Part of the uniqueness of Dulwich is its large amount of open space. It did not arrive like that by accident but as a policy decision made in 1905 by the then Dulwich Estates Governors to keep over 120 acres of Dulwich’s 1500 acres as open space for all time. The last few farms were about to close and there was pressure to build on the land. With the exception of one playing field on the north side of Dulwich Common which was compulsorily purchased for housing after World War ll, this has remained the case; a policy now strengthened by the Metropolitan Open Land Act.
So what goes on in all this open space? We thought it about time we found out. Largely it is used for sports and here is a sample of some of them.
The Old Alleynian (Rugby) Football Club - Dulwich Common
The OAs were founded in 1898 to provide former scholars of Dulwich College with an opportunity to continue to play rugby with colleagues that they had grown up with. This basic idea continues today although the Club has moved with the times and now provides the opportunity to enjoy rugby for those that did not attend Dulwich College as well.
The Club moved to its current home on Dulwich Common in the 1920’s and looks set to remain there for many years. The Clubhouse has been renovated after a fire a few years ago and provides a warm and welcoming place to meet after a game.
As with any local sports club the fortunes peak and trough and the Club 1st XV will finish the 2007/08 season in second position in their league. The recent highlight was winning the 2003/04 Junior Vase at Twickenham – thus making the OAs the best little club in England!
Anyone who watched the recent Six Nations will have seen the contribution by two Old Alleynians – Andrew Sheridan and Nick Easter. These are two of the many Old Alleynians playing for other, more senior, clubs.
Now that the OAs is not just for former pupils of Dulwich College the Club has started a “Minis” section so if you are passing the ground on a Sunday morning you could find up to 400 players aged from 7 to 18 playing the game.
Despite a poor weather forecast, Herne Hill Velodrome’s Good Friday meeting passed off in bright sunshine slightly marred by a chill wind. The organisers’ anxiety about the track surface at the north-facing end (the meeting two years ago had to be abandoned because of the danger caused by the wet surface) was allayed when the early sunshine quickly dried the moisture. By lunchtime a large crowd had built up to watch teams and individuals from several European countries compete in sprint and pursuit races.
The Velodrome is at present operated by the Velo Club de Londres, although the lease to British Cycling granted by the Dulwich estate is due to expire later this year. The VC Londres organises Saturday morning training with an induction session for novices and less experienced riders. On Friday evenings there are now youth training sessions. The club has developed a 1.25 miles long mountain bike/cyclo-cross circuit on vacant land adjacent to the track. Bikes are available for use at the training sessions for a nominal sum.
Last year John Watts published a history of the Velodrome – Herne Hill Stadium to Herne Hill Velodrome: a history from 1891-2007.* From the outset the author, a former president of the Southern Counties Cycling Union, makes clear that the book is not a celebration of the stadium’s glory days and Olympic fame, but rather a detailed account of how it came into existence, its management and maintenance. This account is therefore both topical and useful. Topical, in that it arrives at a time when a huge question mark hangs over the future of Herne Hill despite the laudable campaign for its retention by cyclists throughout the country. Useful, because it dispels certain myths and acknowledges that the landlord, the Dulwich Estate, has actually been an ally to the stadium rather than a predatory developer and has renewed the lease twice since the 42 year lease expired in 2002.
The book points out the decline in enthusiasm for track racing, citing the lower than expected attendance figures at the indoor track which opened at Manchester in 1994, and argues that this trend does not auger well for the future of Herne Hill. Indeed, at one time British Cycling faced insolvency and the Manchester Velodrome was faced with closure. This was underlined on Good Friday when I went to take the pictures to illustrate this article and arrived on my folding ‘Brompton’ bicycle. A German TV unit who is doing a programme on the Brompton were thus more interested in my bicycle than the racing going on around them. Good for British exports but bad for track racing.
Nevertheless, there is arguably a much greater interest in cycling, even since 1994 and things may change even more. Indeed, only a week after the 2008 Good Friday meeting, there was a momentous success at the Track World Championships when the Great Britain team won nine gold medals in 18 events at the Manchester Velodrome and the British team is being tipped for great success in the Olympic Games in Beijing. National newspapers which usually take little interest in cycling carried several whole page illustrated reports of the British team’s success.
So what does the success in Manchester mean for Herne Hill? It is virtually certain that if the GB team is able to repeat its Manchester success in Beijing it will refocus the attention of the now huge cycling fraternity towards track racing. It is likely that young riders will be enthused and many of those who live in the south of England will want to train for the 2012 Olympics at Herne Hill. It may be too early to write off Herne Hill Velodrome.
