SE19 Crystal clear

SE19 is Upper Norwood in Post Office speak but this is really what I think most people would call Crystal Palace.

We start our walk at the Post Office at 51 – 53 Westow Street in that triangle of streets which forms the heart of the district of Crystal Palace.

Take a left out of the Post Office and go past the junction. Ahead is Church Road. Our first stop is just after the little park on the right.

Stop 1: Queen’s Hotel, 122 Church Road

Today there is a large hotel on this site.

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But this was once home to French writer, Emile Zola (1840 – 1902).

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One of the things Zola is remembered for is his part in the Dreyfus affair and it was because of this he ended up in London – here in Crystal Palace.

The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal that divided France from 1894 until its resolution in 1906. It had begun in December 1894 when Captain Alfred Dreyfus was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, Evidence came to light in 1896 that the real culprit was a French Army major named Esterhazy. But high ranking military officials suppressed the new evidence and a military court unanimously acquitted Esterhazy. The Army then accused Dreyfus with additional charges based on falsified documents.

This is where Zola comes in. He wrote an open letter to the French President, Félix Faure. which accused the highest levels of the French Army of obstruction of justice and antisemitism by having wrongfully convicted Alfred Dreyfus. This letter was headed “J’accuse” and was published on the front page of the Paris daily newspaper L’Aurore on 13 January 1898.

Zola wanted to be prosecuted for libel so that the new evidence in support of Dreyfus would be made public. He was brought to trial for criminal libel on 7 February 1898 and was convicted on 23 February. Rather than go to jail, Zola fled to England in July 1898 ending up staying here in Crystal Palace until June 1899 when he was allowed to return to France. It would seem he did not much like his time in London.

Dreyfus was retried in 1899 but it resulted in another conviction and a 10-year sentence. However Dreyfus was given a pardon and set free. Eventually it was established that all the accusations against Dreyfus were false and in 1906 he was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army. He later served during the whole of World War I, ending his service with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He died in 1935.

Now return back along Church Road and turn right into Belvedere Road

Go down the hill and turn left into Cintra Park

Our next stop is on the left as the road curves off to the right and where a little street called Rama Lane comes in

Stop 2: Number 28 Cintra Park

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This house was the childhood home of Marie Stopes (1880 – 1958)

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Marie Stopes was an author and campaigner for eugenics and women’s rights, founding the first birth control clinic in Britain in Holloway in 1921. It moved to Whitfield Street, W1 in 1925 – from where a Marie Stopes clinic still operates.

Interestingly Stopes was strongly against the termination of a pregnancy and during her lifetime her clinics did not offer abortions.

It also seems she was a bit of an idealist wanting to create a society in which only the best and the beautiful should survive. Consistent with this. she took against the partner her son had chosen. The woman was short sighted meaning the grandchildren might inherit the condition.

Now take a left here along Patterson Road. You will see the building at our next stop looming high above the houses.

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Follow Patterson Road round as it turns right and then it becomes Milestone Road just before it turns to the left. A little way after the turn, there is an alley where you can see that large building a bit closer up.

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At the end is Church Road, turn left here and our next stop is just on the left

Stop 3: former Granada cinema, 25 Church Road

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This is the front of that large building we saw from below. It is strange to think that this fairly modest facade actually hides quite a large old cinema.

According to the wonderful Cinema Treasures site, it opened as the Rialto Cinema in October 1928 with nearly 1,400 seats. It was built by an Australian, A.C. Matthews, who was also the architect. Two years later he also designed and built the adjacent Albany Cinema.

After various changes in ownership he two cinemas were taken over by the Granada chain in March 1949.

They employed noted cinema architect George Coles to modernise the Rialto building. It was re-named the Granada in September 1950 and closed as a cinema in May 1968. It then became a full time Bingo Club for around 40 years – from June 1968 until Spring 2009.

The building was put up for sale. One interested party wanted to reopen this as an art house cinema. But in the end, the Kingsway International Christian Centre purchased the building. There was strong local opposition to this becoming a church, instead wanting cinema use to return. The local council refused planning permission to convert the building into a church, and although several cinema operators were interested in the building, the church refused to sell it.

Eventually the Church conceded and sold the building to the Everyman chain of cinemas in January 2018. They plan to convert the building into a four screen cinema.

Now go a little way along and after a small derelict space you will see the other former cinema.

Stop 4: site of Century Cinema, 37 – 43 Church Road

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This opened in January 1930. After various changes in ownership in the 1930s, it was requisitioned by the Government to be used as a food store until July 1948.

It was acquired by the Granada chain in 1949 and after refurbishment, it reopened in December 1950 as the Century Cinema. It was closed in May 1958

The building remained empty for a couple of years, then it was gutted internally and becoming a car showroom and later a funeral directors. Today the building is unused and there is a notice saying planning permission is being sought to redevelop the site for housing.

Now return back along Church Road. Whilst here, you will notice many of the shops have blue stickers indicating what kind of shop or business traded here in the past.

Here are a few examples:

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This was an initiative of the Norwood Society. Their Plaques Project is part of the Society’s aim to encourage local people to engage with the history of Norwood, and particularly the Triangle in Upper Norwood. Plaques are displayed in shop windows in ‘The Triangle’ (Westow Hill, Westow Street and Church Road SE19) showing a significant past trade, trader or some history of the building. This project was launched to coincide with the Crystal Palace Overground Festival in June 2017. What I thought was interesting is that almost all the shops were doing a diiferent business today compared with the past.

