Sometimes the moment change becomes necessary is when some matter or incident, possibly minor in itself, takes on special importance by being a tipping-point, turning-point or other form of catalyst. The foundation of The Dulwich Society was such a case. Forty seven years ago the choice by a developer of a particularly garish shade of yellow paint applied to a well-loved building was the tipping-point rather than the all the high-flown rhetoric of the burgeoning civic movement of the day.
The building in question was the one in the Village now shared by Café Rouge and Pizza Express. Previously it had been a hairdresser’s and a boutique although years before that it had functioned as a butcher’s shop; a lingering allusion to that former role remains, the canopy in front. Actually the building which caused all the fuss was not even the original one. That had become so dilapidated that the eighteenth century structure was pulled down and the present building erected in the same style in 1936. If you are curious as to what it originally looked like there is a a glimpse of it on page 26.
The fuss was caused, not because the building’s function was being changed from hairdressing to a restaurant, but because of the objectionable choice of its new colour scheme. It was merely by chance that this change of image in Dulwich’s most iconic thoroughfare, coincided with the growth of a new civic movement.
In Dulwich the need for a civic society was very apparent. Two large, very lovely and previously private estates had already been compulsorily purchased by the municipal authorities for housing purposes and a number of smaller ones had followed. The Dulwich Estate itself, anxious to increase its income, was developing a large number of sites, some previously occupied by a single house standing in a large garden, and erecting a new and popular form of private housing with minimal garden space - the townhouse,
The loss of so much open space as well as the disappearance of the familiar had a very unsettling influence and residents felt powerless to influence what was taking place. Nor was this phenomenon confined to Dulwich. So much change was occurring in the aftermath of the Second World War that the government itself encouraged a new civic movement and the formation of civic societies. Yet it was the appearance of a new coat of paint which triggered the formation of The Dulwich Society.
An important development in the new civic movement was the foundation of the Civic Trust Award in 1959; to encourage good design for new buildings by the granting of an award and a plaque with its now familiar triangular shaped logo. A Dulwich architectural practise has recently been awarded a Civic Trust Award as you will read in this issue.
The Civic Trust went on to represent the interests of some 700 local civic societies. Over time is it said to have lost its impetus and apart from the prestigious Civic Trust Award become irrelevant. Possibly as a consequence it lost much of its funding and was forced to close a year ago, although the Award itself has been preserved.
A new body is hoping to relaunch the Civic Trust and one of the instigators has given some information which has been reproduced in this issue. The matter is now being debated by the Dulwich Society. An important consideration is the likely cost of membership. A figure between £2-£3 per head has been indicated. If the Society was to fund this out of its current annual subscription it would seriously curtail the many uses this sum is put towards each year; possibly undermining the effectiveness of the Dulwich Society itself.
Following the Public Meeting with the Dulwich Estate in September, the Society had a follow up meeting where some progress was made regarding our proposal to make the Scheme of Management applications, and results, available to everyone via the Estate’s website. Hopefully this information will be in the public domain shortly.
The Society is also pressing the Estate to make sure that the Post Office remains in the Village and we have been assured that they are keen to keep it, whether with the current tenant or a new one.
There is no definitive news on the empty shop in Dulwich Village although we now know that it will not be let to Oxfam, and the Estate has advised us that they have had some serious interest from other parties. Regrettably, there are now two empty units in West Dulwich where the ‘Wine Rack’ has closed, as a result of their parent company going into receivership, and the curtain shop has decided not to renew their lease.
The Society is keen to set up a small ‘shopping group’ to look more closely at the Dulwich Estate’s shop letting policy as outlined at the Public Meeting. If any member has relevant expertise in the legal or letting side of commercial retail, the chairman would be very keen to hear from you.
