Mr Bell Spends A Day In Dulwich Village


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Dulwich in south east London is one of the few places in the capital that has managed to retain a true village feel. With its large Georgian houses, white picket fences, millponds and the famous Dulwich Picture Gallery there’s more than enough to keep me occupied for the entire day.

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The train from London Victoria takes a little over 10 minutes to reach West Dulwich station and it’s from there that I begin my explorations as I enter Belair Park opposite.

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Belair House was built in 1785 by John Willes in the style of, or possibly by Robert Adam. It was then owned by various people including Charles Ranken, Charles Hutton and Sir Evan Spicer who was the last private owner. In 1938 after Sir Evan Spicer’s death the house was sold at auction. With the onset of World War II the house fell into a state of ruin. In 1964 the house was rebuilt by Southwark Council who now owned it and was used for various purposes. In more recent years the house has been run as a restaurant and bar with the grounds now being a public park.

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At the front of the house I come onto Gallery Road from where I take a footpath up to College Road. In front of me is Pickwick Cottage. At the end of Charles Dickens book the Pickwick Papers Samuel Pickwick is described as retiring to Dulwich “one of the most pleasant spots near London”. Pickwick Cottage was reputed to have been where Charles Dickens had in mind as Mr Pickwick’s retirement house. Whether the story is true or not it’s still a very picturesque house in a lovely location.

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Next to Pickwick Cottage is Bell House. This grade II listed house was built in 1767 for Thomas Wright who was Sheriff of the City of London in 1779 and Lord Mayor of London in 1785. The house gets its name from the striking bell tower which was used to raise the alarm whenever a fire broke out in the village. In more recent years it was used as a junior boarding house for Dulwich Collage and is now used by an educational charity.

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The pretty Bell Cottage sits next door to Bell House and is picture postcard perfect. It dates from before 1741 and was originally two cottages. At that time it was insured by the Hand In Hand Insurance Company and their firework can still be seen on the front elevation.

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Continuing down College Road I come to the Dulwich Picture Gallery. This is England’s oldest public art gallery and was designed by Sir John Soane in 1811. The gallery houses a large collection of Old Masters, especially rich in French, Italian and Spanish Baroque paintings as well as British portraits from Tudor times to the 19th century.

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At the rear of the building is the mausoleum, the roof of this inspired Gilbert Scott when he designed the famous red telephone box.

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There is an example of a K2 telephone box with its original fittings displayed in the grounds.

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On Gallery Road is the entrance to the old Dulwich College. The college was founded by the famous Elizabethan actor Edward Alleyn in 1619 with the original purpose of educating 12 poor scholars. The building in the centre is the Chapel with almshouses to the left and the former school buildings to the right. These are now offices for the Dulwich College Estate.

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The statue in the grounds is of Edward Alleyn and was erected in 2005.

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In front of the main entrance gates to the college is a traffic island with a milestone, a fingerpost and a fountain. The fountain is a memorial to Dr. George Webster, founder of the first BMA. He worked in Dulwich from 1815 until his death in 1875.

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Carrying on along Dulwich Village I pass some attractive 18th century houses and wonder what it must have been like to live there all those years ago, I also wish that I had the money to buy one now! Anyway back to reality.

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The grassed areas in front of the houses with posts and rails are remnants of common land. I’am now entering the main shopping area of the village with its small independent stores, bars and restaurants.

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A little further along I come across a small burial ground which was gifted by Edward Alleyn and is the final resting place of Dulwich’s 35 plague victims.

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The Village Bookstore on Calton Avenue sits on the site of an old forge. Next door in the small fenced off area is a stone which came from a small prison that was located nearby.

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Further up is St Barnabas Church, this modern building replaced the Victorian church that burned down in 1992. From here there is a good view of Alleyn’s School which replaced the Old Grammar school.

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In Boxall Road the Park Motors premises would have been a coachworks or wheelwrights in the past.

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The old post office on the corner was formerly a butchers with a slaughterhouse behind.

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Walking back up Dulwich Village the gates to Dulwich Park come into view. Dulwich College Estates gave the “five fields” to the village to be laid out as a public park, it opened in 1890.

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The park is a nice tranquil spot to get away from the noise and busyness of everyday life. There’s a lake and a cafe, the perfect place to take a break.

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Exiting the park into Dulwich Common I walk until I see College Road where there is a pond. The pond was dug to provide clay to the Pond Cottages each of which had kilns that produced tiles, bricks and chimney pots. Until 1815 a windmill stood opposite here.

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Back on College Road is the main frontage to Dulwich College. Built in 1870 by Charles Barry Jnr. it was financed by the sale of land to the railway companies. Barry described his architectural style of the college as “North Italian of the Thirteenth Century”.

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I finally finish up my day by walking back along Dulwich Common where there are some more views of the college buildings. It’s from here where I head back to the train station and start my journey home.

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