Thursday, 21 June 2012
With the gradual disappearance of the Great North Wood and the hilly terrain that defines the area it was never as simple as clearing the land for residential use.
The sheer mass of woodland meant that, even with the industrial levels of timber removed from the district, it wasn’t until the 19th Century that it became possible to imagine large scale building projects to take place.
At its peak the Great North Wood stretched from Camberwell to Croydon but the growth of London with the advent of the Empire saw the city encroach further and further South.
The birth of the Empire was built firstly on British Naval power and then by a huge development of commercial merchant shipping. Both of these required huge amounts of timber, a great deal of which was sourced from the North Wood.
This meant that the industrial development of London was founded on timber from the Wood, which also led to the growth of London which eroded the wood as it moved further and further South.
Areas such as Camberwell and Dulwich became popular suburban retreats for the emergent Middle Class and the development of the railways saw more and more woodland cleared to make these new residential districts accessible from the heart of the city.
By 1745 the woodland was surrounded by ‘commons’ and the Enclosure Act of 1797 saw the formal acceptance of the area as being ripe for development.
But it wasn’t as straightforward as that…
The land from Camberwell to the very centre of Norwood is essentially a series of hills.
Moving in a straight line South from Camberwell a traveler will find themselves moving up Herne Hill to Tulse Hill then up Knights Hill to the top of Beulah Hill.
Today the very top of Beulah Hill is home to a transmitter tower and a residential block called ‘Everest House’, both a sign of the elevation of the area.
The difficulties of finding flat land to build on lead to many innovations, the most remarkable being that the first railway overpass was built in Norwood.
The idea of finding two places flat enough for a railway line was unthinkable…
There are some plateaus between these hills and these are where the earliest development of Norwood began. What is now West Norwood was first known as Lower Norwood, the name reflecting its physical position relative to the rest of the area.
With further growth even the hilliest parts of the district were built upon and the land on Beulah Hill became desirable for residential use.
The development of what would become known as ‘Upper Norwood’ saw the residents of Lower Norwood upset that their region should be seen as ‘lesser’ than their neighbours and successfully argued that the area should be renamed ‘West Norwood’.
Eventually even the land on the far side of the hills was cleared and built upon, giving us South Norwood.
The fact that the area covered by the Great North Wood has given us three separate districts that share its name should give an indication as to the scale of the woodland in its prime.
However the slow progress of the development allowed for a more considered approach in the planning of the area.
One unfortunate outcome of this more considered approach was the building of Norwood New Town in 1840.
This was a ‘walled estate’ designed to house the working class residents that had moved into the area with its development.
The walled in streets formed a close community but were kept hidden away from their well-to-do neighbours.
Incredibly the walls remained up until 1930…
Initially the region was seen as a suburban getaway and most of the local businesses were designed around the leisure industries. Tea Rooms and Pleasure Gardens were dotted around the residential areas and Public Houses popped up along the railway lines.
The most famous of these spots was the Beulah Spa which was opened by Decimus Burton in 1831.
However, the relocation of the Crystal Palace to nearby Sydenham Hill, while providing a raft of new working class residents for Norwood New Town, put paid to many of these.
The opening of the Crystal Palace saw Norwood itself become largely a residential area and yet still witnessed its fair share of creations and discoveries.
Robert FitzRoy retired to Norwood in and upon his death in 1865 was buried in the front of All Saints Church.
Despite being one of the founders of what would become the Meteorological Office, pioneer of Weather Forecasting and the inventor of the Shipping Forecast, FitzRoy is probably still best known as the Captain of HMS Beagle, the ship which enabled Charles Darwin to undertake his research which lead to his discoveries on Evolution.
A devout Christian, FitzRoy was devastated at having been party of the development of such ideas and denounced Darwin’s theories whenever given the chance.
Arthur Conan Doyle moved to South Norwood in 1891 and wrote a great number of Sherlock Holmes stories while living there including ‘The Final Problem’ the story where Conan Doyle attempted to ‘kill off’ Holmes.
Hiram Maxim spent his time in West Norwood in the early 1890’s developing the world’s first machine gun.
He would work on his idea in the back garden and thoughtfully placed advertisements in local papers warning his neighbours of his planned experiments and advising them to keep their windows open to ‘avoid the danger of broken glass.’
