The Crystal Palace - London's longest running 'Soap'

In 1852 following the fantastic success of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, an enterprising group of businessmen, including some of the Great Exhibition's committee and Paxton himself, pulled off one of the most audacious coups in London history. They bought up the remains of the Crystal Palace, the glass structure which housed the contents of the 'Manufacture of Nations', and free of planning restrictions, rebuilt it almost twice the size on a 350 feet high ridge overlooking London at Sydenham to which they then ran a railway branch line to service it. They added what Walt Disney would a century later term 'attractions' and sat back and awaited the profits.

A devastating fire, under-insurance and waning public interest pushed the venture towards bankruptcy. It was only sentiment and patriotism and perhaps a national guilty conscience over the neglected role of Queen Victoria's Prince Consort which rescued it for the first time from oblivion. A generation later it needed to be rescued again and when it was finally destroyed by a devastating fire in November 1936 at a time when the edifice and its contents were looking decidedly threadbare, it seemed an overdue yet appropriate end to what at times was a remarkable enterprise.

The financial crisis of the '30's, the outbreak of war and the austerity which followed precluded making any kind of plans for the future of Crystal Palace. Following the success of the 1951 Festival of Britain, which marked the centenary of the Great Exhibition, hopes were raised by the idea of establishing a National Exhibition Centre on the site to compliment the National Recreation Centre built by Sir Gerald Barry, fresh from his triumph on the South Bank (of which the Festival Hall still survives). It was at this point that the tradition of protest at Sydenham evolved. There were fears about access and transport, despite the fact that the high-level branch line was still operating, but the protest and procrastination allowed the city of Birmingham to steal a march on London and go ahead with a scheme for its own exhibition centre.

In 1979 a band of enthusiastic Sydenham residents staged an exhibition of the Crystal Palace's former glories at the National Recreation Centre. Attended by two thousand visitors and with the interest and enthusiasm thereby generated, it led to the formation of the Crystal Palace Foundation. The Foundation set about conducting an urban excavation, shifting tons of earth which covered the site and gradually uncovered the terraces. Later it opened the museum in one of the original buildings which had survived the fire.

Twenty years then passed and it was the threat that something was actually going to be done about the site by Bromley Council which galvanised the local population once again. The application for a multiplex cinema, restaurants and car parking on the prominent top site beside Crystal Palace Parade seemed to horrify the majority and protests groups formed, united and eventually triumphed and the application was withdrawn. The various groups which had so successfully cooperated in their protest now began to fall out with each other as each pursued a different agenda for the future of the Crystal Palace site and the Park.

But there were other factors which would muddy the water. The area surrounding both the Park and the site is shared between Southwark, Bromley, and Croydon councils with Lewisham and Lambeth edging in as well. Over the years, Croydon Council had approved numerous applications for change of use from shops to restaurants in the area although there was insufficient space for parking. The only viable space had been the old high level railway line and station area which had lain empty for years below the Crystal Palace Parade but which was eventually given building permission by Southwark Council after being used for a lengthy period as a temporary housing site.

Depending on your viewpoint, a Good Fairy or a Demon King, in the form of the London Development Agency then entered the story and announced that following negotiations with Bromley Council it would take over the running of the National Sports Centre in March 2006, and have an option to take over the rest of the Park by 2009. It is currently proposing to redevelop the park and rebuild the sports centre at a cost of between £90-100 million. Some of this sum it expects to fund by developing parts of the site for housing. As these plans include the provision of a 150-200 space car park, the traders in area are delighted. However, campaigners for the Park are appalled and are contesting the developments with especial venom being reserved for the proposed development at the Norwood Triangle end. Local residents meanwhile are alarmed at the proposed development at the Rockhills end of the Park close to the top of Fountain Drive, although some appear to be mollified by the fact that the development is intended to be for individual, architect designed dwellings.

