SE21 is Dulwich which centres on the Village and the College.
We start our walk at Dulwich Village Post Office, 47 Dulwich Village (yes that is the name of the main street running through the “Village”)
Our first stop is a little way to the north, so turn right out of the Post Office and continue along the road until you reach the railway bridge with the station building on your right..
Stop 1: North Dulwich Station
The rather elegant station building sits over the railway lines below and was designed by Charles Barry Junior. The line here was built between 1864 and 1868 by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR). The station building is Grade II listed as is the K6 telephone kiosk which you can just see inside the portico.
And on the bridge parapet opposite the station, there are some shields in a number of places.
In each group, the shield on the left is that of the LBSCR and is an amalgam of four key places served by the railway company:
Top left represents the City of London (Cross of St George and Sword of St Paul); Top right is Brighton (two dolphins); Bottom left is Portsmouth (star and crescent) and finally bottom right is the Cinque Ports (three half-lions/half-ships). The reason for this is Hastings is one of the Cinque Posts and was the furthest east the railway company got along the south coast.
The shield on the right is that of Dulwich College. – or Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift as it would have been known when the bridge was built. Hence I guess the letters A and C in the middle shield. The College wielded a huge influence over the development of the area, including determining what the railway was able to build.
Today much of the land around Dulwich Village is still owned by a single organisation – The Dulwich Estate. This is one of the successors to the historic charity Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift, which was founded in 1619. A major reorganisation resulted in the reconstitution of The Dulwich Estate as an independent registered charity in 1995.
More on the history of the Dulwich Estate on their website:
Downstairs the station has retained its original platform canopies
They are simple but effective.
Before we leave here, I think I should mention one thing that has been troubling me. Why is this called North Dulwich station when the next station up the line north towards London is called East Dulwich. It seems odd to say the least that East Dulwich is north of North Dulwich.
Now retrace you step to the Post Office and turn left into Calton Avenue.
You will be able to see our next stop ahead on the right.
Stop 2: St Barnabas Church
This is a surprising sight. A very modern Anglican Church and not one built in the immediate post war period.
The old church of St Barnabas (built 1892 – 1905) was destroyed by fire in December 1992. The fire was so severe that only the outer walls and the tower were left standing and these were demolished in early 1993.
According to the church website, the new building is a little smaller than the old, being 42 metres long, 20 metres wide and 14 metres tall, while the glass spire rises another 19 metres above the apex of the roof. It is set further back from the road, and is slightly angled from the axis of the old Church to be orientated to the cardinal points of the compass, a medieval tradition often seen in English village churches.
In front of the Church is an entrance area, where the outline of the old tower and walls can still be seen. On the right, part of the old south aisle wall still stands. The Reception area curves around from that wall, making the link from the old Church to the new. The front part of the Church is the Barnabas Chapel which seats 50. The main body of the Church seats 400 (including the choir) and is built on an octagonal floor plan around a central altar. The East end is occupied by the organ and choir stalls. Three dimensionally the Church is built as a central barrel vault with two smaller flanking vaults, spanning onto masonry piers of red brick. Above the central vault is the glass spire, constructed of 6cm x 4cm stainless steel box sections welded together to form a tapering octagon. The spire lets down light into the heart of the Church during the day, and is illuminated from within at night.
One interesting point to note about this church is that it is not at the centre of Dulwich Village but a little away. That is because there is also a chapel in the grounds of the old college (which we shall see shortly) and the large parish church was only built as the population expanded in the 19th century.
Now return to Dulwich Village and our next stop is ahead at the junction to your left.
Stop 3: Dulwich Burial Ground
This cemetery was established in 1616 and planned by the Elizabethan actor/manager, Edward Alleyn, as part of his charity, Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift.
The burial ground is unusual in that there is no church. Burials have taken place since 1616 however the earliest visible grave stones and monuments date from the early eighteenth century.
It was declared full in 1858, and only a few more burials were allowed, the last in 1918. It remains largely untouched since that time. It is like a quiet country church yard yet it is within five miles of central London. Sadly it is not normally open to the public, but there is an extensive information panel of the Dulwich Village side of the grounds..
Now continue along the street called Dulwich Village which runs to the right of the grounds
Stop 4: The Crown and Greyhound
Soon on the left you will see an imposing late Victorian pub,
This dates from 1895 and according to architectural expert, Pevsner, replaced two early 18th century inns. One would have expected the village to have more than this one big pub but so far as I can see this is it. However there is a building just over the road that is now restaurants and looks like it could have been a pub.
Now return to the Burial Ground and turn right going along the other side, which is Court Lane.
Stop 5: Number 3 Court Lane Gardens, Court Lane
Our next stop is just along on a little loop road off of Court Lane. At Number 3 Court Lane Gardens you will see there is a blue plaque.
