It is a huge pity that the present severe economic climate is causing the leaseholders of two of Dulwich’s largest playing fields complexes to announce that they are to cease to use their pavilions and sports grounds, especially as 2012 has been designated The Year of the Playing Fields to mark HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The Dulwich Society has learned that Kings College, University of London is to abandon the Griffin Sports Club Ground in Dulwich Village at the end of August, the staff made redundant and the fields fenced off and left fallow, the pavilion boarded up. Although the manager of the clubhouse had put together a number of business plans to run the site these had been rejected by Kings. The ground adjoins the Velodrome site which itself has an uncertain future. Apparently it is the same story at the University of the South Bank ground in Turney Road although there no date for closure has yet been announced.
Perhaps we should not be surprised, after all circumstances change. One suspects a similar mood of despair hung over Dulwich residents in the last decades of the nineteenth century when these same fields ceased to be planted with crops or used for grazing. Quite soon after however, paternalistic banks and firms leased the land for their staff’s benefit with the aim of promoting both esprit de corps and physical fitness. When a century later their employees began to take an interest in D.I.Y and buying a car with their improved wages and their enthusiasm for company- led sports declined, then not unnaturally, the firms closed down the grounds.
This fortunately coincided with a number of schools wanting more sports facilities and the take up was swift - witness the recent replacement of Lloyds Register sports ground by DCPS in Gallery Road or Alexander Howden & Company’s ground by Dulwich College in College Road.
So what is the next phase? It is possible that the Griffin Club grounds might be used by the Charter School or Dulwich Hamlet School but only if their budgets can meet it or their PTA’s are strong enough. The South Bank ground in Turney Road could conceivably be used by the new Academy in Elmcourt Road, again if their budget allows. A second riding school in Dulwich might be an option, or, as elsewhere in this issue as Adrian Hill reminds us, there is a two year wait for allotments so perhaps this is a possibility, although most might agree, that ascetically the jumble of allotments cannot match the appearance of greensward. Perhaps then the answer lies with keeping them as playing fields. There is a huge demand for football pitches for young people and South London is woefully short of providing space for them. How one matches this demand with a regulated supply is more difficult. What is needed is responsible and motivated adults prepared to run the clubs and grounds.
Adrian Hill has also highlighted another matter in this Journal; the unacceptable level of what is termed ‘the night-time economy’ which is blighting the lives of residents who live near Herne Hill. There is an element of ‘own goal’ about this issue. Twenty-four hour drinking was introduced by Dulwich’s own Member of Parliament, Tessa Jowell, when she was Culture Secretary. The ground landlord of two of the offending premises is the Dulwich Estate. The Estate says it is powerless to act as the offending premises are let to sub-tenants.
Speedy action seems to be required. Tabling an amendment by the former and going through the terms of the head leases by the latter. Residents should also wake themselves up as Adrian makes clear. The alternative is likely to be a fall in the price of houses in affected roads.
Over the last few years the pressure on Dulwich’s unique semi rural character has continued to grow. Residents’ aspirations have changed and what was previously considered to be an acceptable size of house to bring up a family seems to be no longer the case. There is a continuing demand for extensions, playrooms, cinemas and mini-gymnasiums, often in the basement. Indeed, several basements have been dug in roads which have a well documented history of flooding - an unwise move perhaps, and one can only hope that the owners have told their insurers.
The Society keeps a watchful eye on the situation through the Dulwich Estate Scheme of Management and Southwark Council, but it does seem that some new residents, and some older ones as well, do not seem to fully appreciate the benefits of living in Dulwich - it is not just the schools, the Park and the proximity to Central London, it is the whole atmosphere - the trees, the open spaces and the architecture.
Frank Dixon Way is a case in point - historically it had medium sized house on large plots - so the character of the area was as much the gaps between the houses as the houses themselves. Some residents have extended their houses on both sides to their boundaries - can’t they see that before long, the road will just be a wall of building and the character will be lost?
But it is not just about architecture it is also about neighbourliness. The number of applications where house owners don’t even have the courtesy to tell their neighbours in advance is surprising - but it is also the lack of thought on how extensions might impact upon neighbours - not just on views that they may have enjoyed for many years, but also the impact of the actual work - the inconvenience and the disturbance.
A recent incident illustrates the point. A resident decided to install a ground water source heat pump (on the face of it an environmentally positive move) - but it required drilling two large boreholes on his property. All of a sudden several neighbours and those living opposite were faced with considerable noise and vibration for a week, large plant parked on the pavements and, to cap it all, the contractor managed to drill through the sewer in the front garden which meant that several neighbours’ drains backed up - not very thoughtful.
Nobody is forced to live in Dulwich, if you want a huge house it may be that this is the wrong place to come. Please think about why you like Dulwich and what the impact of your proposals might be, and particularly think about your neighbours.
