The restoration of Dulwich Park, reported elsewhere in this issue, is a matter for thanks and rejoicing. Thanks for the money provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, a fund no doubt subscribed to in the form of lottery tickets by many of the Park's users. Of course it was a totally insane policy which led to the neglect of the upkeep of Dulwich Park, once the jewel in the crown of the London County Council's parks' department. At Dulwich, as elsewhere, money was diverted from the park's budget towards a number of highly dubious alternative objectives.
At Dulwich, the first cost-cutting measure was the withdrawal of the uniformed park keeper service, this was followed by the cancellation of any organised programme of activities - tennis coaching, putting - and then boating was withdrawn. The appearance of the park was changed by the reduction in the number of flower beds and the ending of maintenance of the rhododendron plantations.
Public parks were a Victorian invention. They were intended to provide a place for fresh air and exercise in crowded cities, a place for contemplation and quiet reflection, a place to walk in, to meet, to mingle, a place for the young to let off steam. They were established through considerable effort by far-sighted people who were just like those people today who have campaigned so long and hard for their park's restoration. That parks should have been allowed to deteriorate, and in so doing provide an opportunity for further despoliation by mindless hooligans, will puzzle future social historians.
Nor was this neglect confined to Dulwich Park. Other parks like Sydenham Wells Park, Peckham Park, Sunray Gardens and Brockwell Park became overgrown, litter-ridden, unfriendly places. A few, like Ruskin Park, Belair and Horniman's Play Park still need nurturing today. It seems incomprehensible that in heavily populated boroughs like Southwark, Lewisham and Lambeth, where the density is everyday increased by the building or conversion of houses into flats, a policy should exist which would deny its inhabitants the means of enjoying open space, gardens and playing fields. Not of course that this was a local issue, indeed it has become a national scandal and happily local authorities are widely beginning to address it.
The widespread neglect of public parks and gardens was eventually challenged by groups of residents who felt frustrated and powerless as they saw their parks' fabric crumble. And so the 'Friends of this or that park' were formed. Without them at Dulwich, Peckham or Brockwell Parks, there might not have been the means to raise either the awareness of the problem or the hard cash needed to compliment the grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Friends of various parks may actually not have a future once their park is hopefully transformed, and there is some evidence of membership slipping away once this has been achieved. This probably does not matter, providing local authorities continue to hold on to their rediscovered awareness of the importance of public parks and open spaces.
One of the biggest problems affecting green space in Dulwich - the relationship between trees and subsidence - is to be examined at an evening debate-cum-conference to be held in The Old Library, Dulwich College, on September 28. Everybody is welcome to what is expected to be an informative and illuminating evening.
The conference is being organised by the Wildlife and Trees Committees because of the growing concern about the dangers posed to Dulwich's tree heritage by subsidence claims. The numbers of claims seems to be growing, trees are often - and wrongly - blamed, and insurance companies frequently react by demanding their removal.
Recent worrying cases include many larger, older trees - the type that give Dulwich much of its character - in prominent positions in Court Lane, Dulwich Village, College Road and the Alleyn's School perimeter. Concern centres not only on the quality of the evidence - proximity of a tree or even the presence of roots in a damaged area is often taken as proof of causation - but on the tendency for all parties to view the removal of the tree as the solution of first recourse.
In fact, the fundamental causes are a combination of shrinkable clay soils, climate change and soil desiccation, poor foundations and expansion of the built footprint - backlands infill or householders' building extensions too near trees, for example. And whereas householders might once have accepted a certain to-and-fro movement between summer and winter, modern residents tend to want static perfection to their interior décor.
Many of Dulwich's "forest trees", not least the horse chestnuts that are such a distinctive feature of the village are already under from stress from drought and disease (see overleaf). The worry is that subsidence claims, wrongly handled, could in the longer term mean that bigger trees simply become unfeasible near buildings. Given the role trees play in "air-conditioning" - providing shade, coolness and moisture and also hovering up pollution - this would be a sad day for the look and feel of Dulwich. It wouldn't be too good for our pockets either, since trees are estimated at add up to 18 per cent to the value of nearby properties.
The aim of the conference is to clarify the issues as sharply as possible for the benefit of residents and householders. The conference opens its doors at 7.30pm. It will be chaired by His Honour Michael Rich QC, the Society's president, and a specialist in planning matters. Speakers will include Jim Smith the Forestry Commission's London trees and woodlands framework manager, and Peter Osborne, a specialist in insurance cases involving tees and subsidence. It is also hoped to have speakers from Norwich Union - the Dulwich Estate's insurers, and specialist legal firms Representatives from the Estate and from Southwark Council's trees department are also being invited.
