Dear Readers, you might remember that yesterday I mentioned that this was quite a hilly walk, and so it is – peering through the autumnal smog yesterday the Shard could be seen glinting, apparently just behind the Walkie Talkie although in reality they are some distance apart. But I was more intrigued with the sunshine through the leaves, and with the fine crop of yew berries on this small tree.
Then we turn into Biggin Hill. You might have heard of the aerodrome of the same name, from which British fighter planes launched during the Second World War, but the hill itself is one of the highest points in London, at over 690 feet above sea level. On the road itself there are several references to Charles Dickens: on the site of a house where he stayed, Springfield, there is now a modern housing estate called Dickens Wood Close, and just across the road is Havisham Place.
The view from the top, on this sunny day, makes even the modern buildings of Croydon look rather splendid.
By now I am beginning to wish that I’d remembered to tie my walking boots rather more tightly at the ankle, as I am suffering from that situation where my foot slides forward and I end up bruising my second toe. And this is a rather steep incline. Still, all in all things are much more satisfactory than in any of my other choices of footwear so far. Apologies for the foot update, I fear I am becoming a foot bore.
Now, we’re in Biggin Wood, where we briefly meet up with a lady with a small Jack Russell Terrier, and her friend. They are both extremely helpful in pointing the way (it’s all gotten a bit vague at this point), and also suggesting ways to circumvent the mud, of which there is plenty, of the sticky, slippery kind. Still, we march on, past an area fenced off by Thames Water, and to which some wag has attached a sign saying ‘please don’t feed the kangaroos’, though apropos of what I have no idea.
But then, this building comes into view.
This is Norwood Mansion, and this is the only bit that survives (the East Wing). It was built for Arthur Anderson, joint founder of the company P&O (which stands for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Company, who knew?). He was MP for the Shetlands, which goes to show that absentee politicians are not a recent thing, though presumably Mr Anderson didn’t appear on a reality TV show, up to his neck in cockroaches. Anderson was also a great fan of Crystal Palace football club.
The two ladies catch up with us at this point, and tell us how wonderful the gardens used to be, and how Croydon Council have let it all go to wrack and ruin. Apparently the upper floors of the mansion are now private apartments, and the bottom part is a children’s nursery. An elderly man was sitting outside on a bench, taking in some sunshine, and we paused to look at a plaque celebrating Mr and Mrs Nettlefold. Mr Nettlefold was an industrialist who bought and then donated the land for the original local library.
The trees are splendid, as you might expect.
And now we pass onto Streatham Common, and are in some need of a cup of tea and a sit down. We are advised by our two new friends to seek out the Rookery café and so we do, and very nice it is too. A cup of builder’s tea and a toasted sandwich later, we’re ready for the final leg back to Streatham Common Station.
The Common has a rather splendid municipal horse trough, now a planter. These were put up all over London so that the poor beleaguered working horses, and cattle being driven into Smithfield, could get a drink. I can just about remember the last working horses in London – there was a milkman’s horse that used to refuse to pass one particular house until the lady owner had popped out with an apple. It was a bit of a novelty even then, in the very early sixties, and the horses were soon replaced with electric milk floats, which were rather ahead of their time.
And this is a fine view too, down to Streatham’s Parish Church of Immanuel and St Andrew, built in 1854.
Streatham High Street is said to be the longest in London at a mile and a half. It has been rather denigrated in the press – it was once voted Britain’s worst and most polluted High Street, which always seemed unfair to me, especially as it was conducted by Radio Four. I listen to Radio Four too, but it doesn’t seem to have a particularly broad demographic, and people can be so snooty. The street has a lot of very useful shops, lots of cheap and cheerful restaurants from all corners of the world, and if it’s got a few Poundshops it’s none the worse for that.
And here’s The Rabbit Hole pub, previously a coaching inn called The Greyhound, which served people travelling through Streatham and on to Brighton in the early 18th century. I confess to rather liking the rabbit and roses motif.
And finally, we pass the war memorial, all the more poignant as it’s the day before Armistice Day. The statue of the soldier is very well done, I think, though the pigeon is not quite as respectful as it could be.
And so, farewell to Crystal Palace, and Norwood, and Streatham, though we shall be starting from Streatham as we set off for Wimbledon Park, hopefully next week if the weather/train strikes/ foot problems all point in the right direction.
After the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, it is so nice to be stitching London back together again in my mind. There’s nothing like walking to help you remember a place.