Sunday 16 November 2008

A brief history of the Dolphin

Records suggest that Sydenham's three oldest surviving public houses were founded within several years of each other; the Greyhound in 1726, the Golden Lion in 1732 and the Dolphin in 1733.

The earliest mention of the Dolphin is in the Parish Register of St Mary's, Lewisham which records that on 1 July 1733 "Stephen son of Richard Peke from Sippenham, ye Dolphin" was buried (note the earlier spelling of "Sydenham"). Stephen had been baptised in St Mary's only a couple of months earlier.

It is likely that the building occupied by Richard Peake was a farmhouse, the centre of a farm that extended towards Perry Vale. At the start of his tenancy Peake was probably principally a farmer, but also a publican. Berryman's Lane and then Mayow Road follow a field-path on his land between Sydenham Road and Perry Vale.

Richard Peake was at the Dolphin from 1733 until 1769, not only the first but also the Dolphin's longest serving publican. For more than 200 years after his tenancy ended there was a long succession of publicans who generally only stayed for a few years.

The Dolphin was on Sydenham's largest estate, centred around the Old House. This estate extended along Sydenham Road from the Dolphin to the Greyhound, and north as far as Perry Vale. It was created by Edward Hodsdon between 1713 and 1719. It cannot be coincidence that although the Greyhound and the Dolphin were on the estate, they were at its margins. It seems likely that both were encouraged to become public houses as a further source of revenue for Edward Hodsdon, who made his money as a Southwark wine merchant, but kept at a safe distance from his house.

After the death of the last owner of the Old House estate, Mayow Wynell Adams, in 1897 the land was sold, mostly for development. It was probably at this time that the Dolphin was acquired by Courage, of Horsleydown, Bermondsey.

During the 1930s whatever remained of the original building disappeared when Courage decided to rebuild the Dolphin. Their in-house architect, F M Kirby FRIBA, drew up plans for a new building in the then popular "Brewers' Tudor" style. It had lounge, saloon, private and public bars (patrons were carefully segregated by social classes and gender). The plans were approved on 28 Nov 1935 and during 1936 the new building was opened for custom.

One question remains; why was a pub so far from the sea called "The Dolphin"? Although dolphins feature in the arms of the Borough of Lewisham that was only from 1966. However, for centuries dolphins were believed to protect sailors and, by extension, became emblematic of safe travel, kindness and charity. "The Dolphin", therefore, is a most appropriate name for an inn at which travellers would rest and take refreshment before continuing their journey.

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