DULWICH - The School and the Village.




“Dulwich College was founded by Edward Alleyn on June 21st 1619, with letters patent from King James I. This magnificent document with the Great Seal of England still survives. Alleyn was an actor and entrepreneur in the world of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, a colourful and famous figure of his day.

Edward Alleyn bought the manorial estate of Dulwich for £35,000 in 1613. The Dulwich estate extended, as it does today, from Denmark Hill to what are now the Crystal Palace grounds on Sydenham Hill. This pleasant valley of fields, common and wooded hillside was later to be frequented by William Blake and his disciple Samuel Palmer who called it 'the Gate into the world of vision'. Even in this century it was capable of sustaining the suburban paradisal vision of P. G. Wodehouse, the happy schoolboy, who named it 'Valley Fields' in his books and spoke of it as the setting of 'six years of unbroken bliss' at the College."

From 'Dulwich College: A brief history and guide to the buildings', by J R Piggott MA

Reading Practice 1 Dulwich College.mp3


If you are familiar with the movie "Shakespeare In Love", you may already know a little about Edward, or "Ned" Alleyn. In the movie the part is played by Ben Affleck and is one of the troop of actors known as the Lord Admiral's Men, who have to perform Shakespeare's latest work "Romeo and Edith the Pirate's Daughter".

In reality Edward Alleyn was one of the greatest actors of his generation, becoming an impresario and entrepreneur. He was renowned for his portrayal of Christopher Marlowe's characters Faustus and Tamburlaine. At a key time in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Alleyn was a central figure in one of the most creative and innovative literary periods of English history.

Edward Alleyn, founder of Dulwich College

He grew wealthy, despite coming from humble origins: his father was a publican . Born in 1566 in Bishopsgate, in the City of London, by 1600 he had become the owner and manager of the Fortune Theatre. Despite being just 34, he had already retired from acting. It is rumoured that it was at the command of Queen Elizabeth that he returned to performing on stage.

In 1613, Edward purchased the Manor of Dulwich from Sir Francis Calton (or Carlton). A manorial estate lying just to the south of Herne Hill, the estate covered over 500 acres, and possessed some of the most spectacular views both across London and towards the south coast of England from the ridge which is today known as Crystal Palace.

Originally Alleyn had intended to found a hospital, as was common to many wealthy patrons in an era where charitable works were believed to be a duty, fulfilling functions that are today provided by the State.

Eventually, he settled on the idea of establishing a poor school, which he named 'Alleyn's College of God's Gift'. Today this is the school known as Dulwich College.

The school was established on the clear principles of artistic pursuits and good manners - important in poor as well as wealthy children. In his bequest, Alleyn exhorted his successors to provide a full education to all, irrespective of their social background or financial resources.


Reading Practice 1 Edward Alleyn.mp3




The Archives

"The Archive at the College contains rare printed books and diverse collections of manuscripts. The most important are probably the Henslowe and Alleyn papers relating to the Elizabethan and Stuart theatres. The Archive also houses the Fellows’ Library which contains among other treasures: an early Book of Hours, a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, a Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493, a Mercator’s Atlas and tracts from the English Civil War. The school also owns the Reading collection of manuscript music of the eighteenth century, Court Rolls from 1314, the papers of the Dulwich College Estate from 1619 until recent times and manuscripts and letters of P. G. Wodehouse. There are also materials connected with the history of the College, with Sir Ernest Shackleton and other famous Old Alleynians, as former pupils of Dulwich are known.

The Archive is open to researchers by prior arrangement. Appointments are available in term time only on Wednesdays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

NB: While research may be undertaken for enquirers, a charge will be made. Photography can be arranged but its cost must be paid in advance."    

Reading Practice 1 The Archives.mp3




Many people have written that London is a collection of former villages, and the way London developed through the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with its growing population and the development of the railways, caused the city to absorb many former villages within its spreading boundaries.

Most of these former villages are today remembered only by their names: Herne Hill, Kilburn, Thornton Heath, Tulse Hill, but, if you care to look, three villages still survive.

Blackheath Village, in southeast London

still retains some of its village feel, its characterful buildings and old road layout, in the face of modern pressures to redevelop. Its survival is perhaps aided by its proximity to Greenwich Park, and the open heath land between.

