The Norwood Society

Strangers Walk Round Upper Norwood

At 2.30 on Saturday afternoon, July 12, 1975, a party of members from Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society Ltd. set out to explore Upper Norwood. They met at the Beulah Spa public house and used the excellent trail guide produced by the Norwood Society. They followed the instructions, but some of the party sighed with relief when the leaflet’s ‘28 miles’ turned out to be an innocuous 2.8!

John Yaxley took time off during one of his busiest-ever Saturday afternoons to wish the party well during their journey, a gesture which was indeed appreciated.

For the most part the CNHSS members were looking at Upper Norwood through the eyes of strangers in a foreign land, although the leaders of the party (Ron and Muriel Huitson) had previously spied out the land and done a good deal of reading about the district. It was they who had previously seen the other Beulah Spa public house at Farnley, between Leeds and Bradford. Today the North Country Beulah public house looks very much more modern and newly built than its 1939 namesake at the corner of Beulah Hill. One of our members, Madge Penry-Jones, however, remembered the landlady of the Norwood pub before it was rebuilt.

Although the sky was overcast, the party could make out clearly in the distance the green strip which is now all that remains of Croydon’s once-famous airfield at Waddon. Then they heard how on July 1, 1885 Croydon for the first time began to use its own new corporation dustcarts and drivers. Before that the work of ‘dust-collecting’ had been carried out by various local contractors. One of these was George Wood, of Upper Norwood, and on August 28, 1885, Robert W. Fuller, of Moon and Fuller (a firm still operating in Croydon) sold by auction at Beulah Spa Farm the horses and carts he no longer required.

These included ‘15 powerful and valuable horses (all quiet and good workers), an active chestnut - Bob - quiet to drive and ride, a strong van, four tumbril carts (two with patent arms and on springs), a market cart on springs, and a chaff cutting machine’. Catalogues could be obtained at the Beulah Spa Tavern and the Conquering Hero inn.

Site of the Spa

Hoping that Bob got a kind owner, the party then moved across the road to the site of the Beulah Spa, which has since been renamed The Lawns. This was also the name of William Pawson’s house in Farnley! While admiring the bargeboarding and the two sorts of ornamental eaves of Tivoli Lodge, the party were sorry to see such an interesting building in such a shabby state.

Brian Salter, chief technical officer of Croydon Parks Department, told us that the carriageway parallel to Grange Hill was a very ancient thoroughfare, older than the Spa. The big houses up on the left had a right of access to it, although none of them seemed to make use of this right. The rows of new toolsheds looked rather like rows of old-fashioned ‘privies’. The steps and footpaths to Grange Hill were, we learned, postwar council additions. This must be a good district for birds. There is still a house named after Mavis, the song thrush, and at the end of the steps was a grand display of mallow (malva sylvestris) in full flower. It is to be hoped that no one pulls them up as weeds. They are quite handsome and grow well in various parts of Upper Norwood.

All Saints’ churchyard proved very interesting. First to be found was the memorial erected to Admiral Fitzroy, who commanded HMS Beagle on its five-year surveying voyage with Charles Darwin, and was later governor of New Zealand. He can be regarded as the first scientific weather forecaster, but surely this was not the reason for his committing suicide! Other graves of historical interest were those of the Meagers of ‘Walkers Farm’ (the old name for Colliers Water Farm, once in Parchmore Road near the High Street) and that of Dr Hetley and his aristocratic wife. He is best remembered by Croydon’s officials for having owned the only house in all Croydon which had a covered way over a public footpath to protect his front door.

The churchyard had obviously been used by a wealthy neighbourhood but great interest was shown in the remaining wooden headboards. These are becoming very rare in Surrey churchyards and are well worth preserving. And so are the beautiful cast iron gates in the churchyard in the Church Road entrance. The railings on either side of them have gone (during the war?) but the lovely gates are crying out for help if they are to survive much longer.

Church Road brought memories of beating the boundaries of Croydon as far as the Vicar’s Oak (the last time being in 1928). Many of the houses shown in Kelly’s Directory for 1911 are still there today, even with the same street numbers (e.g. Rockmount at 126) but the Queen’s Hotel was then No. 122.