The link below gives access to the full list of “plaques”

https://norwoodsociety.co.uk/blue-plaques.html

At the end do a left and our next stop is almost immediately on the right.

Stop 5: Number 77 Westow Hill

This building at the end of Westow Hill dates from 1884. It used to be a National Westminster bank but is now a Solicitors’ office.

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On the road side of the building you will find a blue plaque in the usual style but actually with the names “National Westminster Bank” and “Crystal Palace Foundation”. This commemorates the fact that French impressionist painter Camille Pissarro (1830 – 1903) stayed here in 1870/71.

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We came across the Pissarros when we were in W4 because this is where Camille Pissarro’s son Lucien lived with his family for a few years from 1897. Between 7 May and 20 July 1897, Camille stayed there while Lucien was convalescing from a stroke. But Camille had been in London before.

After the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, he moved to England because he had Danish nationality and was unable to join the army. He first settled here in Upper Norwood. His style of painting was not to English tastes of the time being a forerunner of what would later be called “Impressionism”.

Like Monet who was also in London in this period, he favoured painting outdoors in order to more effectively capture the atmosphere and light. He painted a number of pictures in this part of south east London.

By the by, across the road at Number 88 Westow Hill, there is a Norwood Society blue plaque for an early 20th century dentist (Robinson’s American Teeth Institute – what a great name!). The premises today are a dentist, though sadly with the rather less interesting name of Crystal Palace Dental Practice.

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Now return to the junction and you will see some pillars at the corner.

Stop 6: site of The Vicar’s Oak

The pillars each have a rather sad looking plaque which says that this is the site of “The Vicar’s Oak”. It also says “Crystal Palace Park”, “Boundaries” and “Date” “1988”

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There is a sign about a project here called “The Vicar’s Oak”, saying “coming soon”

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It would seem that there was an ancient tree which marked the place where the boundaries of four boroughs (Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth and Southwark) meet. The project is to create a path and garden. The project was initiated a couple of years ago, There is website listed on the sign:

http://www.invisiblepalace.org.uk/boundaries.html

This has lots of pictures but very few words. It is frustratingly vague on what actually has happened.

But if you go through the gates there is this very neat and attractive garden.

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Is this what was created under the project? If so it is a shame that there is no information about it on the website.

Return to the street and turn left.

Stop 7: Crystal Palace Museum

Now head a little way down the hill from the Crystal Palace Parade and you will find this small museum on your left.

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The Museum tells the story of Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and plate-glass structure originally built in Hyde Park, London, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was moved here to the top of a hill here in what was the countryside in 1854. 

The Museum tells the story of Crystal Palace both on its original site and here. It is housed in the only surviving building constructed by the Crystal Palace Company built around 1880 as a lecture room for the Company’s School of Practical Engineering. The story of both palaces is told in a series of unique images supplemented by large scaled models of the Crystal Palace plus showcases displaying ceramics and other items associated with the Crystal Palace including remnants from the original building.

The Museum is only open on Sundays from 11am to 3pm. They also run a guided tour of the site on the first Sunday of each month from April until October.

More information about this fascinating little museum is at:

http://www.crystalpalacemuseum.org.uk/

Now retrace your steps and turn right into Crystal Palace Parade, where you will see a bus terminal on the right.

Stop 8: site of Crystal Palace High Level Station

To your left is a side street called Farquhar Road which goes over a kind of a bridge to your left. Cross this and look along the way and you will see a long retaining wall and some new buildings.

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This is the site of a railway station known as Crystal Palace High Level.

After the Palace was moved here it became a tourist attraction, initially served by a station  a little down the hill opened by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway (we will get to that shortly)

The London, Chatham and Dover Railway wanted a slice of the action and so promoted  the Crystal Palace and South London Junction Railway to link to an existing  line of theirs a bit further north. The new branch opened in August 1865 and had a lavish terminal designed by Edward Middleton Barry (1830 – 1880). E M Barry was one of the sons of Sir Charles Barry and is probably best known for his work on the Royal Opera House and Floral Hall and also for finishing the Palace of Westminster after his father’s death in 1860.

After the Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire in 1936, traffic on the branch declined. During World War II the line was temporarily closed after bomb damage. Temporary repairs were made but the need for substantial investment to fully reconstruct the line and the limited traffic potential led to the closure of the whole branch in September 1954.

The station was demolished in 1961 and sadly none of the buildings remain..

The site of the station was redeveloped mainly for housing in the 1970s, but the retaining walls below Crystal Palace Parade and the ornamental portal of the tunnel to the north of the station are still here, as we shall see. But first our next stop.

Go over the bridge and follow Farquhar Road round until you reach Number 45..

Stop 9: Number 45 Farquhar Road

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This was once the home of actor and film director Leslie Howard (1893-1943). He lived here for about 4 years from 1907.

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Althogh he was a successful stage actor both in London and on Broadway, he is probably best remembered for playing Ashley Wilkes in the epic movie Gone with the Wind (1939). But he had roles in many other notable films, including: Berkeley Square (1933), Of Human Bondage (1934), The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), The Petrified Forest (1936), Pygmalion (1938), Intermezzo (1939) and The First of the Few (1942). He received two nominations for the Best Actor Oscar for Berkeley Square and Pygmalion.

His family name was originally Steiner. But during the First World War they anglicised this to Stainer. But in 1920 the budding actor decided to use his middle name and become known as Leslie Howard.

Now just opposite you will see a side turning called  Bowley Close. Go down here and you will see a closer view of the retaining walk but note there is a section which looks different. This is where there was a subway linking the High level station to the Palace site.

