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.
But this was once home to French writer, Emile Zola (1840 – 1902).
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
This house was the childhood home of Marie Stopes (1880 – 1958)
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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”
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.
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.
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.
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”
There is a sign about a project here called “The Vicar’s Oak”, saying “coming soon”
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
This was once the home of actor and film director Leslie Howard (1893-1943). He lived here for about 4 years from 1907.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
Going inside you see the station is in two halves. the grander northern side with a cavernous brick hall.
And a new modern overall roof dating from 2015
And then to the right hand side is a smaller more modest pair of platforms.
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!
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.
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.
These are usually a great hit with children – and quite a few adults also!