observed, the internet is affecting the pattern of retail trade to such an extent that only service businesses not affected by online shopping such as hairdressers, cleaners, restaurants and take-aways are able to pay the rents being demanded by landlords and now make up most local shopping parades. This has been the example at Herne Hill which led to that local protest being staged.
It should be no surprise that 40% of the Dulwich Society’s membership has not signed up to receive an online news bulletin. This same number is almost certainly reflected nationally. Many older people now feel excluded from events because either they do not trust or cannot grasp the internet’s use. They decline to operate online banking for fear of fraud, preferring instead a friendly and trusted face at their local bank. Now that local banks are closing down even this comfort is removed. The deniers of online blame the internet for destroying their personal freedom. Although the Grim Reaper will eventually remove such objections, they may indeed be valid.
It is therefore not surprising that protests and campaigns are breaking out as all this frustration seeks an outlet. In his Chairman’s Comment, Ian McInnes outlines the arguments in yet another campaign, one which would make an excellent model as a question at a Civil Service exam. Interestingly it also pits the young against the elderly. Should the grounds attached to the new Judith Kerr School in Half Moon Lane be used as a playspace for the children or the site of a replacement almshouse to Edward Alleyn House which is considered by its trustees as failing to meet current standards?
The Dulwich Almshouse Charity is proposing to build a new almshouse building in the land fronting Half Moon Lane near the junction with Village Way. Originally leased in the 1960s by King’s College London as its botany school, the buildings on the site were last used as the Sir James Black Laboratory. The site has been empty for some time and the CfBT Schools Trust (now the Educational Development Trust) approached King’s to assign its lease to allow the site to be used for a new bi-lingual school free school - the Judith Kerr Primary School (JKPS). As the lease had less than 50 years to run the Education Funding Authority (EFA) who funded the purchase of the assignment asked for it to be extended for a longer period, 125 years.
In its negotiation with the Dulwich Estate the CfBT agreed that it would surrender part of the site previously leased to Kings (the open area north east of the old laboratory building) in return for a new 125 year lease on the remainder. For its part the Estate agreed to make a planning application for the surrendered part of the site by the end of 2018. If this was successful, the future of the School was assured under a 125 year lease. If the application was unsuccessful the whole site reverted to the school at the end of the current lease, in 2062.
The Dulwich Estate’s view is that the proposed application by The Dulwich Almshouse Charity to build new almshouses on the open site is in line with the legal agreement between CfBT and the Estate and that CfBT opened the new school in the full knowledge of its agreement to surrender part of the site. In its planning application to regularise the school use on the site in May 2014 the supporting statement says that “This open grassed area has been retained by Dulwich Estates”.
The counter argument from the school’s parents, who were unaware of the terms of the original legal agreement, is that the disputed open space is an integral part of the school and that to take it away and build on it is unreasonable.
The situation is complicated by two things. The first is the principle of the proposed development which relocates the historic almshouses (which fail to meet modern standards) from the site of the Old College, and the implied political discussion over the benefits for old people versus the young. The second is the current consultation over the new Southwark Plan. In 2007, when the building on the site was empty, the approved plan designated the whole of the school site land as a ‘development site’. In the first draft of the New Southwark Plan (published in 2014), the site was still earmarked as a 'potential site for development' and this was only amended following parents, and some local residents, challenging the designation and requesting protection for the playground. The current draft of the new plan identifies the site as ‘Other Open Space’ which cannot be built other than in exceptional circumstances. The parents view is that the development potential of the site was realised when the site was taken over by the CfBT Trust as a free school.
Parents have now set up the Judith Kerr Primary School Green Space Campaign to seek the retention of the site as a playground for the school. Pointing out that the removal of the open space would severely restrict opportunities for play and sport for the school children, it also notes that, even including the playground, the school still only has less than half the Department of Education’s recommended minimum external space for P.E and play, which would fall to 19% of the site area without the playground. It contrasts this with the Dulwich Estate’s three local beneficiary schools (Alleyn’s School, Dulwich College and James Allen’s Girls’ School) whose extensive playing fields enjoy Metropolitan Open land protection. They consider it inequitable that this protection should not also be afforded to the Judith Kerr School and are looking to the Dulwich Estate to recognise that physical education is no less important for JKPS children than for the pupils at its beneficiary schools.
Visit to Nymans and Sheffield Park - Tuesday 21st June
Our ever-popular annual coach outing will be to Nymans and Sheffield Park in Sussex. Full details and an application form are set out in the Dulwich Gardens open for Charity brochure, and also on www.dulwichsociety.com/garden-group . All are welcome. At the time of going to press, there are just a few places left for the outing.
City Gardens walk - Wednesday 13th July
We have arranged a City Gardens walk with Marion Blair, a horticulturist and official guide for the Corporation of London specializing in the gardens and green spaces in the City. We will visit some ten gardens, including a private wildlife garden and Nigel Dunnett’s newly planted Beech Gardens in the Barbican, Rebecca Louise Law’s hanging garden installation, Evershed’s rooftop vegetable garden, the Barber Surgeons’ herb garden and the Goldsmiths’ prize-winning garden. The walk will last about 2 hours and cover some 2 miles.