There has been some positive progress on the Herne Hill Velodrome. A meeting was held with the Velo Club de Londres (the current tenant), and the local residents’ association, to review VCdL’s current proposals and we are hopeful that a revised scheme and financial proposal will be sent to the Estate very soon. Also, at the recent meeting of the Advisory Group (the three times a year meeting between the Dulwich Estate and the Dulwich Society), the Society made it clear to the Estate that we are looking for them to take a more proactive stance to resolve the current impasse. There is concern that the track is starting to deteriorate (it has not been maintained since it was built in 1990) and there is a real possibility that, if money is not spent soon, the track may become unusable and the site will have to close. This would be a bad outcome for users, the Estate, and their beneficiaries, as no viable use means no rent and thus no income.
The Society has been watching with interest the draft proposals to set up a new version of the Civic Trust (see the following article). We have two major concerns, whether we actually need a centralised ‘managing bureaucracy’, given that we can easily contact each other by email, and the suggested costs - which for many societies will be around 30% of their income (compared with a fee of £100 per society previously). We have been liaising with other local amenity societies and will have attended a meeting in February where supporters of the proposal will be putting forward their case to us.
Dulwich College Archives online
The most important archive relating to the birth of the English theatre is owned by Dulwich College and may now be studied free of charge online. The archive, which was previously only accessible to scholars, includes Philip Henslowe’s diary (all 476 pages). The diary is a valuable source of information of box office receipts, lists of plays, details of theatre design and a minutiae of other theatrical source material. Philip Henslowe was Edward Alleyn’s father-in- law and business partner and was the owner of the Rose Theatre on Bankside.
The archive, which comprises two thousand documents, also includes the only surviving contemporary actor’s script from the Shakespearean period as well as a list of theatrical properties owned by Edward Alleyn. Also available for study are numerous letters, playbills and other documents relating to the Elizabethan stage.
The archive was digitalised by a team from King’s College, London and Reading University under the direction of Professor Grace Ioppolo and made possible with a grant of £70,000 from charitable trusts. The process was done in high-resolution photography, allowing users to considerably enlarge the images for clarity. Professor Ioppolo said “Most of what historians know about the invention of the English professional theatre comes from the evidence in the Henslowe and Alleyn papers”.
To view the archive go to Henslowe-alleyn.org.uk One word of caution - you will need palaeography skills to read some of the documents.
The Charter School
One of the foremost nineteenth century landscape gardeners was Edward Milner (1819-1884) who lived at 1 Fountain Drive, a house which has only recently been reoccupied after a number of years of vacancy and neglect.
Milner, who was born in Derby, had been employed at Chatsworth, where he was apprenticed to Chatsworth’s head gardener, Joseph Paxton. After studying in Paris he became Paxton’s assistant, laying out the Italian Garden at Tatton Hall, Cheshire which had been designed by Paxton. When Paxton re-erected The Crystal Palace at Sydenham, Milner was appointed superintendent of works.
Thereafter, for some years, Milner pursued a distinguished independent career, amongst which was the design of two parks near Preston. In 1881 he became principal of the Crystal Palace School of Gardening, established by the Crystal Palace Company, a position he held until his death in 1884.
By coincidence, several years ago, the Dulwich architectural practise McChesney Architects won an RIBA competition to design a new pavilion for Avenham Park, Preston. The completed project is now the centrepiece of a Lottery funded scheme which restored two adjacent parks, Avenham and Miller Parks both designed by Edward Milner and opened in 1867. The new pavilion comprises a cloakroom, café, toilet facilities, ranger’s base and a small intimate performance space outside. It has recently been given a Civic Trust Award.
HM The Queen Diamond Jubilee
Now that the official announcement has been made that HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee will be celebrated in 2012 with an extended Bank Holiday on Monday June 4 and Tuesday June 5, perhaps it is the moment to consider whether the Jubilee should be marked in some way in Dulwich. The Dulwich Society undertook the restoration of the fountain in the Village for the Silver Jubilee but did not commemorate the Golden Jubilee. Members’ suggestions for ways to locally commemorate the occasion with the provision of a permanent memorial would be welcomed and should be sent to Patrick Spencer, Hon Secretary, 7 Pond Cottages, SE21 7LE.
