There are well over thirty sports fields, parks and ornamental gardens in Dulwich. They are the legacy of the gift of 72 acres of land for the creation of Dulwich Park made by the Alleyn’s College Estate in 1885 and a further commitment of 127 acres as open space ‘for all time’ made in 1905. English Heritage is taking an interest in our sports grounds, to the extent that it is considering including them a book it is to publish. They are themselves surprised that such a large cluster of open space still exists in London.That these sports fields came into being is due to a happy coincidence of the end of farming in the area, the replacement of horses for transport by the motor car and the increase in the population’s leisure time. Nevertheless, the type of users of these fields has changed over the years. Apart from the three Foundation schools that were granted sports fields when they moved into new buildings between 1870-1886, most of the other fields were leased by paternalistic employers seeking to build up the health and esprit de corps of their workforce. Companies involved in banking, brewing, manufacturing and insurance first leased the grounds. Some were succeeded by the old boys associations of Alleyn’s, Dulwich College and Wilson’s Grammar School and Cambridge University Settlement.
In the past few years the last of these companies have abandoned the grounds as their workforces became more dispersed. Even more recently a former polytechnic, now a university, has relinquished use. But the grounds have soon been snapped up. There is more local community interest in using the fields, especially for youth sport in soccer, cricket and hockey. Several grounds have also been leased to Dulwich College and Dulwich Preparatory School where increased school roles have put pressure on existing grounds.
All this is good news. Good news for the health of the population, good news for the environment and if one is honest, good news for surrounding property prices. The further good news concerns Dulwich Woods, part of which the London Wildlife Trust has run so well for the past thirty years at Sydenham Hill Nature Reserve. Here, through the co-operation and match funding of the Dulwich Estate, the dew pond is being restored and the Ambrook stream which flows into it enhanced. As you will read elsewhere in this issue, the total number of species recorded in the Woods has reached 783 and Dulwich Wood comes 41st in the top 100 woods in the country.
The Dulwich Society has also played a part in environmental projects, most recently in November when, assisted by volunteers from the London Wildlife Trust, it replanted and restored the hedge in Gallery Road.