All posts by arobe012

Walking through Dulwich Village


Hidden away in south east London, between Brixton and Peckham is an apparently timeless and romantic idyll that is Dulwich village. A small but gentrified and wealthy area, we will find no charity shops, pawn brokers or betting shops in this part of South East London, and at first glance it would appear it has remained unchanged for over a hundred years or more. The word Dulwich

dulwich-villagemeans village in the valley and is probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon Dsel, Friesian Del, a cleft or valley, and Wic, a village. At the time of the Doomsday book Dulwich was not large enough to warrant a mention although neighbouring Peckham and Camberwell were. Dulwich is famed for its connection with Edward Alleyne and the expensive boarding school for boys, Dulwich College, designed by Charles Barry Jnr.. Dulwich also holds within its bosom the first art gallery ever to be opened for the public and bequeathed by Sir John Soanes. However both these venues are well discussed for not only their historic value, but also their picture postcard beauty, and it is not my objective here to continue that discussion further. I am interested in the not so perfect Dulwich Village, the Dulwich that lurks beneath the postcard image. As London has grown to surround this once small hamlet, it has retained the feel and atmosphere of a bucolic and wealthy village. I begin my leisurely stroll at the entrance to the main thoroughfare, a straight road running North to South, and aptly called Dulwich village………court-lane-9

In Edward Walford’s article, ‘Peckham and Dulwich’, printed in the journal Old and New London during 1887, he tells us that “notwithstanding the active building operations that of late years have fenced in London and its suburbs with miles of bricks and mortar, the village of Dulwich still presents a rural aspect.” ( Walford,  1886,  p.286-303)

Writing her perambulations in 1803 Pricilla Wakefield describes the village as ‘pleasantly retired, having no high road formally through it.’ (Walford, 1886, p.286-303) Although this fact is somewhat changed and today and there is a main road running through the village, it could still be described as ‘pleasantly retired’. Indeed apart from the brief weekday gridlock of a variety of four wheel drives and other tank like cars, driven by a multitude of young women – the modern-day bourgeoisie and nicknamed yummy mummies, as they drop their small angelic looking children off at the old infant school in the morning, and repeating the process in the early afternoon – the road is relatively quiet and remembers the more peaceful times when carriages and not cars swept along it.


I cross the road…….

Opposite Dulwich Village Church of England Infants’ School – a seat of learning here since 1888 – I am confronted by the village’s parade of shops. From just looking at the various window displays and passing the open doors, my senses are captivated by the smell, feel and appearance of wealth this village holds within its centre. A new sub post office has recently opened which strikes me as interesting, as in most places they are being closed or privatised, and speaks volumes about the area through which I am walking. An expensive optician sits snugly next door to the very plush Scobie’s, a “premier valeting service” who apparently do a hand finished dry-clean. I for one do not even know what this means. Further along this rather grand parade can be found an expensive toy shop, obviously intended for those cherubs as they relax on comfortable car seats in the back of mummy’s range rover, and a quaint and cosy coffee shop selling homemade cakes, herbal teas and fresh coffee.

These shops appear to have a history of being plush as an advert for what we would nowadays call a cab service shows us.  ‘Chas’s Pick-Up’ was in fact a private Daimler service, and, advertising itself in the Dulwich Village Gazette during 20161129_113350211923, price one penny, it promised its customers “all the joys of a private motorist” and is “always at your disposal” the advert ends, “with confidence assures you of efficacy in every detail.”  In the same Gazette a Fishmonger and Poulterer insist their reputation will be “maintained” at 35 Dulwich Village. (Chapman, 1923, Dulwich Gazzette)

I continue my stroll….

I am pleased to say that not all of Dulwich reflects the razzle dazzle of upstanding and wealthy inhabitants, and my next stop shows me the darker side of Dulwich’s long history. Tucked around a quiet corner behind the delicatessen and plush hairdressers is a stark reminder of Dulwich’s grim past. Here formerly was situated the village stocks. A plaque remains and has the motto on it saying…”it is a sport for a fool to do mischief, thine own wickedness shall correct thee indeed.”


We know of at least one of these unfortunate fools as she is interred in the burial ground on the opposite side of the road. One Dorothy Miller, a poor sister of the college, was caught and punished several times between 1759 and 1761 for drunkenness. On the last occasion, she was placed in the stocks for two hours and had a week’s pension deducted.  These stocks, the grisly reminder and symbol of public authority, were ordered to be moved to the end of what was then Croxted Lane in 1847.

