The Story of Dulwich

A Thousand Years of History

The busy main road, now called Dulwich Village, was, and still is, the High Street of the village of Dulwich. If you stand outside the Old College and look up the street you can see that Dulwich is still more like a village than most places so near to London. Beautiful trees and green grass line the road. There are small shops and an old signpost and milestone. Not far away are fields and woods. You can imagine the scene, not so many years ago, when, instead of fast cars, sheep and cows ambled along the peaceful village street. Dulwich is, in fact, one of the oldest recorded villages in London. Now that it is a built-up area it is difficult to picture the lie of the land which might have attracted its first residents. Dulwich and East Dulwich cover a fertile valley between hills, Denmark Hill and Dog Kennel Hill to the north, Sydenham Hill and One Tree Hill, Honor Oak, to the south. If you explore on foot rather than by car or bus you will soon know where the rising ground begins! The name of Dulwich may be a clue to what the neighbourhood was like in the distant past. It has been spelt in various ways, Dilwihs, Dylways, Dullag, and may come from two old English words, Dill, a white flower, and wihs, meaning a damp meadow. Dulwich was 'the meadow where dill grows'.

Fields and Woods

What was life like in Dulwich, hundreds of years ago? It was a quiet place then, just a few houses, in the midst of fields. People worked in the fields growing corn that was ground into flour at the mill. One Dulwich mill, set up by Edward Alleyn, was where Dulwich College now stands. The pond across the road is still called the Mill Pond. It was a post-mill; the sails were mounted on a post which could be turned according to the wind. Dulwich Common is now only the name of a busy main road, part of the South Circular, but, until it was enclosed in 1805, the common was a wide open space; land where sheep and cows could graze. Court Lane led to Dulwich Court. The Lord of the Manor, or his steward, held court to settle disputes or try people who had done something wrong. From 1333 the steward kept notes, in Latin, on rolls of parchment. These Court Rolls are preserved at Dulwich College and give some idea of life on the manor many centuries ago. For example, in 1333 William Colyn was fined three pence because his pigs got into the lord's field. In 1440 Julian Fahrher was brought to court because she did not come at harvest time to help gather the lord's oats. Sometimes a real crime was reported. In 1334 Richard Rolf said that William Hosewood 'at Dylwysh had carried off Edith, his wife, together with one cow worth ten shillings, clothes, jewels and other goods.