It was in early 1980 that Southwark Council turned its attention to the sites of twelve derelict houses and gardens on the south side of Farquhar Road, close to the former Crystal Palace High Level railway station which after WW2 had reverted to woodland. As Ian McInnes’s article shows, action had already been taken on development of the former railway station and its extensive trackbed. However it seems clear that, although Southwark Council wished to preserve the area as woodland it was not at all sure how it would go about it. It had however brought in professional ecologist advisers to examine the triangular 2½ hectare (4½acre) site. Initially they thought it might be used as a training ground for environmental workers.
The Dulwich Society was keen that the same approach be made on another area in Dulwich. Sydenham Hill woods adjacent to Sydenham Hill had been zoned for future housing by the cash strapped council which had previously purchased the land from the Dulwich Estate. It was the site of several Victorian mansions, including Fernbank, a large house with extensive grounds running down to the former trackbed of the railway line through the woods which the council was considering selling off to a developer. The Dulwich Society hoped to preserve at least some the area as woodland for the enjoyment of the public within a contemplated larger area of woodland. Further along the ridge of Sydenham Hill, stood another old house with large grounds named Lapsewood. This was still the property of the Dulwich Estate which had its own plans for redevelopment . The Society was growing extremely anxious and applying pressure on both the Estate and the Council to abort their plans for housing redevelopment.
The Dulwich Society asked one of its members, John Westwood ARCA to carry out a survey of the trees of the Farquhar Road site in order to establish the facts regarding their location quality, variety and distribution. Westwood had previously been given an award for his survey of Sydenham Hill wood. The new survey persuaded the Society that there were some magnificent trees there which few people had ever seen , “they lie hidden in what is virtually a tract of unexplored forest”.
In January 1981 Southwark Council announced that the site would become a city nature park under the control of the Ecological Parks Trust. Draft proposals in an outline action programme included the provision for a warden’s hut and associated workshop area. Interpretive displays, a children’s’ play area and camp fire site, a tree nursery and a network of paths and trails. There would be a management programme to include various types of woodland. A key factor would be the establishment of of a local advisory group and it was hoped that the Dulwich Society would be able to contribute significantly to that. The Council and the Ecological Parks Trust also had written to thank the Dulwich Society for mapping the site and they looked forward to close co-operation with it, and others, on the development of the project.
John Westwood’s survey revealed that there were some 160 forest trees including 27 oaks and several fine acacias, limes and chestnuts as well as hundreds of smaller trees with a total of over twenty varieties in all.
In 2021, forty years on, Dulwich Upper Wood continues to thrive, with its own warden and band of dedicated volunteers. The lockdowns have brought many new visitors to the Upper Wood, easily double the previous year and a number are joining the corps of volunteers. Michael Williams, the warden reports that a new outdoor classroom has been created and that work to restore the pond is underway.
There have recently been problems with a stretch of a former garden wall fronting Farquhar Road being unsafe because of the root activity of several mature oaks. Rather than take them down a Council- led local survey has recommended changing a section of pavement adjacent to a shared pedestrian and cycle route.
Michael Williams has been Warden of the Upper Wood since 2018 and overseas the work of volunteers who maintain the wood. He is usually on duty on Tuesdays and on two other days per week and would welcome meeting anyone interested in joining this worthwhile and long-established amemnity.