Category Archives: Rivers

St James’ Stream – A River Pool Tributary

Running Past has been following the courses of the small tributaries of the River Pool, initially those that emanated from the higher ground of the Great North Wood from Sydenham to South Norwood Hill – Adams’ Rill, Wells Park Stream, Pissarro’s Stream, Porcupine Stream, Penge Stream, the River Wilmore and South Northwood Stream. Sandwiched between the main constituent flows of the Pool, the Beck and Chaffinch Brook, is the smaller St James’ Stream.

It is named after a church close to its confluence with Chaffinch Brook, unsurprisingly called St James, we will return to that when we get that far downstream as a stream needs to be followed from its source. Like its near neighbour, South Norwood Stream, there are two branches of the Stream.  It is shown to the eastern side of the Environment Agency flood risk map.

The Eastern Branch

The source is in high ground of Spring Park, an area that seems to be so called due to water sources rather than having any seasonal references. It wasn’t always referred to as this – up until the early 19th century it was referred to as Cold Harbour, presumably this had a similar derivation to the similarly named area of Mottingham  – col d’arbre (gap between wooded hills or pass).

As streams flow they create small valleys, which translate into notched contour lines on maps; the highest of these notches is in a pleasant grassed area bordered by Temple Avenue, Lime Tree Grove, Greenway Gardens and South Way. In reality, the source was possibly a little further south, probably in the woodland behind the houses on Greenway Gardens – more on that when we turn to the Western Branch, although no evidence of present day fluvial activity from the eastern Branch was found there.

The course would have taken the nascent stream in a north-easterly direction, probably through the small piece of woodland, Temple Copse, which seems well maintained by the Spring Park Residents Association. A circuit of the wood offered no clues to the course of the stream. There were hints of, presumably, past fluvial activity around the junction of Pleasant Grove and Shirley Way with a small valley, smoothed a little by the inter-war suburban roads.

The stream first appears on the ground in a small, pleasant park centred around a pond, which it takes its names from – Miller’s Pond which was a water feature for the large house and sometime farm – Spring Park House. It was bought in the mid-1830s by wealthy MP, Sir John Temple Leader, who brought in an innovative tenant farmer, Hewitt Davis who converted the land into a ‘model farm.’ Census records suggest that Davis had moved and the 275 acres were being farmed by John Callis by 1851.

By 1861 the house was a residence for a stockbroker, Horace Wilkinson, his wife Anne, two toddlers and seven servants. The farm seems to have been being run from elsewhere. This was the pattern with successive censuses. By the 1950s the notice board at the Pond suggests that the House was being used as a nurses home for the nearby Bethlem Hospital.

The pond was named after the last tenant, Thomas Alfred Miller, who was certainly there in 1911 and hailed from Essex. The second pond remains but seems not to be publicly accessible.

Over Wickham Road, and into the grounds of the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital, there is a pond marked on modern road maps, but on the ground it proved hard to find – there was a jumble of brambles, nettles and other dense undergrowth whet GPS suggested it should be. There were though a series of manhole covers broadly in the directions of flow dotted between the newer buildings of the Hospital, but alas after several weeks of little rain even hints of the sound of subterranean water proved elusive.

The Western Branch

The original source would probably have been in pleasant triangle of woodland flanked by Shirley Church Road, South Way and Greenway Gardens. At the first reconnoitre, the copse seemed to contain several valleys, but it became clear that they were pits, an early Ordnance Survey map suggesting that there had been gravel extraction there. The quarrying expunged any evidence of fluvial activity.

The course of the western branch is broadly northern while the notched Ordnance Survey contour lines are clear, the evidence on the ground is much less so; although the fluvially eroded dip on Midholm Road is very clear indeed. There is also a slight depression on Bennett Park before, unseen and unheard, the Stream follows for a while one of many paths behind homes in the area – a continuation of Farm Drive. The contour suggested route would take the Branch across Devonshire Way, Lake Road and finally Wickham Road. Evidence of erosion and fluvial flows was conspicuous by its absence though on the ground.

Over the road and into the grounds of the Royal Bethlem Hospital, a stream eroded dip becomes obvious. Before the Hospital was there, the land was home to Park Farm, the confluence with the western stream was made towards the south western corner of the estate. The newly joined Stream was dammed several times to form a series of ponds for breeding fish. The area is obvious but has incredibly dense trees and undergrowth, with the former ponds completely silted up with no current sign of water, there are suggestions that they may have been filled in during the 1940s to prevent patients harming themselves.  There are semi paths to a small depression which would have been the course, but while modern road maps suggest flowing water, on the ground it appeared that the stream had been culverted, the nearest to water was an oddly abandoned empty fish bowl.

