Reviewed by Bernard Nurse
Dulwich and its immediate surroundings at their best are celebrated in words and pictures in this beautiful book printed throughout in full colour, the first of a series planned on London suburbs. The author, Mireille Galinou, has gathered a talented and experienced team from former colleagues at the Museum of London to compile this work. Torla Evans, who was Head of Photography is rightly credited on the title page for contributing stunning recent pictures. The author, who was Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Museum, has complemented the contemporary images with a superb selection of historic illustrations, many of which have not been reproduced before.
The text and design is more akin to that of a colour magazine, with short features on subjects such as local personalities, shops, buildings, parks and art, both now and in the past. The deliberate and successful effect of this novel approach is to relate the contents more closely to the experiences of the reader and provide a flavour of the place where they live and or might visit. The structure makes it a book that you can dip into at any point rather than have to read as a narrative. The contents are highly selective and are intended to have a wider appeal than a more academic local history brought up to the present day.
As a result, old and new are juxtaposed to highlight change and continuity. Thus John Ruskin’s thoughts on Herne Hill in Victorian times are contrasted with experiences on life there today by two architects. The illustrations are well integrated into the text with illuminating comments. For example, a double-page spread depicts a lively print of the Grove Tavern, Lordship Lane in the 1870s. This is accompanied by remarks of the dress historian, who also happens to be the editor, on the dress of the lady croquet players illustrated. Their dress provides evidence for dating the print.
Dulwich is defined very broadly to encompass more than the area covered by the Estate, whose boundaries are shown on the introductory map as they were in 1806 rather than currently. Four admittedly artificial zones are identified for the purpose of the book, with a long section on each. The central area has Dulwich Village at its heart; East Dulwich, focused on Lordship Lane, extends to Denmark Hill station and north of Goose Green; West Dulwich, defined by Croxted Road, incorporates the eastern side of Herne Hill as far as Ruskin Park and the Carnegie Library, and includes a mysterious extra railway station on the map between Herne Hill and West Dulwich. Finally, South Dulwich, characterized by its open spaces, mostly keeps to the Estate boundary. However, included here is the Horniman Museum, described as ‘technically’ in Forest Hill ‘but its spirit belongs to the “wilds” of Dulwich’. Some of our neighbours may take exception to the author’s definition of Dulwich, but on the whole she does establish interesting connections with surrounding places undoubtedly familiar to Dulwich residents.
The Dulwich Notebook does what the title suggests, giving a highly individual snapshot of the area, both informative and a valuable source for future historians. Curiously, from a historian who has written the definitive account of the St John’s Wood Estate, the reasons why Dulwich has so many open spaces and the changing policies of the Dulwich Estate over time are not explored in any depth. The historical background is based largely on readily available secondary sources and does not replace the histories of Brian Green and others. However, the author is to be congratulated for providing us with a popular account, superbly produced and offered for sale at a remarkably low price, and for taking on the daunting task of publishing it herself. She deserves to be successful.
Mireille Galinou, The Dulwich Notebook. Your London Publications, 2015. 256pp,