‘The house I have taken,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘is at Dulwich. It has a large garden, and is situated in one of the most pleasant spots near London. It has been fitted up with every attention to substantial comfort; perhaps to a little elegance besides; but of that you shall judge for yourselves. Sam accompanies me there. I have engaged, on Perker’s representation, a housekeeper–a very old one–and such other servants as she thinks I shall require. I propose to consecrate this little retreat, by having a ceremony in which I take a great interest, performed there. I wish, if my friend Wardle entertains no objection, that his daughter should be married from my new house, on the day I take possession of it. The happiness of young people,’ said Mr. Pickwick, a little moved, ‘has ever been the chief pleasure of my life. It will warm my heart to witness the happiness of those friends who are dearest to me, beneath my own roof.’
The Pickwick Papers: Charles Dickens 1836/37
Confession: I live in Dulwich. I’ve blogged about it before. I am both lucky to live here and will continue to proselytise about it while I can.
Those who have an interest in London have, possibly, heard of Brixton, even Peckham in South London, often due to the propensity of their inhabitants to riot. They are unique, fascinating areas and are but a stones throw from Dulwich (ho ho).
London, for most visitors comprises the two cities of The City of London and The City of Westminster but outside it remains a series of connected villages, some you wouldn’t want to visit unaccompanied except with security and some which are loveliness personified. Dulwich is in the latter camp.
The centre of the Village is the main road that ends at a roundabout across which are the offices of the Dulwich Estate and behind that Dulwich Picture Gallery.
This is the oldest public picture gallery in the world and still owns a fabulous collection which it barters loans to other galleries to be able to host spectacular exhibitions.
One such recently, on MC Escher was a delight. It led to a famous street artist Phlegm painting a homage mural on the side of an unprepossessing house near Herne Hill station about a mile for the gallery.
And three years ago it commissioned a whole range of street artists to use its famous works as inspirations for their own creations. I wrote a series of posts on this fascinating idea here, here and here.
Like all good villages it has a pub, currently undergoing refurbishment to add 30 bedrooms – we do need somewhere for accommodation – and meanwhile the Crown and Greyhound, known to all as The Dog, is much missed. Here you can see another piece of street art on the hoarding, this one by Run.
Walk past the old cemetery, down Dulwich Village (the names of the high street) and past the war memorial and you reach Dulwich Park. Here are a couple of pictures but many times have I included images in other posts.
The road alongside the Park leads to Dulwich College and is, understandably called College Road. This is the College today:
And this is it originally.
Different scale. It is a grand private school with beauty and ugliness amongst its buildings. College road is the one remaining Toll Road in London – now an eye watering quid just to pass the gate. Things have moved on since this board was erected
It takes a strong willed and well heeled landowner to resist the local Highway Authority when they want to adopt a public highway and here we come to the reason Dulwich is still Dulwich and somewhere Mr Pickwick would recognise.
Edward Alleyn, Actor Manager in Shakespeare’s time, set up a charitable trust to fund the education of the poor of Dulwich. The moneys from the lands provides the income to support the three private schools (you’d wonder how this can be charitable – that’s the subject of a separate post) as well as maintaining the environment.
Until 1967 it owned all the houses for many a mile and controlled development and took its rents. The Labour governments (1964-1970) passed legislation, highly socialist in its intent, to allow leaseholders to buy their houses off their landlords. Land appropriation – horror! This legislation was to help workers in the mining villages in the coalfields of Wales and Yorkshire and the Mill towns of Lancashire, basically to stop rapacious land owners taking back leasehold houses after many years of the tenant’s occupation. Ironically the people who immediately benefited were the wealthy London tenants of the large estates of Westminster, Chelsea and Dulwich, to name three. The law of unintended consequences, eh?
Notwithstanding the loss of ownership, the Dulwich landowner – the extraordinarily named Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift – was able to impose a set of controls on the tenants who ‘enfranchised’ – i. e. bought their houses – and these have ensured Dulwich keeps up appearances and remains a sought after place to live.
Let’s leave the last word to Mr Pickwick’s narrator, C Dickens, esq. This is how Pickwick Papers ends:
Mr. Pickwick is somewhat infirm now; but he retains all his former juvenility of spirit, and may still be frequently seen, contemplating the pictures in the Dulwich Gallery, or enjoying a walk about the pleasant neighbourhood on a fine day. He is known by all the poor people about, who never fail to take their hats off, as he passes, with great respect. The children idolise him, and so indeed does the whole neighbourhood. Every year he repairs to a large family merry-making at Mr. Wardle’s; on this, as on all other occasions, he is invariably attended by the faithful Sam, between whom and his master there exists a steady and reciprocal attachment which nothing but death will terminate.
Could that be me in a few years? I wish.
This is part of the 2016 A to Z Blogging challenge. Please click here to find your way to other participants.