It’s hard to believe it today but just a couple of hundred years ago, most of the areas located just outside of the City of London, were completely rural.
Prior to the onset of the industrial revolution, most of the London ‘burbs’ we know today, were just countryside littered with small villages.
Some ‘village’ place names still exist today, such as Hampstead Village – Walthamstow Village & even Dagenham Village, plus a few more.
So last week ‘London Shoes’ set off and crossed the River to ‘Sarf’ London (aka the ‘dark side’) to explore one existing ‘Village’ in particular – the amazing “Dulwich Village” – London-SE21.
Although I knew of the existence of Dulwich Village, I had never actually visited the place before – so knew nothing about its history or what was actually there – and I was amazed at what I found when I got there.
The incredible thing about Dulwich Village is that it is just so unique – it’s as though this picture postcard town has been plucked from a bygone age and then plonked down in the middle of an urbanised area, with absolutely nothing in common with its neighbours.
Its freaky to think that Dulwich Village in all its splendour – is only 5 miles from the centre of London – just under 2 miles from the urban congestion of cosmopolitan Brixton – and just over 2 miles from the inner city district of Peckham – and as I say, it couldn’t be further apart culturally and aesthetically from its ‘neighbours’.
A Royal Charter dating back to 967 AD has today’s Dulwich Village district recorded as being known as ‘Dile Wisc’ which in Old English means ‘Dill Meadow’.
As the centuries passed, the ‘Estate’ land that made up Dulwich was owned by numerous Royals and well-to-do historical dignitaries – inc King William I & Henry VIII to name but two.
However, in 1605 the estate land was bought by a man who transformed it considerably, and whose legacy in the formation and standing of the ‘Village’, still stands in place today.
In 1605 the famous and extremely popular actor of his time ‘Edward Alleyn’ (a big favourite of Queen Elizabeth I) bought the ‘Manor of Dulwich’ for £4,900 – a massive chunk of money for those times.
Edward ‘Ned’ Alleyn invested his money into charitable purposes by founding “Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift” in 1619, which formed a big part of what became the ‘Dulwich Estate’, and consisted of alms-houses and a school for under-privileged boys.
In 1616 ‘Christ Chapel’ was built, located in the middle of the Estate; it is still used today by the college’s students and village residents.
From the mid 1700’s onwards, the College allowed wealthy Londoners to build massive and expensive high-class houses on the Estate land, a move that ensured the area kept its value.
In 1765 a wealthy east end corn-merchant from Whitechapel, built ‘Belair’ – a huge elaborate villa on Gallery Road – a property which is still there in all its splendour, to this very day.
Allowing wealthy Londoners to build grand houses throughout the Dulwich Estate meant that a certain high standard of lifestyle was maintained throughout the ‘Village’ – the area kept its value and also it kept all the riff-raff out – although because of its wealthy inhabitants, Dulwich Village was unfortunately a popular haunt for London’s notorious highwaymen.
Edward Alleyn’s ‘God’s Gift College’ became the now renowned ‘Dulwich College’ which has now been in situ for over 400 years.
Edward Alleyn also had built the ‘Old Burial Ground’ in the Village – where, in 1768 ‘Old Bridget’ the Queen of the Norwood Gypsies was buried, plus 35 Dulwich Village residents who were victims of the Great Plaque are also laid to rest. By 1858 the burial ground was full – but the graveyard itself is still there today.
In 1789 the main road running through Dulwich Village had its own ‘toll-gate’ installed – and that toll-gate is still in place and operating to this very day – (£1.20 to pass through it)
In 1814 Sir John Soane, one of Britain’s greatest ever architects, financed the construction of the worlds very first purpose built Picture Gallery in Dulwich Village – where works from grand masters such as Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Gainsborough were shown (and still are today).
In 1860 onwards, the Dulwich College buildings were expanded – all financed by the sale of Estate land to the South Eastern & Chatham Railway company.
North Dulwich Railway Station was built in 1868, and is the closest rail station to the actual Dulwich Village – and is today a listed building.
At the centre of the old Dulwich Village were 2 pubs – The Crown and The Greyhound. In 1897 these 2 pubs merged, to form the ‘Crown & Greyhound’ pub, which is still in place today and is still at the centre of the Village activity – and is referred to locally as ‘The Dog’.
Dulwich College and all its associated buildings, is by far the most prominent landmark throughout Dulwich Village – with its magnificent architecture and beautiful picturesque grounds.
There are still a number of the old Georgian properties and Victorian cottages still in situ throughout Dulwich Village – which (as you can probably imagine) would set you back a few bob to purchase. For example, the streets feeding off of the main Gallery Road & College Road that run through Dulwich Village – are lined with Victorian terraced houses, the cheapest of which would set you back a mere £1.8M.
Over the last few decades many of the larger properties have been converted into apartments or business premises.
One of the sights on the horizon that you will see when walking the streets of Dulwich Village, is the massive TV aerial at Crystal Palace – a landmark that I used to be able to see from my office window when I was working at the Barclays Bank HQ in Canary Wharf. This aerial mast was erected in 1956 and at 719ft high; it is the 5th tallest structure in London. It was the first TV aerial to transmit colour and the first to transmit stereo sound – and basically today its transmission range covers the whole of London and a big chunk of the Home Counties.
The strict covenants applied to the Dulwich Estate land have prevented the large corporate supermarket and coffee shop conglomerates from feathering their nests in Dulwich Village – which means that pleasingly, many of the original buildings in the Village’s main street operate as cafés, retail shops, restaurants and bars – and most of these buildings enjoy a ‘listed’ status.
In 2008, to acknowledge his massive influence on Dulwich Village, a wonderful commemorative statue of the legendary Shakespearian actor ‘Sir Edward Alleyn’, the man who founded Dulwich College – was unveiled in the Village.
Finding your way around Dulwich Village is not difficult, because located throughout the district are ‘Fingerposts’ – to point you in the right direction.
‘Fingerposts’ are the original ‘road signs’ that first came into prominence in Britain back in the early 1700’s – and they simply take the form of a ‘finger’ pointing you in a certain direction. Dulwich Village had one of the original ‘fingerposts’ still in situ, and as a result, most of its street signage today, still follows this original design – yet another example of the uniqueness of Dulwich Village.
Having enjoyed a great day out exploring the nooks & crannies of the wonderful Dulwich Village – it was time to knock back a couple of swift ‘cheeky’ lagers in where else than the Village’s very own ‘Crown & Greyhound’ pub – and very pleasant it was too.
So – that’s Dulwich Village – as I described it earlier – a place that feels like it’s been plucked from another era in time and then plonked down in the middle of one of the busiest, built up, congested and overcrowded areas of London – Its in a total world of its own, and long may it continue to remain that way.
See below for more detailed photos from this ‘Dulwich Village’ blog