The Dulwich Notebook is an insightful new book that uncovers just what makes ‘the Dulwiches’ tick. Meet the author, Mireille Galinou
There’s a new breed of guidebook in town – not one that focuses on London’s tourist hotspots, but instead highlights one of the capital’s loveliest residential quarters. The Dulwich Notebook, written by local portrait artist Mireille Galinou with photography by Torla Evans, challenges the assumption that books about “the ‘burbs” should focus on local history. The book captures the Dulwich of today ¬– East, West, the Village and South Dulwich – as well as some of the area’s ‘movers and shakers’. We caught up with the author, who spent two and a half years researching and writing the book, to discover just what’s so special about ‘the Dulwiches’…
You’re an art historian by trade. Is the area’s culture and creativity what inspired you to write the book?
I was inspired to write the book because my last book (Cottages and Villas), dealt with St John’s Wood, the country’s very first garden suburb built at the beginning of the 19th century. Dulwich was another garden suburb and I was interested to see how it might relate to my previous research. The two suburbs are in fact completely different but I found a few comparisons between them.
What is it that makes ‘the Dulwiches’ such a special part of the city?
Most people think of Dulwich as just being the Village. Historically, the boundaries of the Dulwich Estate stretched between Gypsy and Denmark Hills, so what has surprised me most is that we are not dealing with a single, homogenous entity but with a variety of different sub-neighbourhoods.
Did you discover a different character to each of ‘the Dulwiches’?
Yes I did. The Village is miraculously, still ‘village-like’ despite the rising success of Dulwich Picture Gallery – no longer a forgotten venue but a new star on the London art scene with a dynamic education programme and excellent exhibitions. West Dulwich, dominated by a major transport route, is struggling to establish its identity but The Dulwich Notebook records very hopeful signs of change. South Dulwich is a paradise for sport and nature lovers. East Dulwich has the buzz of a thriving urban centre – its shops and restaurant scene have experienced something of a renaissance in the last 10 years or so. Its residents are forever praising the sense of community there.
I haven’t come across the term ‘South Dulwich’ before. Is it a term you coined yourself or is it a historical name?
Yes, you could say that I coined the term ‘South Dulwich’. The area is firmly within the boundaries of the Dulwich Estate, despite the fact that it is clustered around the misleadingly-named Sydenham Hill Station.
What was your most surprising discovery about the area?
The fabulous views of Dulwich, south London and even central London from the roof of the Dawsons’ Heights estate. The number of bookshops in and around Dulwich is also quite extraordinary!
Who was the most interesting character you discovered during your research?
Although The Dulwich Notebook describes some of the most important historical figures associated with Dulwich, I have particularly enjoyed interviewing the people who are passionate about Dulwich now. They are determined to breathe new life into their neighbourhood. In the book they are labelled ‘movers and shakers’, but of course I could only present a very small selection of these enterprising men and women.
There are some great independent shops and boutiques in the area. Can you share a couple of your favourites?
A visit to the dulwich trader on Croxted Road is always a joy and I can’t resist The Cheese Block on Lordship Lane.
Do you have a favourite local restaurant?
East Dulwich is by far the venue with the greatest choice and I certainly haven’t tried everything there yet. But I like Franklins restaurant for inspiring traditional food and ToastED for something a little more pioneering and quite delicious.
There are some fascinating pockets of contemporary architecture in Dulwich. Is there one you particularly admire?
Among the most exciting are the award-winning Huf houses tucked away at the end of Woodyard Lane. They blend modernism and tradition in a way that seems perfect for Dulwich.
Words: Victoria Purcell
Photos: Torla Evans