According to the press release, the LDA's proposals to rejuvenate Crystal Palace Park received 82 per cent support. The devil, however, appears to be in the detail. To confuse the issue still further there has been a sudden new initiative at Crystal Palace Park which the Dulwich Society's Vice-Chairman, Ian McInnes explains:

The London Development Agency is currently running a competition for a new multi million pound sports centre near Crystal Palace station which could mean the end of the Grade II* listed National Sports Centre. The Twentieth Century Society, with active support from the Victorian Society and the Garden History Society, has put forward an alternative proposal to show how new sports facilities could be provided in Crystal Palace Park without any need for the demolition of the threatened NSC. The C20 Society hopes to encourage the LDA to take a broader view on the park and to view their involvement as being a positive opportunity to not only save its best building but to actively integrate additional state of the art sports facilities into the park and bring back to life the park's rich and varied history.

Architect Julian Harrap's alternative scheme shows a new Sports Centre as a single structure within the re-created landscape of the Victorian park located over the footprint of the archaeological remains of the Crystal Palace above the surviving terrace. The new building would respect and protect the archaeological remains of the Palace and is capable of providing financial subsidy to the other sports facilities in the park. The National Sports Centre would be refurbished and turned into a pavilion whose great hall could either be retained as existing with a new pool, or alternatively converted to non-swimming sports use.

The demolition of the peripheral less significant buildings and much of the surrounding tarmac will enhance the natural elements of the park. Besides the re-created Victorian landscape the park will also incorporate several layers of sports history like the memory of the former football pitch or the reinstatement of the former motor racing circuit as an access armature.

The scheme demonstrates that a range of more imaginative plans for the country's most important municipal park are long overdue and that the LDA should reconsider its current proposals and be encouraged to take a more holistic approach both to future sports provision and this important historic landscape.

So dear reader, you can see that this long running 'Soap' has still plenty of mileage in it yet!

Modified Bacchanalian Rapture - Bill Higman writes

Some of us local backwoods-folk have expressed ourselves a mite apprehensive about recent expansive government commitments to encourage unrestricted alcoholic bliss all about us. Not all of us embrace with enthusiasm the vision of extended weekend rave-ups throughout our leafy areas, or even the prospect of re-enacting picturesque Hogarthian scenes of Gin Lane in Dulwich Village.

To help neighbourhood revellers and their convenors to add more iced-water to their more high-octane plans the Society has drawn up, with professional guidance, the following statement of our intended response to applications for extended licensing hours in Dulwich. This we shall make available to applicants, to the local authorities and to residents or residents' associations who may wish to know what our response to an individual application is likely to be.

Applications for extended licensing hours in Dulwich

The Dulwich Society has a role to preserve the local amenity. We have adopted the following criteria for supporting or opposing applications to extend alcohol licensing hours in this area and to set these out in order that they may assist applicants.

Dulwich is an attractive residential neighbourhood, most of which is within conservation areas, and it follows from this that we consider any proposals to change or extend the use of residential or commercial premises should not have the effect of detracting from residents' quiet enjoyment of their properties.

This area also attracts a considerable number of visitors and it is right that appropriate provision should be made to cater for them. We accept that it can positively help to maintain neighbourhood security, especially in the evenings, that well-managed licensed premises should be popular and fully patronized, particularly those which serve meals. Consequently we are glad to support applications by establishments catering to the public for moderate extensions of their licensing hours, provided these extensions do not result in creating any nuisance and if applicants can demonstrate their ability and willingness to stop any arising.

Applicants are less likely to encounter objections from the Society or local residents if they have consulted locally before making their application, and if they demonstrate clearly in their operating schedule the measures which they propose to prevent nuisance or crime and disorder resulting from extended hours. Such measures may include acoustic lobbies, double glazing, use of noise limitation devices and other sound proofing, preventing use of outdoor areas after 11 p.m., earlier closing on week-nights, dispersal policies, use of door staff, formal liaison with residents, publishing the telephone number of the designated premises supervisor, preventing glasses and bottles leaving the premises, avoiding irresponsible drinks promotions etc.

