On 12th October a ‘listening post’, a solar-powered, vandal proof information device was unveiled by Dr Kenneth Wolfe, the Society’s president before an assembly of over 70 members. The post was paid for through the Mary Boast fund, a bequest to the Dulwich Society’s local history group by a former member, the late Mary Boast who was head librarian at Southwark and the author of a number of official borough histories including Dulwich. A niece and nephew of Mary Boast were able to attend the event.
Its provision was at the suggestion of Sharon O’Connor, secretary of the Local History group, who also organised the entire project, dealing with the narrator, the actor Wliiam Owen and arranging the adaption of the script by Mary Green. Sue Badman had seen Will and Mary’s Edward Alleyn cameo in the last Dulwich Festival to be held before the pandemic. It was part of perambulating performance depicting the originator of the A-Z street guide Phyllis Pearsall conducting a tour of Dulwich’s historical landmarks.
After the unveiling of the post, which is activated by the pressing of a button, and is located in the garden of Christ’s Chapel and the Old College, close to the Edward Alleyn statue, the members moved into the Chapel where Brian Green gave a short talk on the history of the 400 year-old building. Norman Harper, former organist of St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, then played a selection of organ music published around the time of the Chapel’s historic organ’s debut (1760). The pleasant morning, in sunny weather concluded with a glass of Buck’s Fizz under the cloisters.
Will Owen narrator
William comes from a family of actors. Both his father and grandfather were in the business, most notably for their work in the BBC comedy "Last of the Summer Wine" Sadly the show is no longer being filmed so Will has had to make do with recent appearances in ‘Deceit’ for Ch4 and the Queen biopic, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.. Along with acting,Will is also a musician. He has his own band Fire at Will and is “looking forward to playing live again very soon".
Edward Alleyn Listening Post Unveiled! - the text of Kenneth’s Wolfe’s address.
The name Alleyn adorns seven streets in Dulwich and no doubt the residents living in them or walking past - probably know little about this extraordinarily talented and eventually very wealthy fellow. He lost his father when he was just four. Luckily that father had been in service to Queen Elizabeth - the first [!] - an innkeeper and a porter - therefore with ‘elevated’ social connections. Alleyn’s mother was a Townley and eventually had a Dulwich road named after her. With his father gone, she remarried - this time to a notable actor named Brown. Theatre was part of Alleyn’s daily domestic atmosphere. By the mid-eighties, the Alleyn family was well established and Edward, Ned to his chums, was remarkably talented. It was said he was not only taller than most but now writing his own plays. With these and his team of actors there was success. Soon they were on the road acting in his own dramas as well as those of the likes of Marlow - all for a basic financial need. Touring from town to town, even risking the Bubonic plague - the Coronavirus of their time. They went courageously hither and thither, hopefully entertaining the non-coughing audiences; they needed the cash!
Alleyn became a great success widely praised and in demand; parts written for him playing the title role; so to say - he was the Lawrence Olivier of his day! His only close rival was Richard Burbage. He married Joan Woodward in late twenties; she sadly died in her early thirties. As with so many notables, the church was a central consolation to his life, limb and spirit. The link was comforting: six months later, he married the daughter of the poet and Dean of St. Paul’s John Donne with whom Alleyn would doubtless have agreed: ‘No Man is an Island.’ Yet at the height of his career - he decided in his mid-thirties to leave the stage and go into business not the least to build and support theatres, one in Finsbury Fields to rival the Globe on Bankside. He was also Master of the King’s Games - of bears, bulls and dogs, riotous fun with their dogs barking up the audience’s gangways - and leaving their calling cards. Alleyn himself once baited a lion in the Tower of London.
Rumour has it that the Queen asked him to return to the theatre and indeed, he did. In his mid-thirties he was now the talk of the town, praised by Ben Johnson; perhaps above all, praised by those ordinary folk enjoying the entertainment. He continued acting on and off - responding to demand while becoming a wealthy businessman. A notable cleric Thomas Fuller wrote of Alleyn’s acting ‘he made any part to become him’ - he was ‘inimitable’.
Aged just under forty as the seventeenth century emerged, Alleyn by then owned a huge span of land and property having bought a great chunk from one Thomas Calton; a landscape that stretched all the way from Herne Hill to a high spot that happily somewhat later, allowed the BBC to erect an impressive aerial!
Above all the College building was his major project in Dulwich that began in 1613. He possessed a dynamic energy that linked theatre with learning: entertainment and erudition. It was perhaps a gesture of thanksgiving; hence ‘God’s Gift’ for all his successes and adulation on and off the stage. Alleyn encouraged theatrical performances: he was hugely influential - and of course, getting older, yet creatively successful in business. He was clearly a man of talent and influence, with one eye on adults in the stalls and another on the young at their desks. Above all, Edward Alleyn knew that the rising generation was in need of knowledge. Hence his commitment to the school, once he had acquired the land. By 16th June 1619 when Alleyn was in his fifties, the College of God’s Gift was founded.
His life is testimony to his youthfully creative energy and perhaps has something to say for us today. His College and his theatrical appreciation was more than schooling: it embraced insight more than just knowledge; perhaps laying a foundation in young minds upon whose maturing insight much would be built and in later years would show signs of wisdom and maturity.
Louise Simson’s sculpture here is thus a dynamic and eloquent image of Alleyn reaching down to the little chap enticing him to act and to learn, a sculptured narrative. Dulwich would provide the chance to play as well as to study, learning from what the teachers might say and what the actors might proclaim. We have to thank Edward Alleyn for creating an area of London that has been safeguarded from local authority intrusion; it remains to this a rural oasis in this city.
We must thank him for setting up a famous educational foundation that has taught and educated many hundreds of pupils many of whom would become famous and influential. And we must be proud! Of this powerful sculptured symbol that makes this important feature of local history dramatically accessible to all: it brings him to life. As a thespian, he would have loved this dramatic piece.
Thus we unveil a technology providing a means to understand a foundation that Alleyn would have cherished. His wealth had found a special purpose. Thus Louise Simson has him offering his enticing hand in the classroom, on the stage offering those essential educational components. And for this unique innovation, we must thank the generous Mary Boast legacy; and indeed, we must welcome Mary’s nephew Michael and his family. Her legacy brings this dynamic statue to life through the voice of Will Owen and his attention to detail in the recording; alas, he is busy recording this morning. The words of course, do not fall out of the sky but have been scripted by Mary the daughter of Brian Green - who knows more than most and will forgive my errors. Between the two of them, we are informed, educated and entertained. Unveil!