In 2008 the Convent and Church of Virgo Fidelis, an impressive building and a dominant landmark on Central Hill, celebrated its one hundred and sixtieth anniversary. It was built and established by an Order of French nuns who brought back the Catholic faith to this very English corner of England where no Mass had been said since the Reformation. In 1842 local parishioners were able to attend Mass for the first time in a local Temperance Hall as the nearest Catholic Church was where the new Saint George’s Cathedral in Lambeth now stands.
It was 1956. We were young, we were hard up and we had three small children. My husband had a job and I wanted one too – an evening job. I heard via the ‘grapevine’ – the bench in the landscaped garden part of Betts Park where I sat chatting in the afternoons with other young mothers – that there were evening jobs going at Luke’s toy factory. It was in the building now occupied by the restaurant known as ‘Borderland’ in Westow Street.
The 33 acres of land which form Norwood Park were bought by the London County Council in 1909 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for £15,000, of which Lambeth Borough Council contributed £5,000 and £2,500 were collected by local subscription. The Park was opened on June 14, 1911.
‘There wasn’t that much fuss made about it, really. Just a few people from Norwood standing around the water fountain. It was that Sir Ernest Tritton that opened it - I think his name is up on a plaque there now. I remember him, he was one of the first people in Norwood to own a motor car - an old Austin it was. Of course, I was just a kid then. We used to climb over his wall and go scrumping for apples.’ (Local resident talking in pub.)
In 1831 Darwin, the Government Naturalist, took passage on the long, long, 5-year voyage in HMS Beagle which was commanded by the autocratic, yet sensitive, Admiral Robert Fitzroy. In 1865 at the end of his career Fitzroy came to live at 140, Church Road, Upper Norwood, where he tragically died by his own hand on the 30th of April. Although in poor health at the time through self-imposed overwork, perhaps it was other frustrating events in his life which led him to this so final and dreadful step. He was buried in our All Saints’ Churchyard on Beulah Hill.
So the Palace had gone. For 85 years it had played a considerable part in the life of the nation. But after the Great War its prospects became more and more doubtful; it was clearly a survival: less and less in keeping with the times. Suppose it had not been burnt down and was there today; what would our young people make of its Victoriana? No, we can apply to the Palace the Roman epitaph: felix opportunitate mortis.
My ancestor Albert Court went from humble beginnings in New Town, Upper Norwood to become a successful businessman in Livingston, California. He built the Court Theater in Livingston in 1917, and this represented the culmination of a long, upwardly-mobile and doubtless difficult journey from South London to the United States via Canada.
Born in 1862 in New Town, Norwood, South-East London, Albert was the only son of Albert James Court and Elizabeth (Stanley) Court. Albert James was the older brother of my great grandfather Joseph Court. Elizabeth died of consumption when he was five years old and he went to live his grandparents, George and Matilda, at 7 Albert Terrace, New Town, Norwood. Albert lived with them until he married in 1882.
While In my temporary home in the Crystal Palace Triangle, I decided to explore the view from my bedroom window. I identified the rear of “The Holly Bush”, “Randles the Jeweller” and Lawrence’s Vegetable market and then went on foot, around the corner into Westow Street, and then turned first left down Paddock Gardens into a congeries of small workshops and twitchels (or “snickets” or “gunnels” or whatever you Londoners call them).
All Saints’ Church and Churchyard, at the junction of Church Road and Beulah Hill, date from 1829. The churchyard, of about one acre, was purchased (according to the vestry minutes of 1825) to provide a new burial ground sufficient for the wants of the Parish for many years to come.
The death registers of All Saints start in 1830. These show that many infants died young and that many young people also did not survive long. There were few old persons living to a great age. Cause of death was not recorded. In 1832, for instance, four very young children, two young persons and one elderly person of over ninety died.
This is an account of the life of the All Saints’ Schools of Upper Norwood. It is a story which began in 1834 when Norwood was a charming and prosperous village of 3,000 people. It was a favourite haunt of London’s ‘Society’ who visited it to taste the mineral waters of Beulah Spa and enjoy its beautiful pleasure grounds.
The Year 1834 was an interesting one. William IV was on the throne and Sir Robert Peel, who had founded the London Police Force five years earlier, was Prime Minister. Both Houses of Parliament were destroyed by a fire which raged for several days. Samuel Coleridge Taylor, the poet, died during the year and earthquakes were reported in Chichester and Portsmouth.