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Now go back to Farquhar Road and turn right and then right again into Bowley Lane. Follow the land round and you will get back to the retaining wall and a road that goes off parallel to it. This is a private street called Spinney Gardens.

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But if you look down here you will see a portal to a tunnel. This is where the line out of the High Level station went.

Now head back along Farquhar road over the bridge and turn left into Crystal Palace Parade. Our next stop is ahead.

Stop 10: Crystal Palace subway

On either side of the road is a bridge parapet.

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The one on the left has a banner which talks about Friends of Crystal Palace subway and shows a picture of a wonderfully ornate passageway.

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I mentioned the now demolished High Level Station was connected to the Palace by a subway. This was fan-vaulted pedestrian subway in finely detailed red and cream brickwork. This subway and an adjacent courtyard survived the 1936 fire, and was used as an air raid shelter during World War II. It is now Grade II listed building.

This subway is right below here but is not normally accessible. All you can see is the remains of the way into it from the Palace side – which is to your right.

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There is a brick wall on the old station side which we saw the other side of.

“Friends of Crystal Palace Subway” have website on the subway.

http://www.cpsubway.org.uk/

This says (in a note dated January 2018) that the subway will be closed for an unknown amount of time while Southwark Council complete works to their terrace. But hopefully there will be opportunities to actually visit the subway in the not too distant future.

Now head into the Crystal Palace Park.

Stop 11: site of Crystal Palace

The first section laid out below you is I think roughly where the great glass structure once stood. But to day it is just a wide terrace

There are lots of maps to help orientate you.

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There is a wealth of information about the Palace, how it came to be moved here from Hyde Park and what happened subsequently on this website:

http://www.crystalpalacefoundation.org.uk/

At either end of the terrace are some models of Sphinxes which are half-man, half-lion creatures associated with ancient Egypt. The sphinxes were based on a red granite sphinx at the Louvre museum in Paris. There used to be 12 in the original decorative scheme but only 6 survive.

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They are not made of granite though. They are painted and during the 20th century eventually lost their original colouring, only being restored to this distinctive colour in 2016.

Go down the steps and off the terrace to the right. Looking back you get a good view of the structure of the terrace which has survived

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Stop 12: Crystal Palace station

Now you will be able to see the main station at Crystal Palace – once known  as the low level station.

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When the station first opened on 1854 it was just the terminus of a spur line from Sydenham. In 1856 the station was able to take through train services to West Norwood and Streatham Hill and beyond, following the completion of the 746 yard (690 m) Crystal Palace Tunnel. Although relatively short, the tunnel was regarded as a major engineering achievement as it was cut through the hill on which the Crystal Palace stood and went immediately under one of the Palace’s great water towers

In 1857, an eastward connection was made to Norwood Junction (for the Brighton line to the south) and in 1858 a connection was made to allow trains to go to Beckenham Junction. The frontage of the station was rebuilt in 1875

Until the arrival of London Overground this was a somewhat neglected station with the northern (grander) side of the station only partly used. In the 1980s passengers were channelled through a rather mean (in comparison) new ticket hall off to the south side.

But now the original ticket hall now been magnificently restored and forms the main entrance – the 1980s building having been demolished.

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Going inside you see the station is in two halves. the grander northern side with a cavernous brick hall.

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And a new modern overall roof dating from 2015

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And then to the right hand side is a smaller more modest pair of platforms.

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We have now reached the end of our SE19 walk and are conveniently here at the main station for onward travel. but before you leave, it is worth a short detour to see one of the famous features of the Crystal Palace Park – though I guess they may be just over the border in SE20!

Post script

You cannot come to Crystal Palace and not see the dinosaurs.

So head down the park from the station keeping the running track to your left. Go past Capel Manor and you will see a lake ahead. That is where the dinosaurs live.

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When the park was laid out, the sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was commissioned to make 33 life sized models of the (then) newly discovered dinosaurs and other extinct animals for the park.

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These are usually a great hit with children – and quite a few adults also!

SE18: Equitable and Co-operative

SE18 is Woolwich, known for the former Dockyard and Royal Arsenal, but also as the home of two major institutions, sadly no longer with us – the Woolwich Equitable Building Society and the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society.

We start our walk at Woolwich Post Office which is Numbers 68 – 72 Powis Street. Turn left out of the Post Office and our first stop is soon on the left.

Stop 1: McDonald’s, Numbers 56 – 58 Powis Street

Now I would not normally mention McDonald’s, but the one in Woolwich has a special place in the story of fast food in the UK.

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The branch here in Powis Street was the first McDonald’s in the UK – opening in November 1974. There is a plaque to the left of the entrance but weirdly this makes no mention of the fact it was first British McDonald’s.

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Instead it focuses on this branch being the 3000th “restaurant”. By the way McDonald’s was founded in 1940. Therefore it look 34 years to get up to 3,000 locations. But the growth since has been astounding. By the end of 2016 it traded in around 36,500 locations – so in 42 years from November 1974 to December 2016 it added around a net 33,500. That is quite some going,

Now return along Powis Street and our next stop is a little further along the street, on both sides of the road.

Stop 2: Former department store buildings

Here as today’s shopping street peters out we get to the former Royal Arsenal Co-operative Stores (RACS) Department Store buildings. On the left we have the Edwardian one, dating from 1903.

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And in the niche over the main door is a statue of Alexander McLeod.  McLeod (1832-1902) was one of the founders of RACS and was its first full-time secretary from 1882 until his death.