The hospital was on the site on Monk’s Orchard House which was pulled down to make way for the Hospital.  The name is not directly monastic but refers to a family called Munke from the Addington area whose named lived on in some nearby woodland.  The name was appropriated by Lewis Loyd when he built the House and it has in turn given its name to the suburb and adjacent road.  The remains of terraces of Monks Orchard House remain in the Maudsley grounds.

When the Stream finally emerged from its culverting, the water seemed to be barely moving, almost stagnant. The small valley remained visible from the adjacent meadows – resplendent in late spring wild flowers when visited. By the next time the Stream was visible, it seemed to have been joined by several other flows from elsewhere on the Hospital estate.

The dense undergrowth and volume of nettles and brambles made much further exploration for the be-shorted runner tricky (the wounds from the same combination of plants from the exploration of South Norwood Stream had barely healed.)

The Bethlem Royal Hospital, now part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, is a psychiatric hospital whose roots were in the 13th century in Bishopsgate, close to the current location of Liverpool Street Station, from the 14th century it was sometimes referred to as ‘Bedlam.’ It was based at what is now the Imperial War Museum from 1815 until moving to Monks Orchard in the 1930s. Bronze Age relics were found during the construction.  In July 1948, following the setting up of the National Health Service, Bethlem was united administratively with the Maudsley Hospital to form a single postgraduate psychiatric teaching hospital.

The next sighting of the stream was just 400 metres away as the Stream flowed, but the hospital site has no non-fluvial exit to anywhere other than Monks Orchard Road. A detour of around a mile and a half is needed for the fluvial flâneur, the follower of streams.

It is easy to miss St James’ Stream’s next brief public appearance – a fleeting glimpse on the southern side of Upper Elmers End Road, a small screen with a river level gauge. Beyond the screen, the land is flat and notched contour lines which would indicate fluvial erosion few and far between. The stream presumably takes a culverted course under a David Lloyd Leisure Centre, Beckenham Rugby Club and Eden Park High School. The signs and sounds of water around the likely course behind gardens of Dunbar Avenue were absent though.

The next and penultimate appearance is beyond the Elmer’s End one-way system around the green where one of the suggested derivations of the name is that this was the place where local Anglo Saxon miscreants were executed. The re-emergence of the stream is close to the church it takes its name from – St James, Beckenham.

The church is slightly odd looking from the outside with what seems to be a double nave Cherry and Pevsner (1) explain why

The original church, of 1879-88 by A R Stenning, is hidden by the pretty Perpendicular building of 1934 by G Sworder Powell which doubled its size. Symmetrical south elevation to the road, with two wide gables and low flanking porches on the slant. Arcade of exceeding wide four-centred arches.

The St James Stream appears 50 metres to the north east of the eponymous Church on the eponymous Avenue in a concrete channel, seemingly devoid of any life, other than that forcing its way betwixt fencing panel and concrete banks (the photograph to the left below).

The Stream’s last few metres continue in the broadly north western course it has been following for a while, bisecting Forster Road (above right) before a confluence of the stream with Chaffinch Brook which is flowing between Forster and Clock House Roads, around 250 metres before the waters of another tributary, South Norwood Stream join.   The confluence is hidden from the public eye as it remains covered until reaching the rear gardens of the eastern side of Forster Road.

Notes

  1. Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner The Buildings of England – London 2 : South (1983) p159

Census and related data come via Find My Past

The Ordnance Survey maps are on a non-commercial licence from the National Library of Scotland, Spring Park House  and Monks Orchard (both 1897)

South Norwood Stream – A River Pool Tributory

Running Past has traced the routes of several of the small tributaries of the River Pool that emanated from the higher ground of the Great North Wood from Sydenham to South Norwood Hill – Adams’ Rill, Wells Park Stream, Pissarro’s Stream, Porcupine Stream, Penge Stream and the River Willmore.  A little further down the hill are a pair of streams that run through the wild urban oasis of South Norwood Country Park and have a confluence within it.  The Park is not to be confused with South Norwood Lake and Grounds, which we passed through with the River Willmore.  Collectively the streams appear to have been named, albeit not obviously on maps, South Norwood Stream – which seems appropriate based on its location.  Unlike all the other streams followed to date in the catchment it is visible for much of its route.

