The Dulwich Society Journal for Summer 2015.
At long last, the sculpture commissioned from Conrad Shawcross to replace the stolen Barbara Hepworth bronze statue ‘Divided Circle’ has been installed in Dulwich Park and Trevor Moore reports on the ceremony in this issue. Like its predecessor, the new work will undoubtedly attract both praise and criticism. In time it will be accepted as a key element in this truly remarkable park, reborn following a long period of decline. Perhaps the most important change was to ban traffic in the park by providing a dedicated car park in the former grounds of the maintenance department.
Now that Thames Water has virtually departed, the vistas have returned, the play areas regained once again. Rosebery Lodge, now leased by the Dulwich Society for occasional exhibitions and meetings is also being extensively used by the U3A and as a base for the Dulwich Vegetable garden. The ‘village copse’ has matured and a tree has been planted nearby in memory of Stella Benwell who had such an influence on Dulwich Park's redesign.
During the consultation in the aftermath of the Hepworth robbery, when it became clear that a substantial sum would be available from the insurers, a number of varying proposals were made with how to spend it. Although the majority opinion was to replace the Hepworth with another piece of art, one of the suggestions which attracted a great deal of support was for a bandstand.
What form a bandstand might take, whether it would be a Victorian style one to reflect the park’s heritage, or a more modern design was not discussed. Certainly a bandstand would be a great asset; if there is one thing the park actually lacks, except during the Dulwich Festival, is any form of entertainment. Older residents will recall that the field where two of the three Shawcross installations are sited was actually called the bandstand field and during and after WW2 a prefabricated bandstand indeed stood there.
Bandstands exist in several other local parks and concerts are successfully held in them. There is a demand for various kinds of music: choirs, brass, ukulele and so on to add yet another dimension to the facilities in Dulwich Park. Perhaps the suggestion should be revisited.
Dulwich Village is having a serious problem with its iconic horse chestnut trees. It is thought that the tradition of planting this species along the broad former high street dates back the early 18th century. Of course trees do not live for ever, and over the years some of the majestic specimens have succumbed to old age and been replaced. Recently however, a disease has struck some of the remaining large specimens and two of the most prominent have been identified as diseased with trunks hollowed out. By the time this issue is printed, they may already have been felled. The plan was to replace them with London Plane, an equally large but arguably, not such a showy tree. However, following intervention by local residents, Copper Beech has been agreed.
It is proposed that the issue of street and garden trees will be discussed at a public meeting convened by the Dulwich Society in due course.
An alternative solution to the contentious Townley Road/East Dulwich Grove junction was agreed at the Dulwich community Council meeting on 17 March with the proviso that there would be a monitoring regime to check its effectiveness. The weekend before, the Society hosted a well-attended public meeting on Southwark’s cycling strategy and its potential impact on the Dulwich area. Unfortunately a follow up meeting with Councillor Mark Williams, the Council Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Planning and Transport, planned for April, had to be postponed because of the general election. The Society is keen to impress on the Council that a positive approach to public engagement is required and that, while residents appreciate the political impetus behind improvements for cyclists, other road users, and pedestrians, have also to be considered
The proposed one hour limit for parking in Dulwich Village is on hold. It seems that this policy which was to be introduced in all shopping areas in Southwark is being reconsidered after a large number of objections from both traders and residents. The Society still feels that it would be of benefit in Dulwich - anecdotal evidence suggest that a large number of the parking spaces in the Village are taken by the traders themselves or teachers, this cannot be good for local businesses, not all residents live in the village and can walk to the shops.
The Society has also been active in supporting the objectors to the proposed mobile phone mast on the corner of Half Moon Lane and Village Way, which was rejected by the Council. The planning application for the new Herne Hill Velodrome Grandstand is currently being considered by Southwark and there were public consultations over Southwark’s proposal to convert Holmhurst, on the corner of Burbage Road and Half Moon Lane, into an adult residential care home run by the Optima group.
Depressingly, March and April saw four out of the five pubs on the Dulwich Estate closed - the Alleyn’s Head was the only pub where you could find a drink. The Dulwich Woodhouse was being refurbished; the Half Moon Hotel remains closed (though we understand that the Estate is talking to a potential pub operator) and we are still waiting to see redevelopment proposals for the Grove Tavern on Lordship Lane. Meanwhile work on the Crown and Greyhound continues - hopefully the bars will be open by Christmas.
On the other Dulwich’s Estate developments, the West Dairy site is moving forward and hopefully work will start on site in the late Autumn. On S G Smith former workshop, there is no news but recent English Heritage listing activity in Dulwich Village over the parish hall and the stone stocks plaque (see page 18) may delay it.
Report of the Public Meeting 14 March
The Society’s Public Meeting on the subject of traffic on 14 March was attended by over 100 people. Ian McInnes, chair, and Sue Badman from the Turney Road Residents Association, gave a brief powerpoint introduction on Southwark’s plans for the cycling spine and quietways and also noted how schemes outside the area eg. the projected closure of roads through Loughborough Junction, which was not consulted on, would clearly impact on traffic in Dulwich. Sue also gave a brief report on the meeting between the TRRA and Southwark officers to discuss the implications of the projected quietways for Turney Road.
