Wander anywhere around Dulwich and the name Alleyn comes up again and again. On street signs, house names, schools and even a park.
This Alleyn chap has links with so much of our area so he must be famous. But who was he?
Here’s the three minute guide to the life of Edward Alleyn.
1566 – Born in Bishopsgate, London, son of an innkeeper.
1584 – Edward shows promise as an actor early and is listed as one of the Earl of Worcester’s players at the age of 14.
1592 – Marries Joan Woodward and becomes business partner with his new step-father-in-law. Together they act as proprietors of bear-pits, brothels and playhouses (including The Rose).
1590s – Edward is considered one of the finest actors in London. He becomes the head of the Admiral’s Men, a respected playing company of actors. He takes the leading role in Christopher Marlowe’s four great plays – Edward ll, Tamburlaine, the Jew of Malta and Dr Faustus.
1604 – Now well-respected by the monarch as an actor Edward is appointed ‘Chief Master, Ruler and Overseer of all and singular of his majestie’s games, of bears, and bulls, and mastive dogs, and mastive bitches’. (He possibly even baited a lion himself in front of James I at the Tower of London.)
1605 – Alleyn purchases the Manor of Dulwich (the area between Sydenham Hill to the south and Herne Hill, Denmark Hill and Champion Hill to the north) from Sir Frances Calton for £35,000.
But Edward is then presented with an immediate problem. He’s childless. How on earth is he going to get rid of this enormous piece of land when he dies? And how will his famous name live on?
1610s – Everyone wants a piece of rich, famous, generous, landowning Edward Alleyn. And more importantly they all want a piece of his land. There’s much jostling for position from the powers that be.
1613 – Work begins on Edward’s gift to the area of a school – the College of God’s Gift at Dulwich (better known to us as Dulwich College). He plans to supplement the college with alms-houses for the ‘poor scholars’ and a chapel for the students and the people of Dulwich.
1616 – Christ’s Chapel (today sandwiched between Dulwich Picture Gallery and residential accommodation) is consecrated.
1619 – All the paperwork is complete and the College is founded. Edward’s land becomes set in mortmain, which means that he left it to no particular person, but it is vested toward a corporation. Cunning. Strangely, Edward insists that all headmasters have the surname Alleyn. (Take a look at the board of names behind the altar in the chapel.)
June 1623 – Edward’s wife dies.
December 1623 – He marries John Donne’s daughter, Constance.
November 1626 – Edward dies. He is buried in his own chapel in Dulwich.
1850s - Act of Parliament allows people other than Alleyns to become head of Dulwich College.
1882 – The Dulwich College foundation creates Alleyn’s School in East Dulwich.
2005 – a new statue of Edward Alleyn is erected to mark the 400th anniversary of his purchase of the Manor of Dulwich.
2008 – Dulwich College (founded to educate 12 poor boys for free) is now a fee-paying school of some 1450 boys.
Photo: 1) author’s own. 2) with thanks to Simon Scott (with CCL).