A conducted walk through remnants of the Great North Wood, arranged by the Trees Section of the Norwood Society, in conjunction with David Holmes of Croydon Parks Department.
Sketch maps of the route planned were made available. Several members of the public from Croydon and Coulsdon joined us, and a group of 20 met at the entrance to the Lawns, site of the Royal Beulah Spa and Gardens. Mr. Holmes produced a beautiful Ordnance Survey map of the area and typed notes for all of us on the Lawns - formerly Beulah Spa.
We looked at Tivoli Lodge, now in disrepair, still showing the narrow windows on either side of the door where payment used to be made - 1s. on ordinary days and 2/6d on gala days. No servants in livery or dogs were admitted. Season tickets were available. We noted the stables opposite, hidden behind a modern house, for those were the days of the horse.
Incidentally, a horse begins our story of the Spa. For when John Davidson Smith became owner of the Manor of Whitehorse, he took pity on a poor, worn-out horse that was being taken to the knacker’s yard, bought it and turned it loose in this area. To everbody’s amazement the horse grew sleek and fat. Being a thoughtful, as well as a kind, man, Mr. Smith considered it must be the water the horse was drinking. He promptly sent a sample of the water to Michael Faraday. The report came back that this water was equal - if not superior - to the waters of Bath and Wells.
So, with the help of Decimus Burton, the owner laid out the grounds attractively and the Spa was opened by the Countess of Essex on August 1, 1831.
Queen Victoria visited it with her family and friends, and foreign visitors. Kaiser Wilhelm planted a linden tree there.
Mr. Holmes then pointed out the site of the well, which used to spurt 14 feet to fall into a grotto under a thatched roof. At the moment it is still capped off.
As we followed the old carriageway on the ridge we noted fine woodland trees and thought of the gipsies and the charcoal burners, to emerge in Grange Road.
This led us into Grange Wood - a very extensive woodland area. A sunken garden now marks the site of the house and near one end we stopped to admire a fine specimen of a Ginkgo Biblis - a living fossil. The ice ages swept all such trees from Europe and Kent received the first specimen from China where it is carefully tended in front of their sacred temples.
A member of the party knew what had happened to a museum which once existed in these grounds. A schoolmaster from Lanfranc School had arranged for the geological specimens to be transferred for safekeeping to his school, for teaching purposes.
Many fine trees were admired, including a swamp cypress, atlantic cedars, a tulip tree which had just flowered, silver fir, flowering shrubs. Some interesting details were furnished by Mr. Williams-Ellis, whose specialised knowledge was much appreciated.
After a short pause for a photograph, we walked through the oak wood and crossed the road into Wharncliffe Gardens. Passing Spurgeon’s College we though of the Admiral Pierrepoint Carey who became Viscount Falkland, whose home it was*. We then entered Beaulieu Heights, pausing to admire the extensive views and the lake below.
Beaulieu Heights contains really wild woodland with very fine trees. We descended by footpaths to Auckland Road. Crossing this, we found a public footpath encircling school playing fields where very old hawthorns grow. Branching across the former golf course we reached Norwood Lake, a once-useful reservoir for the canal, opened 1809, from Croydon to New Cross, where it joined the Surrey Canal. Barges carried stone, lime, fullers earth and timber, returning to Croydon with coal. Pleasant tea gardens along the canal were a favourite resort in those days.
Then came the railway in its place - Mr Willams-Ellis mentioning that the atmospheric railway was tried out here.
The lake is a delightful rendezvous of fishermen, shaded by very old willows. The Norwood Society sponsored the purchase of a red oak and an ordinary beech which were planted by Croydon in January ‘76. On Sundays the lake is an attractive sight, with sailing boats.
Refreshments were very welcome, on this very hot day, at the tea hut, where we sat watching the water fowl disporting themselves in their cool surroundings.
After a well-earned rest, we dispersed about 12.45, near our 68, 196 bus stops in South Norwood Hill.
*Not so, Spurgeon’s College (formerly Falkland Park) was built and occupied by Thomas McMeekin after Viscount Falkland sold the site. The Viscount lived at Grange Hyrst nearby, but now demolished.
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