Even further back in time - in December 1885 - this paragraph appeared in the Croydon Advertiser: ‘John Alexander, a labourer with no home, and Charles Surron, bricklayer, were charged with being found on enclosed premises at the Queen’s Hotel, Upper Norwood, supposed for the purposes of committing a felony. George Potter, manager of the hotel, stated that he was roused by the police and told the prisoners were on the premises. The hotel gardens where the men were found were 500 or 600 acres in extent and they abutted on meadows by the side of Harold Road . . .’ Although the men did not succeed in stealing any of the fowls they had been after in the grounds, they were both sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

In 1975 we saw that the hotel had grown much bigger and the gardens much smaller.

It was sad to find that two buildings mentioned in the 1911 Directory had disappeared - the Royal Normal College and Academy of Music for the Blind, and Windermere, the house next door, belonging to the College’s Principal, then Sir Francis J. Campbell, LLD.

Elegant building

The walk round the famous Triangle was done during a shower of rain, but due attention was paid to many points of interest, including the narrow and elegant building of the Barker piano factory. Speculations were made as to how a piano manufactured on the top floor of the tall building could be brought down to ground level. Incidentally, our 1911 Directory lists Beringer and Strohmengers of Westow Hill as the only pianoforte manufacturers in Upper Norwood then.

A slight deviation from the trail was made so that members could patronise the most charming and old-fashioned sweet shop left in Croydon (at the top of Gipsy Hill) and souvenirs in the form of mint rock sticks with the words ‘Crystal Palace’ most definitely running from one end and to the other were collected. This after due notice had been taken of a Post Office still open on a Saturday afternoon; this may soon be part of history too.

From the sweet shop the party looked back to Central Hill to see the little cottages which have been transformed into shops, and the imposing Furniture Depository of T. L. Bellatti and Sons which was built later - the chimneys betray it. In 1911 Thomas Louis Bellatti and Sons had only a small ‘house furnisher’s’ at 7A, Central Hill.

Back to the trail

Then back to the trail, with a sideways glance at the dates on the rainwater heads in St Aubyn’s Road, and some ventured out to look over the railway wall, to be surprised by the sight of the rows of prefabricated houses down below. Then the awning over the door of the Cambridge public house provided a little shelter, but the decision to continue was carried by a majority, and the rain almost stopped for us to be rewarded by the sight of the beautiful rounded corner of St. Aubyn’s parade of shops, dated 1883. Everything on this corner site is curved - even the window sashes and the glass panes, which would be incredibly expensive today.

The last part of the walk from the turning down Fox Hill and all the way back to Beaulieu Heights was sheer delight. The weather relented and it was fine enough for the party to see the unusual development on either side of the hill roads, part yesterday’s and part today’s. A postcard of Pissarro’s painting was compared with the Pen-y-bryn of today, but luckily the snow was missing from the July scene. One of the younger members was able to explain how Pissarro was a refugee from the Franco-Prussian war, taking refuge in Upper Norwood with his friend and fellow artist, Monet.

The dustbin shelter for a block of very new flats reminded some of a tollgate cottage, or a sentry box for the watchman on a private estate.

Where Croydon begins.

At the bottom of the hill it was easy to see where Anerley ended and Croydon began, as both had been careful not to touch the other’s section of the road. Was it Croydon which had begrudged the last ha’porth of tar needed to fill in the little crack across the road?

And so at last to Beaulieu Heights, which we were surprised to hear had been leased to Middlesex as an Old People’s Home. It was just fine enough on the way back to the Beulah Spa pub to look at gardens - both public and private ones - and to notice that hydrangeas which come up with pink flowers in the chalk of South Croydon come up with bright blue flowers here. ‘That is because we are on a ridge of London clay here’, our geologist said. And there we were indeed on a ridge, with extensive views on either side to see just before the rain began to fall again.

But thank you, Norwood, and especially John Yaxley, for a splendid walk, and please may we come again? There is so much we want to see. We do not, for instance, know anything about West Norwood and its famous cemetery.

And perhaps you will come and have a look at the other end of Croydon one day - at Purley there was once a Psalm Oak which marked the other end of this long parish.

Muriel Huitson

From past Reviews and elsewhere. No. 3/1975

The Norwood Review Edition #62. Published 1975