The Changing Face of Norwood - by a local Vicar

Published 1960

It is nearly 30 years ago since I had my first view of Norwood. That view was literally a bird’s eye view. A friend of mine, a Major Brackley, took me for my first aeroplane flight from Croydon aerodrome and gave me my first sight of Norwood and its environs. We did not fly very high and I remember the impression of trees and large well-kept gardens and open spaces. It was no surprise to me to be told that the road leading to Norwood from one direction was ‘Beulah’ Hill. It certainly, from the aeroplane, looked a land of ‘prosperity’. Little did I realise on that beautiful summer afternoon that within a few years I should be appointed to serve a parish in the midst of that prosperity. Many of the old residents still retained the signs of gracious living which had lingered on from the reign of Queen Victoria and of King Edward VII.

Where there was the master of the family still living, he was ‘something’ in the City of London, a stockbroker perhaps, a merchant, perhaps the manager of an important branch of one of the old established Joint Stock banks. Such a one could be seen arriving at Crystal Palace Low Level Station between 9.30 and 10 a.m. in order to be at his office not much earlier than two hours before luncheon time. Back in his home, the mistress of the house would be interviewing the cook and the parlour-maid and arranging for the ‘master’s’ evening dinner to be ready on his arrival, which according to his position and status in the City, would be any time between 4.30 and 7 o’ clock. There was still a certain amount of entertaining by the old families. I remember a weekday luncheon party in a house in Auckland Road, to which I was invited within a few days of becoming Vicar of St. John’s. The invitation specified the hour of 1 p.m. and a few minutes before that time I duly arrived. We did not in fact sit down to the meal until nearly 2 o’clock, and it was of such proportions and excellence that coffee was not served until almost 4 p.m. At 4.15 p.m. I begged my hostess to allow me to leave in order not to be late for a tea engagement which I had for the hour of 4.30! My host was ‘something’ in the City and my fellow guests were for the most part, business acquaintances also in the ‘City’. Such entertainment came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of war in September 1939.

It was the well-kept gardens and open spaces of Norwood which gave the place so much charm. Many of the residents employed full time gardeners and the impression one had everywhere was of good grooming. I remember being impressed by the fruitful grape-vines to be found in the conservatories and greenhouses of some of the large houses. I had always imagined that grapes needed nothing less than sub-tropical temperatures to bring them to perfection but it was not all uncommon to be given a bunch of local grown grapes. People were always generous, as they are still today, in providing flowers from their gardens in summer time for church decoration.

It was a great delight to find a 9-hole golf-course at the bottom of my Vicarage garden with my own gate-way of admittance. A previous Vicar of St. John’s, the Rev. H. Sutherland Gill, was an exceptionally good golfer. I used to play myself, and found it, although a small course in size, extremely sporting. The rationing of petrol upon the outbreak of war prevented the cutting of grass on the tees, greens and fairways, and it was not long before any hope of its preservation completely disappeared. But the space remains open still and it is to be hoped that the Corporation will preserve it as such.

When I came to live in St. John’s Vicarage in 1939, a meadow which was skirted by Sylvan Road and Maberley Road was grazed by the cows of a Mr. Ironside, who purveyed milk and cream from his premises in the Anerley Road. There was a pond in the field and it presented a picturesque pastoral scene less than 10 miles from St. Paul’s Cathedral. Another of Mr. Ironside’s pastures was the piece of land at the foot of Cypress Road adjoining Auckland Road. With his cows standing beneath a beautiful oak tree on a summer day, it would have been hard to find anything more rural. Incidentally, Cypress Road which was still unsurfaced, provided an admirable ski-ride and toboggan track when covered with snow in Winter.

Altogether Norwood was a delightful place and it is to be hoped that the developers who have now got their eager hands upon it will try to preserve its charm and character. A great responsibility rests upon the Croydon Corporation too. I am thankful that A Society for the Preservation of Norwood and its Surrounds* has been formed. Already it has done much good. All who have come to love Norwood should join it and by strength of membership make its efforts more powerful.

Rev. Eric Bailey

*The early name of the Norwood Society.

© The Norwood Society, Registered Charity 285547

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