Have you heard the one about the Frenchman, the Pole, the Englishman and the Welsh woman? Well, if you haven’t, then in 2011 you certainly will. The lives and characters of these four players who between them, in life and death, created their remarkable benefaction in Dulwich, has all the ingredients of a play. A perfect four-hander. There’s the minor heiress, who is undoubtedly past it in looks, who elopes with a dodgy foreigner years younger than herself who suddenly develops an interest in art. What would the readers of Jane Austen have made of that? Throw in a young second rate artist with some connections with the Polish court who had such a paranoid sense of death that he leaves money so that he would not be buried underground. Lastly, for good measure, add a complex, self-made, ill-tempered architect who was so estranged from his two sons that he spread the story that one of them had been exchanged for a cad by his wet-nurse.
Stir this oddest of firm friendships with various turns of fate, such as a Russian invasion, an introduction to a peculiar and impoverished charity which had a near derelict picture gallery above a set of virtually uninhabitable bedrooms for its six female pensioners; spice it up with the scandal of a falling out with the Royal Academy over criticism of a living fellow architect during a lecture, and perhaps round it off with a world war in which the entire confection is blown sky-high. A true bombe surprise.
And there you would have a partial account of the wonderful institution we are privileged to have within our midst which, perhaps, sometimes, we take for granted. What keeps Dulwich Picture Gallery so alive, so vibrant, is not only the splendour of its collection or even the brilliance of the design of the Gallery itself; but the other aspects which continually stimulate interest and excitement – the changing and challenging exhibitions, a gallery so alive with children being exposed to art, often for the first time, the building almost pulsates enthusiasm, an adult programme of courses and lectures to stimulate interest amongst the crustiest of us, and of course a social centre without parallel, where, selfishly, we can enjoy countless entertainments without even stirring from Dulwich.
It is probably just as well that the Dulwich Picture Gallery receives no public funding for its support as it no doubt would, in its bicentenary year, be taking a 40% cut if it did. Instead it relies on other means, and this perhaps is the real secret of its success – its continual need to fight for its existence. And it fights extremely well.
The new coalition government talks positively about the ‘big society’ which, according to David Cameron at the last Tory Party Conference, is all about empowering communities, redistributing power and fostering a culture of volunteerism.
Some cynics may see this as a government ploy to save money but it seems that some Dulwich area residents think differently. They have taken the idea of local empowerment to heart and are working together to save the Herne Hill Velodrome - the home of cycling events in both the 1908 and 1948 Olympic Games.
Unfortunately it is now in a very run down condition and despite the valiant attempts of the current tenants, British Cycling and Velo Club de Londres, it is possible that it may have to close as there are insufficient funds to maintain the track. The ground landlord is the Dulwich Estate and it was let for many years to the GLC and, on its demise, to Southwark Council. The latter did secure funds to resurface the track in the early 1990s, but they did very little else, and were ejected from the site in 2003. British Cycling and the Velo Club de Londres took over the lease and have tried very hard to generate interest through cultivating programmes for local children and local schools.
Their low key approach has paid off as, just when it seemed that there was no real future, a group of local residents has come together and set up an active group to save it. A public meeting was held at Dulwich College on 6th October and over 600 people attended. A large amount of money was pledged by local residents and interested cyclists, underpinned by a generous grant from Southwark Council.
There is a positive feeling in the air and tremendous enthusiasm to go forward. It shows what can be done in a very short time with volunteers who are prepared to put in the effort. As I said in the last Journal, nobody is forced to live in Dulwich; these volunteers have thought why they like living in the area and have done something about it. They deserve our support.
The Mark Evison Foundation
Lt Mark Evison was shot while leading a British Army patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in May 2009. In spite of his serious wound he remained conscious and continued to issue orders to his men, and the entire patrol returned successfully to their base. Mark died shortly after being flown back to England: he was 26. There was wide public interest in his diary, written in Afghanistan to the time of his death, and published in the Daily Telegraph in July 2009.
Mark was a local South London boy, and was loved by many. The Mark Evison Foundation was set up after his death by a group of his friends, all energetic and involved. The Foundation aims to promote the personal, mental and physical development of young people, particularly those who have less opportunity. It provides funds to enable young people to stretch themselves constructively and so gain more confidence, courage and self-reliance, as well as new skills.
If they are between 16 and 30 and wish to pursue a specific personal project they can apply for capital grants of up to £5000. There are also awards of up to £500 for specific efforts in selected schools. To obtain funding they need to show initiative, evidence of a can-do attitude, and a willingness to develop. They must show that they are caring and that they understand the importance of mutual support, collaboration and team work, so that their activities may inspire others.