As there are two main flows, which need to be distinguished and as a there is already ‘South’ in the name these can’t be based on compass points – North South Norwood Stream would be far too confusing!  The northern flow is along the edge of the Beckenham Cemetery, two of the more famous names of buried there are Thomas Crapper (of flush fame) and W. G. Grace, who Running Past covered on the centenary of his death in 2015.  Whilst tempted to use the former, particularly as the South Norwood Country Park was once Croydon’s Sewage works (more on that later), it is a flow that deserves a better epithet – so it will be referred to as Grace’s Brook.

The southern branch is close to Elmer’s End so this seems rather appropriate to call it Elmer’s Brook.  However, the two competing narratives for the derivations of the name  are fairly grizzly, in both the ‘End’ relates to a brutal death – either for a ‘famous highwayman’ being hanged or more likely it came from  the Anglo Saxon word for criminal, Elmerus, and related to local people being executed on the Green.  Although with the latter, nothing was found on-line to back this up other than other references to Elmers End and delving further into the name it seems as likely that it is a variant of a German name Hildimar – meaning famous fighter.   Those of you wanting a more benign option and who have had small children in the recent past, may well be aware of an Elmer whose demise has yet to be reported, an elephant with a brightly coloured coat – although that appears to have been commemorated (although not in name) by the Glass Mill Leisure Centre further downstream in Lewisham.

Grace’s Brook

The sources, and there are two of them, are close to that for one of the branches of the Willmore which was at Goat Bridge.   Fluvial flows are indicated on maps with upward pointing notches in contour lines caused by the stream eroding the ground as it flows.  For the northerly source, the highest of these is around John Street, although the land rises above that and there was a small pond on the Victorian Ordnance Survey map (see top left hand corner below – on a non-commercial licence from National Library of Scotland) which was around 50 metres along Manor Road from Portland Road which may have been the source.

There is a fine Victorian building now on the site with a car park on the at the rear, but no 21st century sign of water.

The subsequent route takes the Brook along Harrington Road, there were still no obvious subterranean sounds of flowing water emanating from beneath manhole covers.  The Brook emerges out into the open near the eponymous Croydon Tramlink stop on the edge of South Norwood Country Park.  Sounds of water were heard sooner than any physical sign in the impenetrable bramble and nettle strewn undergrowth.

The Environment Agency Flood Risk maps (where surface water is selected) show the route quite clearly.

The southerly of the sources has contour lines which peter out at Merton Road close to the large railway cutting, which broadly followed the route laid out by its predecessor the Croydon Canal, again, nothing was obvious on the ground.  It may well be that this is or was the source.  While difficult to be certain the route probably follows Crowther and Holland Roads – there is a pronounced valley at this point on Portland Road.

A little way up the northern side of the valley was the home of William Walker at 119 Portland Road; Walker was a diver who used his underwater skills to help shore up and underpin serious subsidence at Winchester Cathedral during 1906, without which the Cathedral may well have collapsed.  Born in 1869, he trained with the Royal Navy at Portsmouth Dockyard, and amongst other projects he had worked included the Blackwell Tunnel.  He died during the ‘flu epidemic of 1918 and was buried just downstream in at Beckenham.  There is an impressive plaque on the front of the house.

The valley continued along Belfast Road, albeit with no obvious watery sounds from beneath the ironwork in the road.  Ground levels and contours suggest that the Brook would probably flowed just to the north of the brickworks which were where the Croydon Arena is currently situated; they will have utilised the heavy clays  of the area.  It was an area where there were several brickworks – evidence of which remains in Brickworks Meadow in Woodside and Heavers Meadow in South Norwood.  Unlike several of the other works in the area, the marked (on Ordnance Survey map above) Portland Road Brickworks appears not to have been mentioned in on-line.  The same is the case for the South Norwood Potteries – although there is a small cul de sac, Pottery Close, which is near the confluence with the northern branch.

The newly merged Grace’s Brook skirts the northern edge of South Norwood Country Park initially with natural banks but soon in an old concrete channel, there is little in the way of obvious life although a few plants seem to be inhabiting cracks in the concrete banks.  The path alongside was barely visible and painful to follow in places due to nettles and the benign cow parsley. Despite the volume of urtica dioica and a marked absence of rumex leaves to salve the resultant rash, the Park was a delight – an area of wilderness criss-crossed by paths and with a small lake at the Elmers End Road side.

