The Norwood Society


Since the erection of the Crystal Palace in 1854, Norwood has been a favourite place of residence for those who would combine a home in the country with proximity to London. The high situation, the bracing air, the picturesque views extending over a great part of the counties of Kent, Surrey, Bucks, Berks and Middlesex with London stretching at the foot of what is now Crystal Palace Parade far, far into the distance, united to provide a dwelling-place for well-to-do residents as attractive as could be found within the Kingdom.

Amongst the earliest was the great musician, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, who in 1821 and again in 1832 was the guest of Thomas Attwood, organist of St. Paul’s, at his house, still called Roselawn, on Beulah Hill. Here it was that he composed his ‘Evening Bell’ with part of his ‘Son and Stranger’ and the E Minor ‘Capriccio’ the MSS of which are all dated ‘Norwood Surrey, November 1829’. Here it was that his ‘distinguished donkey’ was used to draw him up the hill, the rural solitude, the keen fresh air, the abundant woods, the lovely scenery all contributing to fill his soul with beautiful music.

A little later Katharine, Countess of Essex, better known as ‘Kitty Stephens’ a famous opera singer, whose name is so closely associated with ballads such as ‘Savourneen Deelish’ and ‘The Banks of Allan Water’ took up her abode in the house her husband built for her (Essex Cottage) afterwards enlarged by the addition of the adjoining Essex Lodge, on Central Hill, dying there at the ripe age of eighty-eight in 1882. At Rockhills on the Crystal Palace Parade lived Sir Joseph Paxton, its designer and founder, to whom might well be applied the proud words inscribed on the base of Wren’s masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral: ‘Si monumentum quris circumspice’.

Cranbrook House (as it was then called) Tudor Road, Upper Norwood was for a while the residence the ill-fated Rosina, Countess of Lytton, until she removed to Glenomera, Longton Grove, Upper Sydenham. The story of her unhappy differences with her husband the celebrated novelist is related by her faithful friend Miss Louise Devey (recently deceased) Montresor, Central Hill. Further afield at Thurlow Park, West Norwood, lived Edward, First Baron Thurlow, Lord Chancellor under the Rockingham Administration, he whose lofty stature, strongly-marked features, dark eyes and bushy eyebrows led everyone to credit him with the possession of wisdom, which Lord Campbell, his biographer, believes he did not possess. More about him in a later article.

John Ruskin’s house was at Denmark Hill but he frequented Norwood. His name was associated with the locality; Ruskins Farm was but till lately the name of a house and homestead at the bottom of Fox Lane. Amongst other celebrities, the one in letters, the other music were Mrs. Henry Wood, author of “East Lynne” and other novelists who lived for years in a house called “Sunnyside”, Gipsy Hill, and Sir Julius Benedict an occasional resident near the Crystal Palace, famous as a pianist, a composer and musical director. The name of Miss Lowe, sister of Sir Hudson Lowe, commonly known as “Napoleon’s gaoler” at St Helena, recalls the last inglorious days of the captive Emperor.

Viscount Falkland is well remembered as the genial and hospitable owner of what is now Falkland Park on the brow of South Norwood Hill. On entering All Saints’ Churchyard from Beulah Hill, the first tombstone of importance that meets the eye is that of the Lady Charlotte Sarah Hetley, sixth daughter of the second Earl of Norbury and widow of the fourth Baron Braybrooke, afterwards married to Dr. Frederick Hetley, J.P. of Norbury Lodge, one of the oldest and most respected of living residents. The next is that of Admiral FitzRoy so famous for his attainments in meteorology.

Opposite the principal entrance to the Churchyard, at the corner of Grange Road, lived Mr. Reeves, the famous tenor singer, in a house now occupied by Mr Alderman Treloar of the City of London, so well known for the kindliness of his disposition, and specially as the benefactor of the crippled children of the Metropolis.Also on Beulah Hill at the charming residence “Westwood” lived the late C.H.Spurgeon. A pretty villa, till now called ”Francesco”, in Church Road, was the residence of Mr John Cook, son of the originator of Cook’s Tours.

Amongst visitors at the Queen’s Hotel, present or in the past, may be mentioned Sir James Paget, the celebrated surgeon; Lady Diana Huddlestone, well known some years since as the author of “A trip to Norway”; Lady Napier, widow of the Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Napier, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and M.P. for the University of Dublin, eminent alike for his legal abilities and his upright Christian character; Lady MacDonals of Earnscliffe, created a Baroness in her own right in recognition of the merits of her deceased husband; Sir John Macdonald somewhile Prime Minister of Canada; and above all Crown Prince – afterwards Emperor - Frederick of Germany and his spouse, Princess Royal of England. Here it was, under the care of his medical adviser, Sir Morell Mackenzie, that he passed almost the last days of his illness that were to terminate his life, winning all hearts by his unostentatious behaviour, his amiability, his simple piety. Amongst residents elsewhere are to be noted Dr Campbell, founder and principal of the Royal Normal College for the Blind, Mr. August Manns, Gleadale, Harold Rd., director of Crystal Palace Concerts; also Sir Raymond West, KCIE, Chesterfield, College Road, authority on Indian Law. (Extract from “Picturesque Norwood” 1899 ed. Booklet lent by Mr. Marsh of Lansdowne Road SE19.

And from an Octogenerian in 1969:

At one time all the coal carts were horse-drawn and they had a very difficult job getting up Anerley Hill. When they got as far as Versailles Road they would stop and put a call in for ‘Puffing Billy, a steam traction engine which was housed on Crystal Palace Parade. On receipt of the call from below ‘Puffing Billy’ would come down to help. A chain was fixed in the front of the cart and the traction engine went up the hill ahead of the horses.

Many merchant families lived on Sydenham Hill and nearby. Among them were members of the Colemans (mustard), Champions (vinegar), Lazenbys (pickles) and Epps (cocoa) families. The Enos family at Woodhall, off Sydenham Hill, kept eight gardeners. Kingswood House (still standing on the Kingswood Estate) was owned by Lord Vestey of the Blue Star Line, pioneers of meat refrigeration. General Stuart, one of the last survivors of the Indian Mutiny, lived in College Road. Lord and Lady Richardson, who lived at the corner of Grange Road and South Norwood Hill, had lovely gardens and woodland round their house, and a beautiful aviary. Daffodils grew wild in the garden. Mr Justice Beyfus’s parents lived at Lakeview, Sylvan Road. The King of the Cocos Islands, named Ross (one of the Clunies-Ross family: Ed) lived at Brathay House, in Anerley Road.

My late husband, when he was 16, became a doctor’s boy to Dr. Galton, who lived in Sylvan Road.

Published Mrs G.L. Eades 1965

The Norwood Review Edition #23.