The Norwood Society

The Norwood Society

Towards the latter end of 1959 Norwood residents were becoming increasingly disturbed at the changing face of the suburb in which they lived. Letters appearing in the local Press showed concern at the growing number of derelict houses, neglected open spaces, and the appearance of new and unsightly development.

The whole district had suffered much from wartime air raids, and there had been many flying bombs and rockets. In those long-range attacks Norwood was part of what was called Doodle-bug Alley. The vast amount of damage and neglect of property caused by the war had been followed by years of inertia. But new developments were now appearing, and some of these left much to be desired. There was an enormous backlog of leasehold property more than 100 years old that would sooner or later be pulled down and the land used for redevelopment…

A Norwood resident, Mr. F. Amphlett Micklewright, wrote to the local Press proposing that residents who were concerned about the state of affairs should meet together to discuss the formation of a society to watch and, where possible, influence the changes that were taking place.

On 5th February, 1960, thirty-six residents, including two local Borough Councillors, met in the All Saints School on Beulah Hill, and formed the Society for the Preservation of Upper Norwood and District. A provisional constitution was approved, with Mr. Micklewright as first Chairman, and Mrs Hamilton Flint as first Hon Secretary. It was generally agreed that the aims of the Society were to seek to preserve and protect existing local amenities, and to have a voice in the future developments affecting the district.

The preservation of local amenities largely meant protecting the wooded hills of Norwood, the skylines, and surroundings from bad and unsightly development, and to seek to prevent buildings of quality and character being needlessly destroyed. Future building should, as far as possible, enhance natural beauties. As to how far a group of private citizens could exercise such an influence remained to be seen.

The meeting made the headlines in the local papers. At a second meeting on 19th February, about 60 residents turned up and discussed more fully the future work of the Society. The detailed aims were drawn up. They were:

  • To influence public opinion and assure local authorities of the Society’s interest.
  • To preserve, protect and improve the amenities of the district.
  • To ensure that unoccupied land be kept in good order.
  • Gradually to build up cultural activities.
  • To issue publications bearing upon the aims and activities of the Society.

The official name for the Society was to be ‘The Society for the Preservation of Upper Norwood and District’, but for general use a shortened version would be ‘Norwood Preservation Society’

After the first year, in which it was growing in numbers and experience, the Society decided to change its name to ‘The Norwood Society’. The word ‘Preservation’ was not a complete success. ‘What is there to preserve?’ was the facetious comment of some as they surveyed the post-war desolation. That the Society was really seeking to preserve the opportunity for enabling a new Norwood to emerge from the ashes of the old, so that it should compare favourably with its earlier charm, was perhaps too obscure. Preservation of trees, so distinctive a feature of Norwood, and their replacement when lost, was a first priority. Protection of skylines was another urgent matter. Preservation of semi-derelict Victorian houses that could not be adapted to modern requirements was not in the master plan…

In the Court Circular of 13th November, 1961, appeared the following paragraph: ‘The Duke of Edinburgh has consented to become patron of the Crystal Palace Exhibition, which the Norwood Society will hold next May.’ That was indeed an honour and a considerable feather in the cap of an amenity society not yet two years old, but which had grown then to be largest of its kind, with a membership of over 400 people, all deeply interested in the environment in which they lived.

The purpose of the exhibition was to bring to South Londoners a reminder of the forgotten glories of the Crystal Palace district. Thereby, it was hoped, people would be stirred to try to recover something of that which had been lost from an essentially residential district. The district had evolved spontaneously, with the Crystal palace as its focus point, much as a seaside resort evolves from its own sea front. Take the inspiration away and the effect can be disastrous…

The name given to the exhibition was ‘The Crystal Story’. It was formally opened by Lord Bossom of Maidstone in the presence of the Mayor of Croydon, the Mayor of Camberwell, and the M.P. for Norwood, Mr. John Fraser. The exhibition was open to the public for 10 days and during that time more than 3,000 people paid to see it.

Extracted from The Phoenix Suburb by Alan R Warwick

The Norwood Review Edition #53. Published 1973