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More about him from the entry on the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association site::

http://www.pmsa.org.uk/pmsa-database/3132/

Now look over the road and you will see the 1930s extension

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It looks like a cross between a cinema and a multi-storey car park.

We have come across the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS) before. It was started in 1868 as the Royal Arsenal Supply Association by workers from the Royal Arsenal, and became Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society in 1872. In the century that followed, the society’s activities expanded from selling food into a huge range of commercial, social & political activities. Eventually by the 1970s it had branches across most of South London and into parts of Hampshire, Berkshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex. But by the 1980s it was a retail dinosaur in big trouble and in 1985 it merged into the national Co-operative Wholesale Society.

The department stores were I think soon closed down, leaving these buildings as a reminder of what had been a major retailing chain. What is noticeable about the RACS stores we have come across is that they were not well located. The one in Lewisham was on the wrong side of the main road from most of the other shops except the other (now closed) Department store. The one in Peckham was right at the end of the main shopping street and so it is here  in Woolwich.

Today the Edwardian building houses a Travelodge amongst other things and the 1930s building is being converted into apartments.

Now continue along Powis Street. Our next stop is ahead on the right. You might note as you walk along how suddenly there are some quite modest buildings sandwiched between the grandeur of the RACS store and the upcoming Granada cinema.

Stop 3: Former Granada cinema, Numbers 174 – 186 Powis Street

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Today the building is used as church but according to the wonderful Cinema Treasures site, it was opened in April 1937 by Granada as a cinema, with stage facilities.

Although the outside is a sweeping Art Deco brick box and tower, inside was Gothic style. Apparently this was a scaled down version of the Granada, Tooting. Like Tooting the interior design was carried out by Russian set designer Theodore Komisarjevsky.

The Granada Theatre had a full working stage. It hosted Christmas pantomimes and during the 1960s ‘one night only’ pop music shows were put on – the Beatles even played here once on 3 June 1963.

It became a part time Bingo Hall in 1961 and finally took on Bingo full time in October 1966. The building was Grade II listed in January 1974 and this was enhanced to a Grade II* Listing in October 2000. Bingo ceased in July 2011 and it was taken over by a church.

Now look ahead and you can see our next stop across the road – another former cinema.

Stop 4: Former Odeon cinema, John Wilson Street

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This is the kind of streamline Art Deco that screams Odeon, as indeed it was. It opened as the Odeon cinema in October 1937, just months after the Granada over the road.

The interior could not have been more different from the Granada with troughs of concealed lighting and moulded plaster decoration. According to Cinema Treasures, much of the interior was lost in a “modernisation” in May 1964. However it was listed heritage listed Grade II in December 1973.

It continued as the Odeon cinema until October 1981. The building lay empty and unused for almost two years until it was reopened by an independent film exhibitor in July 1983 as the Coronet Cinema. Having been converted into a twin cinema in July 1990, it finally closed in June 1999. It was taken over by the New Wine Church from 2001 and it remains a church to this day.

Whilst it is good to see the building is use, it does look kind of bare without any signs on the bulk of the interior.

Now as you look at the cinema go to the left and you will see a gardens, go in the gate and straight ahead is our next stop.

Stop 5: St Mary Magdalene Church

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The Church’s website says this has been a church has been on the present site for over 1000 years. However the building we see today dates from the 18th century.

Architectural bible, Pevsner, says this is: “One of the churches rebuilt with money from the Fifty New Churches Act of 1711 but begun only in 1727 and not completed until 1739.” It was extended in the 1890s.

High up on the east end of the church is a stone panel with an inscription: “Ne Despectetes Qui Peccare Soletis Exemplo Meo Vos Reparate Deo”.

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This translates as: “Do not despair, you who have fallen into the way of sin, restore yourself through my example and through God”  This is a quotation from, I believe, the book of Luke and is commonly associated with St Mary Magdalene. Interesting isn’t it that it takes 20 words of English to say what only needs 10 words in Latin.

Now head to the right between the church and the back of the old Odeon Cinema. Ahead you will see a grand tomb with a lion on the top. Pevsner describes this as “pathetic and a little ridiculous”.

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The plinth has the following inscription: “Respect the ashes of the dead”

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This is the last resting place of one Thomas Cribb (1781 – 1848)

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He was an English bare-knuckle boxer, in fact he was so successful that he became “world champion”. He later turned his hand to being a publican, running the Union Arms in Panton Street, just off Haymarket in central London. Today that pub is called the Tom Cribb. He retired to Woolwich in 1839 which is where he later died.

Now head out of the church yard. You will have to go almost to the front of the church to access the path that goes downhill away from the church.

You will see our next stop across the way by the river.

Stop 6: Woolwich Ferry

We saw this from the other side when we were in E16. There has been a ferry operating in Woolwich since the 14th century. The free service opened in 1889, following the abolition of tolls across bridges to the west

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Looking along the river you get a nice view of Canary Wharf.

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And just along the river front from the ferry terminal is the distinctive brick rotunda which houses the entrance to the foot tunnel which opened in 1912.

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Now keep walking along the river front. This is where the Royal Arsenal once was. This whole site is in the process of being redeveloped.

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Soon you will see some of the older building on the Royal Arsenal site

Stop 7: Woolwich Royal Arsenal site

The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich carried out armaments manufacture, ammunition proofing, and explosives research for the British armed forces. The land here was part of the grounds of a Tudor house and known as Woolwich Warren. The Government purchased the Warren in the late 17th century in order to expand the nearby base in Woolwich Dockyard which was to the west of the modern day ferry.