The tour costs £10 a head. All are welcome but places are limited and must be pre-booked - please complete and return the form on page *.
Meet outside Barbican underground station, 10.30am for 10.45am start.
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We have set up a Twitter account @DulwichGarden to publicise local garden events.
Beechgrove - Dulwich Woods
Members with long memories will recall the Society’s fight to prevent development on the site of Beechgrove House on Sydenham Hill. The Dulwich Estate has now confirmed that it has agreed to lease the site to the London Wildlife Trust to expand the area of the Sydenham Hill woods under its management. This is good news, although some might think that almost a quarter of a century is a long time for the future of the site to remain in limbo. However, limbo is just what the land, which was once formed the extensive gardens of the house where King George V1 received therapy for his speech defect from Lionel Logue, requires to revert to woodland once again.
Cycling Quietway 7: Now that the Mayoral and London Assembly elections are over, the final proposals should be available at the next Dulwich Community Council meeting. There was an online petition against the scheme and the Society sent a comprehensive response setting out residents’ concerns over the potential impact of the plans on pedestrian safety.
Double Yellow Lines in Dulwich: Surprise proposals for the blanket introduction of yellow lines at 126 junctions in and around Dulwich were discussed at the Dulwich Community Council in March. Criticism over the lack of initial consultation forced a temporary halt so that all stakeholders could be properly briefed. A low-key consultation was held during April but, whatever the outcome, it seems clear that the Council intends to push forward with its proposal very soon.
Loss of Community Council powers: The Society has raised concerns about rumoured plans to centralise Traffic Management issues in Tooley Street and away from local scrutiny at the Community Council. Ward Councillors are currently being consulted but it seems to us that residents should also be asked for their views
The Generosity of Mary Boast
Mary Boast died on 21 June 2010 at the age of 88 and an obituary by Bernard Nurse and Stephen Humphreys was published in the Journal. In April, this year, the Society received a cheque from her estate to the value of £10,000. This was a complete surprise but perhaps typical of Mary who was a quiet and modest lady. She was particularly well known for her series of neighbourhood histories published by Southwark Council. Mary was a member of the Dulwich Society’s Local History Group from the 1980’s
It is with deep regret that we also record the death in recent weeks of Hilary Rosser, a former member of the Local History Group, and also of Jill Manuel who served for many years as a knowledgeable member of the Trees Group and who succeeded Stella Benwell as its chairman.
Dulwich Library Receives Listed Status
Ian McInnes reports
As part of their ongoing thematic listing review on public libraries, Historic England listed the Dulwich Library on Lordship Lane at Grade II on 17 March. Describing the building as an accomplished design by a notable architect, they drew attention to its varied elevations, good decorative features and well-crafted brick and stone. They were also impressed by the survival of the original butterfly plan, and most of the fittings and original room divisions. The only change from the original design was the reconstruction of the single-storey wing. to the west of the main entrance, as two floors in 1950 - following bomb damage in WW2.
Designed in 1896 in ‘Elizabethan Revival’ style by Charles Barry and Son (architects of the new Dulwich College), it was one of 24 libraries funded by wealthy benefactor John Passmore Edwards at the end of the nineteenth century. He was a successful journalist and had made large sums of money as the publisher of the Builder Magazine and the Echo newspaper. Like his sometime friend, and fellow wealthy benefactor, Andrew Carnegie, he believed in education for all via access to free libraries. He gave £75,000 to the project and requested that the library should also be a memorial to Edward Alleyn, the famous actor manager and founder of Dulwich College. The site, on the edge of the Dulwich Estate, was donated by his charity, Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift.
When opened the building had a lending library containing 20,000 books, storage facilities for an additional 17,500 volumes, a large news room, and a reading room to accommodate about 100 readers. It originally operated on a closed access system where books could be selected from a catalogue and retrieved by staff for viewing - open access libraries where you chose a book on a shelf followed later.
The famous actor, Sir Henry Irving, laid the foundation stone in October 1896. As well as Passmore Edwards himself, others at the ceremony included Councillor Matthew Wallace, chairman of the Camberwell Vestry, and Sir J Blundell Maple, Dulwich’s MP. Responding to a vote of thanks, Irving quoted Sheridan saying "A library in a town is an ever-green tree of diabolical knowledge" and went on to say how “London was in process of being furnished to its remotest suburbs with fine libraries . . . . .the mechanism for good which public libraries afforded was of incalculable value, and the influence on the race exercised by these beneficent institutions must be vast, especially as their use became the help of the young at the library, would give intellectual food and comfort to thousands yet unborn.”