36 Calton Avenue
In the last issue of the Journal, Sharon O’Connor described her experiences in tracing the history of her house and its occupants following a visit to the Dulwich Society’s House Detectives Day. Now another missing piece of her jigsaw has been supplied. Founder member June de Baerdemaecker has contacted Sharon to say that her grandmother once lived in the house and June was a regular visitor and was able to show photographs of her family taken in the garden.
Good Friday at the Herne Hill Velodrome
An opportunity to see potential British Olympic cyclists in action locally will occur on Good Friday 2nd April when the Southern Counties Cycling Union hold their annual meeting at the Velodrome in Burbage Road.
First held in 1903, the Good Friday Meeting is one of British Cycling’s great institutions. Originally it was arranged as a one-off event but was such a huge success that the track was booked for the following year. Apart from a brief break during World War 11 and a break in 2004 because of a clash with a World Cup event in Manchester it has run fairly consistently ever since.
There is always a chance for the public to see top national and international cyclists compete and the meeting has built up a portfolio of signature events that have seen the stars of the time. Among these events are the White Hope Sprint, the International Sprint and the 10 Minute Pursuit which attract the fastest riders and may give a preview of what to expect at the Olympics in 2012.
Name the Lane
At one of its regular meetings with the Dulwich Estate, the Dulwich Society has asked the Estate to properly name the footpath leading from College Road to Gallery Road. Over the years it has borne a number of names - Lovers’ Lane, Pensioners’ Walk, Grove Walk. Nor is the choice of a name the only problem. Mothers with buggies cannot negotiate the kissing gate at Gallery Road (surely its presence favours the first name!). On the other hand the Estate is reluctant to change the style of the gates as it might encourage cyclists or motor-cyclists to use this pleasant path.
Restore the Lamp?
Dulwich Society member Rosemary Dawson is keen that the ornate but know disused gas lamp outside the former Toll Gate Cottage is restored. The lamp standard is not the original one but probably an attractive Edwardian replacement This suggestion is an admirable one if the present house owner is agreeable.
Civic Trust’s Closure By Tony Burton
News of the Civic Trust’s closure in April 2009 came as a shock to civic societies across the country. A lot of work has been going on to fill the gap with something better, as Tony Burton from the Civic Society Initiative explains.
“Nowhere should be without its civic society and no-one should be without the voice you can provide.”
This was the message from the Prince of Wales to the Civic Societies National Convention in October and it resonated with the delegates from civic societies from every part of the country. Every civic society is part of something bigger. Every local issue is a national issue. Every local voice can be part of a national voice. Working together the civic society movement is one of the country’s unsung treasures and with over 1,000 local organisations and 250,000 members it is a force to be reckoned with.
The loss of the Civic Trust has left civic societies without a champion in the corridors of power and without the individual guidance and advice that can help each society flourish. With generous support from other national organisations like the National Trust and contributions from over 135 civic societies, the Civic Society Initiative was set up in June to help find a way forward. We have been debating and discussing what might happen and how it might be funded in public meetings, online debates and a major survey. In three months we involved over 800 societies and had face to face discussions with nearly 400 people. The conclusions were presented in a special report - Own the future - to the October convention which was the first gathering of civic societies for over 30 years.
It is clear that the country needs effective and influential civic societies now more than ever before. The effects of insensitive development, weak land use and transport planning and a lack of regard for heritage and the identity and character of the villages, towns, cities and neighbourhoods of England is diminishing them and all our lives. People also want more of a say but find themselves left out in the cold. The number of people who think they can influence local decisions has fallen from 44% to 39% in the last eight years. That is why local places need powerful champions to defend them, to celebrate their history and to shape their future.
It is also clear that civic societies need each other. Together we’re stronger is truism but no less true for that. The forces that shape your local area depend as much on national priorities, policy and funding as they do on local decisions. Working together we can reach places in the corridors of power that local action will never reach.