Over the next two centuries, the site expanded massively so by the time of the First World War the Arsenal it covered 1,285 acres (520 ha) and employed almost 80,000 people. In the 20th century its operations were scaled down. It finally closed as a factory in 1967 and the Ministry of Defence moved out in 1994. But for most of its life, it was a closed place, not accessible to the public.

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It is now being redeveloped mainly for housing. And they seem to using the rather terrible acronym RARE – Royal Arsenal Riverside Explore – which is kind of meaningless in a meaningful way.

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By the riverside are two brick pavilions which were built as Guardrooms in 1814/15.

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Then just in the square nearby is a modern sculpture installation consisting of around 16 metal figures which are partly cut away

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The name of this work is Assembly and it is by Peter Burke from the early 2000s. They are made of cast iron and this is edition 1 of 4. So somewhere there are three more like this!

Now you will see a roadway heading away from the river. It is called No 1 Street. Follow this.

On both sides there are some old buildings surviving from the old Royal Arsenal.

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On the left is the site of Firepower – The Royal Artillery Museum. This closed in 2016 after having been based in Woolwich for almost two centuries. It was moved to Wiltshire.

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Note in particular on the right in Artillery Square, there is the Heritage Centre, which is worth a quick look (It is free to enter).

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The Heritage Centre tried to fill the gap left by the loss of Firepower by creating a new permanent exhibition “Making Woolwich: The Royal Regiment of Artillery in Woolwich”.

A number of the buildings around here are now owned by Greenwich Council with a view to creating a new cultural and heritage quarter.

Continue and you will see ahead is the Royal Brass Foundry of 1717.

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This building is attributed to Sir John Vanburgh. The Government decided to build its own foundry for brass here in what had been a naval storage establishment since the 16th century. The move was precipitated by an explosion at a privately owned foundry in Moorfields near the City. Guns were cast here until the 1870s.

Now head out of the site past the Dial Arch pub.

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Cross the main road and look back and to the right.

Stop 8: site of Crossrail station

This massive apartment development stands over the new Crossrail station, due to open at the end of 2018.

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There is not much to see now as the entrance has yet to be built and one cannot go down. However back in 2013 I was lucky enough to have a chance to take a tour round the concrete box that will hold the station.

Here is a link to a post and some pictures from that visit.

https://stephensldn.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/woolwich-crossrail-station-a-window-into-the-future/

Now go through the Royal Arsenal Gatehouse

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And then go into Berresford Square.

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Stop 9: Equitable House

Our next stop dominates one side of the square.

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The building underneath this scaffolding was built by the Woolwich Equitable Building Society as its headquarters in 1935.

The Society was founded in Woolwich in 1847 as the Woolwich Equitable Benefit Building and Investment Association, one of the first permanent building societies. Previously it had been a temporary society since 1842.

Building Societies grew up as a way of using the savings of a group of people to lend to some of those people so they could buy property. At first the societies were temporary in that they were time limited and would be wound up when all the members had a property. But they then start working on a rolling basis, taking on new savers and lending to new people. Hence the term “Permanent Building Society”. The key point about building societies were that they were owned by the members and not by shareholders.

The Woolwich (as it became known) grew to be one of the largest UK building societies and was famous in the 1980s for its entertaining TV advertising incorporating the slogan “I’m with the Woolwich”.

Like most building societies it gave up its mutual status to become a bank giving shares to investing and borrowing members of the society, and listing on the London Stock Exchange: This happened in 1997. It did not survive as an indepenedt company for very long as it was taken over by Barclays Bank in 2000

Initially the Woolwich brand was retained but in 2006, Woolwich branches were either closed or rebranded Barclays, although The Woolwich was kept for a time as a Barclays mortgage brand.

The Building Society had started in Powis Street, where it occupied various premises. From 1896 until 1935 they had a purpose built office at 111-113 Powis Street. From 1935 to 1989, Equitable House was the head office until they moved to new headquarters in nearby Bexleyheath, Equitable House continued as a branch office until 2007.

In 2010-11 it was converted to have a pub, a cafe and shops on the ground floor. The upper floors were initially rented out to a College but in 2016-17 the upper floors were converted into apartments.

The pub by the way is run by Antic – a chain of over 40 pubs mainly in south London.

Now head to the other side of the square. You will see a bear statue.

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This is Buddy Bear presented by Greenwich’s twin town of Reinickendorf, Berlin to commemorate 50 years of the link in 2016.

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Now head down Wellington Street. This has “The Great Harry” pub on the corner.

Stop 10 Woolwich Town Hall

Our next stop is ahead on the right. This is Woolwich Town Hall dating from 1903 – 1906

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Pevsner describes this as “florid Edwardian baroque” and goes on to say the “Interior is mainly given over to a large entrance hall of amazing grandeur for a London borough.”

The borough that built this was the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich which had been created in 1900. They clearly wanted to make their mark.

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After merger with neighbouring Greenwich in 1965, the new bigger borough eventually decided to concentrate its offices here rather than in Greenwich.

By the  way, the site next to the Town Hall used to be a place of entertainment, according to Cinema Treasures.

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First there was a theatre – opened as the Grand Theatre and Opera House in October 1900. From 1908 it was renamed Woolwich Hippodrome Theatre presenting twice nightly variety shows. But from November 1924 the Hippodrome Theatre was converted into full time cinema use, eventually becoming owned by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) from July 1935.

The Woolwich Hippodrome Theatre was closed in 1939 and demolished to enable a new ABC Cinema to be built on the site. Building work had commenced when war broke out and all construction was halted. ABC called the cinema the Regal and it eventually opened in September 1955.