It is clear the Mayor wishes to leave a legacy of his time in office and it appears that things are being pushed through rapidly before he leaves office in April 2016. The Mayor’s cycling czar has come up with a route layout based on existing cycling preferences and the council is apparently working with that - both the quietways and cycling spine are seen as a done deal. There was confusion as to what exactly were the differences between the two denominations
It was also clear that the meeting thought that the current level of public consultation and engagement needed to be improved considerably. Hopefully there is room for compromise and it was felt important that we as a community come up with constructive comments and alternatives, given the political will behind the cycling improvements. The general feeling was that council officers did not actually appreciate the existing traffic pressures in the area e.g. Turney Road or Dovercourt Road where two cars cannot pass with the existing layout - let alone if parking was restricted and cycle ways introduced.
The implications for disabled/less mobile residents’ access to their cars and homes was discussed, and the point was made that there is more dependency on cars in Dulwich because of poor public transport particularly E/W cross-Dulwich routes.
On school travel, the meeting’s view was that the independent schools were not helping to look for solutions. Several people felt that coaches should be banned from going as far as the schools and instead park elsewhere (e.g. Belair, Dulwich parks) and children then walked from there. The chair mentioned arrangements at Dulwich Prep where there was an agreement with the Alleyns Head Pub whereby children are dropped there and then walked over to the school. A Safe Routes to School representative agreed to take the issue of coach parking elsewhere in Dulwich back to the group and investigate further. There was also support for mandatory provision of on-site parking for teachers and visitors (possibly underground) and that any new school building should address this problem properly and not just assume that there would be adequate spare parking on surrounding roads.
On the benefits of controlled parking outside the shops in Dulwich Village - some were concerned that it could lead to more parking in residential roads as many of the parking places are used by either teachers or workers in the local shops. There was some discussion on CPZ creep and that, as more and more streets became CPZs, the more others had to follow. On options for the projected CPZ in the North Dulwich Triangle, it appeared likely that most spaces would be for residents only (for which an annual charge would be made) with a small number of spaces for limited parking with timed controls e.g. at lunchtime thus not allowing all day parking. A point was raised over parkers phoning in to pay for their midday parking. Councillors present confirmed that there was no evidence of this in other parking zones.
Double yellow lines on new dropped kerbs received very mixed reviews, as there was concern that you would no longer be able to allow visitors to your house to park across the entrance. Enforcement of the new 20mph limit on Southwark roads was also queried - the police had confirmed that there would be some - most likely in targeted roads depending on collision statistics. Speed cameras will also be recalibrated at some point.
In summary all agreed that the area needs a holistic transport solution across Dulwich taking into account the needs of all road and pavement users. It should also include public transport and take account of the proposed new school on the Dulwich Hospital site and other schools nearby in Lambeth. The meeting agreed that parking provision cannot continue to be reduced without an impact on residents and shop traders. There needs to be a radical overhaul of parking provision and a better public engagement process across the community on cycling and other transport plans.
Loss of trees, Horse Chestnuts outside 95 & 97 Dulwich Village
Edwardian postcards confirm that these two massive horse chestnuts have been here for at least 150 years, if not longer. The Dulwich Estate has been monitoring their condition for some time and a recent resistograph inspection by Southwark Council has confirmed that they are largely hollow, and, given their location in the centre of Dulwich Village, they pose a potential danger to passing pedestrians.
The Dulwich Estate applied to Southwark on 26th March for permission to remove the trees and replace them with two 5m high plane trees. Following consultation with residents who live nearby, the propose replacements are now going to be Copper Beeches as being more appropriate to the location.
Proposed Mobile Phone Mast
It is some years since Dulwich saw a planning application to install a new mobile phone mast. The Society supported a large number of local residents who objected to a proposed new installation on the corner of Village Way and Half Moon Lane, less than 100metres from the new Judith Kerr Free School. Southwark’s policy is quite clear, Para 335 of the Southwark Plan says that all telecommunications equipment should be sited as far as practically possible away from educational and community uses.
The Council refused the application but one wonders why it was even registered. Surely officers know what the Southwark Plan says or were they, and the applicant, all unaware that the former Sir James Black Laboratories was now a primary school?
CPZs are coming
Residents in the North Dulwich Triangle are to be consulted over a controlled parking zone on their roads. A well-attended public meeting earlier in the year showed a high level of interest as residents are being affected by new CPZs in nearby roads in Lambeth. There will be two public consultations at the Methodist Church Hall, Half Moon Lane on Thursday 4 June (6-9pm) and Saturday 6 June (2-5pm)
Peter Lawson FRIBA, FCI.arb
As Peter steams towards his 100th decade, he stepped down at the April AGM as Vice President of the Dulwich Society. He is a founder member, attending the first committee meeting in 1964 which dealt with issues very familiar in Dulwich today - trees and parking. As a member of the planning sub-committee, his professional expertise as a chartered architect coupled with his knowledge of Dulwich has been of vital assistance for 50 years and which will continue to be made readily available.
Peter served as vice chairman for 25 years from 1968, and as acting chairman from 1968-70. He was elected vice president in 1989.
