Local historian and author Brian Green is a shopkeeper in Dulwich Village. He has been writing about Dulwich’s history and leading walks, talks and classes in local schools for 35 years and also edits the Dulwich Society Journal. An active member of the local community, he retired from supervising The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award when his first candidate became a grandfather. If you care to follow in his footsteps, Brian will be conducting a walk called ‘Hunting the Blitz’ on Sunday 21st May. The Dulwich Festival spoke to Brian ahead of the Festival to find out more.
How long have you been living in Dulwich and what do you like about living here?
I was born in Camberwell, but moved to Dulwich when I was aged 4. I have lived in various roads – Glengarry Rd, Aysgarth Rd, Dulwich Village and Dovercourt Road. My wife, Rita and 1 have lived in Burbage Road for 44 years. I like living in Dulwich because of its wonderful open spaces, its trees and its heritage. I also appreciate the benefits of living so close to central London.
When did you start researching local history and how do you go about it?
I first started writing about Dulwich’s history when I edited the Dulwich Villager Magazine, a community magazine but also the St Barnabas Parish Magazine. I was editor from 1963-83, 20 years. In 1981 I thought it would be appropriate to publish a small book on Dulwich’s history. This was very successful and so a companion volume covering the remainder of Dulwich followed a year later. I then felt that I should be better informed about history generally so embarked on what turned out to be an academic saga, taking 4 degrees over 17 years as a student at Birkbeck College, University of London which offers evening study for people who do a day job. Six further books on various facets of Dulwich followed, the most recent (2016) being the history of the Dulwich Almshouse, which celebrated its 400th anniversary last year.
What are the most interesting things you have discovered about the area?
I was pleased to solve a number of Dulwich’s mysteries! The origins of Dulwich’s volunteer battalion in WW1, Dulwich Hospital’s history as a military hospital also in WW1, tracing the elements of the Nazis and Fascists in Dulwich leading up to, and during WW2, discovering the story of Col. Leonard Lytcott – Civil War soldier, the story behind the foundation of Dulwich Picture Gallery and one of its benefactors – Sir Peter Bourgeois, the story of Dulwich Picture Gallery during WW2.
What can participants of your ‘Hunting the Blitz’ walks expect?
They might have seen me being interviewed by BBC London when we looked at the site of one of the most tragic air raids of WW2. People on the walk will still be able to see the remains of the air raid shelter where 29 people were killed when two high explosive bombs exploded simultaneously near one of the entrances. They will also be able to see the civil defence stretchers, some child-sized, which were recycled and are still used as railings on the Dog Kennel Hill estate. On a happier note they will be able to see the site of the Gaumont Film Studios which made hundreds of ‘shorts’.
Why do you like being involved in the Dulwich Festival and how important is it for the community?
I have always enjoyed showing people some of the fascinating aspects of this unusual part of London – where there is so much to see which can conjure up its history and its stories. I believe that the more people learn about where they live, no matter where, the more they will cherish it.