David Nicholson-Lord, Wildlife and Trees Committees
Dulwich Park is now unsteadily re-awakening; just a little like Sleeping Beauty after many years, from its Heritage Lottery Fund cosmetic and structural make-over. In conveys the impression that a great deal of entirely worthy work has been done, with the promise of better to come as new facilities become fully alive and functional. There was a grand opening ceremony on Saturday 22 July to celebrate completion of most of the basic work. This will be followed by a year of snagging, tweaking, and other mysterious rituals which contractors expect to carry out at the end of a major operation. Completion was just six weeks behind schedule, which on a programme of this scale and complexity must be judged a considerable success.
Osbornes, the main contractor, put in a surge of last-minute activity to bring the park to a presentable condition for the official opening. On the preceding Friday there was still much sawing, stone-cutting and sweeping to finish the new installations. Only three days before the deadline a large crane at the Court Lane entrance was re-assembling the central stone gate-post yet again. Breath is now being held in the hope that the gateposts will remain intact, following their vulnerable history in recent years.
Transformation of the park has been closely observed and inspected by a number of public bodies, including English Heritage, the Environment Agency and an array of wildlife, ecological, bio-diversity and social inclusion authorities. The contractors have striven to work steadily through all these interventions, and have achieved a result in which they can take justified pride. Signs of having met statutory requirements appear frequently enough to intrude on the park's visual serenity. The red lifebelts on which Health and Safety has no doubt continued to insist have reappeared at intervals around the lake, and at each end of the new boardwalk. They are not quite as frequent or dominant as those in position previously, but still look to be of more symbolic than practical value. For some reason Health and Safety has not insisted on hanging lifebelts on the College Road gates to provide for the next occasion when the road floods in the Village.
Much of the park renovation work has been directed at inconspicuous but vital infrastructure, especially on drainage and water supply systems which have either been crumbling for years or were never adequate for their purpose in the first place. The lake and its ornamental outlets have been emptied, cleaned and re-sealed and freshly planted. Work on draining the water was solemnly suspended while a coot finished its nesting season (until it was discovered that coots are unhelpfully prone to nest at any time of year). Roads and paths have been re-surfaced and re-edged with crisply designed and painted Victorian railings. Great trees in the park have been carefully re-shaped and new ones have been planted. Any that have not survived the summer drought will be replaced.
The main contract has been supplemented with specialised work by a range of sub-contractors. Co-ordinating these has been an important part of the planning process, a costly and time-consuming affair in the attempt to avoid an expensive disturbance of finished work. Classically perhaps, the café still awaits the installation of a proper gas supply.
Local residents and amenity organisations have engaged themselves devotedly in the whole process, and deserve high praise for their sustained concern that details should be given proper attention. Among other operations, the winter garden has been carefully tended by members of the Dulwich Park Friends and the Dulwich Society, a new Village copse has been planted in the corner of the park near Court Lane, thanks to the generous winding-up gift of the Dulwich Village Preservation Society. The full benefit of much new planting should become apparent over the next few seasons. In the new copse there will be a highly significant bluebell planting day on 4 November. A full muster of local residents is cordially invited to participate.
The Dulwich Park Friends above all, with Emily Montague as Chairman in particular, deserve our warmest congratulations for engaging themselves so closely with Southwark Council and the very limited number of greatly-extended park staff, helping to draft the Lottery Fund application, to discuss problems and solutions as soon as the need has arisen and to contribute time and resources in many ways. This has been a genuine community effort in which Dulwich can take much pride.
There have been some notable breakthroughs, which should now help to reinforce Southwark Council's ability to fulfil its responsibility for Dulwich Park's management, security and maintenance. One conspicuous achievement has been the recovery of both park lodges. Additionally, the sports pavilion has been rebuilt and considerably enlarged to become the 'Francis Peek Centre', that is a park management office and community centre, with a large room available for the use of school groups and for other local purposes.
The lodges have been renovated and cheerfully decorated. Their windows are still blind, to prevent any unauthorised incursion, but soon we should be able to dispense with signs on lodge garden railings that warn the public that these are 'private dwelling' to which they have no right of access. It is intended that the Rosebery Gate lodge should become the headquarters of Southwark's park warden service, and that the College Road lodge should be a horticulture centre.
We hope that the Council will now gear itself fully to manage the park properly, as its agreement with the Heritage Lottery Fund requires, and to ensure that these new facilities and amenities, so expensively provided, are effectively patrolled and monitored at all hours. The café has suffered a succession of recent break-ins. CCTV monitoring is at last promised, to be installed in September. We hope that the newly re-furbished public toilet blocks will also remain intact for some time. To have a resident 'Head Gardener' in the College Road lodge would contribute greatly to better security, as the Horniman Gardens have found and as a number of people in Dulwich have been saying for some time.