Preparations for the World Cup in 1966 took an unfortunate turn when the trophy was stolen from an exhibition in Westminster a few months before the tournament was due to start.
An initial ransom demand was found to be a hoax and hopes began to fade that the trophy would ever be seen again.
However a mere seven days later Pickles, a black and white Collie dog, found the trophy wrapped in newspaper under a hedge on Beulah Hill.
Suspicion fell at first on his owner David Corbett but eventually he was cleared of any involvement and given a sizeable reward.
Pickles had a brief burst of fame and found himself appearing opposite Eric Sykes and June Whitfield in the 1966 film ‘The Spy With the Cold Nose.’
However this was short-lived as Pickles managed to choke himself on his own lead while chasing a cat in 1967…
Norwood today is a fully realised residential area. Some remnants of its wooded past persist in the many street names that are taken from trees and shrubs but it would be easy to forget how inaccessible the region was for so long.
That is, unless you’re on a bus struggling its way up Knights Hill and you tried to imagine dragging a cart full of bricks up there…
Tuesday, 3 April 2012
Crystal Palace is a great example of an area being ‘rebranded’.
Penge and Anerley both retain their original names, one ancient and one modern, but both are still the only names those districts have had.
The area we now call ‘Crystal Palace’ was for the majority of its history known as ‘Sydenham Hill’ and was, as many of these parts of South London were, smack bang in the middle of the Great North Wood.
The Wood was largely a dangerous, forbidding place that was a popular haunt of robbers and home mainly to bands of Gypsies, who were tough and numerous enough to ward off any but the most foolhardy bandits and were unwilling to live (and probably would have been unwelcome) in more conventional residential areas.
One legacy of this is ‘Gypsy Hill’ a small part of Crystal Palace that has retained the name of some its historical residents.
The Wood itself literally defined the region with The Vicar’s Oak that stood on the crossroads where today Church Road, Anerley Hill and Westow Hill meet the Parade and was a hugely important local landmark.
Traditionally it marked the Parish boundaries and went on to indicate the border of five London Boroughs ; Bromley, Croydon, Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham. The area also contained the division between Kent and Surrey and for a long time lay on the very edge of the County of London.
With the emergence of Britain as a dominant Naval force the demand for timber for ship construction rapidly increased. The Great North Wood became decimated and the region became viable for large scale residential use for the first time.
The 19th Century saw the development of the area as a suburb, with the large wooded tracts of land being irresistible to the emergent Middle Classes seeking to escape the hubbub of London.
However, it wasn’t long before the hubbub came to find them…
With the end of the Great Exhibition of 1851 it was decided that the Pavilion designed by Joseph Paxton was far too glorious a creation to simply be dismantled and a new home was looked for.
Standing 128 feet high , 1,851 feet long and constructed mainly from glass, using a new method of casting, the Palace itself was a magnificent edifice that astonished those who saw it.
The elevation of Sydenham Hill and the space cleared by lumber for ship-building meant that the top of the hill was an ideal location for such a huge, impressive edifice.
Incredibly, by the time the new building opened in 1854 it had actually expanded from the original dimensions and struck an imposing figure on the top of Sydenham Hill.
With the development came the railways and The Crystal Palace became a hugely popular leisure spot.
The residents that had moved to the area for the tranquility saw it transformed into a sea of tea houses, pubs and inns.
Thousands of people descended on the area , which soon became known as ‘Crystal Palace’.
The Palace itself was home to many different attractions.
Charles Spurgeon would preach to crowds of up to 23,000 people, it hosted the World’s first Cat Show and there were a number of Royal visits.
By the 1890’s the whole enterprise had become a bit more downmarket and the fortunes of the Palace dwindled. The Festival of Britain in 1911 marked the coronation of George V and saw the Palace get one last hurrah but after that closed the finances of the project collapsed.
In truth the building had never been able to pay for its own construction and relocation.
Bankruptcy was declared in 1911 and the building fell into disrepair.
It was used as a training camp during the First World War and after the war it was home to the first incarnation of the Imperial War Museum, but was never successful.
In the 1920’s a group of investors who held great affection for the Palace bought it and redeveloped it.
While it never regained the visitor numbers of old it began to show a profit and looked to be a viable venue once more.
However disaster struck in 1936 with a fire that destroyed the legendary building.
