The 18th century Dulwich Village… in the 21st century
Anyone who has happened to pass through Dulwich Village in South London will know by the Georgian buildings that it’s pretty old. However, with the annual Dulwich Festival on at the moment, visitors and locals alike were given the chance to find out exactly how old the village really was, how Edward Alleyn transformed Dulwich into what we know today, and the origins of the popular Crown & Greyhound pub.
Dulwich Old Burial Ground
On Sunday 13 May 2012, local historian Brian Green hosted the ‘Ancient Dulwich Walk’ – starting from the C&G, aka ‘The Dog’ to the locals – at part of this year’s Festival. I have to admit I was stunned by how popular it was – there was an overwhelmingly large group – but fortunately Brian was prepared with a portable loudspeaker.The talk started off with an introduction to the origins of Dulwich, which dates back to the 10th century when the area was referred to as ‘Dilwihs’ – meaning a meadow where the dill grew. While a lot of inner London suburbs only sprung up during the advent of the railway lines during Victorian times, Dulwich has long been a hub for the surrounding areas for centuries.
Aside from the obvious landmarks in the village, Brian was able to point out which current houses were various shops during the Victorian times and how to tell the difference between early and late Georgian architecture, of which there are two impressive examples at the end of the High Street next to the Old Burial Ground.
Ancient Dulwich tour in the grounds of the Picture Gallery
One of the main attractions of the tour was getting the rare chance to go inside the Old Burial Ground, which was in use from 1616 until 1858. The small cemetery has a Grade II-listed gate and is generally off-limits and locked. Once inside, we were given a talk about the various locals laid to rest, including the lawyer Richard Shawe (d.1816), who represented Governor General of India, Warren Hastings (1732-1818) during the longest trial in British legal history. Shawe used some of his legal earnings to building Casino House in nearby Herne Hill, with the house’s name living on today in Casino Avenue.
Moving on, we were given the history of the two separate pubs The Crown and The Greyhound, which were demolished in late 19th century to make way for the current ‘Dog’. It was funny to hear that the 19th century residents of Dulwich have similar issues with traffic, noise pollution from nearby pubs, etc, that we have today, and how they dealt with them. No ASBOs in those days obviously…
Wood carving in Christ’s Chapel
Of course, no tour to Dulwich would be complete without a stop by the Dulwich Picture Gallery – recently the focus of the media after a certain Duchess of Cambridge’s visit with her in-laws Prince Charles and Camilla. The interesting back story as to how the gallery came about, regarding a rather complicated friendship between a married couple and another man, was very entertaining.
The tour ended at the stunning Christ’s Chapel, located in between the Dulwich Almshouses – another addition to Dulwich by Alleyn. Although it looks small from the outside, I was surprised by how large it was inside, with lots of seating for a large congregation. The chapel is full of stunning wood carvings, from everything from angels, to dragons, dogs and cattle. It is open on Sundays for worship so well worth checking out… while ‘checking in’ with the man’s upstairs of course!
Overall, Brian Green was an informative and funny host who kept everyone entertained and focused during the two-hour tour. If this is repeated at next year’s festival, I would highly recommend it.
The carved seats of the Christ’s Chapel are a big attraction
Gates leading out of the grounds from Dulwich almshouses and Christ’s Chapel
For Metro Girl’s self-guided history tour of Dulwich, click here.
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