Carnegie Library campaign
As members will know, there has been a determined public effort to stop the Carnegie Library, operated by Lambeth Council, from closing, purportedly to change its use by combining a reduced library service with a commercially run gym. The protest became a sit-in which in turn became a sleep-in occupying several days and achieving maximum national publicity. It focused attention on Lambeth’s policy of reducing its library facilities with the additional closure of the Minet Library.
According to Lambeth Council’s statement - the borough needs to cut £4m from its cultural service budget by 2018 as part of the overall need to reduce council spending by at least £90m. This means the budget available for the borough’s parks, sports, the arts and libraries will be cut from £10.5m to £6.5m. Lambeth, which has ten libraries states that although one library will be closed (Waterloo) it will reopen in an interim space (Oasis Hub Waterloo) pending a new building; two will be re-purposed into gyms with a limited book service (including the Carnegie) and the Upper Norwood library building will expand its range of community uses - the library service run jointly with Croydon will continue as now in the building . In addition, West Norwood Library is closed for refurbishment and is currently operating from another building in Knights Hill.
Dulwich Society member Glynis Williams reports:
“The occupiers left the library to great applause from the crowd, which must have been in the thousands. Many local families with their children (and dogs) marched, as well as political and union groups. The march to Lambeth Town Hall took up the whole road, so traffic in both directions was stopped by the police. The Carnegie librarians were there under the Unison banner, as well as many Carnegie library users.”
Dulwich Society’s secretary, Sue Badman, suggests that Lambeth Council could have handled the whole affair better, as it was they lost the PR war. “These days you access the library and order the books you need online - either physical books or e-books for collection at your local library, or indeed DVDs & CDs. On the other hand, there is a big demand for study spaces and access to reference books at most libraries so it makes sense to change the way libraries operate as entities to reflect these changed needs.”
Other members however, might prefer to browse books on shelves and indeed may not be comfortable with being obliged to conduct their affairs online.
In Southwark, the situation is rather more promising with the refurbishment of Dulwich Library and the opening of a new library at Camberwell Green. At Grove Vale, East Dulwich, planning permission has been granted to rebuild the Grove Vale Library on a larger site next to East Dulwich Station. Southwark’s new Canada Water library is now the second busiest in London. There are also plans to open a community hub and library as part of the Aylesbury Estate which will replace the existing East Street Library. Southwark has twelve public libraries operating and one local history resource at the John Harvard Library in Borough High Street.
The South London Botanical Institute (SLBI) has just received £99,600 towards its project the restoration of their historic herbarium. The Institute, based in Tulse Hill, has been awarded the grant for an exciting project, ‘Plant recording for all ages’, which will bring the herbarium up-to-date, make it accessible to all and enable visitors to use it for a range of activities. The project will start in May 2016 and will take place over the next two years.
The herbarium at the Institute contains around 100,000 pressed plant specimens, some of them about 200 years old. They are all housed in the original cabinets designed by the Institute’s founder over 100 years ago. The new project will help to conserve these fragile specimens and install digital interpretation facilities so that visitors can view them online. The Institute will also widen its range of already popular educational activities for school children, adults and young people to complement the refurbishments.
The SLBI was founded in 1910 by Allan Octavian Hume, a dedicated social reformer, with the aim of bringing botany to the working people of south London. This aim continues today, with people from local communities and further afield able to explore the plant world, enjoy the botanic garden and library and participate in a wide range of activities for all ages and levels of ability.
Commenting on the award, Marlowe Russell, SLBI Trustee, said: “We are delighted to have received further support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. We have already made huge developments at the Institute using their last grant and are looking forward to updating our herbarium so that visitors have even more to enjoy and learn about when they come here.”
Stuart Hobley, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund London, said: “Rare flowers, strange fungus, not to mention thistles and moss… the historic plant collections of the South London Botanical Institute are home to fascinating examples of our botanic heritage. Many of these are beautiful, extraordinary and intriguing but also very fragile. Thanks to Lottery players, our grant will use digital technology to help many more people access and enjoy these remarkable plant specimens.”
About the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
The SLBI was founded in 1910 by Allan Octavian Hume, with the aim of bringing botany to the working people of south London. Hume was a servant of the British Raj, a founding member of the Indian National Congress in 1885 and a dedicated social reformer. He bought the1860s Victorian house and converted it for his purposes early in the twentieth century, installing the library and herbarium and laying out the garden. The herbarium cabinets were designed by Hume, are still in use and contain plant specimens dating back as far as 1802. The garden has evolved and now has a thriving pond, particularly popular with our visiting school children.
The SLBI is open to the public on Thursdays 10am-4pm, for frequent and varied events and activities and by appointment (subject to volunteer availability).
It runs a wide-ranging botanical and environmental programme of educational and social activities for many ages and levels of knowledge. SLBI collections are used for research and are online at Herbaria@Home. SLBI and its collections help understanding about botanical collecting and how botanical discoveries fuelled developments in medicine and agriculture as well as generating income. Elements of the collections are presently contributing to external academic research programmes.
SLBI 323 Norwood Road SE24 9AQ, near Tulse Hill Station Open Thursdays 10-4