Dulwich Park is probably the most intensively used park in Southwark. Together with the Picture Gallery just across the road, and the Horniman Museum close by, it contributes vitally to making Dulwich one of the most welcoming visitor attractions in London. One of the great luxuries in a public park is freedom to sit peacefully on the grass in the shade of a large tree, or for parents with young children, to feed and water them there, with the support of a pleasant park café, while they enjoy a well-equipped playground and the other amenities around them. This is the environment we want to see recaptured and preserved.
Concern has been expressed by a number of residents over the plight of many of the Horse Chestnut trees throughout Dulwich, and indeed, London.
Leaves appear scorched, and finally shrivel and turn brown, giving the impression that the tree is dying. There is also an infestation of small flies around the trees which are extremely annoying. The flies are actually very small moths known as Horse chestnut leaf miner (Cameraria Ohridella) which was first observed in Northern Greece in the late 1970's and has since spread throughout Europe, arriving in Wimbledon during 2002.
Leaf fall as early as August can result in the tree appearing autumnal although so far no trees have died or declined in health as a direct consequence of attack by the moth, however, the added stress to a tree causes concern especially in drought conditions'
There is no known cure for the pest, but limited research has established that leaves should be collected after dropping and either burnt or well dug in to compost. The pupae appear to be extremely frost tolerant, reportedly surviving in temperatures as low as -23C in Hungary. It has been estimated that 1 kg of over wintering leaves could result in the emergence of 4500 moths the following spring. It is therefore essential to destroy affected leaves where possible.
Trees Consultant, The Dulwich Estate
The Dulwich Society Trees Committee have invited Professor Julian Evans OBE who was formerly the Forestry Commission's Chief Research officer, to talk about the trees of the National Trust and also about his experiences in maintaining his own piece of private woodland, on Thursday 19 October at 8pm at the St Barnabas Centre, Calton Avenue.
When the Barron family, living at Aysgarth House, Dulwich Village, decided on some major alterations to their home they little realised what would be discovered when the foundations for a new basement room were excavated. The builders started turning up dozens of all kinds of bottles. Oddly, most were undamaged and Greg Barron decided to make a collection of these artefacts as they were unearthed. He explains, "The spot where we planned our new basement seems to have been the basement of the old Greyhound Inn or perhaps the grocer's shop which stood next door to it in the nineteenth century. The remains of two walls, forming an angle of the old basement, were more or less intact and it was within these that the bottles and other artefacts were found." Some of the bottles were still sealed, although most were empty. They varied from Bovril and marmalade jars, to a number of delicate, thin and square blue coloured bottles. A clay pipe was found intact.
Perhaps the most interesting find was a fragment of an earthenware jar inscribed with the name of 'Middlecott, Greyhound, Dulwich'. The Middlecott family were the proprietors of the famous Greyhound for the first half of the nineteenth century in the days when it was Dulwich's principal inn and stage coach stop. It was during the Middlecott's tenure that famous people like Ruskin and Thackeray were patrons. The Greyhound straddled what are now Aysgarth and Pickwick Roads and its cricket field extended as far as Turney Road. It had stabling for fifteen horses and six coaches, a bowling green and a small menagerie. The large room on the first floor was used for dinners, balls and occasionally for vestry (forerunner of the borough council) meetings. In 1860, the parents of children at the infants' school, then located in an unhealthy overcrowded room in a former pub further down the village, met to found the present Infants' School.
Pieces of clay pipe are frequently found in Dulwich gardens, along with small fragments of china. The explanation for this has only recently come to light. When the field in Gallery Road now occupied by Dulwich College Preparatory School was being equipped with new land drains, the top soil and turf were removed. A Dulwich Society member was surprised to find so many china and clay pipe fragments in the spoil and filled a large bag with them. Her curiosity drove her to the Victoria & Albert Museum where she was informed that none of the pieces were later than 1830 and they were probably used by farmers to break up the heavy clay soil. They would have been bought commercially from London dust-collectors.
Thanks to two Dulwich Society publications - 'Who Was Who in Dulwich' and 'Dulwich - The Home Front 1939-1945' two significant projects have come to fruition. In July a Southwark Blue Plaque dedicated to Phyllis Pearsall (1906-1995) was unveiled at her former home, 3 Court Lane Gardens where she lived until around 1914. According to Southwark Heritage which sponsors the scheme, Phyllis Pearsall was the highest nominated person of the fifteen voted on by the public. Her name was brought to the attention of the public by the Society's book which outlines her work in producing the London A-Z guide which she originated in 1935. She walked every street for up to eighteen hours a day and covering 3000 miles and listing 23,000 roads.
