"It's hard to be a celebrity without being dyslexic," claimed Marion in her talk at Bell House. Marion wasn't just talking about techniques that help children with dyslexia to read better, but about the differences in how the brain works for those with dyslexia.Read More
On this day (25th March) in 1765, Thomas Wright won the lease to print religious books for the University of Oxford. Twenty years on, and his success had continued to reach dizzying heights...Read More
It seems everyone has seen, or has plans to go to, the Modigliani exhibition at the Tate Modern. On 15th March, Rosalind Whyte came to Bell House Dulwich to give an art history talk based on this exciting, and ever so popular exhibition. Along with almost 60 other people, I learnt loads about Modigliani’s life, his art, and the works on show at the Tate Modern.Read More
A total mixture of people showed up on Saturday 24th February at Bell House, ranging in age from 20 to 65, to learn how to make films on the small camera in their pockets – which also doubles up as a mobile phone. Some brought iPhones and others had android phones, but Cassius Rayner's course works for all these devices; particularly impressive considering there are over 200 different android phones on the market. In just over 5 hours we learnt about light, focus, tracking and editing, and, best of all, we ended up making our own short film. In a rather circular process, the film I made with my two team-mates was a film about a teddy arriving at Bell House to go on a film course.
The professional film-makers on the course were planning to make all sorts of short films - for charities, for businesses, and for interviews. Not everyone was a professional, and come came just for the sheer fun of doing something creative. Cassius explained that making a good film is all about a compelling story, told in a way that's eye-catching and easy to follow, so when we were making our films, we focused on creating an interesting story. After shooting, we used a variety of different editing apps to create our finished product.
The course was also full of tips and demonstrations of useful kit, from sliders to splitters, and microphones to tripods. None of the smartphone add-ons are absolutely necessary, but it was surprising to see the range that's available. It was great to learn how affordable and cost-effective all the equipment is, and it really did make a difference to the quality of the filming.
Whether you are serious about making short films or just want to have fun, this is the course for you - in a month's time Cassius will be running the same smartphone filmmaking course again. It costs £65, and in my opinion, is worth every penny. The course on Saturday was sold out, and this one will be too very shortly! Sign up now before the tickets go! - http://www.mobilefilmmaking.com/workshops . And if you work for a charity, then there is a specific course running on 27th April, teaching charity sector employees how to best use their smartphone to maximise filming for their charity in the age of social media: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/smartphone-filming-for-your-charity-tickets-43828741947
Benjamin Rice, photographic artist, believes that last Saturday was the first time that the whole of the street facing, front elevation of Bell House has been photographed straight on. This may seem unbelievable, but having been built in 1767, the Georgian house has spent much of its life in the pre-photography era. In more recent years, it was shrouded in vegetation, so a photograph from this angle has not been possible - until now. There are many archive images of the house from the back and from the side, such as the Country Life photo from 1962, dug out by the Bell House historian, Sharon O'Connor, but none showing the structure without horticultural interference.
Benjamin, saw that the clearance of the rhododendron has allowed Bell House to wake up, like Sleeping Beauty, and he offered to take a professional picture of the magnificent facade. For this project, he used a three-metre high tripod and a camera with a whizzy (and presumably a fiercely expensive) lens. It was a beautifully clear day, and Benjamin had worked out that the sun would be "kissing the front" at about midday. Some of the ground floor window frames have recently been renovated, the front door freshly painted, the shutters bolted back and finally the distracting 21st century modes of transport were removed, so by the time he was all set, the house was looking its majestic best.
Benjamin will be exhibiting at Bell House for the Dulwich Festival as part of the Artists Open House weekends - 12th/13th May and 19th/20th May 2018. He will be displaying a series of very large, but micro-detailed ‘photographic art’ capturing nature’s reclamation of aging dry-stone walls. His wife Pip, a basket weaver, will also be showing her work, some of which have been created from foraged plant material sourced from Bell House’s garden.
A fragment of an envelope: how much could it tell you about where it was found or who it belonged to?