We shall oppose blanket applications for extended licensing hours and for 24-hour licenses because we believe that the effect of these is more likely to disturb residents and to attract more people from further afield, whose activities and noise of departure may be more difficult to control. Our opposition applies both to the greatly extended licensing of regularly-frequented premises and to greatly extended licenses for special events in local parks, sports grounds, and other premises or open spaces.

The factors which adversely affect local residents most are:

  1. noise, particularly from those leaving alcohol-led premises late at night, from those returning to cars parked in residential streets, and from amplified announcements and music during special events;
  2. vehicle parking, particularly where this causes road congestion, depends on occupying private roads, or obstructs entrances to private residences;
  3. intrusive lighting;
  4. litter creation;
  5. vandalism.

These all constitute actionable nuisances for which residents are able to hold licensees accountable, and we should support them in doing so. Where there is evidence that there has been a nuisance this would affect the Society's view of further applications for the grant or extension of licenses and may prompt us to make or support applications for existing licenses to be varied or revoked.

We shall make residents aware of the importance of taking notice of all applications for extended licenses and the conditions attached to them. We regard it as essential that these conditions should be displayed clearly at the premises to which they apply.

Residents should be aware of the importance of raising representations in response to extended license applications, because as a general rule Councils are obliged to grant the application if there are no objections from interested parties, which includes residents living in the vicinity.

Fair Cops!

The Village Ward Beat of the Metropolitan Police has been considerably strengthened. In addition to PC Shaun Mulcathy and PC Alistair Gellatly who have become familiar figures on Dulwich streets in the past three years, they have been joined by PCSO Sheri Robey and PCSO Darren Weeks and the new team is headed by PS Stephen Farrant. The Metropolitan Police state that the role of the team will be to patrol and police Village Ward in order to prevent or reduce anti-social behaviour, prevent crime and the fear of crime and work in partnership with the local community. The message is that policing in Dulwich is getting back to basics by providing a significant uniformed presence on the streets. The area of the Village Ward is the same as its electoral area.

The Village Ward team can be reached by calling 020 8721 2446 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to discuss non-urgent community issues. For urgent Police attention, please continue to dial 999. 

Value for money from the Community Council grants?

In July 2004 the Dulwich Community Council was awarded £316,000 to make grants for projects proposed by the community. A number of these have made a significant contribution to the appearance of Dulwich and some of these are illustrated below. Other important but less dramatic improvements were carried out with traffic calming in Jasper Road and Dulwich Wood Avenue. However, the £18,000 grant for pedestrian safety around the Court Lane entrance to Dulwich Park is either not completed or appears poor value for money. The £25,000 awarded to Streatham & Marlborough Cricket Club for "ground improvements and community access" has allowed the club to offer youth cricket coaching but surely the sum awarded was sufficient to tidy up the poor appearance of the entrance to the ground which is opposite The Harvester, Dulwich Common. Torn down fences, accumulated rubbish and ugly porta-cabins tarnish the view of this otherwise well-kept ground. And was it really necessary to spend £5000 on "signage rationalisation between Burbage and Stradella Roads?

Bill Higman of the Dulwich Society called last year for a more co-ordinated approach to Community Council grant making by all the parties and different interests involved, with a local plan presided over by the Community Council. This suggestion should be taken up. The danger at the moment is that pressure from well organised groups in support of their own individual causes may not necessarily relate to any overall order of priority or be the most efficient use of money in the wider interests of the community.

Is the Beechgrove saga being revived?

Over ten years has elapsed since the predecessors of the Dulwich Estate were refused, on appeal, permission to redevelop the site of Beechgrove, a large house on Sydenham Hill they demolished in 1983 and which had previously lain derelict for a long period.

