The Norwood Society

Railways of Norwood

It could well be argued that the destruction of the High Level line has contributed to the non-redevelopment of the Crystal Palace as an exhibition centre. Such a redevelopment was finally ruled out on grounds of inadequate communications!

There was no inadequacy of communications when the Crystal Palace came to Norwood a hundred years before the High Level line was closed. Railways and roads in the 1850’s were adequate, or, if not, they were extended. The Crystal Palace came to Norwood in 1852 for precisely two reasons. One was that the site was the finest in London for the purpose. The other was that the railway was already there.

The London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, that part which was formerly the London and Croydon Railway, passed very conveniently through Sydenham and Penge and Anerley. The swift and easy route from London was virtually on their very doorstep. It needed but a short spur from the Sydenham station through the Penge Woods to bring trains right into the Crystal Palace grounds. Such a line would bring the visitors in their thousands to the very gates of wonderland.

In October, 1852, it was reported that ‘the rails for the new Crystal Palace Railway are now in a forward state. The railway traveller on this line may notice on his left between Sydenham and Anerley stations navvies hard at work preparing the ground. The space through the wood for the line of rails that is to run into the Palace is now cleared of trees, and presents a picturesque woodland scene, the timber lying across the way in happy confusion’.

One must confess that in these days of trees so sadly diminished in numbers, where was once the Great North Wood, one winces at the term ‘happy confusion’ in reporting those fallen woodland giants. But at least that stretch of suburban railway is still operating 120 years later. No one has yet seen fit to close that length of line, though there have been whispers.

Such was the confidence in 1852 of the Crystal Palace project that the London and Brighton Railway went to the lengths of laying a separate line of rails from London to the Crystal Palace. This new double track was to be devoted exclusively to ‘Crystal Traffic’, and lay each side of the main line. Specially designed locomotives were built to cope easily with the considerable gradients that existed between London in the valley and Norwood on the heights.

The local down line was on the east side of the main track. To reach the Palace it had to cross the main line between Sydenham Station and Penge Station. To avoid any danger inherent in crossings on the level, the local line ascended by an embankment and cross the main tracks by a bridge. This method is now common practice, but in 1852 it was a novelty in railway engineering.

There was a second line from the Crystal Palace Station to the Jolly Sailor, later renamed Norwood Junction. This spur had been laid to bring materials to the Palace site during the building operations. Now, with the opening of the Crystal Palace, the Crystal Palace Company went into the railway business to the extent of buying a small locomotive and some carriages from the London and Brighton Railway, and worked a shuttle service for passengers visiting the Palace. This enabled them to pick up main line passengers for whom it was impossible to make the connection with the Crystal Palace line at Sydenham.

Ultimately the Brighton line took over this private stretch, and it became an important link in the general network. The London and North Western Railway obtained running powers to Croydon via Clapham Junction, and, of course, the Crystal Palace, which was the main attraction, and used this important spur.

Two years after the opening of the Palace the Crystal Palace tunnel had been completed, which opened up a route to the West End. By December 1st, 1856, the line was opened from the Crystal Palace Station to Gipsy Hill and West Norwood and on to Wandsworth Common, where it linked up with the main line. On October 1st, 1860, Victoria Station was opened and there were then through trains from there to the Crystal Palace.

On August 1st, 1865, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway had opened their branch line from Peckham Rye to the High Level Station alongside the Crystal Palace Parade. Thus Upper Norwood of more than 100 years ago was effectively linked up with the expanding railway system. Previous to the arrival of the Crystal Palace, the nearest station to the Upper Norwood triangle had been Anerley. Next on the line was the Jolly Sailor, named after the local public house. It was not until 1859, when the station was resited, that the Jolly Sailor station took the name Norwood Junction.

Equally important were the road connections between London and Norwood. As the time approached for the official opening of the Crystal Palace, road routes were widely published. That was necessary as, for many people, travelling out to Norwood by road was like going to the back of beyond. In 1852, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were driving out to see how the Palace project was shaping, accompanied by outriders, a leading horseman stopped on Central Hill to ask the way to the site!

When Mr. Leo Schuster was a Director of the Brighton Railway he was also the owner of Penge Place, a massive and delightful property. It and some adjoining property were where the Crystal Palace Park is today. The railway ran at the bottom of Mr. Schuster’s garden.

This became big business. In addition to securing for his railway the benefits of vastly augmented passenger traffic, Mr. Schuster was able to sell his estate for something like £50,000 to the Crystal Palace Company, who were in the market to buy. It must also be said that Penge Place as a site was unquestionably the most magnificent on the outskirts of London and ideal for the purpose.

Extract from The Phoenix Suburb by Alan R Warwick

Swift and easy route from London in 1852

The Norwood Review Edition #51. Published 1973