Andrew McLynn, chief craftsman, is renovating the Bell House windows using traditional techniques to restore them to their original splendour. While taking apart one of the box sashes, Andrew found part of an envelope stuffed inside the window frame, probably by someone repairing the window who needed to fill the gap and picked up some nearby wastepaper.
Printed on it are the words:
and only 85p!
If undelivered, please return to
27/29 Sunbeam Road, London NW10 6JP
(characters in italics are our interpolations due to letters being missing or illegible)
We can see that the envelope was posted by Games Workshop and it would almost certainly have carried their in-house magazine, White Dwarf, which at the time covered fantasy and science fiction role-playing games, in particular ‘Advanced Dungeons & Dragons’ (referred to as AD&D on the magazine cover below). White Dwarf increased its cover price to 85p in April 1984 so our envelope would have been sent out after that as it refers to the cover price being ‘only 85p’.
The envelope is addressed to A. Creed. He was a pupil at Dulwich College from 1984 to 1988. Boys at boarding at school would of course have their mail sent to their school address and it’s not surprising that one of them would want to read a magazine such as this one. Was Creed delighted to read his magazine on the day it arrived, or did he squirrel it away to enjoy at the weekend when he had more time? Perhaps he passed it around Bell House after he had read it, so that boys not lucky enough to have a subscription might also enjoy reading about the latest games.
We love finding fragments of history like this, and are very lucky to have our historian, Sharon O'Connor, around to investigate everything we find! Sharon has done SO much research on Bell House, and its residents, that we have two local history talks coming up based on her work. Events at Bell House have been selling out, so make sure you book soon before these tickets go!
When faced with ageing parents, or other relatives, lots of us step in to help with caring. But this can seem an immensely difficult task. Caring for the elderly presents an absolute quagmire of practical, legal and emotional challenges. “Am I doing it right?” “Am I doing enough?” “Am I doing too much?” These questions often have no clear place to find an answer.
Bell House is looking to provide some answers, or at least help people figure out the answers that best fit their situation. Learning to Care is a project being developed at Bell House – it will be a training course, made up of multiple short ‘information sessions’ for local people who wish to help care for the elderly. We hope to cover topics ranging from the practicalities of caring for the elderly, to tricky legal issues such as power of attorney.
To provide the best courses possible, we are conducting some research with people currently involved in caring practices, and those being cared for. We are looking to talk to the following people:
- People aged over 75 who are receiving care in some form
- People aged over 55 who either have time to commit to volunteering with older people, or are caring for an older relative, or anticipate caring for an older relative.
The research will take the form of an interview, approximately 20 mins long, in whatever location is most convenient for the participant. We hope to conduct interviews from March onwards, and they will be completed by experience researchers.
Expenses are available for each participant, so you are not out of pocket in helping us. We really do value the thoughts of people in the community who are involved in care for the elderly, and hope this can shape a truly effective programme for local people.
Do you learn best by listening? By reading? By looking at colours? By moving around as you learn? For many people, especially dyslexic children, the answer to this question could be the key to unlocking the secret to the most effective revision techniques. As Caroline Bateman explained to a room full of parents at Bell House Dulwich, the answer for everyone is different. We should embrace this, and use our individual learning styles to help the revision process.
“Study smarter, not harder”. This really was the theme running throughout Caroline’s talk, as she steered a group of parents with dyslexic children towards a set of techniques that could help with revision. The group was made up of parents who had children of varying ages, which made for great discussion, and opportunities to learn from each other.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, Caroline showed us easy ways to transform existing resources into effective and, dare I say it, fun ways to revise. For example, take a PowerPoint presentation used in the classroom. A pupil can turn this into a quiz, so they can test themselves on information they have just learnt. This is a relatively low-tech way to use resources which are already there, and make them more interactive. Caroline underlined the importance of self-testing; it’s the best way for children and teenagers to truly engage their brains, and assess what they have truly absorbed. And a great way to incentivise revision!
We also discussed a range of practical tips which are beautifully simple to implement. For example, fitting school folders with a small plastic wallet containing coloured pens, glue, hole-punch, and post-it notes. This saves time when revision rolls around, and kids know exactly where to find all their revision stationery. Seeing such an organised, well-equipped file made lots of us in the room at Bell House wish we had these tips when doing our own school exams!