This is a Southwark Blue Plaque for the birth place of Phyllis Pearsall (1906 – 1996)
She was a British painter and writer but who is best known for creating the iconic A – Z map.
The story goes that by 1935, she had become a portrait painter but became lost in London while using the latest map she could find, which was 17 years old. This stimulated her to produce a new map to cover the rapidly expanding area of London, including places of interest such as museums, bus routes etc.
She claimed that the work involved walking 3,000 miles to check the names of the 23,000 streets of London, waking up at 5am every day, and not going to bed until after an 18 hour working day.
We take it for granted now that main roads are shown larger than side roads on city maps but I believe she was the one who popularised this idea. She also added house numbers to the main roads to help locate addresses on long streets.
In 1966, she turned her company, the Geographers’ A–Z Map Co, into a trust to ensure that it was never bought out. This aimed to secure the future of her company and its employees. Today although the company has embraced digital mapping, it still produces lots of paper maps. It claims to be the largest independent map publishing company in the UK, producing over 300 paper mapping publications.
Continue along Court Lane and go past the entrance to Dulwich Park. Our next stop is soon on the right.
Stop 6: Number 142 Court Lane
This detached house was the home of singer Anne Shelton (1928 – 1994).
And it has another Southwark Blue Plaque.
Shelton was a popular English vocalist, who is remembered for entertaining soldiers both on radio broadcasts, and in person, at British military bases during the Second World War. She was also the original singer in the United Kingdom of the song “Lili Marlene”, although this is a song more commonly associated with Marlene Dietrich.
The site Notable Abodes notes she was living here in 1953 and her website says she left to move to Sussex in February 1994, where she died later that year.
More about her here:
Now return to the gates of the park and go in
Stop 7: Dulwich Park
The park was created by the Metropolitan Board of Works from former farmland and meadows. The initial design was by Charles Barry Junior, but it was later refined by Lt Col J. J. Sexby. He also designed Battersea Park and parts of Southwark Park). Dulwich Park was opened in 1890 by Lord Rosebery.
As you enter the Park take the right hand drive, and soon you will see some sculptural pieces – two on the left and one on the right.
These are titled Three Perpetual Chords. They date from 2015 and are by Conrad Shawcross.
As the sign explains they were commissioned as a legacy to the sculpture Three Forms divided by a Circle by Dame Barbara Hepworth. This had been in the Park but was stolen in 2011, it is presumed by metal thieves.
Now head out of the park though the Old College gate. Our next stop is right opposite.
Stop 8: Dulwich Picture Gallery
The gallery was designed by Sir John Soane and opened to the public in 1817. It is the oldest public art gallery in England and was made an independent charitable trust in 1994. Until this time the gallery was part of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift. There is still a reminder of this in the gates.
Alleyn bequeathed the college of a collection of works including portraits of the kings and queens of England, 26 of which are still in the Dulwich Gallery collection according to their website. Then another actor William Cartwright (1606–1686) bequeathed a collection of 239 pictures, of which 77 are now identifiable at Dulwich.
But the Gallery we see today really took off because of one of the most successful art dealerships in London during the late 18th century – the partnership of Frenchman, Noël Desenfans (1745 – 1807), and his younger Swiss friend, the painter, Sir Francis Bourgeois (1756 – 1811).
According to the Gallery’s website: “In 1790 the pair were commissioned by Stanislaus Augustus, King of Poland, to form a Royal Collection from scratch. They devoted the next five years exclusively to this task during which time Poland was gradually partitioned by its more powerful neighbours leading in 1795 to its complete disappearance as an independent state. The King was forced to abdicate, which left the two dealers with a Royal Collection on their hands.
Bourgeois and Desenfans strove to resolve their situation in two ways. In private they sold individual works from their Polish stock and replaced them with further important purchases. In public they sought a home for their “Royal Collection” approaching, amongst others, the Tsar of Russia and the British Government. When it became clear that they would not be able to sell the collection in its entirety, they began to think to whom they might bequeath it.
This became more pressing after Desenfans’ death in 1807, which left Bourgeois as the sole owner. At that date there was no National Gallery, so the key candidate was the British Museum. However, Bourgeois found its trustees too ‘arbitrary’ and ‘aristocratic’ and so he decided to leave his collection to Dulwich College instead, despite him having no obvious connection with the school. More important than the destination was the stipulation in the will that the paintings should be made available for the ‘inspection of the public’. So it was that Dulwich Picture Gallery – England’s first purpose-built public art gallery – was founded by the terms of Sir Francis Bourgeois’s will upon his death in 1811.”
Do go if you have the chance. It is quite small but there are some wonderful paintings.
By the way this red colour dates from 2013 and was the original colour used in the gallery, having been found under layers of paint.
