It is good to see the old Arnold and Jane Gabriel Home, at the bottom of Wolfington Road, West Norwood, now spruced up and cared for by the London & Quadrant Housing Trust as the headquarters for their South West Thames division. The old name is still proudly over the main door, while a new entrance has been added at the side for the Trust. Built in 1910, this fine red-brick block was, I think, the school for the children in the even finer Jew’s Hospital which was set up in 1862 in the open country-side that was West Norwood then.
As the picture* in ‘Crystal Palace and the Norwoods’ shows (P.99), this was a magnificent Jacobean-style building, and it must have looked splendid set, as it was, well back against the steep green hill where now the ‘Canterbury’ estate, with its streets named for the pilgrims, has been so cleverly set out. It was taken down during the 50’s, and I think that in this century it was never easy to see from the road, but when I was a child in the 20’s I lived in a house in Wolfington Road from whose upstairs windows we could see the upper part of the building.
Even so, it was the Gabriel House that we thought of as the ‘Jewish Orphanage’, and we loved the great oak trees in front of it, whose acorns dropped into the road and which we gathered enthusiastically. But when I came back to West Norwood in the ‘60’s not only was the great building replaced by a modern, useful Hall, but some of the oak trees had turned into white flowering cherry trees! Lambeth Council owned the building at that time, and continued its use as a Children’s Home along with a pair of modern houses in the grounds, and the tiny, charming old Lodge at the main entrance, off Knights Hill. It was all well kept up then.
Of recent years, the building and its immediate surroundings have gone downhill sadly. Even a few years as a Lambeth Social Services Office did little more than hold the building together, while the area around it decayed into a site for dumping rubbish. Now however, the rubbish is cleared, the ground levelled, a new fence built on top of the low wall, the paths and car park relaid. The cherry trees and three – or perhaps two-and-a-half – fine oaks remain in the front grounds. And the building will carry on serving the public.
But what about the Lodge, the little house that guarded the entrance to the whole estate, now almost hidden by bushes as you go up the lane beside the railway, opposite Norwood Station? It was built at the same time and in the same style as the old Jew’s Hospital, and is the last standing link with all that that conveys, but it is Lambeth’s responsibility now. It is in a very bad state, and may be even beyond repair. It was apparently too small to be listed, and so has fallen prey to vandals and fire-raisers. We must hope that some way will be found for it to have an honourable end.
The old Jewish Orphanage in West Norwood, by June Smith (August 1996).
*by Nicholas Reed and published 1995 by Chalford in the ‘Archive Photographs Series’.
ISBN 0 7524 0147 5
The Norwood Review Edition #135