He had a distinguished career in practice, and a principal professional association with Michael Rosenauer designing the Time and Life Building at the corner of Bruton Street and New Bond Street (1952/53)
Patrick retired as Hon Secretary at the AGM. He claims he was rather more defeated by modern technology (not helped by the computer failing after a power surge over Easter), than a recent bout of ill health. Patrick initially joined the executive committee in 1990 as local history representative but taking over as the Society’s secretary in 1994. In this capacity he has been supremely efficient in dealing with the huge amount of correspondence generated with the raising of the Edward Alleyn statue in the grounds of the Old College in 2005, and more recently with the installation of the 12 memorials dedicated to Dulwich civilians killed in WW2.
Report from Wildlife Committee
We have three important local Green Spaces which are all sites “of interest for nature conservation”, although not technically categorized as such. All three of them have been dramatically affected by works of one kind or another. Two of these precious areas are much-loved local parks: Dulwich and Belair parks. Another one is a big section of Metropolitan Open Land, noted for its iconic mature field boundary trees, upon which a new nursery school has appeared.
Accordingly, our group have been monitoring all the things that have been happening upon our green spaces - both visible and below ground or water level. We have been taking expert advice on how we can restore the ecological value of these areas, going beyond the merely cosmetic patch and tidy-up. We want to hear from you if you are concerned about specific green areas which need to be restored or maintained in a special way.
We have liaised closely with other local groups, such as the Dulwich Park Friends and the London Wildlife Trust and the Friends of Belair Park, as well as Southwark Council who are keen on Green initiatives.
The bird population seems to be very healthy in our area - but its profile is changing and we need to keep tabs on how and why some species are declining, or moving geographically, while others are coming in. We heartily recommend all the nature study walks and talks being run on site throughout the area by the London Wildlife Trust. These cover every aspect of our local flora and fauna throughout the year, from birds and butterflies, bats, beetles, trees, fungi and flowers - suitable for all ages, but bring stout shoes and, ideally, a set of binoculars. Members of our group are actively involved in these events.
If you would like to join our Dulwich Society wildlife group, or simply have a particular interest in the natural world which you would like to explore, please get in touch with us
Angela Wilkes Chair Wildlife Committee
Gardens and Gardening
Dulwich Gardens open for charity
Do make sure that you catch Dulwich’s increasingly renowned garden openings, now in full swing with openings on most June and July weekends as well as many other dates. Details of these are in the brochure distributed with the Spring Journal, which is also available on the Society’s website.
Venturing further afield, Lambeth Palace Garden is opening on the first Wednesday each month until October, from 12 to 3pm - its London’s oldest continuously cultivated garden. Entrance is £4. Brand new is the SkyGarden, 35 floors up at 20 Fenchurch Street in the City and good for a cup of coffee with magnificent views. Free but entrance ticket required - see https://skygardentickets.com.
Great Dixter and Sissinghurst
Some 90 members of the Society attended an inspirational talk In March by Fergus Garrett, the Head Gardener of Great Dixter. Our annual coach outing, which is to Great Dixter and Sissinghurst Castle Gardens on Tuesday 23rd June, is now sold out.
The Great Exhibition
In 2008 Great Exhibitions Ltd erected The Paxton Crystal Palace Corner on the site of the former Crystal Palace. It consists of two full-size Paxton designed cast-iron Crystal Palace window frames set at 90 degrees to each other. It is located on the hilltop of Crystal Palace Park in South London within the footprint of Paxton's 1854-1936 reconstruction of his original Hyde Park 1851 Great Exhibition Greenhouse. The company is intending to submit a planning application to extend the Corner in both directions using further Paxton designed Crystal Palace Parts. If you would like to be involved in this phase two of The Paxton Crystal Palace Reconstruction Project please contact John Greatrex via:
Croquet in Dulwich
The new croquet season is upon us and Dulwich Croquet Club has invited Dulwich Society members to sample the sport.
Croquet has developed enormously in the last 20 years, and is not the game you may think you know: the modern game is fast, engaging, tactical, aggressive, and very sociable. Dulwich Croquet Club is at the Dulwich Sports Club, off Burbage Road, just by the railway bridge. It has three lawns, one of which is used all year round, and a membership which includes many casual weekend players but also includes some of the best in the UK, with several ranked in the top 100, and one of whom is in the world top 20. The club's first team are - for the second year running - national champions, and every year the club collects trophies at club and individual level in competitions across the country. A number of its members were recently out in New Zealand and Cairo competing in the world championships and the women's world championships. The club claims to have the best bar in South London!
Dulwich Croquet Club has arranged two sessions for Dulwich Society members: Thursday 11th June at noon and Sunday 14th June at 1 p.m. Its website is www.dulwichcroquet.com.
What’s in name?
Hillsboro Road, SE22
The road follows an old footpath connecting East Dulwich and the Village. It was also known as Hillsborough Road after Hillsborough House, a property in East Dulwich Grove. The builder of the first houses in the road, A S Cook, applied to the Metropolitan Board of Works for the street to be named with the shortened form of Hillsboro; this was approved on 1 August 1884 and appeared on the road signs. More recently these were amended to read Hillsborough. Recently, they have been replaced with ones bearing the original spelling.
No-one welcomes the inevitable disruption that accompanies infrastructure projects, however necessary they may be. This was certainly true of the Herne Hill Flood Alleviation Scheme, from which the affected areas in Belair and Dulwich Parks and the SCST sports fields will take some time to recover. However once local individuals and groups had accepted that ‘something must be done’, most felt that constructive interaction with Southwark Council was the best way forward. This approach paid off, because locals’ comments helped shape the eventual designs for the works.
