Since the erection of the Crystal Palace in 1854, Norwood has been a favourite place of residence for those who would combine a home in the country with proximity to London. The high situation, the bracing air, the picturesque views extending over a great part of the counties of Kent, Surrey, Bucks, Berks and Middlesex with London stretching at the foot of what is now Crystal Palace Parade far, far into the distance, united to provide a dwelling-place for well-to-do residents as attractive as could be found within the Kingdom.
Richard Church, the writer and poet, was born in Battersea in 1893, and lived in Herne Hill for many years.
The book on Kent in the ‘County Book’ series which he wrote in 1948 includes this piece about the Crystal Palace: ‘Looking at Kent as a general shape, one might call it a fan. The hinge to that fan – and a jewelled hinge – is, or was, the Crystal Palace on Sydenham Hill’. He goes on to say: ‘What a beautiful place in which to grow through those years of dawning consciousness and intelligence. I recall walking up to the Crystal Palace along College Road, through the Tollgate, past the Dulwich Wood where Robert Browning as a boy used also to wander, learning the nature-lore that was to inform so much of his baroque verse.
It may be of interest to members of The Norwood Society to learn of a large house, demolished sixty years ago, which occupied the site on which now stands Highland Court, in Highland Road, Upper Norwood. Of all the books written about the area it would seem that the house known as ‘Saxaweald’ remains almost forgotten.
On 30th November 1936, the Crystal Palace burned down, but its fate may have been sealed nearly a century before when the Metropolitan Building Office agreed to the inclusion of open stairways and the use of combustible materials for treads and gallery floors within the glass and iron structure ‘in view of the impossibility that fire should spread in a building so constructed’.
Some time ago I found, while browsing in a second hand book shop in Arundel, a memoir of the life of Sidney Colvin, the late Victorian and Edwardian man of letters and art historian who is remembered (if at all) as the friend of Robert Louis Stevenson and the editor of his letters and of the Edinburgh edition of his works. The book, “The Colvins and Their Friends”, was published in 1928 (my copy is the second edition of that year) just a year after Colvin’s death and its author was EV Lucas, known in his day for his books on art, literature and travel.
As Musical Director of the Crystal Palace from 1855 to 1901, August Manns made two very important contributions to English music. The Dictionary of National Biography describes him as ‘unrivalled in England as an orchestral conductor’ and an article in The Musical Times (1st March 1898) explains this:
Sir Joseph Paxton, who started his career as a gardener, became superintendent of the Duke of Devonshire’s gardens at Chatsworth when he was only 25. He rose to fame as the designer of the buildings for the Great Exhibition of 1851, and is well known as the builder of the Crystal Palace. The Palace was, in fact, the 1851 Exhibition building transferred, under Paxton’s direction, to the site at Sydenham still known as Crystal Palace.
Mr. John Betjeman once wrote this of Sir Ninian Comper:
‘No English architect is better known in cathedral close and distant rectory than J. N. Comper. Comper is, in the opinion of many, the only considerable living architect of churches, with the exception of one or two’.These words were written twenty-one years ago, in ‘The Architectural Review’. A glance in ‘Who’s Who’ shows clearly that in the passing years, those words have been most fully endorsed.
Sir Ninian Comper lived in a beautiful house set amidst woodlands, terraces and a lake. It was known as ‘The Priory’, 67 Beulah Hill, Upper Norwood. It would only last for another few years after Comper’s death before the area was all covered with the usual suburban growth, so that there has been nowhere to display the blue tablet to say that Sir Ninian Comper lived here.