The Foundation has grown apace, with a board of trustees of largely young people, and many supporters and those interested in the Foundation and its aims. We are about to launch a wider advertising programme, and the Heroes for Schools Scheme, whereby young achievers go into schools to talks to final year students about what they have done and why. There has been specific support from HRH Prince Charles, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the present Chancellor the Rt Hon George Osborne.
Costs have been kept to a minimum by the use of volunteers and the good will of many businesses and organizations. We now need a volunteer to help us with administration, perhaps one or two days a week. Time would be flexible, and an amount of work could be done at home on one’s own computer, with occasional visits to the main office in Court Lane, Dulwich, London SE21 7EA. The person would be joining the team of a young and expanding charity, with broad horizons for the way ahead and a fantastic vision, and a fascinating programme of activities.
PO Box 59519, London SE21 9AL
Registered Charity Commission Nº 1130281
News from Dulwich Picture Gallery
Celebrating 200 years
England’s very first public art gallery will be celebrating its momentous bicentenary in 2011. To get the bicentenary of the Gallery off to a lively start, the Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery have organised THE BIG BANG, a celebratory family day on Sunday 9 January from 11am onwards. The programme will include art workshops, music, food, falconry displays and will culminate with a spectacular firework display. The cloisters will come to life with music from the 30’s to 50’s with singer Alexandra Carter. In the Gallery (which will have free entry to the Permanent Collection) there will be a performance of 16th century music by Emily Atkinson and Kaitlin Ersey followed by a selection of American songs by Gershwin and Cole Porter performed by Suzanne Holmes and Martin Byatt.
Students from Dulwich College, JAGS, Alleyn’s, The Charter School, Kingsdale Foundation School and Dulwich College Preparatory School will play music in the adjoining Christ’s Chapel.
The Gallery is looking outwards for 2011 to enrich the public experience using the latest technology with the launch of its multimedia iGuide programme. By the end of 2011 the Gallery aims to have produced informative videos on over half of the works in the permanent collection.
In 2011 Dulwich gets its Domenicino back – but for only one month!. The Adoration of the Shepherds by Domenicino Zampieri was sold by the Gallery in 1971 to the National Gallery of Scotland. Its one and only sale of a painting from the collection which was claimed would never be broken up and which went against the wishes of its bequest by Sir Peter Bourgeois was widely criticised at the time. However, the finances of Dulwich Picture Gallery were in such a parlous state that the Trustees of the day took the decision to sell the painting to provide an increased endowment in order that the Gallery could continue to function. The Gallery still receives no government funding and relies on the number of its visitors and grants from various charitable sources, including its own Friends organisation, to exist. The Domenicino will be on exhibition in the Gallery in December 2011.
In the meantime there will be a ‘guest masterpiece’ on view each month to celebrate the Gallery’s bi-centenary. The series starts in January with the portrait of the Gallery’s architect, Sir John Soane by Thomas Lawrence from the Sir John Soane Museum. In February Velasquez’s ‘The Bufón’ – Don Sebastián de Morra from the Prado, Madrid, in March – Vermeer’s ‘The Music Lesson’ on loan from The Royal Collection. There will be a lecture to accompany each month’s painting (see What’s On in Dulwich page 15)
Mary Boast Walk
A passageway linking Camberwell Grove and Grove Lane has been renamed MARY BOAST WALK by Southwark Council in honour of Mary Boast, a member of the Dulwich Society’s Local History Group and the author of a number of guides to various parts of the borough, whose obituary appeared in the last issue of the Journal. The Council is to be congratulated on so speedily recognising the distinguished public service of Mary.
Unveiling ‘The Red Post’
Around seventy people were present for the celebration of the inauguration of a replica Red Post in the grounds of Herne Hill United Church at the top of Red Post Hill on Saturday 2nd October. The post was officially dedicated by the deputy mayor of Southwark, Councillor Lorraine Lauder and brief speeches were made by the chairmen of the Dulwich and Herne Hill Societies which had seen the project through to completion, and by Councillor Robin Crookshank -Hilton who had supported the Dulwich Society’s bid for Community Council funding.
Accompanying the Red Post is an explanatory plaque, mounted on a specially built brick plinth. It bears the following inscription:
THE RED POST
A red painted signpost stood here for almost a hundred years.
It was first recorded in 1768 and became an important point of
reference. Red signposts exist in small numbers in the West Country
but no others are known in or around London which
made the one here so significant. Around 1834 the road then called
Aspole (Ashpole) Lane, first mentioned in documents dating from the
Fourteenth century, was renamed Red Post Hill.
The Dulwich Society The Herne Hill Society
The following speech was then made by Brian Green, who as part of the Local History Group had seen the project through:
Dulwich has a relatively modest history in comparison with that of many towns and villages around England. What separates it from most of the other suburbs of London and elsewhere, is that it might cherish its history a bit more and through its institutions of schools, Picture Gallery, and especially the Dulwich and Herne Hill Societies, it has a tradition of seeking to preserve this modest history.
