Dulwich Woods and the adjacent Sydenham Hill Wood are survivors of the Great North Wood, which once covered large tracts of land here, a chain of oak woods and wooded commons that extended from Selhurst to Brockley. In 1605 the Manor of Dulwich was purchased by Edward Alleyn and the woods remain in the ownership of the successor to Alleyn's charitable foundation, now managed by the Trustees of The Dulwich Estate. After 1787 Dulwich tenants lost their common rights following the Enclosure Acts. A woodman was appointed to look after Dulwich Estate Woods in 1900, a post that continued until 1914, after which the woodland became rather neglected and overgrown. The woods survived until the development of Crystal Palace in the mid C19th, which led to some loss to housing development.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2012
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Dulwich Woods and the adjacent Sydenham Hill Wood (q.v.) were part of the Manor of Dulwich, for which they were a much-used resource that was managed through coppicing and pollarding to provide wood for the locality for a variety of purposes. In the C16th coppiced areas became known as Dulwich Coppices. When the Manor was acquired in 1605 by Edward Alleyn he set aside 10 enclosed coppices surrounding the common and Sydenham Hill, reserving the wood and timber therein for his charitable foundation; after his death in 1629 these coppices were leased, although by the end of the C18th the foundation appears to have taken back the management of the coppices. The Dulwich Estate today consists of nearly 608 hectares (1500 acres) and continues to be managed by the successor to Alleyn's charitable foundation.
Edward Alleyn was a well-known Elizabethan actor-manager and impresario, also putting on bull- and bear-baiting, as a result of which he had been appointed Joint Master of the Royal Bears, Bulls and Mastiff Dogs in 1604. By now a wealthy man, he bought the Manor of Dulwich in 1605 although he continued to live in London until 1613, staying at Dulwich in the summer. He then decided to establish a charitable foundation in Dulwich to be endowed with his property at Dulwich and elsewhere. Following the foundation of Alleyn's College of God's Gift granted by James I in 1619 he began building his Almshouses for 'six poor brothers and six poor sisters' and his School 'for twelve poor scholars'. All the beneficiaries were to be chosen from four parishes: St Giles' Camberwell and the 3 London parishes with which he was closely connected, St Botolph's Bishopsgate, St Saviour's Southwark and St Giles Cripplegate (q.q.v.), the latter replaced as nominating body by the new parish of St Luke's in 1773.
The charitable foundation underwent reorganisation over the years particularly as a result of the expansion of its educational provision by James Allen, who was Warden and Master of the College from 1712-1746. Rents from his properties in Kensington enabled 2 small schools to be set up in Dulwich after 1741, and in 1842 a grammar school was established. These schools later led to what are now Dulwich College, James Allen's Girls' School and Alleyn's School (q.q.v.). From 1882 2 separate boards of trustees were established, the Estates Governors who had responsibility for the Estate and Almshouses, and the College Governors who had responsibility for the schools, chapel and Dulwich Picture Gallery (q.v.), which had opened in 1814. In 1995 new arrangements came into being whereby the properties, investments and other estate activities now come under the Trustees of The Dulwich Estate, which includes management of Amenity Areas, that now comprise 28 separate parcels of land. The largest area is Dulwich Woods, but it also include footpaths, verges, greens and shrubberies, as well as the garden of the Old College. There are some freehold 3800 properties on the Dulwich Estate, which are all subject to the Estate's Scheme of Management established by law in 1974 as a means of preserving the estate's exceptional environment. The Amenity Areas are all maintained by the Managers of the Scheme out of a charge made as part of the Scheme and freeholders are also obliged to maintain their properties, gardens and boundaries in a good state.
The Trustees of The Dulwich Estate also acts as Trustees of the Charity of Christ's Chapel of God's Gift at Dulwich. Boards of Governors were set up for Dulwich College, Alleyn's School and Dulwich Picture Gallery. A separate board of Trustees of the Dulwich Almshouse Charity still maintains links with the four parishes of the original foundation.
John Archer, Bob Britton, Robert Burley, Tony Hare, Ian Yarham, 'Nature Conservation in Southwark' Ecology Handbook 12, London Ecology Unit, 1989; History of Alleyn's College of God's Gift on The Dulwich Estate website