Inventory Site Record

James Allen's Girls' School Botany Gardens

James Allen's Girls' School Botany Gardens (Southwark)

Brief Description

James Allen's Girls' School originated as a small school founded in 1741 by James Allen, Master and Warden of Alleyn's College of God's Gift in Dulwich. The school moved to the current site in 1886, and in 1896 its Botany Gardens began to be planted, after the arrival of Dr Lilian Clarke as science teacher. Her pioneering approach included practical work in the school grounds with a series of ecological gardens created to enable the pupils to study plants in conjunction with insects and other animals in their habitats. By 1914 over 300 girls and part-time assistants were helping with the work and new garden areas and types of habitat were added. The gardens flourished until the outbreak of WWII but after the war they became neglected as the focus of the syllabus changed. Restoration of the Botany Gardens began in 1984 and works include a new pond near order beds with dipping platforms, coppicing and planting of exotic species in the woodland.

Practical Information
Site location:
East Dulwich Grove
SE22 8TE
Type of site:
Institutional Grounds
Open to public?
Opening times:
private, but visits by appointment with the Bursar and Botany Gardens open for National Gardens Scheme/OGSW Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend in the past.
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Rail: North Dulwich, Herne Hill. Bus: 37, 12, 40, 176, 312, P4, P13

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2012
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Full Site Description

James Allen's Girls' School has its origins in 1741 when James Allen, a Master of Alleyn's College of God's Gift from 1712 - 1746, donated rents from his property in Kensington to endow a new school in Dulwich to teach 'poor boys to read . . . and poor girls to read and sew'. The school initially began in two rooms, but moved to a new building in Dulwich Village in 1866; it became known as James Allen's Girls' School in 1878 and moved to the present site on East Dulwich Grove in 1886. The boys' school of the James Allen Foundation transferred to the new grammar school set up by Alleyn's College of God's Gift in 1842, which became the Lower School of Dulwich College (q.v.) and then the separate Alleyn's School (q.v.) in 1887.

The Botany Gardens were started in 1896 when Dr Lilian Clarke came to the school with responsibility for science teaching. Her teaching approach combined classroom studies with practical work in the school grounds, and she was a great believer in observation and experimentation. The Botany Gardens began as a series of ecological gardens to enable the pupils to study plants in conjunction with insects and other animals in their habitats. Vegetable plots were included since Dr Clarke believed 'people living in towns should have some experience of the cultivation of vegetables'. Dr Clarke gained a D. Sc. from the University of London for her work at James Allen's Girls' School and was one of the first women elected as a Fellow of the Linnaean Society. The gardening work was carried out at first by pupils with Dr Clarke but later she had part-time assistants. By 1914 over 300 girls were helping with the work, which was recorded meticulously. Dr Clarke persuaded the school to establish a laboratory dedicated to botanical study, and set up bee-hives in the grounds to assist the study of bees.

The first gardens to be created were natural order beds begun in 1896 to demonstrate groups of related plants, and these were followed by beds reproducing British habitats, a salt marsh and pebble beach. The order beds were subsequently moved to a new position alongside the railway line. In 1907 a small wood was started and in 1914 oaks, ash and willows were planted. In 1909 a country lane was created consisting of an 8ft wide grass walk bordered by hedgerows and ditches, initially 100 ft long, by 1913 it was extended to c.160 ft. In 1912 the school had acquired additional grounds and a peat bog, chalk down, sand dune and heath were established. The gardens also included a number of ponds. Later additions were a cornfield and meadow in 1928. The botany gardens flourished until 1939 and the outbreak of WWII after which 'syllabus changes and new teaching methods completed the neglect begun during the war years' (Frayne).

In 1984, although neglected, the botany gardens still existed although school building had truncated the lane and meadow, and the salt marsh and cornfield had disappeared. It was then decided to restore the Gardens, concentrating on the area across the railway adjacent to sports pitches, and this work has proceeded and continues.

The school is also known for its connection with the composer Gustav Holst. He was singing teacher here from 1903-1920 and while at the school he composed pieces which his pupils performed including 'The Princess', 'The Planets' and 'Hymn of Jesus'. He is commemorated by a window in the school hall. The School was also the first school in the UK to have a purpose-built theatre, The Prissian Theatre named after a former Headmistress, which was opened in 1983 by Jonathan Miller. A model farm, once part of the now vanished but once extensive estate of Sir Henry Bessemer on Denmark Hill, was acquired by the school and on its site in the 1960s a new pavilion and later the Music School were built. Bessemer, a well-known Victorian engineer and inventor, is best known for his invention of the Bessemer Converter that revolutionised the steel industry.

Sources consulted:

Candidate for Register: B Green 'To Read and Sew, James Allen's Girls' School 1741-1991', 1991; 'The Botany Gardens of James Allen's Girls' School, Board of Education Pamphlet No. 41, Dulwich, 1922; School archives: Dr Margaret Frayne, Head of Biology: typescript notes on Restoration of Edwardian Botany Garden (1980s? n.d.); John Archer, Bob Britton, Robert Burley, Tony Hare, Ian Yarham, 'Nature Conservation in Southwark' Ecology Handbook 12, London Ecology Unit, 1989

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
Size in hectares:
2 (Botany Gardens)
Site ownership:
James Allen's Girls' School
Site management:
Botany Gardens Manager (2002: Simon Stafford)
1896 -1922
Dr Lilian Clarke
Listed structures:
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Local Importance
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:

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