It wasn’t always thus, for a century from 1862, the land was used as a sewage farm with lagoons filtering out the sediment – it wasn’t that successful given the clay subsoil – some of the concrete channels used apparently still remain though, although were never seen due to the height of the foliage .  The area was used for training for armed forces during World War 2 and also abandoned and largely left to go wild until the creation of the Country Park. Elsewhere in the park there was dumping of rubble from the Blitz in Croydon which now provides a fine vantage point for the rest of the Park.

 

Elmer’s Brook

Unlike Grace’s Brook, the source is a little indeterminate – contours seem to imply a source on the edge of Long Lane Wood (although this was never found); it then follows a footpath on the opposite side of Long Lane – historically there were flows alongside but there is nothing now either side of the border with a driving range.   While modern Ordnance Survey maps offer an intermittent blue line alongside the west of the Tram Link tracks it was several hundred metres before anything definitive was found.

A secondary source appears to be to the south west of the Croydon Arena, although contour lines and on ground investigation proved inconclusive as to where this might have been.  As with Grace’s Brook while sounds of water were heard at various points the depth and density of the undergrowth proved a barrier to finding the flow.

While there is nothing now obvious on the ground, at this point it would have fed two concentric rectangular moats surrounding a 13th century house, the house was probably abandoned due to flooding  by the mid-15th century.   The site was excavated in the 1970s before the Country Park was created, with significant and interesting finds of timbers, pipes and pottery along with the moats.  It was marked on the 19th century Ordnance Survey map – see above.

Another man-made water feature was created when the Country Park was created – a small lake.  Elmer’s Brook skirts around the edge of it before a confluence (which may be a recent man-made one) with Grace’s Brook. The volume of water from Elmer’s Brook appears less at this point than further up-stream, it is suspected that much of the flow is now going into the lake although no obvious evidence of this was found.

What is now South Norwood Stream darts under Elmers End Road flowing through Dorset Road allotments opening out onto the flank of Maberley Road playing fields (a different Maberley Road to the one covered in the post on the River Willmore).  The banks here are naturalised (see photographs at the top of the post) and while in parkland, the streamside path is choked with plants.  It then passes through passing through a Bromley Recycling facility before doglegging along the edge of Churchfields Recreation Ground, again with concrete banks and continues under the railway between Elmers End and Clock House.

For the fluvial flâneur there is a mile long retracing of steps through parks and along footpaths through Elmer’s End before seeing South Norwood Stream again as it crossed Clock House Road, the stream having dawdled just 75 metres in its now concrete channel.  It is bridged by the road and in the gardens between Clock House and Forster Roads a confluence with Chaffinch Brook is made unseen due to a large buddleia bush blocking the view.

Porcupine Stream – A River Pool Tributary

There are a number of streams (or former streams) that we have already covered that rise in the high ground that stretches from the borders of Croydon to the borders of New Cross – in the past covered by woodland known as the Great North Wood. Running Past has covered (and named) several of these including Penge Stream, Adams’ Rill, Wells Park Stream and the River Willmore.

We now turn our attention to another group of streams whose sources are very close to another covered – Pissarro’s Stream.  It doesn’t seem to have a name that has survived, but for the purposes of identification has been called Porcupine Stream here – the reasons for this became clear in John Rocque’s map of the 1740s (above), we’ll return to the farm later.  The map suggests around four sources – some of which are above Charleville Circus and others currently within Crystal Palace Park.  It is this latter group that we turn our attention to first.

More than perhaps any small section of south east London, the moving of the Crystal Palace to the top of Anerley Hill in 1854 saw massive changes to the levels of land, obliterating former contour lines and altering flows of streams.  Streams were ‘stolen’ to help provide the water for the large array of fountains and cascades within the Park, although with the help of Brunel, two enormous water towers recycle water from the large reservoirs in the middle of the Park which provided the bulk of the water.

Despite the changes to the landscape, a small valley is visible high up in the northern corner of the Park and point to a former stream that would have fed what is now the small lake in front of the decaying Concert Bowl, sometimes referred to as the ‘rusty laptop’. There is  a small flow behind the Concert Bowl which follows the course the stream would have followed to fill the one of the many reservoirs that were created in the Park, which is now referred to as the Fishermen’s Lake.  Whether it now contains water diverted from the original stream’s course is unclear.

Before moving on, the Concert Bowl used to be a significant venue for the summer outdoor festivals – it was a stage that once saw the likes of Pink Floyd,  Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel and The Cure perform. As the 1863 surveyed Ordinances Survey map shows, in the years after the opening of the Park that corner was home to quieter activities – an archery range and the English Landscape Garden.