A number of tributes were paid to Phyllis Pearsall at the ceremony including one by Nigel Syrett from the Geographers A-Z Map Company who knew Phyllis personally. He said that when she retired she made a unique and very generous gesture, by leaving the company she founded entirely to its employees. Today the A-Z has sold well in excess of 60 million copies - greater than the combined sale of all the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling and Dan Brown's DaVinci Code.
A telephone call to a member of the Society's Local History group from a television programme making company in Devon requesting help in researching wartime allotments in Dulwich led to the forwarding of a copy of 'Dulwich - The Home Front 1939-1945' together with a back-copy of the Newsletter which carried an article on allotment gardening in Dulwich (Dulwich may hold the record for the most allotments in the UK - 936 plots!).
This led to a number of members of the Society assisting further with programme. John Ward, chairman of the Society's Garden group was a useful contact and features significantly in the film, as does Jim Hammer. Judith Fitton was a helpful source of information as was Liz Johnson, who had recently completed her history of Dulwich Park was able to give some useful pointers about the allotments in the Park.
Through these contacts the producers were able to trace Gwen Wild, who as a child assisted on the family's wartime Dulwich allotment. The producers also found one of the Keefe family who appear in a number of archival photographs of the wartime allotments in the Park held by the Imperial War Museum. 'Dig for Victory' is produced by Twofour Productions and is largely concerned with the wartime allotments in Dulwich. It has been commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society and is available from RHS outlets on DVD.
Attractive wooden plaques bearing the inscription 'Safe routes to School' appeared throughout Dulwich in the summer. They have been designed and made by pupils at Alleyn's Junior School as part of the Walk to School campaign. However, only about one third of pupils in the numerous independent or private schools in Dulwich are local children. The remainder arrive at school by coach, car or train.
The London, Brighton & South Coast Railway's London Bridge to East Croydon and Crystal Palace line was finished in 1866 and electrified around 1928, although the occasional steam goods train could be seen into the 1960's. A second bridge replaced the original bridge across Burbage Road at the beginning of the 20th century.
In 2005 Network Rail decided that a replacement bridge was required and it was scheduled for June 2006. A new concrete bridge was assembled in the vacant yard between the railway and the Velodrome, and it was planned to dismantle the old bridge and put in the replacement over the weekend of 23-25 June so as to disrupt railway traffic as little as possible. However, after a very noisy Friday night, during which two gigantic cranes were moved into place either side of the bridge, everything went wrong as one of the cranes had fractured a gas main. This meant that all work had to be suspended whilst the gas authorities repaired the main.
Network Rail decided to suspend work that weekend so that train services could be resumed on Monday morning, and re-scheduled the work for the following weekend. Needless to say, the road remained closed for all this period causing a lot of traffic congestion through the Village.
Again, two gigantic cranes were positioned either side of the bridge. The old bridge was demolished and the new bridge raised and dropped into position. This time everything went well, except for some slight alignment problems which were quickly corrected and by Monday trains were again running, if a trifle slowly, over the bridge. By the end of the week, much to the relief of local residents, things were back to normal and we can now enjoy the sight of a fine new bridge in Burbage Road.
The Capital's biggest architectural event, where London is turned into a living exhibition for 48 hours, is all about seeing, experiencing, exploring and understanding architecture, engineering and design. In total, 500 contemporary and historically significant (and often private) buildings will open their doors to the public.
Last year Open House welcomed 360,000 visits to buildings across the capital and this year the numbers are likely to rise even higher. Locally, Dulwich Picture Gallery and Christ's Chapel will be open and admission, like all London venues is free. Brian Green, on behalf of the Dulwich Picture Gallery will be conducting an hour-long guided walk entitled Looking at Dulwich's Architecture 1600-2000 on Sunday 17 September at 2.30pm. Booking for this walk, at the Gallery, is advisable.
A list of venues of Open House Weekend is included in The Buildings Guide www.openhouse.org.uk
Over the weekend of 15 September there will be a ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle Flers-Courcellette when tanks were used for the first time. Part of the battle involved the taking of High Wood which after numerous failed attempts was given to the 47th London Division. The tanks were a failure and the 1st Surrey Rifles were called to attack High Wood. The First Surreys who were based at Flodden Road, Camberwell were made up of men from Camberwell, Peckham and Dulwich together with re-badged other soldiers from previously decimated regiments. In the battle the 1st Surreys were virtually annihilated. Of the 550 men and 19 officers who went 'over the top' that day, 15 September 1916, only 60 men and 2 officers survived injury or death.
A new rose, named Tea Clipper, introduced at this year's Chelsea Flower Show by David Austin, the rose grower, has been adopted by the Friends of the Horniman Museum. The apricot coloured rose, with a perfume of tea and citrus will eventually be sold at the museum.