The Norwood Society

Norwood Grove

Surely Norwood Grove must be the most beautiful of all the parks to be found in South London. It is situated 300 ft. high on the Norwood Hills, and consists of 32 acres of gently sloping, velvety lawns, falling beautifully towards Croydon, giving wonderful views and almost unlimited horizons. To our south west on a fine day can be seen Reigate and northwards the grand pile of Windsor Castle. It is also well timbered, a veritable paradise for trees and birds. The trees include wonderful specimens of magnolias, evergreen oaks (Quercus ilex), the strawberry tree (arbutus unero), hollies and yews. The nightingale has been heard there and finches, jays, redwings, wagtails, woodpeckers, wood pigeons and wrens and all the English garden birds delight in this extremely pleasant grove.

To the east and really bordering it, is the delightful little park called ‘The Rookery’ belonging to the LCC. ‘The Rookery’ has associations with Oliver Goldsmith, Dr. Johnson, Burke, Reynolds and Garrick. Until 1635, Norwood Grove formed part of the Great Streatham Common, which was referred to in the Doomsday Book as Lime Common and stretched from Norbury to Tulse Hill. In that year what is now Norwood Grove became a shooting estate with a lodge for the 5th Duke of Portland according to tradition, given to him by King Charles. All this land remained part of the Portland Estates for many years and it is said that the forest trees could be followed from here to Windsor Castle. Finally, the present mansion was built about 125 years ago, the exact date not being known. Soon after its erection it became the residence of Mr. Arthur Anderson, MP, one of the founders of the now famous Peninsular and Oriental Steamship line: the P. & O.

Mr. Anderson was one of the most romantic figures of the early days of the last century. He was born of poor parents in the Shetland Isles. After service in the Napoleonic Wars, he tramped to London, practically penniless and for a year he obtained a precarious living as a copying clerk. It was said that his daily food was two pennyworth of bread and cheese and a pint of porter every other day. He married the daughter of a Scarborough shipowner who introduced him to a Mcghie Wilcox, a shipbroker who took Anderson into his employ. So successful was the partnership in operating ships that eventually in 1840, the P. & O. was formed. In those days of early steam versus sail there were many troubles - often the partners would hear tales of the clippers with huge sail spread beating the comparatively small powered steamers of P. & O. Long and very frequent were the conferences held in Norwood Grove on sail versus steam. However, the closing years of the 19th century saw these troubles fading away - steam was beating the clippers and the P.& O. built larger and much more powerful ships. Anderson succeeded Wilcox as chairman of P. & O. until his death in 1862.

Anderson had always retained a great affection for the folk of his beloved Shetland Isles and knowing how isolated and lonely they were he was determined to produce a newspaper for them, so in any spare moments away from the shipping in Norwood Grove he would be found working on a report for ‘The Shetland News’. It is said that one of his most popular stories was about a poor fishing family who were taken for a holiday to Iceland by steamer. In fact, it is said that Anderson was the first man to dream of ocean cruise holidays for the middle class but this was not possible until after the 1914-18 war. A frequent visitor to Norwood Grove was Garibaldi, the Italian soldier and patriot. Anderson had met him in the course of his travels abroad.

After the death of Anderson in 1862, the mansion became the property of the Nettlefold family, the famous screw manufacturers who often entertained their friend, Joseph Chamberlain there. After many years of residence here the Nettlefolds left in 1913. After the 1914-18 war the Grove had a tremendous potential as building land. The local residents launched a fighting fund and set up a committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Stenton Covington who worked so hard to make a successful national appeal. His memory is happily commemorated in Covington Way. In all £18,300 was raised by public subscription and with grants from the LCC and the local authorities, this glorious open space was dedicated for ever to the use of the public by the Prince of Wales at a gala opening in November 1926 where he planted, on the lawn west of the mansion a cupressus macrocarpa, now over 30 ft. high.

Today we find in this beautiful park two superb bowling greens. The oak floored music room of the mansion has been rented from the Croydon Borough Council for the last fifteen years by the Norwood Grove Social Centre, whose activities include dancing, drama, tennis, table-tennis, whist drives, and so on. The original dining-room, complete with its hand painted ceiling, is now a public tea room and other parts of the house are used by the bowlers and for storage and staff accommodation.

E. L.

The Norwood Review Edition #8. Published 1961