The opening of Norwood Park just fifty years ago on 14th June, 1911 brought to success a campaign which local people had waged for years. As long ago as 1894, two fatal street accidents to children had led to an agitation for an open space where the boys and girls of Norwood could play in safety. A proposal was in fact made to buy a portion of the land now included in Norwood Park, but it did not materialise. By 1903, however, the movement to acquire the park had engaged the attention of an enthusiastic band of workers, among them Sir Ernest Tritton, M.P. for Norwood and a generous donor of funds, and the Rev. W. Baxendale, who worked so hard as the secretary of the local committee.
The Norwood Sports Club was founded in the year 1881 by the Lord of the Manor, Alfred Steer who built the present Clubhouse. In 1888 the upper part of the Ground was acquired on lease from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the Norwood Club then became the largest Tennis Club in the World, with 54 grass courts. The old South Norwood Cricket Club which played originally at the bottom of Albert Road transferred to the Norwood Club in 1883.
The Lawns Estate was known originally as Bewley’s Coppice. It was taken over by the Royal Beulah Spa Company at the end of the reign of George IV. Both the hotel (at which Queen Adelaide stayed) and the Spa and its grounds were owned by the same company, although the two were separated by a land known as Leather Bottle Lane. Some people attributed this name to the fact that the poor used to collect the water from the Spa in leather bottles. The well itself was 70 ft. deep and never froze even in the hardest frost; the water was composed of sulphur and other minerals as that of the German spas.
Norwood is full of ghosts, and standing at the top of Spa Hill (formerly Leather Bottle Lane,) facing the view a glance to the right of Beulah Hill may reveal the faintest shadow of Charles Dickens hurrying to visit friends at the top of Biggin Hill, or the preacher Doctor Spurgeon thinking profound thoughts in his home of Westwood, or Felix Mendelssohn being inspired by the gate bell at Roselawn to compose ‘The Evening Bell’, or Colonel Gouraud receiving Edison’s first phonograph for demonstrating to a fascinated audience at ‘Little Menlo’ …
For over 80 years, our Crystal Palace was a place of recreation to which the world could offer no parallel. Visitors came from every civilised country to enjoy the famous musical festivals, fireworks displays, bird and dog shows, balloon ascents, football cup finals and dozens of other forms of entertainment. Perhaps no event of any age created more enthusiasm the world over than the international industrial exhibition of 1851, sponsored by Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria. ‘Albert the Good’ hoped that the exhibition would be a great festival of peace, so he invited all nations to send of their best in art and science.
‘Paxton, the quite unaltered gardener’; those were the words of the sixth Duke of Devonshire after receiving news that Joseph Paxton’s design for a glass building to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 had been accepted. They admirably sum up a remarkable man whose modesty was never spoilt by success. Son of a small farmer, Paxton learnt to read and write at the village school of Milton Bryant, Bedfordshire, where he was born on 3 August 1803. But he was a natural scholar with a love of poetry and philosophy and, while still in his teens, was able to write excellent prose.
Sir Joseph Paxton was determined that the great new Crystal Palace should oversee a prospect not less sparkling than itself. What most becomes a diadem if not emerald and diamond?
With the glitter of playing water he laid down upon the lush green hill before the Palace a delight of ‘fountain jewellery’ intended to outshine any similar display elsewhere in the world. His largest gems he reserved to form the grandest Parterre d’Eau then in existence, the setting for the crystal sky-scraping spires of the world’s highest fountain jets.
In 1874 a group of young painters, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Cezanne and others, held the first Impressionist Exhibition; this after a struggle of years in which they broke with the traditional methods of the official Salon in Paris. One of these painters, Pissarro, came to live in Upper Norwood when he fled from France during the Franco-Prussian war. Unfortunately the house no longer exists, but it stood in what is now the rebuilt street of Anerley Vale. His paintings began to sell in London but he returned later to France on hearing that all his work he had left behind had been lost.
The recent sale at Sotheby’s of a painting by Camille Pissarro ‘St. Stephen’s Church, Lower Norwood’ reminded us that he lived here for a time. Pissarro took refuge in London from the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, and during the winter of 1871-2 stayed with his family at 2, Chatham Terrace, Palace Road, Upper Norwood.