The Goat House Has Gone: Long Live The Goat House!

As many will know there was very little indeed in the South Norwood area prior to the coming of the canal in 1809, to be replaced by the railway in 1839: just a large expanse of common and wooded land stretching down to Woodside, crossed by one or two tracks with no buildings or habitations in sight except of course ‘THE GOAT HOUSE’. This name first appeared on the fine parchment map of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s lands in the area by William Mar in 1678, now in the archives of the Croydon Local Studies Library. This map shows an establishment in a clearing in the woods called ‘Shelverdine or Goat House’, but the place goes back much further than that. In a paper written some years ago Peter Glover, a former Croydon Librarian, says “The earliest reference to anywhere in the area we think of as South Norwood is in a document of about 1464, a Minister’s or bailiff’s account of the Chauntry of St. Nicholas (3 Edward IV). This mentions a rent of 33s 4d paid annually for a place called Chelmerden (alternatively called Shelmerdines or Shelverdine and was a coppice of woodland in the area we now know as Sunnybank”. On the various old maps produced after 1678 this isolated place is always marked as GOAT HOUSE, still then on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s land. It is mentioned in the Croydon Inclosure Act of 1797 as “a certain messuage and farm called the GOAT HOUSE and again Goat House Farm appears in the early Croydon Street directories of 1851 and 1853, and appears finally on the Ordnance Survey of 1861. It has disappeared from the O.S. map of 1868 to be replaced by the Sunny Bank houses. So the considerable development sparked off by the coming of the railways had caused its demise and contributed to the modern South Norwood.

The eminent Victorian Croydon Historian, J Corbet Anderson, in his book The Great North Wood (1898) opined that the place we are talking about may have been originally a deer-house or hunting-box, for there must have been deer in the ancient and extensive woods. Later it is reasonable to assume that it was for a time at least connected with the keeping of goats, and later still probably a conventional farm of the time.

Fortunately from a heritage point of view this ancient and enduring name did not disappear with the going of the farm, for the grand new public house built nearby on the Penge Road in the mid-1860s was named the GOAT HOUSE HOTEL and has borne the name every since (minus ‘HOTEL’). The name was also passed to and  placed on the railway bridge that had to be constructed to carry the Penge to Selhurst Road over the new railway, later to be widened.

A few years ago a taxi driver friend mentioned to me that, as a result of extensive repairs to the bridge, the sign GOAT HOUSE BRIDGE had been taken down and not replaced on this important road which is mentioned in the taxi-drivers’ manual, in all A to Z’s and in the one pound popular map of Croydon issued by the Council. I made representations to the Council, nothing happened and the matter slipped into the background. After all from a heritage point of view the historic name was not likely to be forgotten for it was emblazoned on the front and on the signs of the pub which had been impressively rebuilt between the wars. But alarm bells did begin to ring when in December the sad news was reported in the Croydon Advertiser that this once very popular pub, which had been failing for some time, was about to close down and planning permission had been applied for to build flats on the site. This precious historic place might then fade away and disappear from memory - the pub signs were quickly removed following closure. One could not insist that a failing pub stay open; the obvious solution was to ensure that the name plates were restored to the bridge also necessary from a transportation and environmental angle.

To launch my campaign I wrote and delivered a learned and detailed letter to the Croydon Advertiser, which they did not print. I was of course prepared for that contingency and sent copies of the letter to local Councillors, selected officers of the Corporation, local amenity societies and anybody else who might be interested and of use. This got things moving and, to cut a not very long story short, after this long anonymous gap the Council re-fixed two GOATHOUSE BRIDGE signs on the bridge on July 1st. I have queried the positioning of one of the signs but the pleasing fact remains that this historic name is now visibly present and likely to remain so in the foreseeable future and in the minds of the public.

I should mention that the Council’s very helpful Names of Streets and Buildings Officer asked me if I had any suggestions for an appropriate name for the new development when the occasion arose. It did not take much thought for me to suggest SHELVERDINE which I take to be an Anglo-Saxon name and which should have sufficient heritage significance and elegance for all concerned. As the problem of naming might not come for a year or three I leave this suggestion for posterity to action. The first planning application, which the Norwood Society objected to on grounds of context and appearance, was refused. No doubt another will follow

Hugh Byford

Foot-note: The Council has agreed to place another sign at the High Street end of the Bridge. Thus the thousands who cross it during the course of a year will reminded of this ancient name. H B

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