It was renamed ABC in 1963 and closed in November 1982. The building was unused and derelict for several years and was later converted into a nightclub.

In May 2010, it was reported the building had been sold to an Apostolic Church. The church backed out of the deal, and it was sold to a community based theatre group in June 2011. It re-opened as a live theatre & performance space with plans to create & two-screen cinema, known as the Woolwich Grand Theatre. Sadly this did not go to plan, and demolition of the building began in November 2015. Now a new building is going up on the site.

Return to Beresford Square and head to the right where you will see our next stop.

Stop 11: Greenwich & Lewisham Young People’s Theatre

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According to their website, the building which is now home to Greenwich & Lewisham Young People’s Theatre was built as a generating station in 1916 and powered trams in the area until they ceased to run in 1953. For the next 20 years, the building was used as factory units, housing a wide variety of small businesses, under the ownership of the local council.

It opened as The Tramshed Theatre in the autumn of 1973, originally intended as a ‘youth’ offshoot of the Greenwich Theatre, but was relaunched the following summer with a bar and a wider variety of activities. The theatre was run by a company specially set up for the purpose, The Woolwich Theatre Ltd, although the building was (and still is) owned by the council. In 1985 the company went into liquidation and the operation was taken over by the Arts and Entertainments division of the London Borough of Greenwich.

Now go along a little bit and you will reach our last stop.

Stop 12: Woolwich Arsenal station

The station opened in 1849 on the North Kent Line from London to Gillingham. The station building was rebuilt in 1906 but the current station building dates from 1992-93. It is a striking design in steel and glass by the in house Architecture and Design Group of British Rail.

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Woolwich Arsenal was expanded in early 2009, when Transport for London completed the construction of an extension of the London City Airport branch of the Docklands Light Railway from King George V to Woolwich Arsenal, which is the branch’s new terminus. A new entrance was created and a tiled artwork was installed.

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This is called “Street LIfe” and is by Sir Michael Craig-Martin (1941 – ), an Irish born artist who has lived and worked in London since 1966. In the 1980s Craig-Martin was a tutor at Goldsmiths College. He is credited as being a significant influence on that group known as “Young British Artists”, which included people like Damien Hirst.

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Well that brings us to the end of our SE18 walk.

Woolwich has been shaped by its naval and military connections but it also has an important place in the history of mutualism with the eponymous Building Society and the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society. Plus there are two old cinemas which have somehow survived. And I know there is so much we could have seen in Woolwich but sadly we did not have the time.

We are now right by the main station for onward travel. Need I say more.

SE17: A tramp down Walworth Road

SE17 is Walworth. Walworth is one of those parts of London that is quite hard to place as it has kind of slipped off the map. This is probably to do with the fact there has been no railway station in Walworth since 1916 nor is there a very visible focal point, like a square or green. It is centred on a long shopping street which is not even called a Walworth High Street or High Road – it is just called Walworth Road.

We start our walk at Walworth Post Office at 234 – 236 Walworth Road. Turn left out of the Post Office and take the first street on your left.

Stop 1: former Manor Place Baths and Depot

This site is currently under redevelopment but it used to be a Southwark Council facility which included a waste transfer station, bath house buildings, as well as offices.

Number 33, Manor Place is a grade II listed building, originally constructed in 1898 as public bathing pools and a wash house. The bathing pools were closed in 1978 and then Southwark Council used the space as offices and storage. The site also includes Numbers 17 – 21 Manor Place. Completed in 1899, they once housed a coroner’s court and mortuary.

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The whole site was acquired by Notting Hill Housing in November 2013

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The plan is for 270 residential homes with a mix of market, intermediate and affordable units. Alongside the new homes, there are plans to develop a commercial space, created within under utilised existing buildings and within the railway arches that cut through the site. According to Notting Hill Housing’s website, the plans also retain the listed heritage structures 33 Manor Place and the neighbouring former Pool Building, for residential and commercial uses respectively.

And if you look at the building behind the red brick one on the street, there is an interesting structure that looks like the Pool. In the gable end there is a round window with some coloured glass.

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No doubt this feature will be retained somehow.

Return to Walworth Road and turn left continue along Walworth Road until you reach an elegant terrace.

Stop 2: Numbers 140 – 152 Walworth Road

This terrace is mentioned with faint praise by architectural guru Pevsner.

Pevsner says “Walworth Road has just one part of the late 18th century terrace which enables one to visualise how happy and unadventurous the road once looked. Number 140 – 152 [were] built circa 1790 for Henry Penton (of Pentonville)”.

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This terrace was headquarters of the Labour Party from 1980 until 1997 when they moved back to Westminster. It was known for a time as John Smith House after the sudden death of the then Labour leader in 1994

Today it is the home of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, an umbrella body for various unions. The confederation dates back to 1890 and today because of the various mergers of unions it consists of just five unions: Community; GMB; Prospect; Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians; and Unite the Union.

Our next stop is just over the road.

Stop 3: Walworth Town Hall and Cuming Museum

This is a complex of municipal buildings, the first of which was built by the Vestry of St Mary Newington, a predecessor of the borough of Southwark.

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There is an interesting piece on the Exploring Southwark website:

http://www.exploringsouthwark.co.uk/newington-town-hall/4594105604

When the parish of St Mary Newington merged with other local parishes in 1900 to form the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark, members of the vestry of St Mary’s fought hard for the new borough to be called Newington. While this didn’t happen, Newington Vestry Hall became the town hall for the newly formed borough.

