It is remarkable that the two famous Frenchmen who lived for some months in Norwood in the second half of the nineteenth century have both left wonderful visual records of the area as it was then. The novelist Emile Zola, whose ‘naturalistic’ style of writing left no details of real life, however sordid, unrecorded, was also a gifted amateur photographer and, in a unique series of photographs taken during his stay at the Queen’s Hotel in 1898/9 when he had escaped from France in order to avoid a sentence of imprisonment for his outspoken defence of Captain Dreyfus in a newspaper article, left a valuable legacy for modern residents of Norwood to enjoy. The Impressionist painter, Camille Pissarro, stayed in Norwood from the end of 1870 until the middle of 1871 in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War and produced thirteen oil paintings, as well as several sketches and watercolours, of the area.
The meeting of the Norwood Society held on 30 November 1993 was a well-attended and stimulating talk given by Nicholas Read on a favourite topic of his, the founder of the Impressionist School of French paints, Camille Pissarro. One of the many slides shown of the artist’s work was a sketch identified by a title written at the bottom of it as Lower Norwood (now West Norwood). It shows the spire of St Luke’s Church in the background – one of the many pictures of the Norwood area executed by Pissarro during his stay here in 1870-71.
To be a town planner at the present time must be a very frustrating job. All over the country groups of citizens are banding together to form amenity groups, neighbourhood councils or action groups, and most of them seem to spend a lot of time arguing with the local planning authority. Why is this? If I were a planner I would wonder why these people argue with the experts, why they wish to put forward views on planning matters when they have a group of trained planners to take the decisions. Perhaps it is because people are beginning to realise that the experts are only experts in a fairly narrow field of activity, which they believe makes up the whole of town planning and which other people realise does not!
Without the scheming Duchess Augusta of Saxe-Coburg, what would South London have been like? History is full of ‘ifs’. If only Harold had dodged that arrow in 1066? If only Anne Boleyn had had a son? If Edward VIII hadn’t abdicated?
But for the Duchess Augusta the young Queen Victoria would never have married her Albert. And if he had not been Prince Consort would there have been a Crystal Palace and the development of the Norwood we know?
Albert was born a prince of Saxe-Coburg, one of the small German kingdoms. The Gothic summer palace with its wonderful marble hall and the Biedermeyer furnishings were just two of the influences on the young prince.
By 1800 Norwood had been described as a hamlet with a score of farm houses and cottages scattered about the lanes which intersected the woods. The only means of communication with the outside world was the carrier’s cart, which started off daily from the village that had begun to grow up in the Triangle. The first public house in Upper Norwood, The Woodman, made its appearance on Westow Hill, its front windows looking out over London, the cross on the Dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral exactly level with the step into the public house.
This article is reproduced with kind permission from the ‘London Drinker’, journal of the local branch of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale). It is a friendly discussion (over a glass of real ale) with one of the authors, some of the points made in the article were discussed. The assertion that the King’s Head in the High Street had existed since the 16th century cannot be correct as the High Street was a Commissioners’ road not existing until the 19th century.
It could well be argued that the destruction of the High Level line has contributed to the non-redevelopment of the Crystal Palace as an exhibition centre. Such a redevelopment was finally ruled out on grounds of inadequate communications!
There was no inadequacy of communications when the Crystal Palace came to Norwood a hundred years before the High Level line was closed. Railways and roads in the 1850’s were adequate, or, if not, they were extended. The Crystal Palace came to Norwood in 1852 for precisely two reasons. One was that the site was the finest in London for the purpose. The other was that the railway was already there.
I came from Hertfordshire to live in Upper Norwood in January 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and I saw the procession from a lamp-post outside Westminster Abbey. At that time all the large houses in the neighbourhood were occupied by single families and the Indian Princes who came to England for the celebrations stayed at the Queen’s Hotel and some could be seen in the evening smoking a hookah on the balcony of the Hotel, one taking a few puffs and then passing it to his neighbour and so on. Mr Fry, the bookmaker, lived at a mansion in Beulah Hill which is now St. Joseph’s College.
I much enjoyed Ruth Fletcher’s article about the hidden oak tree in her Fox Hill garden which appeared in the November 1999 issue of ‘The Norwood Review’ and I subsequently went around to peer at the old oak from the road.
It is a magnificent specimen and there can be no wonder that it is covered by preservation orders, for trees of this age and stature are a most valuable contribution to the ecology and beauty of Upper Norwood.