The Capital Ring – Crystal Palace to Streatham Common Part One

Crystal Palace Station

Dear Readers, today was a glorious autumn day and so we set out on section 4 of the Capital Ring, from Crystal Palace to Streatham Station. We arrived at Crystal Palace station, which is really quite something – it was originally opened in 1854 to cope with the crowds arriving to see the Crystal Palace, and these days it is something of a hub, with trains to London Bridge, Victoria and on the overground to Highbury and Islington. Being a North and East Londoner I find the web of rail lines in South London very interesting – you can board a train at London Bridge, potter through Crystal Palace and end up back at Victoria Station, which feels a bit confusing to me. It must be great to have so much choice.

Outside the station I find a little patch of our old friend Gallant Soldier (Galinsoga parviflora) and nearly miss the turn of the traffic lights as a result. Curiosity is a great thing, but those of a botanical bent can be a little annoying to more destination-minded folk. Fortunately my other half is extremely tolerant of me coming to a sudden halt without signalling.

We pass the Paxton Centre, named after the man who designed the Crystal Palace, and I stand to admire the paintings of the dinosaurs and the man himself that adorn the building.

Just to digress (for a change), I was so taken with the dinosaurs on my last walk that I have been using one of the photos as my Zoom background. This is all very well when it’s a friendly team meeting, but I’m not sure that I set quite the correct professional tone when I went straight on to another meeting with a megalosaurus peering over my shoulder. Ah well, I’ve reached the stage in my working life when a little eccentricity is only to be expected.

The backdrop in question

I read with some trepidation that ‘you are now in one of the hilliest parts of South London, and will soon climb steeply over two ridges’. This week I am wearing my Austrian hiking boots, in an attempt to correct the constant problems with my feet. So far, so good.

The houses in these parts are a delightfully eclectic mix. I do love an original encaustic tiled front path…

And look what a lovely display someone has made on the steps up to their front door! If it was me I’d be tripping over them, but it seems that these folk are rather more nimble.

We climb up to Belvedere Road, and look, some of the very grand houses have an actual ‘Belvedere’, a rooftop lookout that must give splendid views over South London and maybe even the South Downs.

You can tell that houses are posh when they have a Cedar of Lebanon, usually a tree of cemeteries and grand estates, in their front garden.

There are not one, not two but three scaffolding lorries parked further up the road, erecting the trickiest, most precarious-looking scaffold that I’ve ever seen around a domestic dwelling. They mind not a jot that they are blocking the pavement, swearing their heads off and playing rap music from one of those reinforced radios that all scaffolders seem to have at full blast. They bring a fruity nonchalance to these quiet streets, and I rather admire them for it – they seem to know that nothing can happen until the scaffold is up, and they reserve the right to do this dangerous job in whatever way works for them.

And look! This is where the man who designed the dinosaurs used to live. I wonder if he knew that his ‘prehistoric monsters’ would still be delighting children, young and old, all these years later? Legacies come in such a variety of ways.

And this is the South Norwood transmitter, which is a backup in case there’s a problem with the Crystal Palace tower. According to the Croydon Advertiser, they have been dubbed ‘the Eiffel Towers of South London’, which might be pushing it a bit. They are pretty impressive works of engineering nonetheless – the South Norwood transmitter was originally meant to carry the ITV signal, back in the days when there were only two channels. Apparently from very early on people attempted to climb both towers, both for fun and to protest, which was something of a headache for the engineers who had to look after them. I can just imagine the cat and mouse that ensued.

On the corner of Fox Hill there’s this house, with its intricate brickwork, and this little metal box on the chimney stack. I’m not sure what it could be – it’s too small to be a coal hole (and clearly in the wrong place). Any ideas, Readers? I am stumped. But I do love the painted (or maybe glazed) bricks.

This is a view back down the road…

And this is a painting of Fox Hill (from the bottom looking up) by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), who clearly lived in South London for a time.

And then we enter Westow Park which is officially in Norwood (named for the Great North Wood which is, of course, in South London). Here, I fall in love with this tree. It is all on its own, and has clearly been buffeted over time. There is something very ballerina-like about it, from the twist in the trunk to the ‘arms’ held aloft. It seemed both lonely and resilient, and I found myself wishing it well.