Thus the unveiling today of a replica Red Post is part of that preservation of heritage. Why bother? one might ask. The answer is that people of this country take great satisfaction from reminders of the past. The fact that this road is named Red Post Hill today comes from this same tradition. Although I am bound to say that probably, if the Dulwich and Herne Hill Societies had existed in the nineteenth century, they would have fought tooth and nail to keep its former name of Aspole or Ashpole Lane!
So what is all the fuss about? A red painted sign post stood here, we know, from 1768 when on 30th May that year, Richard Randall who was the organist at the Chapel and one of the Fellows of the College took a walk as far as it and recorded it in his diary.
Actually it may have been here much earlier because in 1697 legislation was passed which enabled magistrates to order the placing of direction posts at cross highways. In 1773 the General Turnpike Act required the trustees of turnpike companies to erect signposts giving distances from nearby towns – but as I have said we know this particular Red Post was here already.
In 1789 J. Edwards surveyed the route for his Companion from London to Brighthelmstone which was actually published in 1801. The Companion describes the route up from Camberwell and along Denmark Hill – “ On the right is the 4 mile stone from the Standard, Cornhill and 4 from the Treasury, Whitehall. Division of roads, at a cross of direction called the Red Post – the oblique road which leads to the left is the road to Dulwich . On the right, about 60 yards distance, is a small genteel white house just built by Mr Smith. A gradual descent begins and continues to a road on the left which leads by Ireland Green to Dulwich” Mr Edwards obligingly supplied his Companion with a map upon which is marked, in the middle of the road - Red Post.
Sometime around 1830 someone in what was then the Dulwich College Estates office had the bright idea of renaming Ashpole Lane ( it had long since been called Aspole, Red Post Hill ) – so perhaps by then the Red Post had gone. Or maybe it was then realised how unusual it was. And Red Post Hill it remains to this day – perhaps until this event a source of mystery to those who use it.
In 1963 a Government commission sought to standardize all road signage and existing fingerposts were required to be replaced by a standard format, chevron armed posts. Then some years later, of course, it was realised that a part of England’s heritage was disappearing and orders for the conservation of any remaining fingerposts were issued! Only a handful of red posts exist – two or three in Dorset and a couple in Somerset. There is a tradition that a Red Post marked the route of convicts’ transportation or the direction of a gibbet; neither explanation of which seems to make sense here in Dulwich. What we do know is that the only red sign post in and around London stood here for a hundred years and why shouldn’t we commemorate this curious part of our heritage?
After the inauguration the assembled spectators adjourned to the church hall for light refreshments.
More Improvements at The Grove
Following criticism by the Dulwich Society of the rundown appearance of the area at the junction of Dulwich Common/Lordship Lane opposite The Grove Tavern, readers will be aware that through the intervention of the Society and with the benefit of monies from Southwark Council (CGS grant) and the Dulwich Society itself, the fence in front of the Streatham & Marlborough CC ground has been replaced. David Roberts, Chairman of the Society’s Planning Committee saw this initiative to conclusion and was also instrumental in obtaining a further CGS grant to improve pedestrian access through the gate to Cox’s Walk, especially for families with buggies.
A further initiative by David, with the assistance of Michelle Pearce, is to attempt to negotiate with the Deeper Life Christian Church which currently occupies the former St Peter’s Church to conform to the Listed Buildings requirements for this Grade 2 church hall building and wall. At the same time they are in contact with Southwark Council conservation department regarding the enforcement of these requirements.
The Concrete House
The long-running saga of the fate of The Concrete House, 549 Lordship Lane, the forlorn and derelict Listed Victorian house opposite St Peter’s Church, will hopefully reach a conclusion. We reported in 2009 that Southwark Council had obtained a compulsory purchase order on the property. This process can be challenged by the owner; however, on the first day of the Public Inquiry the owner and his representatives dropped their objection. Southwark Council has confirmed that they are anticipating restoration work to commence on the site in the New Year.
The Concrete House, named Lyddon House, was built in 1873 by Charles Drake’s pioneering Patent Concrete Company with its walls constructed of mass concrete and is one of the earliest surviving examples of this type of construction in Britain and has been awarded Grade 2 Listed status.
(see the article Charles Drake and the Concrete House page ?)
Herne Hill Velodrome
A campaign to save the Velodrome was launched at a packed public meeting in the Great Hall of Dulwich College on October 6. Over 600 people attended, with an overflow meeting as well as many standing in the Hall.
The meeting was organised by an alliance of residents and cyclists formed to save the former Olympic stadium from closure. They were encouraged to launch the campaign by renewed interest in cycling, recent British sporting successes and the Olympics in 2012.
