Why should we bother about sleep?  Dr Fran Knight at Bell House

Most of us love sleeping but we also believe that we don't get enough sleep. Despite this we'll probably sleep for the equivalent of about 25-30 years across our lives. Plenty of experiments show that the sleep quality and quantity affects our memory, our cognition and our behaviour.  This is so much so that some researchers even say that how well young people sleep is the main predictor of their academic performance. 


No surprise, then, that the Bell House speaker, Dr Frances Knight, is a huge fan of good sleep. She is based at the UCL Institute of Education researching the effects of good and bad sleep, and looks at ways to improve our sleep - especially in children. Fran has studied the different types of sleep that are needed such as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and SWS (Slow Wave Sleep), and how long we sleep in each of these cycles as we age.


Fran Knight's "good sleep guide" suggests that the most important steps for parents are:

- Establish a routine and stick to it

- Arrange the bedroom so that it is a "sleep haven"

- Keep the bedroom media-free

- Avoid exciting video games in the hour before bedtime

- Beware sugary or caffeinated drinks 

- Make sure your child exercises regularly but not just before bedtime


Good sleep appears to have a number of important functions including memory consolidation, helping with recovery from injuries, clearing waste and promoting growth.  In contrast, bad sleep leads to impaired attitudes and poor cognitive functioning; it can lead to challenging behaviour and emotional problems. Fran Knight described some experiments where people take tests before and after sleep and they consistently performed better in the morning, after a good night of sleep. 


One way to help children improve their sleep is an app that UCL are developing called Mobero Intervention which promotes healthy sleep, especially targeted at children and teenagers with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder). This app helps cement a good routine that both parents and children can be involved in, with a rewards-based system for good behaviour. Fran also considered the idea that certain foods may help - such as almond nuts and brazil nuts - and some music may help such as theta wave and delta wave music.


As usual with Bell House talks there was, after the talk, a lot of discussion with the speaker and between members of the audience.  One woman told me about how her 9 year-old son has built up anxiety about sleep and refuses to go to sleep without her sleeping with him.  Fran suggested a technique called "phasing" where you can progressively, over a few days, get your child to sleep - initially staying with them in bed until they are asleep and then staying with them in bed until they are almost asleep, then staying seated in the room until they are asleep and finally leaving them to sleep alone.  It was widely agreed that apart from being a possible short term solution, sleeping pills tend to be very disruptive to sleep patterns in the medium and long run. 

Watch our film HELPING CHILDREN SLEEP  Highlights of a talk given by Dr. Frances Knight at Bell House, about ways to help your child sleep. 


Screen Shot 2018-03-15 at 16.15.53.png

10 things you need to know about Amedeo Modigliani

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

Using your smartphone to make a short film - a hands-on course at Bell House

Screen Shot 2018-03-16 at 10.42.04.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-03-11 at 13.35.27.png

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


Fragment of an envelope

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:

needs you…
Now with
extra pages
and only 85p!
If undelivered, please return to
Games Workshop
27/29 Sunbeam Road, London NW10 6JP

(characters in italics are our interpolations due to letters being missing or illegible)

envelope fragment 2of2.jpg

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’.

Games Workshop magazine.JPG

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!

"Study smarter, not harder" - Revision tips for dyslexic students

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 20.18.09.png

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

How to make films on your smartphone - seminar at Bell House

"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.

Testing the Smooth-Q Gimbal

Testing the Smooth-Q Gimbal

Practical demonstration of equipment

Practical demonstration of equipment

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] 

Cassius Rayner, multi-award winning filmmaker

Cassius Rayner, multi-award winning filmmaker

Bee-keeping: an introduction

Copy of DSCF3241.jpg

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]

The Wrights Move to Dulwich

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. 

Lease of Bell House showing extent of garden. Source: Dulwich College

Matt rebuilds a wall

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.

DSCF0793 (1).jpg

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.

IMG_1003 (002).JPG

Photographs by Sue Robinson

Thomas Wright, printer and paper merchant

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.

Wright & Gill's first business premises

Wright & Gill's first business premises

Bill for the supply of paper by Wright & Gill to the Board of Longitude, 1775. Source: Cambridge Digital Library

Bill for the supply of paper by Wright & Gill to the Board of Longitude, 1775. Source: Cambridge Digital Library

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. 

Wright & Gill's first business premises

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.

London Almanac for the year of Christ 1794

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.

London Almanack 1794 recently acquired for Bell House collection.

London Almanack 1794 recently acquired for Bell House collection.

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 tiny almanac measuring just 3cm square.

The tiny almanac measuring just 3cm square.

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.