Dr Colin Niven, President of the Dulwich Society writes

I am very privileged to succeed Judge Michael Rich, who retires with the affection and admiration of all those in Dulwich who know him.  My own links with Dulwich go back a long way, I think I’m still a local inhabitant, but a friend asked me recently where I lived.  ‘Dulwich’, I replied, ‘Oakfield Gardens’.  ‘That’s not Dulwich, that’s SE 19.  ‘Well, it says Dulwich in the Dulwich Wood Avenue address’, I protested.  ‘And I live in London Road, and that’s in Edinburgh’, replied my now former friend.  Anyway, if physically I’m beyond the Pale, spiritually my heart has been here since the Second World War, when my parents moved to Acland Crescent on Denmark Hill.

With my brothers Peter and Alastair I used to play in the glorious forest where the flats of the Bessemer estate now stand.  We each ‘owned’ a bombed out house and invited our comrades at Dulwich Village Infants and later at Dulwich Hamlet School to play conkers and canasta in the ruins.  Health and Safety would have had a fit!  Under Miss Barnes, kindliest of headteachers, we rushed around in our red and black caps, until that solemn morning when we were summoned to an emergency assembly to hear that the King had died, my first serious recollection.  St Barnabas and the Chapel both sowed important seeds, and I must be one of the longest serving parishioners of the church, for at the age of seven I was the tallest in my class and therefore carried the heavy cross at Dulwich Hamlet’s Easter Service.

Later I moved up to the College, and again the three of us enjoyed idyllic days in that splendid school. We were part of the famous Dulwich Experiment promoted by Christopher Gilkes, forerunner of the Assisted Places scheme, to which my generation owe so much.   Members of Spenser House, we were exceptionally lucky in our teachers, and among the very best was the current Senior Fellow of the College, Mr Terry Walsh.  He and many others fostered a great love of sport, and in days to come I played for the Old Alleynians at cricket, rugger and hockey, and I also joined the Dulwich Hockey Club and the Dulwich and Sydenham Golf Club.

Meantime, in the university vacations, I drove the lift in King’s College Hospital, carted the laundry around Bart’s, sold sheets in Selfridges and gradually qualified for a career in teaching that took me to Alleyn’s where I was incredibly happy as Headmaster from 1992 to 2002, living at 8 Dulwich Village, and then to Shanghai, Beijing and Suzhou where I was lucky enough to help start the new Dulwich Colleges.  Thanks to the Alleyn’s job I was on the Chapel Committee and a Trustee of the Picture Gallery when both buildings were refurbished.

So here I am, still bravely supporting Crystal Palace Football Club and hoping that for the next few years the Dulwich Society will continue to be of so much benefit as it has been in Michael Rich’s time.

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