The ‘Norwood Review and Crystal Palace Reporter’ published its first issue early in 1880. There is a glad confident ring in the Editor’s opening words: ‘With thorough faith… and a strong conviction that a hearty welcome awaits us…and we publish today…the Norwood Review’ - at a price of one penny a week. News items from outside the locality were evidently lifted more or less bodily, and without acknowledgement, from other papers, and one suspects that some at any rate of the local news was contributed by the participants. There was in every number a rather unreadable Women’s Column, mostly concerned with fashion; and, what must have been quite an expensive item, a weekly serialisation of Anthony Trollope’s last novel ‘Ayala’s Angel’. This was not until 1882, the year of its publication as a book, when Trollope was old and famous.
Politically, the Editor’s opinions, and presumably those of a majority of the paper’s readers, were strongly Liberal, which may account for the prominence given in the local news to the activities of branches of the Temperance Movement, and in foreign affairs to the persecution and sufferings of the Jews in the Russian pogroms of those days. The tone of the Correspondence Column is lively, to say the least, and at times positively acrimonious. ‘Paterfamilias’, ‘Libertas’, ‘Veritas’ and other noms de plume sometimes abandon ordinary good manners, and their grip on syntax, in the heat of controversy; the topics can range from Women’s Rights - a perennial red rag - to the proposed arrival in Norwood of the Salvation Army; the subject which reduced at two correspondents to a fury of incoherence is entitled ‘Feminine Beauty’.
A most striking feature of local activity 100 years ago is the number and nature of societies and discussion groups. These range from the Sydenham and Forest Hill House of Commons, at times more than 500 members strong, through the Upper Norwood Athenaeum, the Penge and Anerley Philanthropic Society, ditto Orchestral Group, to the relatively humble ‘Penny Reading’. Hardly a night seems to have passed without a lecture - one reported as being over two hours in length, another addressed more than six clergymen - an address, or a debate; an example from the Athenaeum is, ‘Whether class distinctions are to be deprecated’. Missionary sermons were often given, as well as lectures on the most abstruse subjects. Amid such a flood of self-improvement (a group at St. Aubyn’s used that very word) it is almost reassuring to learn that occasionally the proceedings were enlivened by a disruptive element whose ‘ungentlemanly and unnecessary interruptions’ are strongly criticised by the gentlemanly Editor of the ‘Review’.
As regards the Crystal Palace itself, that sacred cow was already becoming something of a white elephant; more than 50 years before its demise, it seems to have lapsed into a state of chronic insolvency. No dividends were paid on its Ordinary Shares, and other classes of Stock were quoted at a discount of 90 or more. In 1882 a disgruntled shareholder complained bitterly of staff over-manning, and waxed sarcastic at the suggestion that a new Manager should receive a salary of £750 a year. However, particularly at Public Holidays, the public arrived in such numbers that on one occasion more than 250 Police Constables were needed to patrol the grounds. Nevertheless, the decline went on…
The plight of the poorest and most deprived in the area is revealed in some of the reports of the Boards of Guardians. For instance, we learn that the pay of the most junior pupil-teachers in schools might be raised 6d. per week, and the senior grades, after 5 years’ apprenticeship, 2/-d per week. Also in 1882, the Croydon Board considered a proposal to pay a doctor £25 - £30 a year to attend the poor of Upper Norwood, because the distance from there to the Relieving Officer, and from him to the doctor was so great that the sick were unable to medical attention. There is no record whether the proposal was carried out.
Perhaps the doggerel of ‘Mr. Punch’ may serve as a summing-up:
‘Rest? Recreation? Oh dear! Loof loafing and lewdness and beeriness,
‘Say, is a hog in a stye a worse instance of coarseness and dreariness?
‘Doubt if the sages have done their full duty by human society,
‘Until they impart to amusement more DECENCY, SENSE and VARIETY.’
Rather harsh strictures on the poor old Palace. In some ways, some of the inhabitants then were better off than we are today. They had no fewer than eight butchers’ shops in the two main streets, and all these tradesmen had delivery carts driven so furiously as to endanger the lives of the passers-by. Lucky people! And, in 1882, there arrived in Norwood the Crowning Glory - an American Dentist.
Note: Research carried out at Upper Norwood Reference Library with the aid of tireless staff and excellent documentation!
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