The Background

In 1984, Southwark Council proposed to compulsory purchase and redevelop the sites of two former houses in the area belonging to the Dulwich Estate, called Fernbank and Lapsewood on Sydenham Hill but which had long since been demolished and reverted to woodland, into a housing estate comprising some 93 houses. This plan was rejected following a Public Enquiry in 1985. A year later the then Estates Governors submitted their own plans to build 36 flats on the same two sites. After an intense battle, in what became known as the "Save Sydenham Hill Woods" campaign, in which the Dulwich Society backed a scheme for the area to be maintained as an area of woodland, a Public Enquiry rejected proposals for any housing and instead the entire area was ultimately designated Metropolitan Open Land. The sites of Fernbank and Lapsewood were subsequently leased to Southwark Council and became part of the Sydenham Hill Wood and Nature Reserve administered by the London Wildlife Trust.

However, in 1985 the Estates Governors submitted plans to build three houses, later reduced to one, on the remaining site of Beechgrove. Despite this application being refused, the Estates Governors persisted and between 1986-1990 started a number of expensive Appeals, all of which were refused. The legal cost of these Appeals was expensive to the beneficiaries of the Dulwich Estate; it is believed that the costs ran to a six figure sum.

For a number of years following, the site was squatted by an elderly West Indian who built a shack on the steep slope below the boundary wall of the former house. He gave the wall itself a lively colour scheme of lilac and terra-cotta and ensured the Royal Mail knew his presence by posting up the house name and number on a tree where it remains today.

After he left, the Dulwich Estate put up a wire fence on the Beechgrove frontage. The rest of the site had long since been overtaken by nature and its boundaries are now virtually impossible to define. Recently the Dulwich Community Council awarded the London Wildlife Trust £25,000 to erect a new security fence along its Sydenham, Hill and Crescent Wood Road frontages and the Trust invited the Dulwich Estate to continue the fence along the Beechgrove frontage at a cost of £6000. The Dulwich estate declined this offer, although their wall and fence is in a poor state. Has the Estate got new plans for Beechgrove? It is hoped not. The climate for conservation has grown even stronger since the last application was turned down; surely it would be far better to join this site to the remainder of the Wood in a lease to London Wildlife Trust. 

Dulwich Hamlet School Head to retire

Diana Bell retires at the end of the summer term after celebrating twenty years as a headteacher, the last thirteen as head of Dulwich Hamlet School, one of London's largest primary schools. She has spent her entire teaching career in London, starting at St. Jude's, Herne Hill followed by eleven years as a deputy head in Brixton followed by seven years as a headteacher in Wandsworth.

She says that she has seen many changes since she moved to Dulwich Hamlet, some major, others quite subtle, not all desired. When she arrived staff morale was low and opportunities for experimenting difficult. Parents were not encouraged to be actively involved in the school. Much has changed since then. Supportive governors and parents have all contributed and the calibre of the staff has allowed the school to achieve the distinction of Training School status for student teacher training. One of the most exciting developments has been allowing the children to take a greater role in the running of the school. Representatives from each class form a School Council which meets regularly with Diana Bell to make requests and suggestions.

When she started teaching, class teachers were more or less able to teach what they liked. Since then, the imposition of the National Curriculum has provided a clear framework but its initial rigidity has loosened sufficiently to allow schools like the Hamlet to develop various skills, indeed this is now encouraged. As a consequence music plays a big part in the children's life with over 230 children learning a wide range of instruments and the school now has a purpose built music centre - the Purcell Room offering space and state of the art electronic equipment. The flexible timetable allows the children to fulfil curriculum requirements but enjoy more sport or even take up such diverse interests as Greek dancing or theatre work in the summer term.

She says that over the years the interiors of the buildings have undergone change, at first small improvements such as re-carpeting and the conversion of the old cloakrooms into special learning areas. In 2004 the dilapidated huts in Turney Road finally came down and were replaced by the Pickwick building which contains a large library, three classrooms an ICT suite and a much overdue new staffroom. Currently the Village entrance is being altered to provide a better reception area and school offices.