The burial ground itself is a place that fascinates me and is situated on the other side of the road from the site of the stocks.  This year (2016) marks the 400th anniversary of this burial ground, unusual for not being connected to any nearby church, and although on full view to the public, it still retains a tranquil ambience all its own.

The dead include victims of the plague during both 1625 and 1655. The death rate in the village of Dulwich was the same as that of the City, with one in every six falling victim to the disease. Children, including several nurse children who were farmed out to Dulwich between 1700 and 1820, also constitute a large proportion of the people who can claim this burial ground as their final resting place. Not only are the graves of these children particularly upsetting, but they are also evidence to me that not all was perfect in our picture postcard Dulwich of the past where maybe behind the respectability of Victorian middle classes, unmarried women came to Dulwich to hide their shame.  I imagine the pain of the mothers who had to give up their illegitimate children, who by paying a weekly price believed them to be safe left in the hands of so called nurses. Often these women took money off the mothers long after the child had died, which many of them did. I cannot help but compare the lives of children in the 19th century to those of our chubby Dulwich cherubs with their modern day nurses, the army of silent, underpaid, and mostl Eastern European nannies, whose chatter I hear as they sit outside the coffee shop on the parade once their charges have been dispatched.

The last burial on this consecrated ground was performed in 1918 and aside from general maintenance the site has been left virtually untouched since that time.


Its late afternoon, the evening is drawing in on a cold and damp November day. Dusk is settling in, the artificial street lights making the damp mist almost fog like, and my imagination wanders to a Dulwich village of over a 150 years ago, to an epoch of gas lamps and night watchmen. I close my eyes and imagine I hear wheels of a carriage as it rumbles down the uneven lane, the breath of the horses almost touching my neck as they go by. But my stroll is finished and I must leave the dead and the living of quaint Dulwich village and head for home. As I have no Daimler service I turn around, walking the way I came, and walk out of the village to catch the bus back to Peckham….




Edward Walford “Peckham and Dulwich”. Old and New London; volume 6. London: Cassell, Petter and Galpin. 1878 pp. 286-303.

The History of Dulwich Collage. William Young, Morrison and Gibb. Edinburgh 1889

Dulwich Village Gazette, for the inhabitants of Dulwich and its environs. Ed. And produced by Albert Chapmen, Collage Press Dulwich Village. October 1923


Walking Through Peckham


Sitting on the edges of Southwark borough….

South of the river Thames….


In 1700 as a small rural hamlet without a church, Peckham came under the administration of St. Giles parish and had no connection to the metropolis of London. The British History Online website tells me that this changed by the 18th century when improved transport provided the relatively wealthy access to the countryside, as hitherto Peckham had been known, while still being near enough to commute to London. However, during the 19th century although some of the upper classes remained, Peckham became the home for a predominantly lower middle and skilled working class.

My journey starts at the bottom of Peckham Rye Lane….

If it were possible to be in love with a building, then I would have to say I am in love with Number one Peckham Rye Lane. Now less than a quarter of its original size it is a magnificent Victorian structure and looks down at Peckham as time passes it by.  A huge clock tower, built in 1894 and modelled on the famous Torre dell’Orologio in Piazza San Marco in Venice is its centre piece. In an online article from Southwark News I learn the recent restoration work carried out on the clock was funded by British Heritage and that the entire area of Peckham Rye Lane is a conservation area. However, although I find bits and pieces out about my building online, for example it was originally a department store called Jones and Higgins and opened 1867, I need to know more so I do a detour to Southwark Archives at London bridge determined to find out its history.


And this is some of what I learn: Messrs. Edwin Jones and George Randell Higgins started their business venture in 1886 with £80 and one shopfront window. By 1894 when the clock tower was constructed by architects Henry Jarvis and Son, Jones and Higgins had expanded into a five-floor department store with fifteen shopfront windows and a staff of 500. It also had workshops and stables, the entrance of which was on Hanover Lane. Today Hanover Lane is home of the less glamorous Morrison’s and a large carpark. When searching through the archives I found the register of horses and was moved by the amount of these horses that had to be sold during 1917 to the War Office. For some reason, it was this tiny detail that brought Jones and Higgins alive for me and made them real. I could imagine stable boys stamping their feet to stay warm against a cold November morning, as they prepared these beautiful creatures and got them into the harnesses they would wear to pull the delivery vans and carts through 19th century South East London. When I stand in front of this unloved and depleted building now I close my eyes and imagine it in its heyday, a thick November mist swirling around gas lamps, the smell off horses and the shouting of cabbies as they jostle for position of the busy high way that was and is Peckham Rye Lane. As I am pulled from my reverie I am forced to contemplate the fate of those horses that Jones and Higgins gave up to the Great War, if indeed any of them came home and what of the stable boys that had tended to their needs, how many of them, if any, had returned? I contemplate the unimaginable suffering that both man and beast would have experienced during the horrors of that dreadful time.