At the end of the two hour session, all the parents left Bell House feeling reassured that revision is not impossible, and armed with a new portfolio of revision techniques to try with their children. Due to the fantastic response from this evening, Caroline Bateman will be repeating her talk at Bell House Dulwich on 20th March. Please visit bellhouse.co.uk/events for more information, or get tickets at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/parents-discover-how-to-support-your-childs-revision-tickets-43018171509
"The whole globe could become citizen film-makers" declared Cassius Rayner, as he spoke at Bell House about the power of using smartphones to create short films. He's been impressed by what's happening in America, and in the film industry generally, where smart phones are enabling surprisingly high quality film-making. A driving force for this is lower costs, and Cassius describes this as “accessible and affordable film-making". For example, a rig to mount a smartphone with a good quality microphone and tripod could cost under £100. The group of us tried out various gadgets, attachments, lenses, and pistol-grip devices. Everyone loved the gimbal which keeps the smartphone steady, even when you are moving around.
Our group was a very mixed bunch with film-makers, photographers, charity publicists, a video-based start-up and people who are making the Bell House films. We watched clips that Cassius had made, and he demonstrated the techniques he uses. We also learnt how to fix the focus of the smartphone, how to increase the exposure and how best to get close-up pictures. Audio is critical, and a range of microphones were demonstrated. The main filming app Cassius personally uses is FilmicPro, which he demonstrated to the group. There are several other great filmmaking apps available of which a few were shown. Finally, we considered three editing app options recommended by Cassius.
One big advantage of making a film on your iPhone or Android smartphone is that when you go out filming in the street people don't ask what you are doing. Taking photos on smartphones is so common that people barely notice, whereas if you were using traditional equipment you can attract unwanted attention, “Smartphone filmmaking offers so much freedom to explore”. This medium is so exciting, it prompted Steven Soderbergh to come out of retirement and make a totally smartphone-based film, "Unsane" – to be released in March 2018. Even film-makers using traditional methods are now often using smartphones to do a low cost dry-run. The quality of smartphone films and amount of cost saving kits available is making the success of smartphone filming inevitable.
"Corporates are not up to speed with this yet, so I've mainly been working with charities, but once they see the quality they don't worry at all," says Cassius Rayner, a pioneer in teaching how to make the most of the camera in your pocket. Cassius was demonstrating the attractions of his smartphone film-making workshops which are being held on Saturday 24th Feb and Saturday 24th March - these can be booked online. These workshops will run from 10.30 to 4pm on Saturdays at Bell House and really teach you how to make your smartphone work for you. For details please email [email protected]
The Queen Bee's behaviour may seem the ultimate in promiscuous, as she can mate with large numbers of drones. Many of the drones in a hive don't even get the chance to mate but those that do have their genitalia torn off in the process and then die. Having taken the drone's sperm off him the queen bee stores it in a special pouch and uses it later for when she lays eggs. Life expectancies are different too - the queen lives for about 4 years, whereas drones live for a few months at best, and worker bees in the summer only last for about 6 weeks. I learnt all this in the introduction to bee-keeping at Bell House Dulwich where Philip Nicholson was leading the course.
At the course I met a mix of people - an allotment holder hoping to get bees installed on their allotment, a bee-keeper from India who is planning to set up an apiary in Forest Hill, and one young woman wanting to join the bee-keepers at Bell House as "apprentice bee-keeper number 3".
Philip used exhibits and slides to explain the life of the bee, the bee-keeping year, diseases of the hive and how to deal with swarming. Occasional swarms, by the way, are quite normal and are an inevitable aspect of bee-keeping as the bees try to set up new colonies. In looking at pests and diseases, Philip told us how to counter the Varroa mite, wax moth, chalk brood, wasps and bigger animals such as mice and woodpeckers.
Apart from being a terrific hobby, bee-keeping is a contribution to the environmental through pollination of flowers and trees. For most bee-keepers a major objective is to make honey: we were told how to take off "supers" laden with honey, remove the wax capping, centrifuge out the honey and put it into jars. Proving how productive bee-keeping is, Philip gave attendees a jar of honey which he (and his bees) have made in Kent, but next year I hope he may be able to supply honey made at Bell House in Dulwich.
