Towards the latter end of 1959 Norwood residents were becoming increasingly disturbed at the changing face of the suburb in which they lived. Letters appearing in the local Press showed concern at the growing number of derelict houses, neglected open spaces, and the appearance of new and unsightly development.
The whole district had suffered much from wartime air raids, and there had been many flying bombs and rockets. In those long-range attacks Norwood was part of what was called Doodle-bug Alley. The vast amount of damage and neglect of property caused by the war had been followed by years of inertia. But new developments were now appearing, and some of these left much to be desired. There was an enormous backlog of leasehold property more than 100 years old that would sooner or later be pulled down and the land used for redevelopment…
Today, it seems incredible, as the red bus comes along Westow Hill, to imagine ‘carriage folk’ using Church Road, Westow Street, and Westow Hill as a kind of Rotten Row. Nevertheless, it was so, seventy years ago. You would also see Carberry’s goat, wandering around the same route and doing quite a lot of the scavenging, as goats will do. It belonged to a Mr Carberry, who was a high-class butcher and rather a character. On one occasion, a stranger was loitering about outside his shop at the corner of Carberry’s Lane, Westow Street. At last, Mr. Carberry asked him: ‘Excuse me, Sir, but why are you hanging about here?’ ‘Who are you?’ came the retort, capped by the butcher with : ‘Me: I’m Carberry the Butcher. Everyone knows Carberry!’ The loiterer walked away.
I wonder if anyone now reads the novels of George Moore (1852-1933), a contemporary of George Bernard Shaw who was dubbed 'the Irish Balzac' and once ranked as a novelist alongside Thomas Hardy and Henry James? He was born in County Mayo where his father kept racing stables and these provided the background to his best-known novel Esther Waters (1894), although that has an English setting. Some readers may remember a television adaptation many years ago.
Norwood has more than its share of famous people, but there will always be some who escape notice for one reason or another. Until now Gerald Massey is one who, in spite of living in South Norwood for many years (and dying there), has not attracted attention. He was born in a poor (some would say poverty-stricken) family in Tring in 1828. His father, William, was an illiterate labourer but his mother, Mary, had managed to acquire basic literacy. As a child he was sent to work in Tring Silk Mill in conditions that today would be unacceptable to an adult, but at the time were accepted as normal.
Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim was a polygamist, a philanderer, the inventor of the mousetrap and the machine gun. Kirsty Whalley takes a look at one of the famous eccentrics associated with Norwood. He had a fine mind driven by jealousy. Born in America, Hiram Maxim and his brother swore when they were little that one day they would be famous. Although they ended their lives as bitter enemies and rivals, they would both honour that pledge.
Hiram had no formal education and appears to have gleaned engineering, scientific and mechanical knowledge through a series of apprenticeships. He claimed to have invented the lightbulb after experiments with electricity and insisted the patent was stolen by Thomas Edison after one of his clerks filed it incorrectly.
This Lodge, in the main road, West Norwood (now demolished) was the home of Sir Hiram Maxim, the famous ‘Maxim’ gun inventor. He also lived at ‘Ryecrofts’ Dulwich Common. Sir Hiram was born in 1840 in Maine, U.S.A. where he had only 5 years irregular schooling. By the age of 30 he had many inventions to his credit, one the famous ‘Maxim’ gun. Another, less well-known, was a widely-used mouse-trap! His machine-gun was offered to the American authorities but they rejected it as ‘interesting but not practical’.
My father and mother and their family came to Upper Norwood about 1886, and took a small house in Highland Road, in those days a great rendezvous of retired Army officers, among them my father. Many of them (but not my father) were veterans of the Indian Mutiny: General Bray, Colonel Thurburne, Sir William Gib, Gen. Beeching and others. In those days, the houses had names, not numbers; ours was called Mount Effra, and I believe it is still standing, in spite of the destruction wrought by the Second World War in the road.
I was born in 1891 at 62 Woodland Road and went to school in the same road, of which my grandfather was Headmaster. One of my earliest memories is of seeing the cows go up and down Gipsy Hill, to and from the meadow at the bottom. This I believe then belonged to the Norwood Central Diary at the top of Central Hill; they used to go into the cow houses through the lane in Westow Street which is still there, by the fish shop.
Who would make 120 people congregate at a cemetery? At ages from one to 91? Easy questions if you’ve ever had the privilege of going on any of his conducted walks - our Secretary Geoffrey Manning.
The tour of West Norwood Cemetery followed hard on the heels of the excellent talk by Lambeth Council planner Barry Jones. Mr. Jones, Assistant Chief Planning Officer had himself found Norwood Cemetery a fascinating revelation.