I continue my walk….

Peckham Rye Lane…


The hustling bustling main thoroughfare of Peckham, where I see afro-Caribbean food shops sit comfortably next to halal meat markets and Irish butchers. Reggae music blasts out in competition with, and unperturbed by, the techno music from the shop next door, both fighting against the gospel music across the road, all filling my ears with a confusion of sound. This is s lane full of beauty parlours selling fake lashes and plastic nails, a place where I can buy a cheap wig in any colour or design that I want, and I see fat black women sitting on creaking chairs outside their shops calling me in their sing song voices as I pass by, offering to do my hair. They kiss their teeth when I decline and move on. I see a High Street full of shop fronts on the ground floors of 17th and 18th century buildings. I stand in a road built up of Georgian and Victorian banks, public buildings and pubs, unrecognised and forgotten, taken over by pound shops, charity shops and pawnbrokers.

This is a is a multi-cultural and heavily populated place to live, where, as in the 19th century, pockets of wealth sit uncomfortably next to vast areas of poverty. I notice young black males, strutting comfortably down the road in their Adidas and Nike styles, sporting tee shirts in any weather and showing hard earned muscles cultivated in Peckham’s Fusion gym. The latest influx of inhabitants, slim hipped white middle class young men, scuttle past them; the sheepish scowls on their faces make me smile. Seeing the infinite variety of race and culture leads me to reflect on the ever-changing demographic of Peckham over the years. These Anglo-Saxon bearded males and their trendy girlfriends, flocking to their pop-up venues being the most recent example.shops-peckham-south-london-bp9jy8


My next stop is Peckham Rye train station and another monument to Victorian architecture. Now a Grade11 listed building the exterior of Peckham Rye train station hasn’t changed since it was designed by Charles Henry Driver in 1865.  It is an impressive continental renaissance style building of three floors and has a central section consisting of five round headed windows and projecting wings on both sides. Several of the windows have cast iron balconettes.


But for me the jewel of this train station must be the recently discovered Victorian staircase. To hide it from view the lower windows of the west wing have been painted over. But to my joy there is a tiny space and I gaze wistfully at this opulent and spectacular piece of art, which indeed it is. I see cast iron leaves decorating the banisters, and foliage so clear and natural I envision it growing, as if by magic, swirling and cascading in a waterfall of historic beauty. Once again I feel the pull of the past capture my imagination on this journey up Peckham Rye Lane. What of those stable boys from Jones and Higgins, not 400 yards down the road? Could they not have trudged up these stairs, young conscripts going off to war? Tearful sweethearts and mothers waving them off, hearts full of patriotic pride.



Once again I continue my walk……

It is an indication of how little concern there was at the beginning of the 1st World War, and how it was at the time perceived to be a short war that my final building, Tower Cinema, was opened on 19th November 1914 by local actress Gladys Cooper. The building itself, designed by H. Courtenay Constantine, has long gone, replaced by yet another car park which has been overtaken by a large colony of feral cats who now call it home. All that is left of the Tower cinema is the Tower entrance and a tunnel that would have led into the foyer.



It is the Tower that fascinates me. The cinema was modernized in the October/November of 1955 but closed a year later in the December.  Although the original tower itself has been shortened and what is left constitutes a forlorn and rejected piece of architecture, it is still beautiful to me, but seemingly out of place in its surroundings. I read online to learn that in its heyday it would have had seating for 2,150, an electric lift and six private boxes. Did those tearful sweethearts flock though its palatial interior? Did they ascend the marble staircase to their seats in the stalls, where they would have watched the news reels of the day, eager for news of the loved ones they would have waved goodbye to at the station?

I finish my walk….

I go to my car and I drive home…..




Old and New London. pp.286-303 originally published by Cassell, Peters and Galpin. London 1878

Southwark Archives Library 211 Borough High Street. London SE1 1JA ref 1984/282