The Norwood Society

I remember Norwood

My father and mother and their family came to Upper Norwood about 1886, and took a small house in Highland Road, in those days a great rendezvous of retired Army officers, among them my father. Many of them (but not my father) were veterans of the Indian Mutiny: General Bray, Colonel Thurburne, Sir William Gib, Gen. Beeching and others. In those days, the houses had names, not numbers; ours was called Mount Effra, and I believe it is still standing, in spite of the destruction wrought by the Second World War in the road.

I very well remember my first visit to the Crystal Palace, of which we all became members. It had a very good club for men, which my father joined. I have a very clear recollection of the interior: the central transept with its great organ and its numerous courts and halls, its attractions such as the winter pantomimes and numerous entertainments, concerts, etc. The sideshows and small kiosks and stalls were very interesting. Among these, I can think of Hopekirk the hairdresser; a man called Babb (I think) who sold canaries and other small birds; Fenton’s ivory works; the Wurtenburg collection of stuffed animals (again, I am not sure about this), and the picture gallery of the V.C’s, showing the battles in which they won their decorations.

There were also the wonderful Egyptian, Greek, and Italian courts. My father used to take us into the grounds and I remember seeing a poor bear kept in its lonely den under the terrace. The representations of extinct animals by the lake always interested me, and of course, I remember Brocks’ Fireworks well; Blondin the tightrope walker; Cinquevalli the juggler and similar celebrities. We also heard some of the greatest singers and pianists: in fact, we were very lucky. When a Handel Festival was on at the Crystal Palace, we could easily hear the Hallelujah Chorus, rendered by the huge choir, in our garden in Highland Road. One of my amusements was the roller skating rink, and my brother (who was reading for the Army) and I used often to visit Mr Davidson’s Gymnasium in a gallery overlooking the Parade. The Panorama in the grounds was, too, a great attraction.

When I visited the Crystal Palace, I often used to go by Woodland Road and through a narrow passage-way (two persons could scarcely pass abreast known locally as ‘The Khyber Pass’; it led, I think, into Jasper Road and then into Farquhar Road. I believe it does not exist any longer. I also recollect very well the shops in Westow Hill, such as Izod the chemist; Williamsons the grocers; Beringer and Stromenger the music shop, and many others. It was always quite gay at Christmas, with the shop decorated and lit up. I distinctly remember seeing the Emperor Frederick of Germany (when he came to Norwood during his illness and took the Queen’s Hotel, I think in 1888) driving along Church Road in a carriage and pair; he wore a grey top hat and seemed very tall. In those early days, and a little later, there used to be a small green omnibus, drawn by one horse, which went along the Crystal Palace Parade. I never knew where it came from or went to. You paid your fare to the driver through a hole in the roof.

My father had no carriage, but we used to go for drives in a large one-horse open landau which he hired from a rank on the Parade, outside the High Level Station. We usually drove along by Beulah Hill and down South Norwood Hill and round. We knew Sir Ernest Tritton and I remember going to his charming old house, Bloomfield (alas, now demolished) just beyond Central Hill. He was our Member of Parliament. The part of the Recreation Ground skirting Harold Road was in private hands and known as French’s Fields, where cows were kept. It was all very open round there, and I used to ride along what is now Hermitage Road, then unmade and quite countrified. You would see the members of the Royal Normal College for the Blind, then at the corner of Westow Street and Church Road, cycling one behind the other on ordinary bicycles in a ‘crocodile’; each cycle was attached to the one in front of it, the leader, of course, being able to see.

People of the present day cannot imagine how quiet the streets and roads were and how primitive and few were the means of locomotion. Those who could afford it had carriages or dog carts; the tradesmen delivered from pony carts or riding on ponies with their baskets over their arms. The streets were very dark at night, but then there was no traffic except for the occasional horse vehicle. I went away to school, so I did not see much of the social side of Norwood. There used to be tennis parties - the Harold Road Club was then flourishing. My mother joined other ladies in some dances at the old Beulah Spa Hotel, with its pretty garden (it was all very open round there then) and we knew a Mrs. Megaw who used to give musical parties in her house in Church Road. I also remember a Dr. Hetley, a very old man, who lived in a big house almost opposite the Queen’s Hotel. In those days, Church Road was a very quiet thoroughfare. Now, it seems as if it is a speedway.

I vividly remember our all going up to see Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Procession in 1897: I was then a young undergraduate at Oxford. Also numerous Royalties used to come to Norwood and I used to see them driving up College Road. When one went up to London to a theatre for the evening it was quite an event. There were, of course, no hansoms or even the old ‘growlers’; you walked to Gipsy Hill Station and went up by a very slow and rather dirty train, stopping at every station. We left Upper Norwood shortly before the South African War. From what I have seen when I have revisited it, it does not seem to have changed very much, except for the irreparable loss of the Crystal Palace in 1936: a great grief to me and to us all. I hope the Norwood Society will do all it can to preserve the district and its still charming surroundings.

As I said before, life was so different in those days: no telephones, no taxis, few other means of locomotion, electricity practically negligible and as for aeroplanes, we had no notion of the idea even. I remember seeing Mr. Spencer and his balloon ascending from the Crystal Palace Grounds and thinking how very wonderful it was. Life flowed on very smoothly and uneventfully, and one sometimes looks back on it all rather regretfully. We seemed contented and took things for granted; we never dreamed of these present days of rush and hurry and thought that our mode of living would go on for ever.

A. R. Llewellin-Taylour

Published 1963

The Norwood Review Edition #5a.