Today Newington is another of those places which has sort of disappeared. As Newington Butts is south of the Elephant and Newington Causeway north of it, then I guess Newington is what we today would call Elephant and Castle

Pevsner clearly does not rate these buildings, describing the Town Hall of 1866 as “sadly gothic in red brick” and the adjoining library of 1893 as “equally insignificant.”

This was also the location of the Cuming Museum.

Richard Cuming, and his son Henry Syer Cuming, had a passion for collecting. They lived in Walworth and Kennington during the late 18th and 19th centuries. Between them they acquired all kinds of objects from around the world – from clothing worn by North American Inuit people, early taxidermy from Europe and shoes from across Africa to superstitious charms from across London or tickets and toys from local fairs. Henry died in 1902 and left funds in his will to create a public museum to house his family’s collection.

The Cuming Museum first opened in 1906 in galleries above Newington Library. The museum opened new public spaces on the ground floor of the Town Hall in 2006. It was also Southwark’s local history museum.

Sadly a fire broke out on 25 March 2013, destroying part of the Town Hall roof and the Council Chamber, with further water damage to lower floors caused as a result of fighting the fire.

The collections of the Cuming Museum only suffered a very small loss – around 98% of objects on display at the time of the fire were recovered. But the museum galleries were very severely affected and so the Museum is currently closed and the collections are now being stored awaiting a solution to the display of the collections and public access to them

And next door is our next stop.

Stop 4: Walworth Clinic

This was built in 1937 and Pevsner does not even deign to comment – it is just mentioned without description.

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I guess as this was built before the National Health Service was created, it was the borough council who were behind the development. Interestingly this building is still being used to deliver health services.

Now go down the side street, Larcom Street and there is a Southwark blue plaque

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Babbage’s birthplace is disputed, but according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography he was most likely born at 44 Crosby Row, Walworth Road, London. However if you look up Crosby Row today it is in the Borough area and nowhere near Walworth Road. So I am not too clear why the plaque is here.

Babbage is considered by some to be a “father of the computer”, He is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer and all the essential ideas of modern computers are to be found in Babbage’s analytical engine.

Keep going along Larcom Street and you will find another Southwark plaque by the side entrance to the clinic building.

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This one is to Michael Faraday.

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Now according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography he was born in Newington Butts which is also not here. I have been unable to find out why this site was chosen for the plaque. It makes no sense.

Anyhow, Michael Faraday was an English scientist who contributed to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. His main discoveries include the principles underlying electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis.

Go back to Walworth Road and turn left along the main road.

Stop 5: Herbert Morrison House

At the corner of Browning Street is a building called Herbert Morrison House

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It was used by the Labour Party as its headquarters until they moved to Transport House in Westminster in 1928, where they remained until they came back to Walworth Road in 1980. Hence I guess the name Herbert Morrison House, as he was a leading Labour local and national politician in the first half of the 20th century.

But this building has an earlier life as evidenced by the little crest over the door which says around the outside “Robert Browning Settlement” and the words “All’s Love and All’s Law in a cross formation in the middle.

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The latter is a quotation from section XVII of Robert Browning’s 1855 poem ‘Saul’:

“I have gone the whole round of creation: I saw and I spoke:
I, a work of God’s hand for that purpose, received in my brain
and pronounced on the rest of his hand-work – returned him again
his creation’s approval or censure: I spoke as I saw:
I report, as a man may of God’s work – all’s love, yet all’s law”.

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And there is a stone commemorating the opening of the building.

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I guess this is the same Charles Booth who created the maps showing the relative affluence or poverty in London.

This building was the home of the Robert Browning Settlement which was closely associated with a nearby Chapel and aimed to address poverty and alleviate distress in Walworth. The Browning Settlement was publicly inaugurated in November 1895, with an address given in the nearby Browning Hall by senior Liberal politician Herbert Asquith. It established itself, initially as the ‘Browning Club’, in the building on Walworth Road in 1902.

Originally Browning Street was called York Street and it was the location of a nonconformist chapel which opened in 1789. The Browning connection is that this was where the poet Robert Browning was baptised in 1812. The street was subsequently renamed after him

Sadly the Chapel is no more. The original Browning Hall and the chapel were demolished in 1978 following extensive damage from a serious fire. All that remains is part of the burial ground, which is our next stop..

But there is still a little reminder of the Robert Browning Settlement on the building now known as Herbert Morrison House.

Stop 6: site of Browning Hall and Chapel

If you go along Browning Street, you can see where Browning Hall and the York Street Chapel once stood. Part of the site, which was the burial ground has survived as a scrubby little open space.

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And there is just one tomb chest left sitting in splendid isolation in the middle.

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Now return to Walworth Road and turn left. Our next stop is the side street on your left.

Stop 7: East Street Market

Street trading has been a long tradition in Walworth but originally it was done along the main road.

The arrival of trams in the late 19th century brought an end to the market along Walworth Road and the market was split up and moved into the side streets of Westmoreland Road, East Lane (today’s East Street) and Draper Street. Draper Street was built over in the 1960s by the Elephant and Castle development. The market in Westmoreland Road is still just about there I believe. East Street has survived because like the local population it has diversified so it offers more than just the traditional fresh fruit and vegetables.

Fascinating fact: East Street is said to feature in the title sequence to the television programme Only Fools and Horses which was set in Peckham and filmed in Acton amongst other places.

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At the corner (actually numbers 277 / 279, Walworth Road) there is a blue plaque

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Up at the first floor level of this shop this Southwark Blue Plaque commemorates the iconic comic, Charlie Chaplin. He was born locally and as a child he moved frequently so there are many addresses with a Chaplin association. However I am not sure he actually had a connection with this exact location, although he is thought to have been born in East Street so it was somewhere near here.