89 fire engines and 400 firefighters couldn’t stop the blaze and the fire, visible across eight counties, drew the last great crowd to the Palace as 100,000 people came down to watch the building’s end.
Among them was Winston Churchill who declared the destruction of the Palace as:
‘The end of an era…’
Unveiled in 1854 they were the first sculptures of dinosaurs in the world and were designed and sculpted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Richard Owen.
To celebrate their unveiling Hawkins hosted a dinner party on New Year’s Eve 1853 in the body of one of the Iguanodons.
As time passed and Paleontology developed it became increasing obvious that most of the sculptures were highly inaccurate. A lack of funds and embarrassment over the inaccuracies meant that the sculptures were allowed to fall into disrepair.
However the sculptures always retained a strong affection from the general public, gaining Grade II listed status in 1973, were extensively restored in 2002 and achieved a Grade I listing in 2007.
With the collapse of the Palace itself the sports ground within the Park became the focal point of the area.
The ground hosted the F.A. Cup Final from 1895 to 1914 and was also home to the short-lived London County Cricket Club which was founded by, among others, local resident W.G. Grace in 1898.
Crystal Palace F.C. were formed here in 1905 and played their home matches at the ground from their inception up until the First World War when the ground was commandeered for military use.
The site is now home to The National Sports Centre which is most famous for its use as an Athletics venue but has also been the home of the London Towers basketball team and the London Monarchs American Football team.
Today the most famous landmark is probably the Transmitter Tower that sits on the top of the hill.
Looking remarkably like the Eiffel Tower, it’s the main television transmitter for the London region and, despite being built in 1956 it remains the fourth largest structure in London.
Crystal Palace, despite its location in the very South of South London, has always been a focal point for projects and plans.
From marking boundaries to housing enormous structures, its elevated position has meant that the area has always demanded, and received, more attention than a hill in the middle of a wood could ever really expect…
Friday, 24 February 2012
Anerley began as a desire for solitude…
William Sanderson, a silk merchant from Scotland, had become tired of the hectic nature of life in the London of the early 19th century and yearned for the peace and quiet that more rural areas afforded.
An Act of Parliament in 1827 saw the creation of a road to connect Elmer’s End Road and Church Road in Norwood running through The Great North Wood and cutting across the area of Penge Common.
This road would make the very centre of the North Wood accessible but undeveloped, which proved to be irresistible to Sanderson. He built a house on the edge of Penge Common which would edge onto this new road, allowing him to travel into London to deal with his business matters while allowing him to retreat to the tranquility of the suburbs of an evening.
Built long before the advent of post codes, and with nothing in the way of other landmarks to guide any postman, Sanderson took to giving his address out by emphasizing its unique nature.
‘It’s between Norwood and Elmer’s End… In the middle of the wood… It’s the only house around.’
With his rich Scottish accent ‘only’ was usually heard as ‘annly’ and this is what people began to reference in their correspondence to him.
Letters began to be addressed to ‘William Sanderson, The Annly House, between Elmer’s End and Norwood.’
Derivations of ‘Annly’ developed with the word being written as ‘Annly’, ‘Anly’, ‘Annerly’ but it was ‘Anerley’ that became the default spelling and the version that Sanderson adopted when he began to hand out his address in a definitive form.
Eventually the road itself became known as Anerley Road (now Anerley Hill) and the area around it became known as Anerley.
Sanderson’s desire for solitude became compromised as the practicalities of life in the suburbs came home to him.
With the failure of the Croydon Canal in 1836 its land was sold to the London and Croydon Railway Company and the opportunity came to build a railway line that would link Croydon with central London running through what was now Anerley.
Sanderson was given a choice. The land that the rail company had brought didn’t give them access to his land but their preferred route for the line ran right across it.
Given Sanderson’s initial desire for isolation it’s entirely conceivable that he could have refused his permission to allow the line to run close to him and preserve the isolation of the Anerley House.
Instead, Sanderson allowed the line to run and asked for one thing in return; that a station be built next to his house, allowing him speedy access to the centre of town.
Once the path to Anerley was cleared it became tempting for other forms of transport to try and extend their reach into the suburbs.
An atmospheric railway, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was opened in 1845 but didn’t survive for long. The hilly nature of the land around Norwood meant that any form of transport had to be able to traverse varying levels of terrain easily and soon it was just the railway that offered Sanderson the easy access to town that he desired.