Civic societies are also looking for support and advice on how best to make a difference locally and to strengthen themselves with new volunteers and sources of funding. This includes support for clustering together more locally than the remote Government regions in some areas. There are already moves to have three clusters in the South East and cluster civic societies in Merseyside and around Wiltshire, Bath, Bristol and Gloucestershire. We know others are looking to work together more at a county level or around the potential of new “city-regions”.
As a result, there is an overwhelming call for a small new national body to lobby and campaign where it matters, raise the profile of the movement and provide civic societies with support and advice. It is also clear that people want this new body to be independent and to be focused on meeting the needs of civic societies. The Civic Trust closed because it became remote and dependent on Government funding which was switched elsewhere. The same cannot happen again. Each civic society will be asked to pay something like £2 or £3 per member to join and will have to decide where to raise these funds. We accept that this will be a challenge for a lot of societies. There are a number who have low membership rates. We recognise this and that there may be a need for a transition period. On the other hand some societies have already put up their membership fees in anticipation of the changes being introduced. Others recognise that they may not be valuing themselves and what they do by charging such low fees. We are interested in hearing your ideas about how we can fund the new body. What we do know is that we can’t expect to find support from elsewhere if we are to be independent. It will have strings attached and is in short supply.
The good news is that every member of civic societies which join will receive the offer of a free day access pass to any National Trust property. This is worth up to £14 and if you are already a member then you can use it to take a friend or relative who isn’t, so everyone can enjoy a good day out.
In a small way we hope the Civic Society Initiative has begun to give a taste of the benefits which could come - providing a website, two information bulletins, raising the media profile, securing the support of celebrities, building partnerships with nationally important organisations like English Heritage and the National Trust, helping civic societies get together, securing funding, launching the Street Pride campaign against street clutter, and lobbying on key issues such as the review of planning policy on the historic environment.
The wheels to set up the new national body are in motion. We hope to launch in April. By joining in your local voice will be stronger and you will be helping make every part of England a better place to live.
7-16 May 2010
Now in its eighteenth year, the Dulwich Festival once again promises musical treats, bracing walks, a feast of art and rip-roaring comedy to boot!
Radio 4 regular, Ian McMillan makes a special visit to the Festival to bring his own brand of wit and wisdom. He appears at All Saint’s Church on Thursday 13th May, with a band of lively musicians poised with fiddles, accordions, whistles and hurdy-gurdy for an evening of music and verse exploring subjects as diverse as a Russian heat-wave and a quarryman’s hardhat! Not to be missed!
The Festival will this year take us on an exploration of contemporary responses throughout the arts. Artists Open House will once again fling open the doors of many artists living and working throughout Dulwich. A series of new short plays will be presented upstairs at the Crown and Greyhound on Saturday 15th May whilst earlier in the Festival a number of leading poets will be presenting work in response to the Paul Nash exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Three excellent comics will also offer their own view of contemporary life again at the Crown and Greyhound on Friday 14th May.
A whole host of musical delights are in store including a visit by Baroque Encounter on Sunday 9th May to the Old Library at Dulwich College as they explore a musical view of Handel’s London. Early music for harpsichord and violin will also feature in the Cream Tea Crescendo on Friday 14th May at 4pm at St John’s Goose Green. Wigmore Hall regulars, Piano 4 Hands will bring their own brand of performance to JAGS Holst Hall on Wednesday 12th May at 7pm. You can kick off your heels for an evening of high-energy Ceroc at the Parish Hall on Saturday 15th May or catch the fun of the children’s concert earlier in the day at 11am at All Saint’s Church. The ever-popular Dulwich Ukelele Club will curate an evening of raucous musical fun on Saturday 8th May at the Magnolia, expect skiffle bands, dancing girls and a riotous show from this great big band with tiny, tiny guitars! As capacity is limited, do visit the website in early April to secure your seats for this and many other treats in store!