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It was perhaps just a convenient and very visible place for Southwark to put their plaque – especially given the English Heritage one is at Glenshaw Mansions, Brixton Road, SW9, over the border in Lambeth, as is the one we saw in Kennington Road SE11.

Now return to Walworth Road and continue along until Liverpool Grove where you turn left. You will see our next stop ahead

Stop 8: St Peters Church

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This is a delightfully elegant church. It was built between 1823 and 1825 and was the first of three churches designed by Sir John Soane, in the wave of the church-building following the Napoleonic wars. Architectural commentator, Pevsner says it is “not as interesting as the Soane church at Bethnal Green.”.

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The church was hit by two bombs on 29 October 1940. Hundreds of people had taken shelter in the church’s crypt and over 70 lost their lives. The church was restored after the war and rededicated in 1953.

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Now go down the right hand side of the church through the gardens and exit the gate. Go down the side street called Lytham Street. Turn right into Merrow Street and then left into Queens Row. Then just before the end turn right into Westmoreland Road. I saw no sign of market here now but maybe I was here on the wrong day.

Stop 9: Arments, Numbers 7 – 9 Westmoreland Road

Our next stop is on the right as you go towards Walworth Road. It does not look much, but it is a long established pie, eel and mash purveyor – and it is not called Manze!

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The outside has lost any kind of old style shop front, but inside it is quite traditional. But they have entered the 21st century with their own website, patriotically resplendent in red, white and blue..

http://www.armentspieandmash.com/

Now continue along Westmoreland Road and turn left into Walworth Road, Cross over and go down John Ruskin Street. You will see a railway bridge ahead and that is our next stop.

Stop 10: Site of Walworth Road station

The railway line which parallels Walworth Road was opened by the London, Chatham and Dover railway in October 1862. Today there is no station here but there was once.

It was initially called Camberwell Gate and did not open until May 1863. It was renamed Walworth Road in January 1865. The station was built on a viaduct over three roads with an entrance in a street called Beresford Street (now John Ruskin Street) from where stairs led up to the platforms at the south end of the station.

The station was initially well used but the arrival of electric trams along Walworth Road in 1905 dramatically affected traffic. The station was one of a number of inner London stations closed in early 1916 as an economy measure during the First World War.  Although it was billed as a temporary measure, the station was never to reopen.

Below is where I believe the station entrance was.

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And if you go under the bridge to and turn right into Peller Street  you can see there is no wall alongside the tracks here, so I guess this is where the platforms once were.

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More about this station and the line it is on at:

http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/w/walworth_road/

Now retrace your steps to Walworth Road and turn left. Then turn left into Macleod Street ( by Iceland). You will soon get back to the railway and this is our next stop.

Stop 11: Sutherland Square

Sutherland Square is unusual in that it has a railway viaduct running right through it.

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As we have just heard, this line dates from 1862. In building it, the railway company just ploughed through this square rather than go round it or indeed buy it all up and knock more of it down. It does suggest that the railway was somewhat more influential than the people who owned the land.

Some years ago, when house hunting I actually looked at a house on the east side of Sutherland Square. It had no original features as the house had been severely damaged in the war and the bottom part of the four storey building had been converted into a separate “granny” flat. But the thing that put me off was the fact it looked right on to the railway viaduct and the trains went past at second floor level – frequently. Needless to say I did not buy.

Now walk though the square and you find it actually opens out and begins to look more like a square.

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Shame about all those bins but I guess they have to go somewhere.

Exit the square ahead and you reach a cross street. go over that and down a path under a building which spans the path. then take a right into Chapter Road and our next stop is just ahead.

Stop 12: Lorrimer Square and St Paul’s church

The first part of Lorrimer Square you get to has a row of original houses on the left. These date from mid 19th century according to Pevsner.

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And sitting ahead like an alien spaceship is St Paul’s Church.

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Much of this area was devastated by bombing in 1941 and the original Victorian church of 1856 was destroyed apart from the steeple. A dramatic new church was built on the site – opening in 1960.

There is a piece about this church on the 20th Century Society site:

https://c20society.org.uk/botm/st-pauls-lorrimore-square/

If you keep walk past the church you can see that there is little left of the original square apart from that first stretch we saw just before the church.

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We are now at the end of our SE17 walk. This I now realise is the first postcode I have been to that does not have a working railway station, which given its inner city location is quite a surprise.

There were a few connections with well known names: Robert Browning, Charles Babbage, Michael Faraday and Charlie Chaplin, but oddly the SE17 locations actually connected with the last three of these seems less than clear. The other thing I did not find is any big cinema or theatre located along the Walworth Road, though there were a couple of independent cinemas, all traces of which have vanished.

For onward travel, keep going along Chapter Road and then turn left into Braganza Street. You will find Kennington station at the end of Braganza Street. Alternatively return to Walworth Road for numerous buses.

Postscript

By way of a postscript I thought I should just mention there is a memorial to Michael Faraday locally just at Elephant and Castle (but over the border in SE1)

Until recently it stood in the middle of the roundabout at the northern end of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre between the ticket halls for the Northern Line and the Bakerloo Line stations. Now with the reordering of the roads it stand on a kind of peninsula and is easier to reach.

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The Michael Faraday Memorial was designed by brutalist architect Rodney Gordon and dates from 1961. Like me you probably thought this was just a ventilation shaft that had been rather expensively clad.