Following on from Mark Bryant’s article in the previous Journal on Dulwich connections with Nazi Germany, there was a recent article in the Times about another one, a little known visit to London in March 1939 by Reichsfrauenfühererin Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, the head of Nazi Germany’s National Socialist Women's League (NS-Frauenschaft). Invited over by the Women’s League of Health and Beauty and the Anglo-German Fellowship, she visited Dulwich, or to be more precise Sydenham Hill, to tour the Lapsewood Training School for Girls from the Special Areas.

Lapsewood, a large house on Sydenham Hill on the corner of Cox’s Walk was originally built by Charles Barry Jnr as his own house in 1861. He sold the lease on to Edward Clarke, a wealthy stockbroker in the mid-1870s and Clarke lived there for nearly forty years, with his wife, thirteen children, and numerous servants. Although Clarke died in 1916 his wife remained in the house until her death in 1928. Her executors then tried to sell the remaining 15-year lease without much success, until in 1931 it was acquired by the Government as a domestic service training centre for unemployed young people from what were called at the time, the ‘special areas’ - unemployment hotspots like Tyneside and Wales.

A rather patronising article in the Northern Daily Mail in June 1932 under the heading ‘SUNSHINE SUSIES - how they are solving the servant problem’, reported that the ‘Sunshine Susies of Sydenham Hill’ were the happiest girls in London (‘Sunshine Susies’ was the title of a musical comedy film starring Jack Hulbert produced in 1931). Apparently, there were 40 of them, ‘Welsh girls with dark and dancing eyes, rosy-cheeked Yorkshire lassies, and nimble-witted cockneys’, and they all lived at Lapsewood ‘among the trees and the flowers singing all the time’. And the reason why they were so happy was that they were learning ‘to be first-class domestic maids and are being taught house-wifery, cookery, needlework, and other difficult things.’

Queen Mary visited the house a few days later and was photographed admiring the centre’s mascot, a small dog named Jennifer. Presumably the establishment closed during the war as it was re-let in October 1947 to the Ministry of Education as a hostel for student teachers. Converted into flats In the 1950s, it was finally demolished in the early 1960s. The grounds are now part of the Sydenham Hill Wood managed by the London Wildlife Trust.

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