For a moment I remembered how, in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s  ‘The Ancient Mariner’, the mariner finds it in himself to bless the sea snakes that he sees. All his shipmates are dead, and he is alone, the albatross that he has shot rotting about his neck.

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.

Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.

O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.

I don’t know why, but it seems to me that wishing something or someone well, especially when they or it are unknown to us, adds to the sum of good in the world, and softens and opens us to truly see what’s around us.

Anyway, back to the quotidian. In amongst all the Victorian edifices, there are these flats, which must have a splendid view of the park at the front, and of the whole of South London from the back. I do hope that they’re affordable in the true sense, so that people who are less rich but just as deserving can enjoy the undoubted benefits of living around here.

We pass a boulder, one of the 20 placed around the London Borough of Croydon to celebrate its 80th anniversary in 2015. These have proved to be ‘controversial’ – they were originally placed in New Addington to deter illegal parking at a cost of £7000 according to the website ‘Inside Croydon‘, which has this to say about the current siting:

Croydon Council, having removed the notorious 20 boulders of New Addington, have managed to come up with an idea to dispose of them which is, if anything, even worse. It has used the 50th anniversary of being incorporated within Greater London as a spurious excuse to distribute the 20 lumps of rock around the borough, adorned with plaques to mark an event of utter disinterest to the vast majority of Council Tax-payers.

I am not sure that they are using the word ‘disinterest’ properly (a bugbear of mine) but we’ll let it pass because clearly tempers are running high, as you can see….

It was the grand Victorian artist and designer, William Morris, who said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” The stones of Croydon fail Morris’s test on both counts, unless each ward or high street needed something for their residents’ dogs to cock their legs against.

Oh, and the concept has another flaw: while 20 stones have been distributed, one each to a ward, there are 24 wards in the borough…”

Oh dear. I will let you make up your own mind. Croydon Council definitely hasn’t impressed its residents for quite some time, so I can see that the stones are just another way to irritate everybody.

One of the twenty ‘boulders of Croydon’

And then we leave Westow Park and walk along Eversley Road, where I am very taken by the autumn colour. Truly this is an exceptional year, though I worry that the trees are only so beautiful because the drought stressed them so much.

Soon, we will be in the second part of the walk (of which more tomorrow) but in the meantime, how about this? It looks rather like a Tudor rose inside a sun, and it’s right on the top of the roof of this rather fine house. The house next door has one too, but none of the others. As with so many roads in London, I imagine the houses were built a few at a time, sometimes by different builders. It’s what gives a street, and even part of a street, its own individual character, and I absolutely love it.


So, tomorrow we will advance through some more of the Great North Wood, find a very splendid mansion, and hear from some more locals about Croydon Council, so that will be something to look forward to 🙂

7 thoughts on “The Capital Ring – Crystal Palace to Streatham Common Part One

  1. Anne

    Interesting snippets of history, intriguing architectural details (could that metal door have something to do with clearing a blockage from the chimney?) as well as beautiful autumn colours.

  2. Liz Norbury

    Thank you for this enjoyable post. I loved the Pissarro painting and the ballerina tree, and when I saw the pink and blue tiled path, I felt an instant rush of nostalgia, as it’s exactly like the front path of my childhood home in north London. It’s interesting to learn more about south London, as I’m quite ignorant about large swathes of it – as I suspect many north Londoners are – but I have some familiarity with the area you’ve featured here, as my sister lived in West Norwood for several years around the turn of the century. I didn’t know about the dinosaurs, though – I’ll have to ask my sister if she ever took her boys to see them when they were little. I agree with you about the misuse of “disinterested”, which is surprisingly widespread!

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I think I am turning into a curmudgeon in my old age. Another one is the use of ‘unprecedented’ as if something has happened that couldn’t have been foreseen. It seems to be the get out clause du jour….

  3. Ann Bronkhorst

    ‘Fruity nonchalance’ is a gem of a phrase. Flaunt your dinosaur backdrop with … well, nonchalance at least.


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