(Or Dulwich's 18th Century version of Crop Circles?)

In the last issue of the Newsletter use was made of local resident Robert Adie's collection of eighteenth and early nineteenth century plans of fields and houses in Dulwich to trace the enlargement of the stables and coach houses of the old Greyhound Inn. Another example from Robert's collection is reproduced below and depicts a plan of part of Dulwich Woods. A brief inscription on the back of the plan states - 'The Laps Wood Cost £20 1819' and is signed 'Stephen Whitton'. According to the text on the front it was bought by Messrs Lamburd and Doo of the Corporation of Dulwich College.

We know a little about Benjamin Doo. Before he became a 'Poor Brother' or pensioner in the almshouse at what was then called Alleyn's College (but is today called Edward Alleyn House) he drove the stage-coach which plied between Dulwich and Sydenham. It is clear that after he became an almsperson his circumstances improved sufficiently for him to make this substantial purchase. This improvement in Doo's fortune is supported by evidence that the income to members of the Corporation of Alleyn's College of God's Gift in which the almspeople shared, rose substantially in the late 18th century as wealthier incomers took out building leases and built their substantial houses, some of which still survive. It is more likely that Lamburd and Doo's purchase was a lease on the woodland.

The sketch plan depicts that part of the Woods which are better known as Lapse Wood (probably named because of its steeply sloping topography) and the dog-leg shaped track running from bottom to the top of the map is Cox's Walk. Today Cox's Walk follows a slightly different course as it was realigned to cross what was the new High Level railway line to the Crystal Palace. Present-day Sydenham Hill is shown running left to right at the foot of the plan.

What is curious about the plan is the fact that it shows two avenues of trees bisecting each other to form a Christian cross. Around the bisecting point is a circle of trees and within that tree plantation, joined by dots, are other trees which form a star. Does this mean that the two other nearby plantations called First Low Cross Wood and Second Low Cross Wood had similar complex ornamental planting and is that why they were so named? Since Doo's time this area has been transformed several times - to a railway cutting and gardens and now to Sydenham Hill Wood Nature Reserve and nothing remains that bears resemblance to the plan.

The Editor would be pleased to receive any observations from members about this curious plantation.

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