FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Easter in South Norwood

Posted in England, South Norwood by folkestonejack on April 13, 2020

I get a little crazy stuck at home for too long at the best of times, but how things have changed in the past weeks! I have largely avoided going outside at all, except for a weekly food shop and a short walk at the weekend for exercise. Today, my walk took in some of the local sights nearest at hand that I have long taken for granted.

The streets of South Norwood would normally be quiet on an Easter Sunday, but this was quite different. The sight of temporarily boarded up pubs, empty shop shelves and firmly shuttered entrances all pointed to a high street that is not about to spring into life any time soon. I was also struck by the near silence – in particular the complete absence of church bells ringing.

Station Road, South Norwood, on an unusually quiet Easter Sunday

The first stop on my walk, the grade II listed St Mark’s Church, was originally built in 1852 and extended seven times between 1862 and 1890. The continual expansion was in part a reflection of the changing nature of the area – when it was first built the church served a local population of 1,300, but by the end of the nineteenth century this had increased to 13,000. It’s not hard to see the evidence of the many additions to the first building, the nave, as you approach the church.

The simplicity of the original rectangular design can be seen in the plan drawn up in November 1852 by the architects, Finden & Lewis, which is helpfully available online through the collection of the Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS) at the Lambeth Palace Library. The view in my picture shows the chancel with polygonal apse added in 1869, at the junction of Albert Road and Coventry Road.

St Marks Church

The church has been troubled by problems throughout its history. At the end of the nineteenth century the church had fallen into a critical condition owing to settlement in the clay subsoil, necessitating the shoring up of the west wall with timber baulks (as seen in an illustration from the ICBS collection). The floor and aisles of the church had sunk. An appeal, the Twentieth Century Fund, was launched to raise funds for the churches of South Norwood, including St Marks. The cost of making the urgent repairs to the church was assessed as £1200-1400.

Fast forward 100 years and once again the church was assessed as being at risk. Repairs have since been made to the stonework (2013) and the chancel and south slopes of the nave and aisle have been re-roofed (2016) but the church remains on the Heritage at risk register. There were just over 900 listed places of worship on the register in 2019, varying from buildings in good condition with one significant element of risk to buildings becoming vulnerable to risk.

I am embarrassed to say that I haven’t been inside the church, or, if I have it would have been way back in the 1980s (when I attended joint Scout Group meetings in the church hall next door). I’ll have to take a look inside when the lockdown ends and life returns to some semblance of normal, particularly as I gather that the south aisle features stained glass of The Good Shepherd by Henry Holiday, whose work can also be found at Westminster Abbey and at Chartered Accountants’ Hall in London.

Portland Road Bridge

My walk took me underneath the Portland Road railway bridge and the line towards London. It’s not the most friendly of spaces for pedestrians, despite the addition of a rather lovely mosaic designed by local schoolchildren some year ago. The People for Portland Road community group have secured funding for a project that will see the introduction of a lighting installation to make the space more inviting.

As you can see from the photograph above, the bridge is protected by collision protection beams that were installed to prevent any damage to the railway bridge from vehicles ignoring the low height warnings. It has taken quite a battering over the years. The long history of accidents here includes a particularly bad spell of six bridge strikes between April 2014 and July 2015, including one incident where the roof of a double decker bus was sliced off.

The Stanley Halls

The next stop on my walk brought me to the Stanley Halls, one of many buildings associated with the inventor, manufacturor and philanthropist William Stanley (1829-1909) who moved to South Norwood in the 1860s and went on to open a workshop near Norwood Junction Railway Station.

In his later years William Stanley decided that the area was in need of a public hall, gifting South Norwood the Stanley Halls (1903-4) which the Pevsner Architectural Guide considers to be one of the highlights amid the “relentless suburban sprawl” of the area, described as “a vigorously eclectic group in red brick and stone, with two towers and a series of gabled roof-lines, adorned with the extraordinary motif of copper flowers in flowerpots”. Pevsner praised the building as “one of the most eccentric efforts anywhere at a do-it-yourself free-style”. The unusual complex was grade II listed in 1990.

The legacy of ‘Mr South Norwood’ was something we were encouraged to discover at my primary school but I suspect William Stanley’s name will be much less familiar to future generations as many of the buildings associated with him disappeared in the early years of the 21st century.

The former Stanley workshops, latterly in use as a joinery, were badly damaged by fire and later converted into flats. Stanley’s first home in the area at 74-76 Albert Road, known as ‘Stanleybury’, was demolished in 2003. Three years after this, Stanley’s last home at Cumberlow Lodge (1878) was demolished by developers before it could be listed. Finally, the school he founded, Stanley Tech, was renamed in 2006.

In the early 1980s it was used by the local Scout District for their annual gang shows, but hopefully the photographic evidence of me on stage during these will remain well buried!

South Norwood Clock Tower

A short walk along the High Street, took me past the boarded up shopfront of Kennedy’s butchers. The shop, built in 1926, was grade II listed in 2008 but looks more disheveled than ever. It was a place I was very familiar with up until it closed, on account of the superb quality of its pies and puddings, but it was also quite remarkable to step inside a shop with all its original fittings intact. It is another of our local landmarks on the Heritage at Risk register.

At the junction of Station Road and the High Street I reached the cast-iron South Norwood Clock Tower which was erected in 1907 to mark the golden wedding anniversary of William and Eliza Stanley. The clock tower, produced by clockmakers Gillet and Johnston, was paid for by public subscription which just goes to show the immense respect of the local population for a man who gave everything to his community. It is now Grade II listed.

From here I would normally have looped back through a tunnel under the railway station, the world’s first reinforced concrete underpass, built by Robert McAlpine and Sons in 1912. However, it would be impossible to stay socially distanced in the tunnel so I retraced my steps back along the high street instead.

The Albert Tavern

The last stop on my short walk, the Albert Tavern, was not as obvious a sight as the rest. You won’t get any argument from me that this is some pretty unremarkable 1960s architecture, but look behind the walls and you’ll find a much loved and quite simply terrific community pub.

The pub came under threat in June 2019 with the news that Greene King were planning to sell off the plot to developers to turn into flats, as reported on Inside Croydon in ‘Selling off the Albert for flats is like demolishing the Queen Vic’. The importance of the pub to the community is evident from the comments on the petition. It would be a sad loss for the area were it to disappear.

A public house stood on this spot from the 1860s until 9th July 1944. On that fateful night a V1 flying bomb destroyed the pub and ten neighbouring houses, taking with it seven lives. A new pub was built on the spot in 1966 and it has been going strong ever since. It is boarded up right now, along with other pubs in the area, in response to the lockdown. A sign on the boards says it all: Thank you NHS and key workers. We love you.

It’s a lovely place to enjoy a pint in better times. Let’s hope they are not too far away.

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