If you want to know more, please email [email protected]
After their marriage, Thomas and Ann Wright set up home near London Bridge, close to Thomas’s business. They had three children, though only their daughter Ann survived childhood. They decided to move south, joining the exodus of families from the City which was becoming a place of business and manufacture rather than residency. The rapid improvement in roads and the building of Westminster and Blackfriars bridges enabled Thomas to commute much more easily and Dulwich, with its country air and spa at Dulwich Wells, provided an attractive alternative to the city. Commuting was a novelty as shown in this poem by Robert Lloyd written in 1757, just ten years before the Wrights moved to Bell House:
Some three or four miles out of town,
(An hour’s ride will bring you down),
He fixes on his choice abode,
Nor half a furlong from the road:
And so convenient does it lay
The stages pass it ev’ry day:
And then so snug, so mighty pretty,
To have a house so near the city!
In 1767 Thomas built Bell House and a year later replaced two ancient cottages nearby with what is now Pickwick Cottage. The eponymous bell is inscribed with the date 1770 so must have been installed a little after the house was built. In 1783 Thomas leased three more fields and the use of the mill pond on Dulwich Common with the ‘right to take fish out...by angling and no other method’. The gardens stretched to what is now the lake in Dulwich Park and also included part of Frank Dixon Close. The Wrights continued making improvements such as planting trees including perhaps the beautiful medlar tree which still stands outside the kitchen window.
If you’ve passed Bell House recently don’t be alarmed. We are not demolishing the beautiful Georgian wall that divides the house from College Road. Part of the wall, damaged in the past, needs repairing and we are taking the opportunity to widen the entrance to allow access for emergency vehicles. Matt is undertaking the repairs and Bell House photographer Sue Robinson has taken a closer look.
Matt has carefully dismantled the wall, brick by brick, and given each brick a unique code. This careful system will allow him to reinstate the bricks in their original positions, including the blind arch.
Matt has tried to save as many of the original bricks as possible but unfortunately, due to past repairs with cement mortar, many are unusable. Matt explained that mortar is the sacrificial element in masonry, it should always be weaker than the material it is binding. Cement mortar can trap moisture within the brick, causing crumbling or ‘spalling’.
When Matt begins rebuilding next week (weather permitting), he will be pointing the Georgian bricks with a traditional lime mortar as it allows the brickwork a certain amount of flexibility, helping to protect them from damage. He has sourced some recycled bricks to replace those too damaged to use and will reinstate the wall including the blind arch, so that it has the same integrity as before. Soon the wall will look pretty much as it did originally. Next time you are passing, see if you can see the join.
Photographs by Sue Robinson
After qualifying as Master Stationer Thomas Wright and his brother-in-law William Gill opened a shop in the chapel of St Thomas à Becket in the centre of the old 12th century London Bridge. It had a lower cellar at (or under) water level which they used as a warehouse and an upper room at bridge level that served as a shop. From here they supplied paper to government departments such as the Board of Longitude which had been set up to solve the problem of finding longitude at sea.
Thomas Wright’s success also stemmed from bidding for monopolies for the printing of books. He secured the right to print and sell almanacs, a highly profitable franchise. More financially rewarding still was the printing of bibles and prayer books. In 1765 he bought the monopoly to print religious works for Oxford University after the previous printer, the Baskett family, had produced books riddled with mistakes. One book had been called the ‘vinegar bible’ because the parable of the vineyard was misprinted as the parable of the vinegar. Baskett employed ‘idle and drunken staff’ and things got so bad the university had to buy their religious books from Cambridge. Thomas Wright cleverly agreed to protect the risk-averse university against any loss brought by the notoriously litigious Baskett and this helped him win the lease.
Since Oxford held the right to print the King James Authorised Version, this proved highly lucrative to Thomas’s firm until the American War of Independence affected their overseas market and an increase in paper costs caused them to withdraw from the lease. Many of their books survive in libraries around the world such as the British Library and the Royal Collection. Wright & Gill were the last leaseholders as the University took the work inhouse and started what became the Oxford University Press.
