Upper Norwood in 1910

Published 1976

I have just rediscovered an old treasure - the basic Ordnance Survey Map of the Croydon part of Upper Norwood. It was drawn up in 1910 and was a revision of the original survey of 1861. It is on the scale of 25in:1mile. Among the fascinating features of the Map are the Bench Marks, which give the altitude of all corners and important points. Thus, the Bench Mark opposite my house is given as 294.2 ft above sea level. But please note the definition of the words ‘sea level’: the altitudes are given above the sea at Liverpool which is 0.650 ft below the general mean level of the sea. The last words have puzzled me; on my travels I have learned that the mean level of the Sea varies. Thus one end of the Panama Canal has a higher sea level than the other end. The highest point in Upper Norwood is 379 ft above sea level; it is in Church Road, halfway between Beulah and Upper Beulah Hill.

In 1910 the population of Upper Norwood was concentrated at its extremities. First of all there is the Triangle, which is shown as choc-a-bloc with buildings of all kinds. In the centre stood a smithy, entered by the lane by the side of the Prince Albert in Westow Hill. The Salvation Army Barracks were at the end of Carberry Road. The extreme congestion and the minute size of many of the buildings (the Map shows every building, however small) shows the Triangle as the original settlement of the district. As might be expected, it is blessed with six public houses - the two in Lambeth are, of course, not shown.

Then comes Norwood New Town, which was built in the 1850’s for the workers who prepared the site for the Crystal Palace on Sydenham Hill and then erected it. What a contrast to a modern New Town! It consisted of streets of Victorian working-class houses - two rooms up and two rooms down. Originally, the Town was surrounded by a wall, with only one exit from Oxford Road into Central Hill. There was, of course, one public house and, as might be expected in Victorian days, a Mission Church and a Mission Room. The word ‘Mission’ is significant; were the inhabitants heathens? The Map shows a footpath from Eagle Hill to Chevening Road; the children could thus go direct to the recreation ground.

The west side of Westow Street was dominated by the Royal Normal College of the Blind. This was evacuated in 1939 on the outbreak of War. It did not return. Croydon Council bought the whole site and have built on it the College Green Estate and converted part of it into the attractive Westow Park.

Once a month the College had an open day for the local residents. My wife and I took advantage of it to visit it in 1922. Along Westow Street (where the car park is) there was a typewriting school for blind girls. We were asked to dictate a letter which a girl took down on a Braille machine; then the Braille sheet would be placed into a typewriter and the letter typed.

The main training of the blind young men was in piano tuning. The building, used for training, still stands, with its soundproofed rooms; but it has been vandalised and the windows are boarded up.

Part of Upper Norwood goes down Spa Hill and this area shows a dense population. Spa Hill is very steep; it rises 100 ft. from Dale Park Road to the ‘Beulah Spa Hydro Hotel’ (as it is described). I remember it well - a long one-storey hotel - and it was an hotel where people stayed. The Map also shows a ‘mineral spring (chalybeate and saline)’ south of the Lawns (on which the Society is fighting Croydon Council).

But, inside the extremities, Upper Norwood was delightfully rural. The Map shows that there were no buildings in front of my house in Harold Road till you reached Queen’s Road (now Queen Mary Road). Scattered round the centre, there were the great houses, which have now disappeared. On the west side of Beulah Hill there were Westwood and Woodlands; between Church Road and South Norwood Hill there were Hazelwood and Beaulieu.

In some respects the Map is misleading. It shows Eversley Road (apart from three houses) as marked out in building plots. What happened I do not know, but the houses were not built until 1936. When we lived in Harold in the early thirties, Eversley Road was used for grazing. Every morning a herd of black Kerry cows walked up majestically from the dairy in Gipsy Hill to which they returned in the afternoon for milking. What happened, I wonder, when they appeared at the Gipsy Hill traffic lights?

So, in 1910 the centre of Upper Norwood was a delightfully rural suburb for the middle class. On the edges of the Ward were the working-class houses, the shops and local industry.

R. Kelf-Cohen

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