................The centre of Dulwich is the nearest thing to a country village that exists in Greater London. Its name derives from Old English, "Dilwihs" or "Dilewysshe", which meant a meadow on which dill herbs grew. It is, infact, still called Dulwich Village and the local football club is Dulwich Hamlet F.C., recalling the time, not much more than a century ago, when Dulwich actually was a hamlet - a small, churchless village - that, like its surrounding settlements, Peckham, Nunhead and Sydenham came under The Parish of St.Giles, in Camberwell.
................After the vast building developments in the late 19th century these all became part of The Borough of Camberwell. They are now comprised in Southwark, the Borough that takes its name from the southern banks of the River Thames from along which it spreads towards the Counties of Surrey and Kent
................Our district was originally in Surrey and divided into two Manors, each held by a Lord, which were boundered to the west by Croxted Road, a crooked lane following the course of a vanished River Effra, first mentioned in medieval times as Crokestrete and to the east by Peckham Rye; the remains of a historic common grazing land famous for being traditionally the site of a Celtic British Queen's last battle against the Roman invaders. A statue portraying Queen Boedacea and her two daughters, in their bladed-wheeled war chariot, commerorates this on Westminster Bridge.
................The dividing line between of the two Lordships, Dulwich Manor and Freiherrn (Friern) Manor, was demarked by Lordship Lane which meanders from another commoner's land, Goose Green, up towards Honor Oak and Forest hill. SE23. Both these names, recall The Great Forest that once covered most of southern England and whose tiny remnants can still be found locally in Onetree Hill and Dulwich Woods.
................An ancient coppice, to the east, is crossed by a path called Cox's Walk. Mr Cox was the owner of this wood in the 18th century and landlord of an inn called "The Green Man" that faced it. The name referred to the benevolent, mythical spirit of the forests; still a popular subject for wall plaques to adorn facades and porches. After the inn, there stood a little school noted for having among its pupils the future Lord Byron, worldwidely famous for his poetry.
Byron's wife wrote the first story of Dr. Frankenstein!
Why do I mention her? Because, on this theme we can also add the birth, in East Dulwich, of the early film actor Arthur Pratt better known as "Boris Carloff", who became famous for his interpretations as Dr. Frankenstein's subhuman creation.
About 1902, the site of "The Green Man" was occupied by a public house, once known as The Grove Tavern. The same building is now a licenced restaurant but the original name is remembered only as that of a bus stop!
................Also upon the grounds of "The Grove", Dulwich once had its own spa or 'health water' spring. This spring was found, by the enterprising Mr Cox, during the period that such features were very much the fashion. It was filled with a brown, foul smelling, water duely publicised as having, not surprisingly, strong laxative effects! Across the road from the present tavern stands a magnificent example of Victorian church that has a window in memory of the daughter of Frederick Horniman - one of the most successful importers and blenders of tea. His hobby of collecting, it seems, everything under the sun from musical instruments to stuffed animals and ethnic masks, allowed him to bequeath, to South London's population, the Horniman Free Museum and Gardens, just a little further up the hill towards Honour Oak.
................This fascinating corner is also the start of the most pleasant and interesting sector of the busy South Circular Road in London. It runs along Dulwich Common coasting vast sports fields, often populated by boys involved in gentle games of cricket or boisterous battles of rugby, backed by Dulwich and Sydenham Golf Course. Facing these, stand the imposing gates of Dulwich Park which disclose a glimpse of the redbrick "keepers lodge" enfolded in dense stands of trees and flowering shrubs.
A park lodge, College Road
................ The next traffic light may give us time to enjoy a peaceful scene of byegone times before we turn right towards the village centre. On our left lies a grassy, railed enclosure containing the old mill pond. The mill itself, that stood with a row of pretty cottages, has, of course, disappeared into history. However, just behind, up College Road, we can still enjoy the scene of an old toll gate and its levyman's cottage. Yes, a real 18th century tollgate, still intact across the lane-like road; and, no, this is not a modern reconstruction to evocate local folklore but the real thing, standing there for centuries and up to recent years still carrying out its function of levying tolls on all vehicles and livestock which passed along it between Dulwich and Sydenham. The tarif board still stands to testify that, as a youngster, I myself often had to make a strenuous detour by cycling up Huntslip and Croxted roads to Crystal Palace Parade, so as to avoid handing over a few pence of my pocket money! The road was originally made by a local farmer, for the passage of his flocks and farm carts, which gave him the right to charge all other travellers. Ownership later returned to Dulwich College which maintained the tolls for its upkeep.
................The corner after the pond is dominated by the entrance to Belair. This magnificient house, reputed to have been designed by Robert Adams, is now a restaurant and its garden estate open to the public. Here too, I have memories of its magnificent central staircase which we, as schoolchildren, climbed to the unfurnished rooms in which we changed for our weekly school sports sessions in the grounds. When, that is, we didn't "lose our way" and went swimming in Regent's Park Serpentine instead!
................Further along, on the facing side, stands Dulwich College Picture Gallery which unostentatiously houses, among its many treasures, works by Poussin, Claude, Murillo, Rubens, Rembrant, Van Dyck, Watteau.
Alleyn's Old Grammar School
................ It is to Alleyn's philanthropic enterprise that Dulwich Village owes its outstanding state of historical conservation: he bequeathed all his properties to the college that he founded, thereby saving the district from much of the urban development that devastated the local rural surroundings of the southern home counties at the close of the 19th century. Many of the great houses that descretely line the highstreet, called Dulwich Village and Village Way, are still of the Georgian era.
Alleyn's Old College and Chapel
................Dulwich is also the home, in Burbage Road, of London's only remaining Cycle Racing Track known as Herne Hill Velodrome. Its proud past includes hosting the 1946 Olympic races and meetings featuring great international champions such as Fausto Coppi, Reg Harris, Antonio Maspes, Jacques Anquetil, Sid Patterson, Luison Bobet and the only arrival in urban London of the "Tour of Britain" stage race. This last meeting was organised in 1964 by London's oldest cycling club, the De Laune C.C., which still meets at the track.
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