Mary Boast died on 21 June 2010 at the age of 88. She was the author of The Story of Dulwich (1975, revised 1990), the second in the series of neighbourhood histories published by Southwark Libraries. After moving from Peckham Rye in the mid-1980s to Ruskin Park House, Champion Hill, Mary joined the Dulwich Society’s Local History sub-committee of which she remained a stalwart member until 2004.
Mary was born in Hove in 1921 and studied history at Royal Holloway College, Egham during the Second World War. After training as a teacher in Oxford and working in schools for a few years, she decided to become a librarian. Mary joined the Library Association in 1948 and qualified as a chartered librarian in 1951, remaining a member all her life. Her first posts were in Brighton and Cheltenham but in 1954 she was appointed a branch librarian in Camberwell. She soon became interested in the history of the borough, which included Dulwich, writing and giving talks on the area. When Camberwell was amalgamated with Bermondsey and Southwark in 1965 to form the London Borough of Southwark, she was based in Dulwich Library working on local history and friendship links with other towns. She began writing well researched and popular booklets for the council; the first in a constant flow were Southwark: a London Borough (1969) and The Mayflower and Pilgrim Story (1970).
In 1972, Mary was appointed Southwark’s first full-time Local Studies Librarian, then based in the Southwark Room, in Newington Library. Very different local history collections from the three former boroughs were brought together with archives from various town halls and greatly added to by Mary with copies of local maps, newspapers and records from other sources as well as photographs which she commissioned of all Southwark’s streets. Fortunately, space originally intended for a Library of Elizabethan Theatre became available in the new John Harvard Library, Borough High Street and much of the local collection was moved there in 1978. Demands on the service increased dramatically, particularly from family historians and local schools. At a time when council services were expanding, she was able to increase the staff and appoint a full-time archivist, the post held by Stephen Humphrey from 1980 until this year.
Mary’s teaching experience and recognition of the value of local history in schools led her to write the series of neighbourhood histories for which she is best known. Before retiring in 1981, she wrote five, from Camberwell (1973) to Rotherhithe (1980); that for Peckham was written by John Beasley. Written originally with young people in mind, they have proved so successful for all ages that they have been revised and kept in print ever since. Mary’s swansong for Southwark was to organize the major exhibition in 1981 at the South London Art Gallery on Herne Hill’s most celebrated resident, John Ruskin. She also compiled the catalogue, but, in typically modest fashion, failed to acknowledge herself as the author.
In retirement, Mary remained just as active, giving talks, writing two new neighbourhood histories, Borough and Bankside, and revising others - Camberwell for the fifth time in 2000 and Walworth for the fourth time in 2005. In the 1980s, she wrote notes for the Alan Godfrey editions of old Ordnance Survey maps, including East Dulwich and Peckham Rye, and a short history of St. Giles’ Church, Camberwell. In 1991, she wrote a history of the church, St John the Evangelist, Goose Green, of which she had been a devout member for many years. She never married but dedicated the major part of her long life to serving the local community, services which were recognized in 1994 when she was granted the Freedom of the London Borough of Southwark. She was much loved and widely respected for her encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of the area as well as for the generosity and enthusiasm with which she shared it with others. She died in King’s College Hospital and donated her brain to the hospital for medical research. A large congregation, including the Mayor, attended her funeral at St. John’s on 5th July.
Bernard Nurse and Stephen Humphrey.
The Dulwich Society Commemorates the Sign of the Red Post
The Dulwich Society, in conjunction with The Herne Hill Society will unveil a red-painted fingerpost in front of Herne Hill United Church at the top of Red Post Hill on Saturday October 2nd at 11.am. Everyone is invited to attend. The new fingerpost will replicate ‘the cross of direction’ named the Red Post, which stood nearby, from at least the middle of the eighteenth century to around 1840 and which gave its name to Red Post Hill early in the nineteenth century; originally the road had been called Aspole Lane, probably meaning Ashpole, and is mentioned Dulwich’s fourteenth century Court Rolls.
The Red Post, then standing of the middle of the road now named HerneHill/Denmark Hill, was marked on maps and in the text of guide books to the environs of London. Fingerposts began to appear in England after 1697 when legislation enabled magistrates to order directional signs to be put up at cross-highways. There is a tradition that red-painted fingerposts (which still exist in small numbers in the West Country) marked the route to prisons for convicts sentenced to transportation.
The new red fingerpost, which was awarded a Dulwich Community Council grant, will also have an explanatory plaque.
On the following day, Sunday October 3rd at 2.30pm the Local History Group, which researched and proposed the Red Post, is to hold an Edward Alleyn and the Bankside Walk starting at Southwark Cathedral where Alleyn was a church warden, at 3pm. The walk will then proceed to the remains of the Rose Theatre owned by Philip Henslowe, Alleyn’s father in law and which featured so prominently in the film Shakespeare in Love. It is hoped that Harvey Sheldon, the archaeologist who discovered the site of the Rose Theatre will be available to talk about it. The walk will also visit the sites of the Bear Garden and the Globe.