One of the tenets of Bell House is to offer children the opportunity to unleash their creativity and on 25 May 2017 a group of boys from a creative writing club at Dulwich College visited the house to be inspired by some of its many stories.
As they turned into the Bell House drive and before they had even entered the house they were greeted with ‘Welcome to the eighteenth century!’, as house historian Sharon O’Connor told them about poor James Simpson, sentenced in 1769 to transportation to America for the theft of a coat worth 20 shillings, stolen from the front seat of the Bell House carriage. The coach had been standing exactly where they were now hearing the story and they were able to look down and see some of the very cobblestones over which the coach was driven.
The group moved through Bell House’s elegant rooms, learning about past residents such as Thomas Wright, the paper merchant who built the house in 1767 as a rural retreat from city life. They were excited to handle an original 1794 almanac, of the type printed by Thomas. They learnt that Anthony Harding, the house’s second resident, opened the world’s first department store in Pall Mall in 1796, and they studied engravings of his shop. The boys were fascinated to hear about John Wissmann, who like them had been at school at Dulwich College and who later became Dulwich’s first casualty of World War One.
The boys asked many fascinating questions about Bell House, ranging from whether servants would have slept in the cellar to what might be the total cost spent on the house since it was built and they all made careful notes in their creative writing notebooks. On the top floor they rang the house’s eponymous bell, installed to assemble people for local firefighting.
Out in the beautiful garden they saw original hand-coloured drawings of the garden beds and paths and heard about an out-of-control firework party held in the 1950s when Bell House was a school boarding house. They also saw the Georgian ‘ha-ha’, the sunken wall designed to keep sheep out of the garden while at the same time being invisible from the house.
The stories inspired by the time spent at Bell House will be available on our website.
Front doors are often an eye-catching feature of a Georgian house and Bell House is no exception. The handsome doorcase, six-panelled door and intricate fanlight are decorative enough to hold their own, even against the octagonal panes of the beautiful Venetian window above.
Listed Grade II* and one of the top 8% of listed buildings nationally, Bell House is of particular historic importance and any restoration work must be expertly done. Rick is restoring the front door at the moment and as he painstakingly removes the accumulated paint and dirt of 250 years the exquisite detail of this Georgian gem is coming into focus.
Speaking architecturally, Heritage England refer to ‘the open modillioned pediment supported on carved consoles, alternate block sides and archivolt with masked keystone’. For me, that ‘masked keystone’ is the most intriguing feature. The face, placed centrally above the front door, has long been thought to be Thomas Wright himself, the man who built Bell House in 1767.
We know what Thomas Wright looked like as there are two surviving portraits of him: Thomas Wright miniature (LMA) and portrait (Stationers' Company) So, is the face presiding over the front door of Bell House its first resident? Comparing it with these portraits I think we can agree it’s probably not. So, who was it? Was it a memorial to Thomas Wright’s father, who died when Thomas was just four years old? Was it the builder? Or is it just a generic face chosen from a ‘pattern-book’, those widely-used style guides that gave detailed instructions on how to get the Georgian look. Whoever it was, his newly-restored features are nearly ready to preside over the house for the next 250 years.
As an aside, this is not the only masked keystone in Dulwich as North Dulwich station, built a century after Bell House, has one over each of its three entrance arches.
Almanacs began to be published annually in London from the 1600s but became wildly popular in the following century, were still produced into Victorian times and survive today in the form of Old Moore’s or Whitaker’s Almanack. However, the very first almanacs were produced in the second millennium BC in the Near East, providing information such as favourable and unfavourable days and how to deal with each of them.
Early English almanacs were sold either as a broadsheet, the precursor of the modern calendar, or as a pocket almanac like this one. They contained astronomical data such as the number of days of the full moon (useful for travelling in the days before street lighting) and used that data to produce weather forecasts which were vital for both agriculture and commerce (aiding decisions such as the movement of ships). They then began to be aimed at different groups such as farmers who got planting data, or Londoners who received municipal information such as lists of City officials and public holidays, and so they became very important to the economy.