Any flow beyond the Fisherman’s Lake would have been into the now lost North Basin (see Ordnance Survey map above).  There used to be an implication in a now deleted on-line Environment Agency document that any excess water was diverted to the eastern end of the Park seemingly to join the stream coming down from above Charleville Circus and Ordnance Survey map contours suggest that this was probably the original route anyway. 

We have ‘visited’ Charleville Circus before, as the source of Pissarro’s Stream is just to the east of it.  To the north-west of the Circus, in the apex of Westwood Hill and Crystal Palace Park Road – currently home to an imposing 1930s mansion block, Torrington Court, are the other sources of Porcupine Stream. While Rocque’s map suggested three or four sources, the upward pointing contour lines of fluvial erosion only highlight one of these.  The route above Charleville Circus is through private gardens, but a fluvially eroded depression is just about visible from the main road.   Very briefly, possibly coincidentally, the route across the Circus was coterminous with a boundary which helpfully still has a pair of Lewisham Parish boundary markers in the south east and south west quadrants.

The boundary veers off the the north just south of Charleville Circus, briefly following Pissarro’s Stream.  Porcupine Stream, though, ‘ploughs’ a small furrow – visible clearly on Border Crescent,  and on Ordnance Survey maps, flowing parallel to Crystal Palace Park Road.

While contours suggest a deepening of the small valley down the hill, the on ground reality is slightly different with the dip only just perceptible on Sydenham Avenue and on Lawrie Park Road at the rear of another elegant 1930s block, Park Court designed by by Frederik Gibberd,.  The route followed, as the Environment Agency surface water flood risk map shows (above), is broadly along the appropriately named Springfield Road.

Considerably below the surface, the stream broadly follows the route on another line marked on maps – that of one of several railway tunnels through Sydenham Hill – this one carrying the railway between Sydenham Hill and Penge East stations.

Just below Springfield Road, the stream would have met the Croydon Canal, later to be, London and Croydon Railway– it isn’t clear whether the stream was used to feed the canal or not, some were, some weren’t.  On the other side of the railway contours would indicate a flow just off Station Road in Bredhurst Close – however, it, and it is a large ‘IF’, the stream is still flowing culverted it may have been moved a few metres to the south as there is always the sound of rushing water below a manhole cover close to the junction of Crampton and Station Roads (it could, of course, be just a very active sewer…).   before a confluence with the branch coming from the Park close to the elegant Penge East station.

The rushing water has never been regularly heard from other manhole covers in the area and contour lines imply a route under the current railway close to Penge East in the direction of Parish Lane.

What is now Parish Lane was once home to Porcupine Farm – it was active from the mid-18th century in Rocque’s map (see above), probably earlier, until 1851; it is listed in a directory with William Wrenn being the farmer, published that year.  It is possible that the farm had been first leased by Wrenn’s father in 1800 – there is evidence of a lease in Penge to another William Wrenn in 1800.

It has also been suggested that it may have also been a pub.  However, the farm wasn’t mentioned in the 1851 census and while William Wrenn was probably still farming it, he was listed as farming 100 acres with 4 labourers but living on the main Beckenham Road.  The farm buildings were still there, but weren’t mentioned by name in the 1863 surveyed Ordnance Survey map.  Without the farm it was referred to as Porcupine Meadow and was sold by the Duke of Westminster to the Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes.  The idea behind the scheme was to build workers cottages close to stations.

164 small semi-detached houses were built on Porcupine Meadow between 1866 and 1870; the financing of the scheme was based on

…working men are prepared to pay down a deposit of £10 and enter into the necessary arrangements for securing the absolute ownership of a cottage and garden at the end of 12 or 13 years by paying a weekly sum which would cover all expenses and yield a liberal rate of interest for the investment in the meantime.

Back to the stream – in would have flowed down Parish Lane, to a confluence with Penge Stream somewhere around the Green Lane junction with Parish Lane before joining the Willmore ahead of its confluence with the Pool.

Picture & Map Credits

  • The Ordnance Survey map is on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland 
  • John Rocque’s map was a screen shot from years ago, I can no longer find the original source to properly credit it
  • the postcard of the Crystal Palace was via eBay in April 2019
  • the photograph of Penge East station is from Wikipedia on a Creative Commons

1851 census data comes via Find My Past

Penge Stream – A River Pool Tributary

As we have seen with a couple of streams in the Pool catchment, Pissarro’s Stream and Wells Park Stream, the high land above Sydenham was covered in woodland known as the Great North Wood.

Another of these streams is Penge Stream which had several sources just to the south of Crystal Palace Park. It was visible in William Faden’s map of 25 miles around London (on a Creative Commons via the Library of Congress) was surveyed in 1790 (above).