This good working relationship has led to the project winning the Environment Agency’s Project Excellence Award in the Partnership Category. The project has also been shortlisted for the Institute of Civil Engineers/London Evening Standard People’s Choice Award.
No doubt, in time, we will get used to the new undulations in Dulwich Park created by the works.
Another striking new feature of Dulwich Park is the monumental work Three Perpetual Chords by Conrad Shawcross, the youngest ever Royal Academician elect. The artist calls the three sinuous pieces ‘visual descriptions of musical chords’. On Saturday 18th April Conrad spearheaded the official launch of the work in the park. Some two hundred or more people attended the lively and sunny event, with musical accompaniment provided by members of the London Contemporary Orchestra.
The dedication of this work in its public setting comes at the end of a long journey, which began back in December 2011 following the theft from the park of Barbara Hepworth’s Two Forms (Divided Circle). That philistine act - the work was crudely sawn from its base - generated a considerable reaction at both a local and national level. Part of the Hepworth’s magic lay in the way its bronze colours and reflections altered as the ambient lighting and weather conditions changed; and with holes through the piece, it meant that from some angles light appeared to penetrate it.
The Shawcross pieces are made of cast iron and initially have a light, bright coating of rust, colouring that sits well with its natural surroundings. That is intentional - Shawcross had no desire for the pieces to be polished metal, and instead expects the pieces to take on an interesting patina over time. Echoing the Hepworth, viewers will be able to catch different views through the many apertures created by the curves of the three forms.
Some members have expressed confusion that we have three peers who include Dulwich in their titles. We asked David Beamish, Principal Clerk of the Parliaments, and a Dulwich Society member, to explain this.
In December 2014 Alison Wolf CBE, the Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management at King’s College London, was created Baroness Wolf of Dulwich, and in January 2015 took her seat as a Crossbench peer in the House of Lords. She became the third peer to have had the description “of Dulwich” in her title.
Titles in the higher degrees of the peerage normally consist of place names (such as the Duke of Norfolk, the Marquess of Reading, and the Earl of Stockton), but life peers, who are Barons or Baronesses, more often take a title based on their surname. The addition of a place name is used where a similar title has previously been created. In the case of Baroness Wolf of Dulwich, the addition of “of Dulwich” distinguishes the title from that of Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice.
All life peers are described in the letters patent creating the title as “of somewhere”, but that is not part of the title. Thus Baroness Wolf of Dulwich is also “of Dulwich in the London Borough of Southwark”.
There are two previous examples of Dulwich being included in a life peer’s title. The first was Lord Silkin of Dulwich, the former Labour Attorney General Sam Silkin, created a life peer in 1985, who died in 1988. The title “Lord Silkin”, a hereditary barony, had previously been conferred on his father Lewis Silkin in 1950. Lewis Silkin was a solicitor and Labour MP for Peckham, who served as Minister of Town and Country Planning in the Attlee Government (1945-50). On the first Lord Silkin’s death in 1972, the title was disclaimed by Sam Silkin’s older brother Arthur. Had he survived his older brother, Lord Silkin of Dulwich would have succeeded to the title of Lord Silkin. In the event, Lord Silkin of Dulwich’s son Christopher Lewis Silkin succeeded to the title in 2002 and again disclaimed it - the only example of a title being disclaimed twice under the provisions of the Peerage Act 1963.
The second example is the surgeon Ian McColl, created Lord McColl of Dulwich in 1989, who remains a Dulwich resident. He served as John Major’s Parliamentary Private Secretary from 1994 to 1997, and was appointed CBE in John Major’s resignation honours list in 1997. Presumably the “of Dulwich” was to distinguish the title from that of Lord Macaulay, the title conferred on Thomas Babington Macaulay, though the likelihood of confusion does not seem great, and that title was created in 1857 and became extinct in 1859!
In addition to Baroness Wolf of Dulwich, there are three more examples of peers described in their letters patent as “of Dulwich”, the first being Lord Silkin in 1950. He was “of Dulwich in the County of London”. (His son Lord Silkin of Dulwich, by contrast was “of North Leigh in the County of Oxfordshire”.) The second, also “of Dulwich in the County of London”, was Lord Hinton of Bankside, the nuclear engineer Christopher Hinton, who was appointed a life peer in 1965 and died in 1983. The third is Lord Balfe, who as Richard Balfe was a Labour member of the Greater London Council and later Member of the European Parliament for London South Inner, and who was appointed a Conservative life peer in 2013.
These and all other peerages created since 1801 are listed on the author’s web site www.peerages.info
Ian Dejardin, Director, Dulwich Picture Gallery and a Vice President of the Dulwich Society discusses the difficulties currently facing the Gallery
I started work as Curator at Dulwich Picture Gallery in 1998; and took over as Director in 2005. Of course, 1998 was before the refurbishment and new build, so the Gallery was a very different place, with a distinct absence of the kind of facilities that are expected of professional galleries - shop, café, stores, education centre, lecture theatre and so on. I often hear from visitors how much the Gallery has changed, how ‘buzzy’ it has become, and that must clearly, at least partly, be attributed to acquiring those essential facilities. It no longer feels like those dread travelogue clichés, the ‘hidden gem’, or, shudder, the ‘sleeping beauty’. Visitor numbers have soared - from below 30,000 in 1993-4 to last year’s record 160,000 - and we bask in a level of press and media attention that some of my central London colleagues frankly envy. With the current Ravilious exhibition, and the first ever show of the ever-popular MC Escher to follow, that will surely continue.