There is usually a special exhibition of some sort going on and in the middle of the area used for this you will find a chamber which is the mausoleum of the founders – Sir Francis Bourgeois and Mr and Mrs Desenfans.
You can see this from the main gallery but it is best to see it from within the special exhibition area.
Now go back to the cafe by the entrance gate and down the glass corridor past the cafe, following it as it turns left.
You pass a door which leads to Christ’s Chapel, more of which anon.
As you can see opening times are somewhat limited, although the chapel does have regular Sunday services also. At the end of the corridor there is a glass exit door, go through that and head out towards the street. You will see an old phone box on your right. This is a K2 design by Giles Gilbert Scott
Look inside and the phone box has the old fashioned Button A and Button B.
There is a significance about this being here.
If you look across the way you can see the back of the Mausoleum in the Gallery
At the time he designed it, Scott was a trustee of Sir John Soane’s Museum and it seems he was inspired by the domes on mausoleums in St Pancras’ Old Churchyard and Dulwich Picture Gallery which Soane had designed. Though as we saw in E18, Soane may have got this idea from a tomb in the church in South Woodford.
Turn right along Gallery Road and past the old buildings on your right.
There is an historic Southwark plaque.
There is an entry way to the right.Go in here and you will see the range of buildings.
Stop 9: Christ’s Chapel
According to the Dulwich estate website: “Christ’s Chapel of God’s Gift … was the first of Alleyn’s Foundation buildings to be completed, being consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 1 September 1616.” Pevsner says that the chapel was remodelled and given an aisle in 1823.
In fact it seems the buildings round this courtyard are older than they look. They have been repaired and rebuilt over the years but the present stucco finish dates only from the 1820s and the cloister by the chapel and the Chateau like tower are even later dating from 1866. They are by Charles Barry Junior who you will recall was also involved in the building of the local station around this time.
You will also see a statue of Edward Alleyn with an unidentified boy.
This sculpture was created at the instigation of the Dulwich Society. An open competition was held in 2004 and the design of a local sculptor, Louise Simson was chosen. It was unveiled 9 October 2008 by the local MP who was then the Rt. Hon. Tessa Jowell.
Head back to Gallery Road and our next stop is just over the way on the left.
Stop 10: The old Grammar School
This is one of the old college buildings. It dates from the 1840s and is now used as offices for the management of the Dulwich Estate.
Keep going ahead towards the junction with a marble memorial in the middle of the road and turn back on yourself to go down College Road.
Go past the Picture Gallery until you reach the crossroads. We are going to see where the College moved to in the 1860s.
At the crossroads you will see some signs on the road straight ahead.
Note this is a private road but also that there is a toll gate. It is a little too far to go down there but it is worth a mention as this is the last remaining toll gate in London and has been in existence since 1789.
The original tolls can be seen displayed close to the toll gate, by Tollgate Cottage. But in 2006 it went hi tech with equipment to enable automatic passage through the toll gate using either a Tag or by cash or card payment.
Stop 11: Dulwich College
Our next stop is right here on the other side of the main road. It is that complex of buildings set in large grounds.
Dulwich College was enlarged and rebuilt on this site in the late 1860s. Pevsner says this was one of the most ambitious school rebuildings of the period, made possible by the £100,000 provided by as compensation by the railway lines which ran through the college estate. The architect was none other than Charles Barry Junior. Since then more building have been added, as you can see if you turn right at the cross roads, go along a bit and look back.
By the way you may have noticed this main road, though not wide, is quite busy. That is because this is that collection of side streets known as the South Circular Road.
Now keep going along the main road and soon you will reach West Dulwich station, our final stop.
Stop 12: West Dulwich station
This is an understated elegant little station building which is on a completely different line from, and unconnected to, North Dulwich. I am sure that Alleyn’s College could not believe their luck that not one but two railway companies wanted to build over their land in the 1860s.
The line here ran between Herne Hill and Beckenham Junction and was built by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. The station when it opened in 1863 was simply called “Dulwich”. The prefix “West” was added in 1926 as a bit of tidying up by the recently formed Southern Railway.
Whilst North Dulwich is in a cutting, West Dulwich is atop an embankment. There once were proper buildings with canopies over the platforms. But today there are no original buildings, just little “bus” type shelters up at platform level, so it all feels a bit naked.
The platforms themselves are on concrete and metal beams. I have seen a picture dating from 1975 which shows some of the platform was wooden, but no doubt that all had to be renewed at some point.
By the way you get a nice view of the Crystal Palace television mast looking down the tracks.
So that brings us to the end of our SE21 walk. Dulwich is fascinating. The way in which the area looks and feels is inextricably linked to the history and development of Dulwich College. In many ways it does not feel like London and yet Dulwich village is so unlike a village in the countryside because of the college.
We are at West Dulwich station which has reasonably regular trains in towards Victoria or out to Beckenham and Bromley.