Treetops and Terraces

Beryl Cheeseman. Theban Publishing 1994. £6.

This book continues the story told in an earlier book with the same name by Beryl Cheeseman published in 1991. She explains that so much material came her way that it warranted a second account of life in Upper Norwood, both in what was called Norwood New Town (or old New Town as time passed), and the Upper Norwood Triangle. This second book contains much in the way of 'informative nuggets' which, if it were not for painstaking authors like Beryl Cheeseman, would be lost for ever. The book includes a major contribution about Rockmount School and its gradual change to accommodate expanding requirements for education.

There remain two 'puzzles' about New Town. Originally it was said to have been built to accommodate the influx of workers employed to build the Crystal Palace, but anything provided for them would surely have been of a temporary nature. It could therefore have been, coincidentally perhaps, purely a commercial venture, since from the many photographs in the book the houses were representative of what was provided (and survives) elsewhere as permanent accommodation, whatever one may think of the standard. There is obviously research to be done in this area, in particular perhaps to establish who owned the land involved at the time, and whether the plans for New Town still exist in the Croydon Library Archives accompanied by useful background. There were of course many thousands of people who visited Crystal Palace and its popular events, but would the Palace itself have provided very much in the way of permanent full-time employment? Then there is the second puzzle about the 'Wall'. Many of the contributors to Beryl Cheeseman's book refer to the 'Wall' or parts of it, but it must have been intended as a means of establishing a kind of social barrier between a working-class area and middle-class properties. Judging by the early accounts of life in New Town it was a respectable community with its own social life around much-loved shops, a pub and open spaces, so it can hardly be said that it represented some kind of threat to other social communities.

However, gradually in later years, as Beryl Cheeseman so appropriately describes it, the wall came 'tumbling down' without the help of Joshua's trumpet. In turn this created more access points to the Triangle shopping centre, and inevitably the loss of the shops and the pub in New Town. The community was then able to become more outward-looking, and eventually lost its identity through redevelopment, two wars, and changes in social attitudes. The name remains as an historic reminder of part of Upper Norwood, and this book, with its predecessor, places on permanent record an unusual feature of the development of the area since the Beulah Spa and the Crystal Palace, and the experiences of those who lived in New Town.

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