Much else has changed too, notably in the number of, and demands made on, staff. Standards of professionalism have risen across the sector, so we must keep up. Organising exhibitions with international loans, as we do routinely these days, involves project management skills of a high order and often dizzying expense. A single fine art crate can cost thousands. Those costs are a challenge to an institution that has no regular government funding; consequently the development department has had to expand and professionalise too.
And of course, exhibitions are only one of the things we do. We have an award-winning education department, set up thirty years ago by the extraordinary Gillian Wolfe, CBE, who left the Gallery just last month. The whole landscape of museum education has changed beyond all recognition, to a considerable extent as a result of Gillian’s influence, and we must also look carefully at those changes and adapt to reflect them. Gillian herself is irreplaceable, and it would be singularly unwise to try. But we look forward to building on what she achieved here, and - importantly - learning from that achievement, particularly in the area of attracting new, non-traditional audiences to the Gallery. That lesson in public engagement will always be relevant.
There is also a world-class collection and building to look after. Sponsors can be remarkably generous; but they tend to be reluctant to support core costs - those pesky expenses that merely keep the building watertight, keep the toilets working, and pay our staff, for instance. We do have an endowment (something of a rarity in this sector), currently standing at around £20 million, and I thank heaven for it, but the annual income from the endowment covers only about a half of those core costs. Currently, we have to raise an eye-watering 65% of our required income annually - potentially over £2 million - through fund-raising, which in the current financial climate and in the absence of the kind of philanthropic culture that some other countries enjoy is not a healthy proportion - especially since all the country’s cultural institutions are fishing in the same, rather small, pool. Our challenge is particularly steep.
Dulwich Picture Gallery is a Charitable Trust. But its charitable aims can seem unclear. How should they be defined? How is what we do charitable? How can its charitable aims be measured? Sponsors ‘get’ education - and fortunately our education offer is second to none, and absolutely core to what we do, as a quasi-social service; but the Gallery as a coherent single entity is much more than that. Creativity is one of the fundamental drivers of human beings, and the art we display here, from our permanent collection or in our exhibitions, amounts to a wonderful expression of that fundamental creative drive. Engagement with it is not only enjoyable, and potentially inspiring, but also important for our collective wellbeing - too often, culture is seen as the frippery icing on the cake, rather than a cake in its own right. Our charitable aim therefore is simply to encourage engagement with art as actively and inspiringly, to the greatest number of people, as possible.
Every year there is a £700,000 hole in our budget representing our core costs that has to be filled before we even start raising funds for activities like exhibitions, education outreach projects and conservation. For some reason, sponsors, trusts, foundations and corporates are resistant to supporting ‘overheads’ (presumably because they believe that some part of government covers this, which in our case they don’t and in everyone else’s they’re trying not to) - to the extent that if you do include an essential staff cost in an application, you will often be asked to remove it - as if you can do the project without the staff. Charities are expected to deliver maximum benefit with minimum expense - and yet an art gallery will only be effective if it invests seriously in its staff, its visitor services, and its marketing, all currently unsponsorable. This is an image problem, admittedly, across the whole charitable sector - as a society, we like our charities to look poor and we certainly don’t like them to look businesslike. But looking poor won’t attract a big corporate company to associate its name with you: you must look successful. Then others assume you don’t need help - a classic vicious circle.
So, is the situation worse than 10 years ago? In some ways, yes. That fundraising percentage target was certainly lower in 2005; and a return to interest rates prior to the 2008 crash would be nice, there’s no denying, but that’s not going to happen any time soon, or so I’m advised. Costs inevitably sometimes outstrip income; exhibitions can sometimes perform less well than projected (although sometimes better, of course, as well). Economies of scale - in exhibitions as in building projects - can be false economies. It may be easier to raise funding for, for instance, a hugely expensive show devoted to an unknown Canadian artist than for a much cheaper exhibition about a great British contemporary icon - it all depends on contacts and the particular giving culture one is tapping into.
The Gallery currently holds three major exhibitions a year, plus sundry displays and one-off interventions. This may seem a high-risk strategy, given the expense involved, but if we were, for instance, to cut one show from the annual programme, the impact on visitor numbers, and consequently on all of the income generation dependent on visitor numbers, would be dramatic; as would the impact on the Gallery’s profile and reputation. I think we can assume that exhibitions are essential to our economic health and effectiveness as a charitable trust.
So what are the most difficult challenges for the Gallery? Well, one is that hoary old chestnut that we are ‘difficult to get to’, although that always seems to assume that you are coming from central or north London (it’s not so hard if you’re coming from Orpington, say). But I think people have become attuned to the fact that there is a high likelihood that there will be a really interesting exhibition on at any given moment - and of course, Dulwich Village is quite astonishingly pretty as a place to visit. Having made it once, people realise it’s not that difficult to get here. On the other side of that particular coin is an anomaly that is perfectly infuriating: politically speaking, pressure has been applied to bodies like Arts Council England to be less London-centric in their grant-giving. Dulwich Picture Gallery seems to be either ‘too London’ or ‘not London enough’.
