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.)
We begin our walk. We enter the Park from the Elder Road side, making our way from the cinder pitch and walking up the hill, past the early spring trees. Birds circle restlessly as if looking for somewhere to land. When we reach the top of the hill stop at the little cafeteria, where we warm ourselves with cups of hot tea. We look down on the changing face of Norwood. There are parallels between this bleak morning and the first days of Norwood Park.
In 1911, the London County Council issued a pamphlet to coincide with the opening ceremony. The following is an extract taken from it:
‘The district of Norwood, formerly of the most rural and forestlike in the vicinity of London, has suffered the fate of most other London suburbs and become the scene of the builders’ activities. Gradually the open spaces in the district have become covered with houses and while the population has increased, the facilities for outdoor recreation have diminished and children in search of a place in which to play have been driven to the streets…’
Remembrance of things past
‘It was just fields then. They had cows and that sort of thing, the same as they did in Gipsy Hill. That was French’s farm, Gipsy Hill. Up there, you see, that used to be our Sunday School treat - well, Princess Christian of those days used to come here and milk the cows and us kids had hot milk, straight from the cow.
On the other side of the flats up there they used to have a circus, and that used to be called No Man’s Land. That must be about 70 years ago. Oh, we used to go and see the circus. Then they used to have shows and all, you see. The gypsies used to come there and they used to have a tent and a few animals you’d stick in there… ‘(Conversation in old peoples’ home).
We continue our journey. We walk past children organising a treasure hunt. Some of the clues are missing, scattered across the far side of the Park where the railway lines run. Dogs are seen taking their owners for walks across land which was once ‘meadows green and pleasant where the grandfather of Mr. Charles Bacon fed his cows and grew tares and other greenmeat.’ We come upon some people who are trying to drag some large branches home with them.
Another look at the LCC pamphlet of 1911 gives us some idea of our history as we near the end of our walk in the Park: ‘The New Park occupies a portion of the site of the great North Wood which originally occupied the whole of the northern part of Surrey and gave to the district the name of Norwood.’
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