In those days, it was said that Upper Norwood was a pleasant, half-rural suburb, combining the healthful fragrance and freshness of the country with the convenience of the town. But it was growing rapidly; everywhere, bricks and mortar were flowing like the tide, and as irresistibly. So people living here were anxious to have their own recreation ground, and for two years before 1890 much pioneer work had gone into meetings of various societies, churches and so on, each of which petitioned Croydon for an open space. Eventually, Croydon agreed to purchase, within the limits of a penny on the rates, 20 acres of land, bounded by Eversley Road, Hermitage Road, Chevening Road and Harold Road, at a cost of £6,000.
So, on a glorious day (14th May, 1890) the sun shone radiantly upon an unforgettable scene of banners, flags, bunting and streamers of every hue, which decorated Church Road, Central Hill, Harold Road and Eversley Road, awaiting the passing of a procession the like of which had never been seen in Upper Norwood before (or since?). This procession assembled in Church Road, between All Saints Church and Upper Beulah Hill. It consisted of 1,400 children, friendly societies, fire engines and bands. As they awaited the arrival of the Mayor of Croydon, a footman came out of Hazelmere* (a mansion where Forsyte Crescent now stands) with cigars for the firemen from his master, Mr. Southgate. The Mayor came resplendent in scarlet robes, with his gold chain of office, wearing a cocked hat, and headed the procession in his magnificent carriage and pair along the festival way to the new Recreation Ground. Here a large pavilion had been erected. After the Vicar of All Saints, the Rev. W. Watson, had offered a dedicatory prayer, the Mayor declared the ground open. The Choir of the Royal Normal College for the Blind sang ‘All creatures now are merry’, conducted by Dr. Campbell.
Afterwards, there were tea and sports for all the children and the great day ended with an exceptionally brilliant display of fireworks, given by Messrs. Brock and Co. A year or so later, Mr. Southgate presented the recreation ground with a magnificent granite drinking fountain, and a bandstand was erected close by. The outline of this can still be traced. The recreation ground contains the source of Norwood’s river, the Effra, which runs north-west and eventually joins the Thames between Nine Elms Lane and Vauxhall Bridge. The old Saxon name for the river was ‘Heah efre’, meaning ‘high bank’. We do not see much evidence of the river nowadays, as after much flooding it was directed underground. There is a tradition that in the days when it flowed freely between the high banks that gave it its name, Queen Elizabeth the First sailed up the Effra in her barge to where Hermitage Road now stands.
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