It always seemed to me the centre of the village was the area abounded by the small parade of shops at the Dulwich Village/Carlton Avenue junction.
At this location everyone appeared to ‘bump’ into each other as they went about their daily business. It felt like I spent half of my early childhood standing at that junction as adults ceaselessly chatted to each other.
Adults were always addressed as Aunt or Uncle even if there was no family relationship. As I dawdled passing the time at these seemingly endless and boring encounters, I always noticed the church of St Barnabas on the brow of the hill in Carlton Avenue. The bend of the road made the profile of the church stand out impressively, St Barnabas also being the church where I was christened. I was saddened one day when reading a daily internal fire service news report that St Barnabas suffered destruction by fire during the night before. I suspect my name on the christening roll was destroyed also. The vision of this hilltop church however still remains embedded deeply in my mind like an iconic memory.
A large blue police box was located outside the old burial ground in Dulwich Village directly opposite Turney Road. It was the type that would be recognised by all Dr. Who fans as being the mythical Tardis. For some reason as a small boy, I used to think there was a policeman always inside the box, secretly watching passers-by for any potential wrong doing. I also had the childish notion that if the policeman did see anyone doing anything wrong, he would suddenly pounce out of his box and then proceed to lock the offender inside. Whenever I walked pass that spot, I always ensured I was on my best behaviour, just in case. The box has long since gone, possibly to battle with the Daleks elsewhere in the universe.
The old burial ground also at this location formed something of a converging apex between Dulwich Village and Court Lane. As children we always believed deceased individuals were entombed within some of the larger ornate box type monuments. Views on Google Earth indicate there is now a bus stop outside the burial ground. In my childhood, no public transport was allowed to run through Dulwich Village at all, with the nearest transport links being bus stops at Dulwich Common, East Dulwich Grove or Lordship Lane. My father told me that apparently the college authorities owned much of the land or access rights to the village and prevented through public transport to preserve the character of the village.
I do not know how much truth there was in that little piece of folklore but either way, there certainly used to be no buses. I also note that Village Way which was once a quiet side road is now a main thoroughfare and the section of Half Moon Lane leading up to the railway station, previously the main road, now appears to be a relatively quiet residential road. I suppose if anything, it is the growth in traffic that has done more to change the character of the village than anything else. Until about the mid 1950′s car ownership and consequent traffic was rare. It was possibly to ‘see’ every street as it was designed without the ever pervading mist of parked vehicles that obscures such views today like an all blanketing cloud. I sometimes enjoy watching outside scenes in films made during this brief post-war period. It helps remind me how clean, uncluttered and natural our environment used to be.
Occasionally one would hear a thunderous like rumbling, interspersed with a ‘clickety-clack’ noise in any of the gently sloping roads between Woodwarde Road and Court Lane. This noise came from older children playing with their home-made scooters.
Immediately after the war, professionally manufactured toy scooters were still something of a rarity. Many had met their demise donated as scrap metal for the war effort. I cannot recall if the railings in Dulwich Park suffered the same fate. Due to rationing, I believe metal shortages may have curtailed the production of toy scooters and most fathers built their children a popular home-made variety. These consisted of two planks of wood, one for standing on, the other for steering joined together by door hinges. The wheels were solid metal ball races which made the awful noise as they went over the cracks in paving slabs. Due to the lack of traffic, it was also ‘safe’ at the time to ride these scooters on the highway of side streets.
My grandmother who lived with us frequently took me on outings or shopping. I always recall waiting expectantly for the tram to arrive in Lordship Lane. A conductor always hauled me aloft to the inside platform by an extend arm. The bench type seats were not particularly comfortable for a small fidgety bottom and the seat backs were hinged at the base. At the end of a journey the conductor would walk through the tram pushing all seat backs to face the opposite direction for the return journey. Although I never fully understood how they worked, I would always watch fascinated as the driver standing at the front of the tram, operated two metal levers which he continuously pivoted in various directions. I suspect like many small children, I imagined it was myself driving the tram.
Michael was born in Dulwich Village in January 1946 and lived there for five years. He served as a firefighter for 42 years. Now retired, one of his hobbies is genealogy. Michael also maintains his own blog at http://micksmuses.wordpress.com where he writes about personal recollections of life, Dulwich recently added, and his outlook on life, the universe and beyond.
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