Last November the OFSTED inspectors judged the school was outstanding in all areas, in addition it retained, for the third time its Investors in People status. Diana Bell can be proud of her school and her contribution towards its success. Although she retires in from Dulwich Hamlet in July one suspects she has not quite retired from the world of education just yet.

Young cycling enthusiasts at Herne Hill

Since taking over the running of the Herne Hill Stadium in Burbage Road last year, the Velo Club de Londrés has developed an excellent youth programme on Saturday mornings. Young riders can receive induction and training in both track and mountain-bike cycling between 9am-10.30am from expert riders at the track. The more experienced riders can train and have coaching between 11am-1pm. The charge for children is a nominal £1. The mountain-bike circuit has a series of challenging slopes and bends. A cyclo-cross circuit has also been developed for winter cycling. The club has recently acquired 100 extra track bikes of varying sizes for children, youths and adults to train on. These may be borrowed free of charge for training sessions. The traditional, annual Good Friday meeting was well attended despite rain in the morning and the chaos caused by a fractured water main on Dulwich Common. Any resident interested in watching cycling at the stadium can see events on Wednesday evenings in the summer months.

It's not Croquet!

The President of Croquet at Dulwich Sports Club has written in protest at the claims of the Old College Croquet Club made in the last issue of the Newsletter that the Dulwich Sports Club does not play Golf Croquet. For an explanation of the differences between Golf and Association Croquet please refer to Pam Le Gassick's article in that issue. The Dulwich Sports Club has thrown down a challenge to the Old College Club to accept an invitation to a Golf Croquet match this season. They are obviously hoping to hammer Old College as one of their players; Pierre Beaudry represented Belgium in the recent World Golf Croquet Championships in New Zealand. The Notebook questions whether it is British for distinguished croquet clubs to behave like professional soccer clubs and rely on foreign support in times of crisis. However it would be delighted to award a modest trophy to be competed for annually between the two clubs. Will the challenge be accepted? Watch this space or hoop!

The Dulwich Sports Croquet Club invites anyone interested in learning more about the game to contact the Hon.Secretary: Michael Goodman on 020 8693 3564. Club Afternoons are held on Sundays (mainly for Golf Croquet) and Club Evenings on Wednesdays (mostly for Association Croquet) and there is coaching in each form of croquet on Tuesdays in June when all are welcome.

Train Service at West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill

Many people who use West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill stations have thought that, compared with other routes; the train service is infrequent, being basically a train every half hour in each direction. One of the main reasons for this is the number of train paths allocated to Eurostar trains. In 2007, when Eurostar goes to St.Pancras instead of Waterloo, these trains will no longer be coming through West Dulwich and it will be possible to improve the local train service. Early in 2005 a document was published inviting companies to apply for the franchise to operate the South Eastern trains, and setting out the level of service that was planned, which included the local trains serving West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill. The franchise has been awarded to Govia, and they took over on 1 April 2006.

In the Dulwich Society Transport Committee we learned that there are indeed plans to improve the local trains on this route to four trains an hour, instead of two, by running two additional trains an hour between Victoria and Beckenham Junction, alternating with the existing trains between Victoria and Orpington. However, we were dismayed to find that the intention was that the Victoria-Orpington trains would no longer stop at West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill and the Victoria-Beckenham trains were to be the only ones to serve these two stations, every half hour. This meant that for anyone going towards Victoria there would be no improvement, while for anyone going in the other direction the service would be worse, because the train would only go as far as Beckenham. We recently took this up through our MP, Tessa Jowell, with the managing director of South Eastern Trains, who replied that the timetable planners were even now at work on the train service from December 2007, and that he was optimistic that we would approve of what they will be proposing for the local trains at West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill, although he did say that the exact details would be up to the new operator.

The reason for this short note, is to let people who use these stations know what the position is. Then, if anyone is minded to write to the new train operator of this route, whose particulars should be published in the next timetable starting on 11 June 2006, they will be armed with all the facts. In a nutshell, all that is needed to provide a better service is for trains between Victoria and Orpington to continue stopping at West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill.