Our example is tiny, at 3cm square it is smaller even than a matchbox. It has a burgundy leather cover with a metal clasp, although the leather flap fastener is missing. There is a metal plate under the fastener with enough space for someone’s initials, though ours is not engraved. Inside there are twenty gilt-edged leaves plus text pasted to the reverse of the front and rear marble endpapers. There is a tiny pocket inside the upper cover.
Engraved throughout, the title page contains the arms of the livery company of Stationers with a second coat of arms on the reverse of the second leaf with a handwritten note: ‘T.W for E.W’.
The data inside includes a month by month summary of 1794 with festivals and sun/moon rising/setting times. Following this is a fascinating table of kings and queens which describes the Tudor line as ‘The families united’ and the Stuart line as ‘The union of the two crowns’.
Details of past Lord Mayors and sheriffs follow and here Thomas Wright is represented in both lists.
Finally we have a list of annual holidays and a table of current coins by weight. It is possible Thomas Wright printed this almanac as Wright and Gill derived a large part of their income from printing almanacs and he was an eminent member of the Stationers’ Company, for whom this almanac was printed, having been their first lord mayor for over thirty years when he was inaugurated in 1785.
Everyone seems very happy about the opening up of the front of Bell House which has exposed the ha-ha. As Wikipedia explains, a ha-ha is a recessed landscape design element that creates a vertical barrier while preserving an uninterrupted view of the landscape beyond. This is probably the only ha-ha in Dulwich and was originally intended to keep out animals while giving a view from the house across fields towards what is now College Gardens and, beyond that, to Belair Park. Clearing out the depression in front of the ha-ha has been a major task - we have found vast quantities of bottles, cans, old bits of cars and general litter but we have now removed all that rubbish, much of it half-buried, and strimmed down the brambles . Our plan for this outside area is to increase the number of bluebells and wild flowers.
This clearance at the front of Bell House has of course left a security gap between the gates so we have erected a long set of railings which have just been completed. We used a local welding company, run by Ian Cullingford, who put up railings that minimised any damage to the original wall. The railings may look as if they are drilled into the wall but in fact they are supported from behind the wall and just rest on the wall. Ian has also protected the limestone curves at each end by making a curved frame for the railings. Ian mostly specialises in fire escapes but we knew he would do our railings brilliantly as he has been taking on these engineering challenges for over 30 years - http://www.fireescape.co.uk
At either side of the railings there are gateways where we plan to install matching gates but before we can do that the leaning wall on the left will have to be rebuilt - that work is planned for later in the summer but certainly before the end of 2017 - the 250th anniversary of the wall and of Bell House itself.
BELL HOUSE, 27 COLLEGE ROAD, DULWICH – ARTISTS’ OPEN HOUSE
13 & 14 May 2017, 11am to 6pm
An exhibition of works on paper by artists who identify as being dyslexic
Curated by Kim Thornton
For the first time Bell House in Dulwich will open its doors to the public to take part in the Dulwich Festival Artists’ Open House showing work by artists who indentify as being dyslexic. Referencing the history of the house, commissioned in 1767 by Thomas Wright a poor warehouse worker who started his own lucrative publishing business, the works from Lucy Bainbridge, Sophie Eade, Jane Higginbottom, Alice Irwin, Valeriya N-Georg and Lucy Soni will be on paper.
Both Lucy Soni and Alice Irwin throw off the constraints of the structured world drawing on children’s play and everyday chance in their work. In contrast, Valeriya N-Georg turns to quantum physics to investigate the boundaries between the human body and the inner self.
Lucy Bainbridge, Jane Higginbottom and Sophie Eade are all creating their own realities through their study of the environment they live in. Lucy Bainbridge tries to pause time with her softened city prints whilst Sophie Eade eradicates urbanity and words from the magazine pages that purport to extol rural life. Jane Higginbottom studies the environment and measures time through nature.
Bell House will also host an artist in residence in a doll’s house, The Sophie Croxton Doll House Gallery. The project is conceived and curated by Sophie Eade and Lucy Soni. who have awarded the Picture This… residency to painter Clare Price.