Of course this traffic didn’t only run one way and Anerley, now served by a railway station that went into the centre of London, became a desirable residential area. Other houses were built and with them came hotels, pubs and public gardens. The local boating lake became a popular spot and the relocation of the Crystal Palace from Hyde Park to the top of Sydenham Hill in 1854 saw the area of Anerley entirely lost to tea rooms, dance halls and huge new houses.
By 1878 the area had become populated and developed to a point that a Vestry Hall was built on Anerley Road to allow for the proper regulation of the business of the region.
The Local Government Act of 1899 saw this designated as a Town Hall and by 1900 Anerley is recognized as part of the Penge Urban District of Kent.
During the Second World War Anerley suffered from the policy of British Intelligence to feed to the enemy false information about the targeting of their bombs, usually deceiving them into aiming further to the South than they intended. This protected Parliament, the Royal Family and the City of London, as well as the Docks along the Thames, but ensured that South London would be particularly badly hit, despite there being nothing of strategic value to the war effort there.
Anerley was hit by 5 V1 bombs with 13 fatalities overall, an astonishing number given its location relative to targets that the enemy may have actually been aiming for.
By 1965 Anerley, now part of the London Borough of Bromley, had become essentially a residential area. The grand houses of the 19th century were either bombed out during the war or converted into flats and larger housing estates being built for the new residents that moved in after the middle classes moved out with the destruction of the Crystal Palace and the devastation of the War.
Anerley today is still served by the same railway station that Sanderson demanded, and the opening of the Overground link in 2010 saw Anerley connected directly with East London and the London Underground system. This, along with the array of buses that serve the area, mean that Anerley is more accessible from all over London than at any time in its history.
Anerley Hill itself, home to the train station and town hall, is otherwise lined by some shops and businesses but is dominated by housing of one form or another.
Some of this is in the form of large houses, the kind of which William Sanderson may still find familiar if he saw Anerley today, but the majority is in the form of flats and estates and, most striking of all, the development of large scale retirement housing in blocks along Anerley Hill.
Sanderson may have accepted the practicality of the development of housing alongside his House, and may have even seen the appeal of Anerley as a spot to retire to, but the sheer density of population in an area that appealed to him on the basis of its solitary nature would surely leave him bemused.
But, of course, he’s the one who wanted a station…
Saturday, 21 January 2012
Penge has always been defined by dislocation and what surrounds it...
The name itself is an anomaly in London, being one of the few Celtic place names that has survived to the present day with its earliest recorded use in a Saxon deed from 957 which mentions 'Penceat', a word derived from two other Celtic words; 'Pen' meaning 'edge' and 'ceat' meaning wood.
The location of Penge on the edge of the Great North Wood meant that it afforded valuable space for pasture away from the vast forest that bordered it and by the time it is mentioned in the Domesday book in 1086 it is noted as the home of '50 hogs' and having space for 'seven miles, seven furlongs and seven feet' of woodland pasture.
However, Penge itself never reaped the benefits of this agricultural boon, having been gifted as a detached hamlet to the ancient parish of Battersea and remained as such until it was placed into the district of Lewisham in 1855.
In the meantime the Great North Wood itself proved more valuable than the pasture around it.
Britain's growth as a naval power from the 15th Century onward meant that there was a tremendous demand for timber and, with the development of a road system that linked the shipyards of the Thames with the area that would become known as Norwood, Penge became a natural distribution hub.
So, sparsely populated, with limited agriculture or industry and with any taxes and profits being spirited away to Battersea there was very little scope for development for Penge for hundreds of years.
Eventually Britain's dominance as a naval power meant there was less actual demand for ships with their position largely unchallenged and few ships lost in action. This, coupled with industrial developments such as steam power, metal hulled ships and explosive munitions, meant that the demand for timber from Norwood slowed dramatically with Penge left lost in the wake.
With the opening of the Croydon Canal in 1809 it was hoped that the timber trade would again be lifted with the access to new national markets that a place on the canal network would provide. Unfortunately the design of the canal involved the use of 28 locks to successfully traverse the hilly regions of South London and made that stretch of the canal financially unfeasible.