David Hollis

Dulwich Society Financial Statement

Year ended 31 December 2005

At the Annual General Meeting in March, the Treasurer, Russell Lloyd announced that the total assets of the Society amounted to £10,097, an increase of £4020 on 2004. The Edward Alleyn Statue Appeal had closed with a balance of £1401 outstanding which was included in the account. However, during the evening it was announced that this sum had been forthcoming and there would be no liability to the Society. A provision in the accounts of £1500 had also been made for the restoration of the postal cart purchased by the Society in 2005. 

Long serving Auditor Retires

Ken Jeffries has been the Honorary Auditor of the Dulwich Society for its entire existence - over forty years! His decision to retire was received with much regret at the AGM and a heartily endorsed Vote of Thanks was entered in the Minutes. We are delighted to announce that Ken's daughter, Sally-Anne, a partner in the accountancy firm of K.A. Jeffries & Co has agreed to accept the office of Honorary Auditor.

Planning notes

Mobile Telephone Masts

Southwark have unfortunately not continued their policy of rejecting planning applications for masts in conservation areas. An application by T Mobile for a site on the north eastern corner of Dulwich Common and College Road was recommended for approval and passed by the Community Council on March. This is very bad news and will set an unfortunate precedent for other areas in Dulwich.

On the positive side, the Society understands that discussions are continuing over the proposed locations of the mast in the Pelo sports ground and that an equitable solution may be in sight.

1 Fountain Drive

The purchaser of this old house has now submitted a planning application to extend it, convert it into ten flats, and build three new houses in the wooded garden. Southwark rejected a previous application to build two houses in the garden a couple of years ago and the current scheme, despite its apparently innovative design, is much worse - a large part of the site is used for car parking and many trees will be lost. The access to the site is also dangerous being right on the corner of Crystal Palace Parade. The Society has objected to this gross over development of the site.

S G Smith Motors Ltd.

S G Smith have now submitted a revised application to take down the former petrol station canopies, refurbish the elevations of the workshop building and provide larger areas of landscaping to the frontage to Calton Avenue and Gilkes Crescent. They are not currently looking to demolish the old tyre bay building in Gilkes Place. While the scheme is an improvement on the original, the Society feels that there is still scope for additional planting along Calton Avenue to hide the car park completely.

Hard standings

The Estate's new guide lines on the design and construction of hard standings are now available.

Bella Italia, Dulwich Village

There is a current planning application to extend the building at the rear along Aysgarth Road and to change it from Bella Italia to Café Rouge. Bella Italia appears to have suffered from the increased competition from newer restaurants in the Village and a change of style and name may be just what's needed.

Sir Ernest Shackleton Public House

A revised planning application to demolish this pub on the Kingswood Estate and replace it with a block of flats has now been approved by Southwark. The design is more in keeping with the adjoining houses and Velux windows in the rear roof elevation should minimise overlooking of the properties in Little Bornes. The building is now boarded up.

Mile Post, Red Post Hill

The Estate have confirmed that they have instructed the house behind the mile post in Red Post Hill to rebuild the part of the garden wall that was recently demolished without their consent. At the same time it appears that Southwark are trying to relocate the post in a safer position. What is not clear is whether the two authorities are talking to each other.

14 Red Post Hill

Despite assurances from the Estate, it is very obvious that work has not started on the refurbishment of the dilapidated house next to North Dulwich Station. The Society feels that the arguments have gone on long enough and looks to the Estate to enforce their covenants and make sure that this eyesore is put back into good condition.

The Famous Fallen Wall of North Dulwich

Many residents, particularly those who go up to London from North Dulwich Station, will know the garden wall that surrounds the northern section of the garden of Lyndenhurst, 19 Village Way. It has gradually been deteriorating for over two years and substantial parts of it have now been taken down. Despite the apparent lack of activity the Society has discovered that some work has been going on behind the scenes without, unfortunately, much success.