Highgate Village in north London

shares much in common with Blackheath having similar demographics and a location next to surviving heath land: in Highgate's case Hampstead Heath.

Both areas of open ground owe their survival to acts of parliament which guarantee that they remain for public use.

 The third village is Dulwich Village in south London,

whose survival is due to its ownership by The Dulwich Estate.

The Dulwich Estate

The charity today supports Alleyn's School, Central Foundation Schools of London, Christ's Chapel of God's Gift at Dulwich, Dulwich College, Dulwich Alms House Charity, James Allen's Girls' School, St. Olave's and St. Saviour's Schools Foundation.

Dulwich Village is the modern survivor of the original manor purchased by Edward Alleyn, and maintains its village feel as an anachronistic throwback to an earlier era.

As a movement towards so-called "gentrification" has taken place in the late twentieth century, other former villages have begun to emerge: Hampstead, Primrose Hill, Islington, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Nottinghill, Holland Park, Chelsea, Soho, Covent Garden, Spitalfields and many others have begun to reclaim their village status, spurred on by the rise in property values that this exclusivity can bring.

Of all the villages and former villages, however, Dulwich is unique.

The name DULWICH comes from SAXON English "Dilwihs". The closest translation seems to be "a marshy place [-wich] where dill grew". Why was this important?



Because the herb dill is used to fend off both indigestion and witchcraft.

Land ownership in Britain derives from the Crown: in other words the King or Queen owned everything. At their discretion they could award or grant parcels of land to their friends and supporters, either as rewards for services rendered, or as bribes to secure future loyalty.

 The spread of Christianity across the country meant that large tracts of land were given to the church by pious kings seeking redemption, or later to secure financial and religious support in their wars. The church proved better at both holding land and making money out of it over the centuries, until the Dissolution of the Catholic Church by King Henry the Eighth in 1538.

So it was that in 967 King Edgar the Peaceful granted the Manor of Dilwihs to a thane [essentially a Lord in today's social hierarchy]. His descendents, having backed the wrong side in later conflicts, lost the land back to the Crown.

In 1127 Dulwich or Dulwick, as it was then called, was given to Bermondsey Abbey by King Henry the Second.


The land would have been farmed, with the Church receiving rents and tithes. The population was barely 100 two centuries later, although how many of these were tenant farmers and how many labourers is not known.

Following the Dissolution, Henry the Eighth granted Dulwich Manor to Thomas Calton, whose descendent, Sir Francis Carlton sold the estate, then a significant piece of real estate lying in a fertile valley and beside a major access route from the North Downs escarpment into London, to Edward Alleyn.

Alleyn, already wealthy from his theatres and other properties in London, grew wealthier still from both the rents on the properties in the small village and the profits of the surrounding farms and mills.


He used his money to begin building a Chapel and College in 1613. By 1616 a burial ground had been consecrated, with the Chapel opening that year.


The college was completed in 1618, but the foundation of the College of God's Gift by Alleyn, was not until the following year, when it was endowed with the manor of Dulwich.

From this point the funds raised from rents and tithes became the College's principle source of income, allowing the construction of several other buildings over the following centuries. Alleyn died in 1626, but other members of his family continued his philanthropic tradition, leading to the construction of the present Dulwich College in 1870, paid for largely from money received for allowing the London Chatham and Dover Railway to build a line across the western edge of the estate.

Other schools were also endowed. Dulwich Grammar School opened in 1842, Alleyn's School - initially a lower school for Dulwich College - opened in 1882, and James Allen's School for girls in 1886.

A toll gate was built across College Road in 1789 to bring in more revenue, although tolls are likely to have been raised on this road throughout Alleyn's ownership, as it follows the easiest route down the northern slopes of the Sydenham Hill escarpment.

Today this is the only active toll-road in London.


 Thomas Adam is believed to have been responsible for the construction of Belair House in 1785. Today this is a popular restaurant, standing in its own landscaped grounds.

The enclosure of Dulwich Common from 1805 onwards allowed most of the land to remain free from development, and much of this is today within Dulwich Park.