More obstructive is the perception that the Gallery is wealthy. The Gallery currently radiates success; and the endless hard work and worry that goes into raising the several millions we require every year goes on out of sight. From time to time, we ask ourselves whether we would be better off as a quasi-national, with regular government funding; but I think that, for now at least, the independence and flexibility that charitable status gives us remains an advantage - and heaven knows there are fewer boxes to tick and forms to fill in.
And my role? I think, like most museum directors, I am having to become more focused on fundraising, but I don’t mind that. The British do tend to find it hard to ask for money. But I made an important discovery quite early on: if you know, as I do, that what you are asking people to support really deserves it, then that ask isn’t so daunting - Dulwich Picture Gallery is, to steal an advertising slogan from a very different product, worth it. One wish? I wish more people would consider leaving the Gallery a legacy, of whatever size - after all, from our foundation onwards, we have been supported by bequests, and there are few better ways of ensuring that Dulwich Picture Gallery will still be here, still performing a vital service, and still at the heart of this community, in another 200 years.
Ian A C Dejardin
Claire Wilcox is Senior Curator of Fashion at the Victoria & Albert Museum and was responsible for staging the current highly successful Alexander McQueen : Savage Beauty exhibition portraying the work of the fashion designer Alexander McQueen. She is married to the potter and writer Julian Stair, lives in Court Lane and is a member of The Dulwich Society
I should have remembered from my own undergraduate days, never to ask an academic a direct question because the answer will always be to have a look at such and such a book and make up my own opinion. So it was as we sat in Professor Wilcox’s sunny kitchen recently. However, she said it with a smile my further probing into her main work as senior curator of fashion at the V & A was willingly answered.
Claire Wilcox was born in 1954 and grew up in Fulham, then an area less affluent than today, where her father owned a shop selling wools and haberdashery. He was a man of wide interests, amongst which was music, and he played professionally in the age of the big bands. Her mother, a teacher had a particular interest in fashion. They lived above the shop which still remains in the family. A move was made to a house in Chiswick and she attended Godolphin & Latymer School. As a child she had a great love of books, totally immersing herself in them. Her family tells the story of the occasion when once she was sitting reading in an armchair when visitors came and went without her realising they were ever there.
When preparing for an A level in Art History, one of her teachers, Miss Goodwin, gave her a valuable piece of advice. It was to visit the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum. It was through this suggestion that she discovered the institution with which she would have a lifelong connection. A gap year before university followed, when, accompanied by the essentials of a friend, a guitar and a copy of War and Peace, Claire headed for the unlikely destination of Afghanistan. Although probably not the choice of her laid-back parents the experience was interesting and no doubt to their relief, she returned safely to go up to Exeter University to read English. It was there, as an impecunious student, that she was able to indulge in her love of textiles and vintage clothing by patronizing second hand clothes stalls with her friends, and where she was in her element wearing 1930’s printed crepe dresses.
Her association with the V&A was renewed when, after graduation she returned to London and to the flat above her father’s shop which she shared with a couple of friends, and did voluntary work in the Textiles and Fashion department the V&A. Eventually she secured a 3 year contract at the museum as an assistant curator under the wing of Valerie Mendes who would be her mentor and for whom she retains great affection. Among other things, it was Mendes who taught Claire the art of display.
In all she spent four years working with Valerie Mendes, the culmination of which was the opening of the redisplay of the museum’s fashion gallery in 1983. It was greeted with wide acclaim. Suddenly, however, after all the excitement of the work leading up to the opening, there were less challenging things to do and so at the age of 29 she made the decision to do a second degree in, in Art, at Camberwell Art College....... if they would have her.
The staff at the V & A, Valerie Mendes, and Julian Stair, who was then studying at Camberwell, were all bemused. Julian Stair, soon to be her husband, felt particularly responsible as he thought he might have 'talked Camberwell up'. However, her parents, free spirits that they were, supported her decision. “It was the best thing I ever did”, she states firmly. The Foundation Course had already started when she applied, and the textile module, and her natural choice, was already full. She had however been a keen sculptor and had a portfolio which was impressive enough for her to be accepted. The foundation course was a valuable experience which she thoroughly enjoyed and she went on to complete her second degree specializing in ceramics and painting. During this time she had maintained contact with the V & A, and Valerie Mendes, “doing a bit of writing and cataloguing”
After completing her degree at Camberwell, she and Julian started a family and have two daughters. Their early health problems demanded much of her attention but she continued to enjoy pottery, working with Julian and other ceramicists at a studio in Brixton but says she did not have their driving passion. Her mind was elsewhere. She had lots of ideas racing through her brain. Several years of freelance writing followed, including her first book for the V&A, Modern Fashion in Detail, culminating in a commission from the Crafts Council to curate an exhibition called Satellites of Fashion, a Crafts Council show which featured accessories. This exhibition was so well received that it was picked up by the British Council and toured the world. That same year, with her daughters Hattie aged 6 and Rose aged 8, then settled into the Village infants’ and Dulwich Hamlet schools, Claire was offered a permanent post as fashion curator at the V & A. “I will have to think about it” was her response. Even now she cannot believe she said that. But she did not hesitate for long. Valerie Mendes had moved up to become Keeper at the museum and Claire was given a free hand. She was clearly a breath of fresh air in the gallery and she was encouraged try out the ideas with which her brain was fully buzzing. The museum was in something of a rut and probably took her on because it knew she was a risk taker but could deliver. Relieved of most administrative duties in her new role, she was free to develop these ideas.
