West Norwood Notes

Published 1978

Knights Hill is one of the oldest and best-known thoroughfares in Norwood, stretching from Mrs. Fawcett’s fountain in Norwood Road to the Croydon boundary at Crown Point. It may be helpful to those trying to accustom themselves to metric measure to know that its length is almost exactly 1 km. St. Luke’s (1825) is its most impressive and ancient building. The churchyard in front is laid out as a pleasant public garden, well-used by the elderly on fine days, and on the Knights Hill frontage the grounds are now a private car park. Alterations are in progress at the SW corner of the church to provide room in the void above the choir with a separate entrance and stairs from Knights Hill. On the other side of the road stands the old library (1888) on land given by Mr. Nettlefold whose generosity is commemorated by Nettlefold Place, the small lane behind the library, and in the new library with its Nettlefold Hall in the High Street. The original library appropriately enough now houses the offices of Lambeth’s Department of Amenity Services.

A little further up the hill is the Horns - not the original building and not quite the original shown on Rocques map of 1745. The Horns has just been redecorated and has its sign repainted. Previously it showed a pair of traditional folk dancers holding deer horns above their heads; now on one side is a pair of unlikely-looking hunters horns, and on the other a sad-looking mounted deer’s head… Opposite was an old cabman’s shelter and I cannot now remember when it disappeared. Possibly it was a victim of the rebuilding of West Norwood station, much inferior in character to the original: I miss the two quaint shops which stood at the corner of Cotswold Street.

At the west side opposite Cotswold Street is the entrance to the Jewish Orphanage site with its synagogue now ‘christened’ Norwood Hall; here also is the start made on building a new housing estate. On the other corner is ‘The Norwood’ (no longer calling itself the Norwood Hotel). The adjoining row of advertising hoardings will, I hope, shortly disappear as the site is developed as industrial premises linked with the factory in Cotswold Street. Next door are the former premises of John Knowles, the builders merchants whose name is carved on most of the manhole covers in the district. Bielomatic Ltd. are now using the premises as offices and the buildings to the rear for light industry. Further along is the factory whose fancy doorway gives it away as the Public Hall, once Norwood’s entertainment centre. It opened in 1885 and closed in the twenties; Mrs. Patrick Campbell was, I suppose, the most famous of those appearing there.

Knights Hill Square, whose cottages were destroyed by a flying bomb in 1944, comes next; no longer a cul-de-sac, though, as it has been extended through to the new Beadman Street as part of the Norwood Industrial Area development. An electrical sub-station and a petrol station join where once stood Norwood’s police station.

Back on the west side, Maddisons the butchers stands where a butchers has stood for may years. Before the war live animals were penned in the forecourt awaiting slaughter. A petrol station stands where the Royal cinema stood. At the corner of Thornlaw Road was once St. Luke’s Vicarage, then the Brotherhood Buildings, and now cleared ready for the construction of a new meeting hall for the Plymouth Brethren. Next door is the West Norwood Lawn Tennis Club, its attractions recently enhanced by the erection of a squash court; the 1926 OS map showed this site as undeveloped marsh, no doubt as a result of the stream that now runs in the culvert between Cheviot and Casewick Roads and joining the Effra near Knights Hill Square. The advertising hoardings provide privacy for the tennis players and a small income for the club, no doubt, but I regret the need for permanent hoardings, even when, as in this case, the effect is softened by some overhanging trees. At the rear of the club, before reaching Cheviot Gardens, is a small fenced-off area on which Lambeth intended to build three houses. Apparently it cannot succeed at an acceptable cost in such a small development, so the land may be used as an amenity open space instead.

Opposite the club is Norwood Bus Garage and the LTE now has parliamentary powers to enlarge it. The first stage was the demolition of the Rosemary Branch pub and the Sylglas warehouse at the corner of Rothschild Street, which itself was a converted primitive methodist chapel. The Rosemary Branch pub sign was a barge on a canal - I could never see the connection and presumably never will now! The cleared site is to be used as a car park for LTE staff until the new garage works start in about 1981. Rothschild Street itself was built about 1900 across the site of the Huguenot almshouses.

Also built at the turn of the century were the terraced houses running up the west side of Knights Hill, on the former St. John’s Lodge estate. There is still a covenant on the freeholds in the area providing for means of access to St. Johns Lodge estate. What is now Bewlys Road is marked on a 1901 map as Bramshill Road, leading nowhere and with no buildings along it.

No. 210 is almost the last of the large houses that once lined Knights Hill. It is now owned by the Kings College Hospital group and used as a hostel for ex-tubercular patients. The site of Ivy Villas next door is to be developed by Lambeth for 28 old persons’ flats with communal facilities plus 11 family homes, two of them reserved for wardens. The entrance will be off Cedar Tree Grove on the adjoining Portobello estate.

Between Rothschild Street and Chapel Road on the other side of Knights Hill is the South London College (originally Lower Norwood Working Men’s Institute), two modern type dark red brick blocks sandwiching an earlier block. I did not find it attractive at first, but it improves with familiarity. There is still the horse trough at the corner of Chapel Road, and uphill from there comes the Council’s Linton Grove/Knights Hill rehabilitation/ redevelopment area. The properties facing Knights Hill are mainly due for rehabilitation, but Darlington Road (once called Durham Road) will be stopped up at its Knights Hill end and built over.

On past Dassett Road (named after a now-demolished large house called Burton Dassett) is the Knights Hill recreation ground. Nearby once stood Holderness House which was said to have been so ugly thart the owner of Portobello House opposite planted a belt of evergreen trees to hide it from his view! The trees have outlived both mansions, and today form a pleasant wooded screen to the Portobello estate. Holderness House has given its name to the Council estate which runs up to the Borough boundary in Crown Dale, with its blocks of flats named after the vicars of St. Luke’s.

Southwards from Portobello are some older Council houses whose tenants usually produce magnificent front garden displays; The Bays, one of the original larger Knights Hill houses; yet another petrol station which has recently enlarged it self by knocking down one of the original Crown Point shops, and Edge Point, a small ‘backland’ development of two houses. The post office here was in fact the first post office in Norwood, and one wonders why it was sited so far away from the main centre of Lower Norwood. This was the ‘ posh’ end, however, so perhaps it made commercial sense.

Geoffrey Manning

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