The canal was closed in 1836 with the land sold to the London & Croydon Railway company which again lead to hopes that this new transport link would allow for Norwood timber to become a viable source of profit for the local economy.
This never happened though and Penge became a retirement spot for the trades that had come to work in the area.
In 1840 The Company of Watermen and Lightermen opened almshouses for men who had worked on the canals and the widows and families of other workers.
One of the criteria to qualify for a place in the Royal Waterman's Almshouses was a vow of temperance. Some of the lightermen found this easier than others and rumours persist in the area of a tunnel that linked the Houses with the neighbouring Crooked Billet pub, allowing the residents to travel from the almshouse to the public house undetected.
No evidence of any tunnel has ever been found...
Designed by George Porter in a Tudor Revival style these Almshouses are a dominant feature of the high street now and must have been even more remarkable at the time.
These were followed soon after by the opening of the King William Naval Asylum in 1848.
Funded by Queen Adelaide, the widow of King William IV, these were designated for the use of naval widows or the orphan daughters of naval officers.
Even with the opening of these two new residential projects the population of Penge in 1841 had stood at a mere 270 and the addition of 88 retirees, widows and orphans were not going to give the area much of a fillip.
What WOULD do was the opening of the Crystal Palace in neighbouring Sydenham in 1854.
Designed by Joseph Paxton, the Crystal Palace had been the centrepiece of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851 and its arrival in South London gave all the areas around it a lift.
Penge managed to adapt better than most.
Arguably the failure to properly develop the area previously meant that it had a massive scope for building and improvement, and the railway station, that had only really been put in to accommodate a level crossing to get across the high road, suddenly made Penge a viable tourist hotspot and it soon became famous for its 'twenty five public houses in one square mile.'
Tea rooms, music halls and boarding houses sprung up in the area and the population soon exploded from the 270 of 1841 to 5,015 in 1861 and 13,200 in 1871.
Penge finally had an identity.
Looking away from the Great North Wood and the instability of industry Penge became a suburban leisure resort that traded off its proximity to the Crystal Palace.
The destruction of the Crystal Palace by fire in 1936 would have put an end to Penge as a tourist attraction with the pubs, halls and tea rooms all being activities that people could enjoy in a number of places but as it was the area's reputation was destroyed long before that.
In 1877 Harriet Staunton, who lived in Forbes Road, Penge, was deliberately starved to death by her husband and his family. The details of her imprisonment in her own home and the tortuous method of her murder shocked Victorian society and the details of the Penge Murder became a matter of public record.
Visitor numbers dropped dramatically.
The area, by now dependent on the tourist trade, could do nothing to repair the damage to Penge's reputation.
Local authorities did what they could, going as far as to rename Forbes Road as Mosslea Road to deter ghoulish visitors who would come to find the site of the murder, unfortunately the only visitors the area could rely on now.
They also tried to insist that the murder had actually taken place in neighbouring Beckenham.
It didn't work.
Penge, which had relied for so long on being bordered by places that brought value to the area couldn't push out something that it had created itself...
Penge became little more than a word that would occasionally appear in passing in a book or on a television show, usually for comic effect.
The Goon Show, Terry Wogan and Robert Rankin have all used Penge as a reference on numerous occasions, inevitably as a shorthand for naffness.
The most famous reference in literature is probably in the 'Rumpole' books by John Mortimer, a series about a barrister who made his reputation in a case entitled the 'Penge Bungalow Murders' which again echoes Penge's lowest point.
A wander down Penge High Street today shows little more than a typical local South London high street, dotted with charity shops, supermarkets and newsagents.
The history of the area can be seen by glancing above the plastic shopfronts that advertise the current residents, where you can still see the remnants of the facades of the King's Hall and Essoldo music halls and the Victorian structure of the Police Station, which was London's oldest operational station until it was closed in 2010.
The building is due to be redeveloped into flats, joining the almshouses as private residences.
There is little to recommend to the visitor to Penge today. Much of historical or architechtural relevance has been obscured by development or moved into private hands, away from enquiring eyes.
But in a way this is fitting...
Penge began, and has remained, at the margins.
Surrounded by forests or palaces, occasionally linked by canals or railway lines, it has done its best to adapt and prosper but has always been subject to the fickleness of fate meaning that over the years it has only really moved from pasture to pleasure spot to now, finally, punchline...