She says that she was aged 45, when she re-entered the workplace and remarks, “Perhaps I am a ray of hope to late developers - I had tried many things, I was happily married and had moved to Dulwich. I was brimming over with ideas. Everything I had done (in my life) was coming to the point; I had waited so long to find myself. Curating brought together two things I was good at, writing, either a book or an exhibition text, and the visual.”
She began with a ground breaking experiment which was to put live models into an exhibition in the somewhat sterile space of a museum. It was entitled Fashion in Motion and was first staged in 1999, the same year as Satellites of Fashion.
That was sixteen years ago, when a limited budget precluded international designers’ work from being shown. It had the effect of promoting virtually only British fashion. An early collaborator was Alexander McQueen. He was only the second designer to agree to participate in what was a revolutionary concept and the idea resonated with his rebellious nature. “Fashion in Motion”, Claire says, “Still happens every year at the V & A. It is now so successful that it has its own curator - and it is still free!” She has a refreshing attitude to her work - “Let’s get the stuff out ! Let’s see how we can show fashion in a creative way”.
With her reputation now established, Radical Fashion, an exhibition featuring the artistic side of fashion and showcasing the work of eleven international designers followed at the V & A in 2001. “ I invited those that I thought were free radicals who pushed the boundaries, each extreme in their own way”. A year later, in 2002, her next exhibition was Versace at the V&A.
Asked to explain the requirements of curating an exhibition and what sets the ball rolling she cites: “objectivity, passion, knowledge, expertise, sensitivity to objects, being aware you are a custodian of items owned by the general public. In presenting an exhibition, the book of the subject comes first. This focus on research makes you become a temporary or permanent expert on the subject. When the book reaches the proofing stage you start transfer your attention to the exhibition, to the exhibition team, holding meetings, discussing object lists. You also have a ’wish list’ but soon come to your senses and realize that you can’t have everything! You consider themes, write to museums that hold the material. Then the organization or display of the objects needs to be considered; will it be chronological or thematic?”
In 2004 Claire curated the Vivienne Westwood exhibition, a retrospective of the designer’s career from punk to the present. It was the first exhibition in the major exhibition galleries to be devoted to the work of a single fashion designer. She thinks that her 2007 exhibition Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957 was the most beautiful. “It was a change from a living designer and I am proud of the Couture book. It was also nice for me as I got to go to Paris for research and learn to understand the Paris system which is different from ours. The exhibition toured and often those museums who took it were those who ‘did not do fashion’.
Claire then decided to have a break from fashion and branch out into management. She was appointed acting head of the Contemporary Department which included modern design, architecture and graphics. “ It was a good break from fashion and I oversaw the museum’s ‘Friday Late’ programme which brought more people into the museum”.
Ever a person to try different things (she paints in water colour and attends courses at Dulwich Picture Gallery), she became involved with the London College of Fashion. She is a firm believer that the present success of British fashion comes from the inspiration and outstanding quality of its art colleges. In 2007 she was appointed professor of fashion curation at the London College of Fashion where she teaches MA students.
Her current exhibition at the V& A is the acclaimed Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty show which opened in March and runs until 2nd August.* It has had the highest number of prebooked tickets the museum has ever known and the book which accompanies it went into reprint a month after the exhibition opened. “ While McQueen was alive I talked to him about a show at the V & A but he made excuses - I’m too young, I’m too busy! In the event it was the Metropolitan Museum of Art In New York, supported by Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue magazine that put on a very successful exhibition of his work. However, it was soon after his death and I felt there needed to be a calming down period. What has been wonderful has been working with the same lighting and music people who designed the original show. It is remarkable for a show to get a second go, to revisit it. We have added 25% more objects and the present show at the V & A is a third bigger than New York’s. We have also been able to add a new gallery called ‘London’ which focuses on McQueen’s early collections.
“I had eleven months to produce both the book and the show. My father died at the beginning of 2014 and it was a tough year. However, I realized early on in my career in exhibition work that you cannot do it all on your own and you have to be a team player. And I had a good team.”
Claire talks animatedly about Alexander McQueen, his wildly theatrical fashion shows, so triumphant but which ultimately became a burden because of the crippling search to find new themes and rise to the expected new heights. She says, “ It was from the narrative qualities of these theatrical shows that ideas came that pushed his clothing.”
When asked if she agreed with McQueen’s statement that 'the 21st century was started by Alexander McQueen' she says,” Its a typical bravado statement, it makes me laugh! Its pure swagger. If we are looking at his contribution to late 20th century fashion, yes, it’s true, in a particular British kind of way.” She believes that all designers should follow McQueen’s example of being an apprentice by starting their studies at the practical end of the industry, in his case by learning tailoring for four years on Savile Row. ”…It's what made him a great designer. What’s the use of having good ideas if you haven’t got the skill to express them?”
Claire Wilcox’s final thoughts at the interview were uncompromising - “For women, it is possible to have a family and a career. It's never too late to make a start and best not to narrow one’s options too early in life.”
*Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty - runs at the Victoria & Albert Museum until 2nd August 31st. 200 additional tickets are released daily and bookings may still be made online
Village Lock-Up Stone
The carved inscription on a stone which was incorporated in the wall of the village lock-up and bears the date 1760 and the inscription “It is a Sport of a Fool to do Mischief - to Thine own wickedness shall correct thee” has been given Grade 2 listed status by English Heritage. In its Reasons for Designation it states: The C18 plaque in the garden adjoining 1d Calton Avenue, Dulwich, dated 1760 and originally part of the village lock up, is listed for the following principal reasons; Historical interest: as a tangible and evocative reminder of crime and punishment during the Georgian period; Rarity: as a rare and particularly early example of an ‘improving’ biblical text used to embellish a now demolished village lock up; Survival: the plaque survives in a very good condition with crisp lettering.
The motto is derived from a pair of biblical proverbs: ‘It is sport to a fool to do mischief: but a man of understanding hath wisdom’ (Proverbs 10:23) and ‘Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backsliding shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts’ (Jerimiah 2:19).
Lock ups, also known as round houses, blind-houses, cages and clinks, were temporary holding places for offenders being brought before the magistrate. They were often built by the parish or as a gift to the village or town by a wealthy resident and are generally centrally placed within the settlement. The earliest recorded lock up dates from the C13 but the vast majority were built in the C18 and early C19. Most fell out of use in the mid-C19 when they were made redundant by the formation of a regular police service. Lock-ups were often associated with stocks for the subsequent punishment of offenders, as was the case at Dulwich.
However, there is an error concerning the stone’s original location which the Dulwich Society has now pointed out to English Heritage and requested the designation to be amended. The original location was incorporated in the Burial ground wall. The College’s Private Sittings Book 1829-1859 states that on 10th September 1841 - Ordered that the cage at the corner of the churchyard be taken down and the gap filled up in continuation of the present wall.
This confirms that the cage was on the other side of the road by the churchyard (today the burial ground) and not where the stone is now. The stone was placed in its current position in 1968 when S G Smith took over Sprackling's Builders yard to extend their car repair/servicing business and construct a petrol station at the corner of Calton Avenue and Gilkes Place.
St Barnabas Parish Hall has also been given Grade 2 status by English Heritage.
The hall was designed by architect Ernest G Cole in a Domestic Revival Arts and Crafts Style. The Rev Howard Nixon, the pro-active first vicar of St Barnabas in Calton Avenue, had been trying for some time to find a site to build a parish hall and finally persuaded the Dulwich Estate to let him acquire this site. English Heritage says that it was built as a memorial to King Edward VII but this is not strictly correct. While there is a plaque saying that 'This the hall was dedicated on December 10th 1910 to the memory of Edward VII by the parishioners, residents and subscribers', this must have been an afterthought as the king died on 6th May 1910 and the foundation stone was laid on 5th July, so design work had been ongoing for some time previously. The foundation stone was laid by the newly elected Dulwich MP, Andrew Bonar Law, a future prime mister (1922-23)
After over sixty years of birdwatching this has been the first winter in which I have seen almost no winter migrant Thrushes. My only sighting was a small flock of Redwing flying over Sydenham Hill wood during Daniel Greenwood’s December bird walk. Usually there are flocks of Redwing with Fieldfares sometimes numbering into hundreds both in our parks and sports grounds and also coming into our gardens for Cotoneaster berries and readily available worms, but this year there were none. The RSPB have noted the absence and stated that they had all remained on the continent as the conditions were favourable there. It does however indicate that climate change is one of the factors having a dramatic effect on the numbers of birds we are seeing.
The birds that are doing well here are those that we can easily feed, particularly the Tits and one of the successes has been the Goldfinches which have prospered in towns more than any other of our finches as they have a predilection for Nyjer seeds which can be put into feeders, as well as enjoying the seeds of Birch trees and Alders. Robins, Blackbirds and Wrens have maintained their numbers partly because they were able to have several broods last year but Song Thrushes and Starlings continue to decline along with our Sparrows. Mistle Thrushes, though never common here are also declining, although a pair have been attempting to nest in the Alleyn’s school grounds this year.
The most spectacular change has been the huge and continuing rise in numbers of Parakeets. The suburban environment of parks and gardens in a temperate climate clearly provides them with a niche that matches their world of forest and parkland in the Indian subcontinent. Last year they were gorging themselves on the soft fruit on our Prunus trees and at the time of writing they are feeding on the emerging sticky buds of the Horse Chestnuts. And when nothing else is available there are the garden nut feeders. We are not alone in having them as they are also present in other cities in Europe so their origin here is unclear and may not have been the escape from an Ealing film set as previously suggested.
A few other less usual birds have been recorded. I have had two records of Grey Wagtails. These are usually birds of fast running streams, so they will have been migrating. Pied Wagtails are more usually seen, so called because of their tail movement that assists their running gait as opposed to the hopping of the Finches and Sparrows. The male Grey Wagtail is a handsome bird with a bright yellow belly and black chin with the upper parts slate grey. I have seen it in Dulwich several times and was the first but never repeated visitor to my garden pond.
Apart from this I received a bulletin that last year’s white Sparrow is still alive and well and records that the wintering pair of Blackcaps visited several gardens, presumably now having departed to Eastern Europe. And finally a Pheasant in Court Lane in February may have sought refuge from the Kentish sportsmen although the shooting season was finished.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (tel: 0207 274 4567)