Southwark Cathedral can be reached by train from North Dulwich Station to London Bridge. The walk is free of charge and members and friends are warmly invited.
Some local residents have voiced concern about foxes in Dulwich Park and their own gardens. Here are some tips for avoiding problematic inter-species encounters. Non-lethal deterrent strategies are the answer, incidentally, not culling - see the statement from Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) below for reasons why.
Firstly, take a good look around your local “territory” (garden, patio, back yard) and see what lies within that could attract a fox to visit. Bear in mind that any creatures living “wild” will be looking for the same things - water, nutrition and shelter from the elements and from enemies. Foxes aren’t, by nature, nocturnal, as their physiology shows, but tend to forage by night as a result of centuries of human persecution.
Do you have a pond or other fresh water that an animal would want to drink from (especially during this last summer’s bouts of extreme heat)? You may wish to make access a little harder if you don’t want foxes as regular callers, e.g. put in a prickly vegetation surround, wobbly stones, etc., in much the same way you might protect pond fish from cat or heron predators. But do be sure to still provide access to fresh drinking water for the birds (and any hedgehogs you may be lucky enough to have in your area), by positioning water sources accordingly (e.g. suspended bird bath, small water dish under a low plank across two bricks).
Do you offer a fox a meal? You may not be deliberately feeding a local fox group, but inadvertently triggering their hunting and scavenging instincts by having in your garden an inadequately protected outdoor-living prey species, such as a pet rabbit or guinea pig (i.e. not housed in suitably tough galvanised metal caging or run that’s too heavy for a fox to lift. It would need to be underwired below the soil to a distance far enough for the pet not to be dug out). Perhaps there is uneaten cat food around, or spilt bird food. Any wild rodents using your garden or living in and around your premises will also be attracting foxes hunting for food. (The mice will have been raiding the spilt bird food first and the rats will have been chasing the mice...it’s amazing what goes on in the garden at night, when you’re not around ). If you are a keen gardener, be aware that certain fertilizers (blood, bonemeal, manure) will all attract foxes. They will dig into the treated soil because their ultra-keen sense of smell will be telling them - falsely - that tasty carrion lies buried below. All members of the dog family routinely “cache” (hide/bury) surplus prey as a kind of wildlife larder.
Has your garden got the ideal spot to shelter a breeding earth? Foxes will lie up under any vegetation, or sunbathe on flat roofs, and rotate their open-air sleeping quarters, but pregnant vixens usually seek out a dry, secluded spot (e.g. under a garden shed) which offers a ready-made roof and protection from predators (such as an unneutered tom cat or inquisitive family pet dog) who might kill and eat her cubs. So block off such zones if you don’t want fox cubs in your garden.
Damage and soiling problems in gardens are usually the result of young foxes practise digging (which uproots your treasured plants in the process), “playing” to hone their hunting and other survival skills in adulthood, or of territorial marking with faeces or urine which has been impregnated with oily pheronome-rich excretions to send signals to other mammals. Faeces are often placed deliberately to act as visual, as well as scented, markers. Many deterrence methods exploit this - for instance, using dog (male or female) urine can be highly effective in telling a visiting fox that a bigger, fiercer animal has already tagged the territory as their own, so the intruder had better beat it. Human urine is also a good deterrent - but for hormonal reasons, it must be male.
Other methods rely on the scarecrow effect - lights, noises, vibrations, jets of water, etc. But any unexpected object, even one as simple as a large plastic container in the middle of the garden, will put a fox off - until the animal has got used to its presence and no longer views it with suspicion. Then you can find an alternative objet trouve and place it in a new site.
Foxes, like other wild British mammals, are protected by law against cruel treatment and also against the use of poisons and illegal traps or snares. Interestingly, polls have shown that 80 per cent of Londoners like seeing foxes in their neighbourhood. In a recent statement, Defra have said: ”Recent events have heightened public concern about urban foxes, however, attacks of this kind are extremely rare and we have no records of any other such attacks in recent years. In light of this, we have no plans to carry out a government-led cull of foxes...
“Previous attempts to kill urban foxes to achieve a sustained population reduction have not been successful in the long-term because of the mobility of foxes and their ability to produce offspring in large numbers; territories made vacant by culling resident foxes are rapidly colonised by new individuals. The most effective strategies to resolve fox problems have primarily relied on non-lethal methods, focusing on preventative and deterrent strategies. The availability of food is likely to be a key factor in limiting urban fox populations.”
Dulwich Park Friends and Southwark Council are, incidentally, currently taking measures to tackle the problem of scattered litter in the park, which has triggered calls for better fox control. Solutions focus on providing bigger, fitter-for-purpose litter containers at weekends. However, Journal readers are invited to suggest humane control measures to tackle the behaviour of the two-legged park-users who leave uneaten food waste, used nappies and other debris in the environment. Perhaps such items are really ancient territorial scent-mark signals we have forgotten how to read?
Chair, Wildlife Committee