Edward Alleyn's Gift

Celebrating 400 years of Dulwich history: 1619-2019

Edward Alleyn (1566-1626) was a major figure in Elizabethan theatre and performed leading roles in plays by Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of William Shakespeare. He was also a wealthy businessman who co-owned several theatres in London including the Rose Theatre at Bankside and the Fortune Theatre on Golden Lane.

Alleyn's connection with Dulwich began in 1605 when he bought approximately 1500 acres of land from Sir Francis Calton. Known as the Manor of Dulwich, it was made up of farms and woodland and cost £5000, the equivalent of about £14 million today. It was probably initially intended as a business venture. However legend has it that Alleyn was inspired by an apparition of the devil to create a foundation for the benefit of young and old. The foundation was known as The College of God's Gift. There were many charitable benefactions during the Jacobean period and it is likely that Alleyn wished to be remembered among the benefactors to the poor. Alleyn started to build 'a chappell, a scholehowse and twelve almshowes' on the site of the village green in 1613.

The College of God's Gift was officially recognised in 1619 under Letters Patent granted by James I. Exactly 400 years later to the day on 21 June 2019, this exhibition opened to commemorate Edward Alleyn's gift and to celebrate the vibrant culture that flourishes in Dulwich as part of his legacy.

Why did Edward Alleyn create a school?
In a letter to Sir Francis Calton Alleyn wrote, 'now with so much scholarship for I have none at all'. His lack of a formal education may have been a driving force for the provision of a school.