Please note that some of the books we have reviewed are not available from the Norwood Society. Please see our Books For Sale page to see the range of titles currently available.
John Gent has done it again, this time with the highly original idea of a local history book giving almost entirely birds-eye views. It’s been done nationally, but as far as is known, never locally. Yet Croydon is the natural area for this, with planes from Croydon Airport producing several of the most vintage and intriguing shots. Other views were taken from church towers, including a fascinating sequence of four pictures giving the identical view, but spanning 130 years, taken from the top of Croydon Parish Church. John is careful to try to ensure that as many photos as possible are taken from exactly the same viewpoint, or a very similar one, making comparisons far easier.
These two books provide an interesting contrast in presentation: the second is in a format used successfully for years. The Croydon book has, of course, old photographs, and some modern comparative ones too. But it also uses colour extensively: something highly unusual in a local history book, but well worth the extra cost. It reproduces some really attractive colour paintings from the last century, and illustrates on a clear map where they were painted. This is probably better than showing modern comparatives, as the modern view can often be a depressing one. But the book also contains many modern colour photographs to show attractive aspects of the town as it is now, and the few remains of its past still left. Of Norwood, there are two, probably unique, colour photos by John Gent of buildings in the 1960’s: the lovely house called The Tyrol (removed to extend the Queens Hotel) and All Saints School (replaced by a prefab meeting hall, as recounted in The Phoenix Suburb).
This rather awkwardly-titled book is nonetheless a handsome, interesting and cheering one; it is well illustrated, it tells us a great deal about the streets we live in and, perhaps, take for granted, and it points out how much there is to enjoy and cherish in our neighbourhoods. Particularly, we need to raise our eyes above the often banal or downright ugly shop fronts in our High Streets and notice the dignified buildings on which they have been superimposed.
The old photograph publishers, in a display of competitive largesse, have spread a rich feast before us. The poor student of local history will naturally ask which book offers the best value for money. Jill Dudman includes 207 pictures, at a cost of fourpence each, Nicholas Reed 192 pictures at fivepence. But it has to be remembered that the former also deals with Brixton, so that only 63 of her illustrations are likely to interest the Norwood specialist. If one admits the slightly doubtful view that Woodside is part of Norwood, then it can be said that all of Nicholas Reed’s pictures are locally relevant, and that makes the cost of the Norwood parts of the books fivepence per picture in Reed and thirteen pence in Dudman.
This is the most unhelpfully titled book one could fear to meet. The Crystal Palace is the subject of perhaps six of the hundred pages, and except for some anecdotes about the tower lift man, those few pages add little that is new. The choice of this misleading title, presumably for commercial reasons, is doubly unfortunate, as it will disappoint any Crystal Palace enthusiasts who buy the book, and any students of South Norwood history who overlook it. For this is essentially an account of growing up on the borders of South Norwood and Woodside in the early 1920’s. As such it is full of sociological interest and potentially of some historical value.
These two books provide an interesting contrast in presentation: the second is in a format used successfully for years. The Croydon book has, of course, old photographs, and some modern comparative ones too. But it also uses colour extensively: something highly unusual in a local history book, but well worth the extra cost. It reproduces some really attractive colour paintings from the last century, and illustrates on a clear map where they were painted. This is probably better than showing modern comparatives, as the modern view can often be a depressing one. But the book also contains many modern colour photographs to show attractive aspects of the town as it is now, and the few remains of its past still left.
The late Victorians were frightening people. Not content with having theories, they tried to put them into practice, which is rarely wise. The home life of our own dear Edith Nesbit was as different from that of the great Queen as it would be possible to imagine. The creator of ‘The Railway Children’ and her husband Hubert Bland were prominent Fabians and dallied with most of the advanced ideas of that frenetic period. Although Bland, who ‘never was seen without an irreproachable frock coat, tall hat, and a single eyeglass that infuriated everybody’, rejected most new approaches to life intellectually, physically he embraced them with all his formidable strength. The result was a complex extended family of a kind familiar enough to our own age, but in the nineteenth century rarely found outside the charmed circle of the old aristocracy, where ‘whose daughter are you?’ was a question the discreet learned never to ask.
Writer and reporter Emile Zola escaped from France to England after the sensational Dreyfus case and stayed at The Queen’s Hotel, Church Road, Upper Norwood, for about eleven months from 1898-1899. It was while he was there that he photographed local street scenes. The book ‘Emile Zola Photographer’ published by the Norwood Society, courtesy of the Zola family, has selected about eighty prints out of this collection.
The name of one of Norwood’s former residents is broadcast several times a day, every day, by BBC radio; but even in Norwood, let alone the world at large, few people know who he was and why he should be honoured in this way. The name is Fitzroy, given to the sea area formerly known as Finisterre in 2002, and broadcast repeatedly in the shipping forecast on Radio 4 long wave. The man was Robert FitzRoy (with a capital ‘R’) and if you have heard of him, you may know that he was Captain of the Beagle when it carried Charles Darwin on the voyage which inspired him to come up with the theory of evolution by natural selection. But what has that got to do with weather forecasting, or Norwood?