The Herne Hill Velodrome is the oldest cycling track in the country and was the home of the 1948 Olympic Cycling Championships. But it now faces closure due to deterioration and lack of funding. There is no alternative track in London for the hundreds of children who ride and race there. In the past, that has included Bradley Wiggins, the three-time Olympic gold medalist, who began his competitive cycling career at Herne Hill.
In recent years the Velodrome has been run by a dedicated group of mainly volunteers on a series of short term leases from the freeholder, the Dulwich Estate. The track and buildings need substantial renovation. Nevertheless, the Velodrome attracts good numbers of youngsters each week during the season, in addition to many adult users. It has the potential for much increased use by schools throughout Southwark, Lambeth and beyond and as a centre for cycling for south London.
The meeting on October 6 demonstrated overwhelming public support for the campaign. Strong statements of political support were delivered by Val Shawcross, London Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark, by Kate Hoey, the Mayor of London’s Commissioner for Sport and by our MP, Tessa Jowell. From Southwark Council support came from Peter John, the Leader, and from Veronica Ward, Cabinet Member. The Dulwich Estate confirmed their willingness to grant a long lease. Local residents’ associations added their support.
The meeting heard that there would be a funding gap, both for capital expenditure and for ongoing operation. People and businesses were invited to pledge financial support and they responded eagerly. Continuing commitments were made, adding up to over £34,000 in the first year. In addition, Southwark Council offered a capital sum of £25,000 and Lambeth Council £10,000.
Following this successful launch, the Save the Velodrome committee is now developing its plans for the establishment of a charitable trust, the construction of a viable business plan, negotiations for a long term lease from the Dulwich Estate, further fundraising and the development of the Velodrome site.
Developments will be posted on the Campaign’s website: www.savetheVelodrome.com
Improvements at Belair
The Dulwich Society was represented amongst councillors, wildlife groups, the Dulwich Estate and other interested parties for the official opening of the new sports facility building in the park. The long, low building whose red brick frontage will be covered in time with plant material, is providing a much needed changing and meeting space for the many teams using Belair.
Two further occasions were the opening of the refurbished and most attractive car park and the official launch of a new hedgerow. The latter, as a contribution towards the National Year of Biodiversity, on the west side of the recreation field, is now growing vigorously and is planted with native material to encourage plant and insect life. All of these improvements have come through the interest and hard work of local groups in our area.
Alasdair Aston was once a resident of Aysgarth Road and was appointed to the English department at Alleyn’s School in succession to Michael Croft. He became the head of the department on the retirement of Edward Upward in 1962. He later was appointed Inspector of English with the Inner London Education Authority and in 1986 was appointed the authority’s Chief Inspector of English. He retired in 1990.
His twin passions were a love of poetry and an intense interest in natural history. It was while at Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1953 that he displayed his gift for the former, by winning the Chancellor’s medal for his poetry and he recited his poem, Gloriana Redivva, which made reference to the accession of the present monarch and the 350th anniversary of the death of first Queen Elizabeth, in the Senate House, after which he was carried down to the river for the ‘bumps’.
He went on to win eight further Cambridge poetry awards between 1974-1994 for the Seatonian Prize awarded for “the best English poem on a sacred subject”.
While living in Dulwich he was a leading light in the Dulwich Poetry Group which met at the Crown & Greyhound and he served as its chairman from 1969-1975. He was also chairman of the Poetry Society’s education committee from 1970-1979.
He was a lover of natural history from boyhood and became a member of the Suffolk Naturalists’ Society at the age of 11 remaining a member for 69 years. His particular enthusiasm was moth collecting and he was constantly in their nocturnal pursuit during his time in Dulwich, a hobby handicapped by his lifelong inability to drive a car. He was fascinated by all aspects of the natural world and was an entertaining companion on plant gathering expeditions in the more acceptable conditions of daylight. In his retirement he made his home in Selborne in Hampshire, most appropriately in a house next to the one once lived in by Gilbert White.
Alasdair Aston died on July 17th aged 80.
Cuckoo-flowers, the tender meadow-sweet fragrance
Whirled about me as butterfly, orange and white,
While I was wayward and windward scenting my duty
To be turning this way or that and Oh, yearning for flight!
Waterfalls took up my leisure and kissing of swallows,
Movement of minnows, or stickleback fighting to death,
Skimming of pike in the shallows, dragonfly glitter
Led me a dance from the river, led me astray
Where ridiculous magpies strutted insanely unwary
Of the frolics of foxes in between woods
And the air was full of the furry bees all bearing
Silence away in their millions so that I stood
Mesmerised still by their murmuring all afternoon.
© Estate of A E Aston