*Herne Hill Stadium to Herne Hill Velodrome: a history from 1891-2007 by John Watts, A4 wire- bound 71 pages £5.90 incl. pp.from the author 45 Juniper Road, Langley Green, Crawley RH11 7NL.
The Old College Club was established in 1884, making it one of the earliest tennis clubs in south London (the Wimbledon Championships began in 1877 and tennis was suddenly fashionable). The original site, including grass tennis courts and a croquet lawn (another game becoming more popular), was probably on the western side of Gallery Road nearer the Village, perhaps near the Old Grammar School building. The club closed during the First World War but it is recorded that members continued to pay their subscriptions so that the club could be revived after the war, and it is thought that it was opened on its present Gallery Road site north of Lovers Lane in the 1920s. The club thrived, taking in members from other clubs that had closed, and by 1939 there were five grass and six clay courts on the present site.
After the Second World War the club survived the burning down of its pavilion (twice!) and a threat of bankruptcy in the 1960s only averted by heroic fund-raising activities by members. Croquet was revived with the construction of a new croquet lawn and grass courts which were expensive to maintain were replaced by artificial grass surfaces. It is now a flourishing club with four hard and three artificial grass courts and a wide age range in the membership, including over 100 juniors. There are a number of men's and women's teams, the top men's team playing in the second highest Surrey league. Full details of the types of membership available are given on its website www.oldcollege.co.uk
The Old College Tennis & Croquet Club Gallery Road, Dulwich SE21 7AB
The Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Golf Club
Founded in 1894, the Golf Club is one of Dulwich’s hidden gems. From both the Clubhouse and the course there are magnificent views of London’s skyline – from Canary Wharf via the City, the Post Office Tower and the new Wembley Arch, to Hampstead and Highgate.
In recent years there have been a series of major improvements to both the course and the Clubhouse. The Club has its own bore hole giving it full control over its water supply. This enabled a full course watering system to be installed some years ago, substantially helping the Green Keeping staff in maintaining the course in excellent condition. Drainage has also been improved considerably, which has greatly helped winter play. Six new tees have been built, and many new trees and shrubs are being planted.
The golf is good at all levels. We have some fine players who do well in County and inter-club matches, but equally, there are opportunities for everyone to play in matches or competitions. We have 830 playing members including Juniors, and a further 250 Social members. Within these figures there are a number of groups – for example the Veteran’s section (chiefly the over 60’s) which has about 100 members, the oldest playing member is 93! The ladies have a similar ‘Perennials’ section.
The Club has excellent facilities – a very good bar and dining room, where members and their friends can get one of the best Sunday lunches in Dulwich. The Club Professional and his staff give lessons (to members and non-members) and also run a shop which offers a fine range of equipment and clothing. The Club has a very active Bridge section, as well as providing a wide range of social activities.
New members are very welcome.
Cricket came to Dulwich in 1879 when the nomadic Aeolian Cricket Club, which had been founded by the Camberwell Music Society in l867, took up occupation of the Greyhound CC ground in Dulwich Village. Once there, “they became a formidably successful team, seldom beaten”. The Club had previously had the distinction of playing against a team which featured the resident of 7 Lawrie Park Road in nearby Sydenham – a certain Dr WG Grace!
In 1885 the Club moved to the playing fields bounded by Turney, Burbage and Giant Arches Roads and became Dulwich CC, now the Cricket Section of Dulwich Sports Club which also supports Tennis, Hockey, Squash and, in the next article, Croquet. A fine example of its standing in cricket circles occurred in l919 when Dulwich celebrated the resumption of sporting activities following the end of the Great War by declaring at 502 for 8 and then bowling out Sutton for 89 – “just another everyday 413 run victory!”
Mention must also be made of the occasion in l928 when AER Gilligan, the first recorded Dulwich player to captain his country, entertained the touring West Indians who included in their team Sir Learie Constantine and RK Nunes, another future Test captain who had played for the Club. In fact no fewer than 5 Test Captains have played for Dulwich.
Cricket at Dulwich continued to be highly successful in the l930s but the golden era was during the l970s when the Club won the Surrey Championships for three successive years. The Club also reached the National Club Knockout final at Lord’s in l976. In l993 the Club toured India and Kenya and Uganda in 2001.They are going back to India next winter
As for the future development of the game here, John Smith, long-standing President of the Cricket Section, writes: “Dulwich continues to go from strength to strength with the first team at the top of the ECB Surrey Championship Premier League, only one step down from the County system. The Club fields 7 adult teams on Saturdays and 4 teams on Sundays, in two of which youngsters play alongside adults. The Club has recently launched a ladies section. Moreover the colts section has proved a fertile recruiting ground for the adult teams with over 250 junior members playing on a regular basis”. The future seems assured!