The origin of the word ‘dyslexia’ comes from the German dys- ‘difficult’ and the Greek word lexis ‘speech’. Although this difficulty with words that affects reading, spelling and writing, defines the dyslexic learning process, dyslexia is really about information processing. People with dyslexia have a different way of thinking, often thinking in pictures rather words. As a result they frequently have strong visual and creative skills. Click to Events for artist details.
Bell House has had associations with the Dulwich Picture Gallery over a long period and there were even plans to store the DPG paintings at the house during the war to protect them from bombing, although in the end other arrangements were made. Bell House and the Gallery have been part of the Dulwich Estate for many years and the freeholds were owned by the Dulwich Estate from 1767, when Bell House was built, until 1992 when the house was sold to a private owner.
Recently the Dulwich Picture Gallery has been very energetically managed and is in the process or organising a pavilion for the summer of 2017. Bell House supported the planning application for this creative experiment and is enthusiastic about the community involvement that this will bring.
Bell House has another special link with the Gallery as the Deputy Director of the Gallery, Andrew Macdonald, was a boarder at Bell House when it was a junior boarding house for Dulwich College. He has recently revisited and gave a graphic description of what life was like for a young boy sleeping in the dormitories and walking up to the main school for lessons and sports.
The Picture Gallery has recently appointed a new chair of trustees (Prof Evelyn Welch) and a new director - Jennifer Scott who plans to "develop the gallery as the perfect place for people to experience the inspirational potential of art." We hope that Bell House will be able to work with the Picture Gallery to develop an appreciation for art and to provide courses that are not easily available elsewhere. Also, events at Bell House could compliment what the Picture Gallery already does - perhaps concentrating on photography, film and local artists. Indeed Bell House has recently organised an exhibition of local artists with themes of paper and dyslexia as part of the Dulwich Festival.
image courtesy of Dulwich Picture Gallery
The weekly board meetings were held at coffee houses until a purpose-built hospital was erected near Old Street roundabout and each week about a dozen new mothers would be brought before the board (or Court as it was known) to ‘return thanks’ for the benevolence they had been shown. Other mothers attended to be admonished for their bad conduct while staying at the hospital. There is no record of what this bad conduct was but the rules for patients were very strict and they were inpatients for a long time, at least six weeks according to the regulations, though this must often have been shortened as most families would not have been able to do without a mother for so long.
From four days after delivery women needed matron’s permission to lie down on their beds and they were expected to produce needlework for the hospital from three weeks after delivering their child. Women in labour, expectant women and newly-delivered mothers were all in the same ward: when a separate room for labour was suggested it was vetoed in case the patients suspected experiments might be performed on them.
Mortality at all hospitals was high due to the lack of hygiene. ‘Childbed fever’ as post-partum infection was known, was usually caused by the doctors themselves and during the time Thomas was involved the hospital had to be closed temporarily due to rampant infection which must have been difficult given the need for the services the hospital offered. It would not be until the 1850s that simple precautions like handwashing would bring down the numbers of post-natal deaths.
Vermin such as bedbugs and mice were a constant issue, as was alcohol abuse, and as president Thomas had to ban the drinking of porter in the hospital due to its ‘evil effects’. Other issues he had to rule on included the lack of lighting at night - his solution of one candle per ward per night is surprising to us as it must still have been very dark. He also stopped the long-term practice of patients having to buy the nurses tea and sugar, he raised the nurses’ wages to include an allowance so that they could buy their own. Thomas was a generous benefactor: his usual donation of £20 can be seen in the donation lists again and again, when most people were donating around £5 and of course he donated his time and business expertise. Both he and William Gill were later presented with ‘staffs’ and made governors for life, a sign of devoted service to the hospital.
When Thomas was president of the hospital one of its senior physicians was Dr Lettsom of Camberwell and it is tempting to suppose they were friends, given that they also lived in south London at a time when there were far fewer houses in the area. Dr Lettsom was involved with the hospital for many years and was a noted philanthropist and a supporter of the abolition of slaves.