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Looking back on happy times living at Belair House

Dulwich Almshouse Charity (DAC) resident Rose Brooks shares some of her memories of living in Dulwich with us.

Rose moved to Dulwich in 1964 when her husband Gordon – known as Peter – took up a newly created position as a caretaker at Belair House and Park.

Southwark Council held the lease for Belair House at the time (it’s now run privately as a business) and had recently rebuilt the main building. From 1965 the Council began using the House as a village hall and its grounds were opened to the public.

At first Rose and Peter lived above the library on Old Kent Road while the Council converted the stables at Belair into apartments for them and other staff and their families to live in.

Peter looked after the maintenance of Belair, while Rose, along with other staff, took care of catering for the increasing number of events there and ran a café at weekends for sports teams and park visitors.

Rose and Peter have three daughters, Lyn, Anita, and Jane, and Jane was born while they were living at Belair. Rose says it was a lovely place for the girls to grow up ‘we had the use of the whole park, people said we had more garden than the Queen,’ she laughs.

The family enjoyed the village lifestyle and being part of the local community and church, with the girls attending the village schools, Brownies, and Guides.

Belair hosted a busy schedule of activities during those years. Rose says this spanned everything from weddings, to an annual steam fair, fireworks, and a summer fete, a drama club for kids, and filming by the Blue Peter children’s television programme. The Camberwell College of Arts used it as an annex for students and a butler school did training there too.

Rose says they had the best fireworks in the area ‘all the families would come and there would be stalls for charity’.

The Park was also well used by local sports clubs, with cricket in the summer and South London Football playing there in the winter. There were changing rooms under the main building. ‘That was a good time in our lives, everyone would bring their families to the games and I’d get the oranges ready for the children playing’, says Rose, ‘we did afternoon cream teas for charity cricket matches’.

Rose says there was a great range of shops and services in the village at the time, including a lovely dress store. She bought one of her small daughters a dress from there in 1967, when she was chosen to give flowers to the Mayor’s wife at the Dulwich Festival, ‘I wanted her to have something special to wear’.

There were some well-known characters who lived in the village then, like the singer and television host Ann Shelton who was in Court Lane. Rose remembers Ann going to the village shops at Christmas to give all the owners Christmas presents.

One of Rose and Peter’s daughters later had her wedding reception at Belair, the day after the Great Storm of 1987. ‘We were kept awake the night before by the storm, and were worried it might affect the wedding, but it was fine on the day,’ says Rose, who has photos of the wedding party next to huge trees that had been blown over in the grounds.

Rose and Peter left Belair in 1998 when Peter eventually retired due to ill health, but they stayed in the area.

After her husband sadly passed away Rose decided to join one of her friends and move to the DAC, close to Belair again, where she’s now been happily settled for ten years.

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