The garden behind the fallen wall no longer belongs to Lyndenhurst although it used to - it was sold off separately as a development site when the house changed hands in 1990. The purchaser attempted without success to obtain planning consent for a series of different developments finally losing on appeal to the Secretary of State. He sold the site in November 2002 to the current owner, a company called Hausman Hughes. This company then submitted a series of planning applications to secure access to the site from Red Post Hill but was turned down each time by Southwark Council. It is not clear why the developer thinks that Southwark Council will change their previous policies of refusal on the site but be that as it may.

In addition both the Dulwich Estate and the residents of Pond Mead, the 1960s development to the rear, have also confirmed that they will not allow access through their site so there is an impasse. Without access there is no possibility of any development and the owner will lose money as the land only has a limited value as a garden - and ideally as the garden to Lyndenhurst.

It is alleged that the first section of wall, on the northern extremity, was knocked down by the site owner in December 2003 because it was dangerous and further sections along Red Post Hill were cut out between March and June 2004. The wall is listed Grade II so Southwark Council conservation officers were advised and served a notice on the owner to rebuild the wall. They did not enforce the notice and further sections of the wall continued to be taken down until Southwark felt bound to serve a dangerous structure notice and, when it was ignored, they organised a contractor to take down the most dangerous sections.

The owner of Lyndenhurst has attempted to persuade both Southwark Council and the Dulwich Estate to take action and, it seems while they are both happy to serve notices, lack of funds (or a concern that they will not be able to get their money back from the site owner) means that no progress has been made.

The Society's view is that both the Dulwich Estate and Southwark should come together and resolve the situation - the former is supposed to be concerned over maintaining the amenity of Dulwich while the latter is bound under listed building legislation to make sure that listed structures are kept in proper condition. It is time for action.

All's Well at All Saint's - Mike Dudding reports

The Parish Eucharist on April 23rd presided over the Revd. Robert Titley and the service of Evensong presided over by the Rt. Revd. Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark a week later, marked the practical completion of the first phase of the rebuilding of All Saint's Church, West Dulwich, which had been largely consumed by fire in June 2000. The former service also marked the departure of Robert Titley after 12 years in the parish to a new appointment, as a Canon of Southwark Cathedral and Diocesan Director of Ordinands.

The architects for the redevelopment were Thomas Ford & Partners of Sydenham and the builders were Killby & Gayford of Clapham. The main changes to this Grade 1 listed building were to build a new west end to the building to complete what was left unfinished when the church was built in 1881-91. The chancel has been restored to its original state and the nave allowed to show the 'scars' of the fire. The sixteen fine stone statutes which had stood in the chancel had to be removed as they were too badly damaged in the fire. Their replacement remains an aspiration for a later date. The stone chancel arch and screen have also been removed since the stone was no longer safe. The chancel and nave are now more unified in space terms, and the new wooden altar sits almost underneath the remains of the chancel arch. The former pulpit has been removed as it was very badly damaged, and its removal has enabled seating in the nave to be brought forward. The new west end now houses various parish offices, a choir gallery and a choir practice room. Stairs go up to the gallery and down to the crypt and a lift serves all three floors.

The building work cost well over £6 million, covered in large measure by insurance. While some may question the wisdom of spending so much on the building, the terms of the insurance prevented the money being used in any other way. Inevitably the work had to be pared down to reflect available funds and a number of items remain to be undertaken. The PCC now has the second phase in its sights, including provision of a pipe-organ to maintain All Saint's high reputation for good music. All told a further £1 million needs to be found.

One remarkable feature of the six years has been the way in which, under Robert Titley's leadership, the congregation has hung together in such adverse circumstances. This leadership ensured that potentially divisive issues were talked through by the PCC and the wider congregation and as a result key decisions were approved by large majorities. Anybody who has not yet seen inside the building should look, and take pride in what a Dulwich community has achieved.

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