The most obvious source is high up on a street parallel to Anerley Hill, Milestone Road – a road that seems to lacks its name. This source was around a rather attractive modern block of flats which makes extensive use of glazed bricks, Stratos Heights. ‘Was’ is because there is now no obvious sign of water despite the assertions of the contour lines of a valley (streams erode the land they cross and the valley that is created has an upstream pointing notch on maps with contour lines.)

The valley tumbles down through the gardens between of Milestone Road and Anerley Hill towards Cintra Park, here the valley is clear, a pronounced dip in Cintra Park, below.

Cintra Park was also a confluence of streams, one of the other sources is close to the ridge and Belvedere Road. The branch runs almost due east, passing the blue plaqued home of Marie Stopes at 28 Cintra Park – while she made major contributions to plant palaeontology and coal classification, and was the first female academic on the faculty of the University of Manchester, she is better known for founding the first birth control clinic in Britain, despite her opposition to abortion.

Below Cintra Park there is another dip on Playdell Road and a further one on Palace View, with each terrace further down the hill, the valley flattens out a little. There is one of the several small, fluvially eroded switchbacks on Anerley Hill just below the road leading to Crystal Park station – here there would have been another small confluence with a stream that ran between houses in Waldegrave Road – it’s course is clear a little further upstream too, with a small dip in Belvedere Road (just below the junction in the picture below).

The Stream, for much of its original course, was crossing Penge Common; most of which was enclosed with the Croydon Enclosure Act of 1797 and the Penge Enclosure Acts in 1805, 1806, and 1827.

To the north of Anerley Hill, contours were slightly confused by the railway line approaching Crystal Palace station but the former course would have taken in through the former Bromley Council housing of Lullington Road – some sold under Right to Buy, the remainder owned by Clarion Housing, the current name of what was once Broomleigh, the housing association all of Bromley’s stock was transferred to.  Lullington Road (Lillington Road on the 1863 surveyed Ordnance Survey map) is on the site of Victorian housing that was developed soon after the arrival of the Crystal Palace. The mention of Battersea below it is not a cartographical error by early Ordnance Surveyors, rather, as was covered in the post of the River Willmore, Penge was for centuries an outlier of Battersea.

Downstream the stream would have crossed the current Thicket Road before traversing the contour hugging Anerley Park (once home the the leading Victorian cyclist George Lacy Hillier). The curvature was the result of the road following the former Croydon Canal – a short stretch still remained into the 1860s. Assuming that the stream was still flowing at the time the canal was built, it may well have drained into it.

Later Ordnance Survey map  contour notches suggest another stream joining around this point – while the cartographical route is clear, it’s former route lacks clarity on the ground.

On the other side of the canal replacement service, the railway, Penge Stream crosses Oakfield Road, there is a no doubt fluvial eroded depression close to Woodbine Grove. Woodbine Grove is and was part of the Groves Estate – first built in the mid 19th century and redeveloped by Penge UDC, then London Broough of Bromley in the 1960s.

Around here, another small stream would have joined just behind the Pawlene Arms; while it’s contour lines are obvious from Ordnance Survey maps, although slightly less so on the ground – there are hints of a depression mid way along Howard Road, parallel to Maple Road, and its neighbours, but tracing it back upstream it peters out well before Anerley Road.

The once larger stream would have probably flowed now not so Green Lane, joining another stream flowing from the northern side of Crystal Palace Park and making a confluence with the Willmore (also known as  Boundary Stream, Boundary Ditch and Shire Ditch) around the junction of Kent House and Parish Lanes – this is not completely clear though, the confluence may have been with the Pool itself around Cator Park school.

The Environment Agency 100 year flood risk map,  whilst relating to surface water is helpful in tracking former streams as storm flows will often follow the courses of former or hidden watercourses due to the small valleys that have been created.  This is shown above for the entire course of Penge Stream, but potential flows become somewhat confused around Penge’s High Street.

Here, as with the rest of the course of the stream, there is no evidence of Penge Stream still flowing – at no stage was there either any water or the tell-tale sounds of water flowing under man-hole covers. While the course is clear, it seems that like many of the other streams that flowed from high up in the Great North Wood, Penge Stream is lost to changes in the water table or Victorian surface drainage (probably the former).

Ordnance Survey map credits – all are from the National Library of Scotland on Creative Commons – the top 1960s  and the bottom from 1863.

The River Willmore – a Penge Stream

Running Past has covered several of the streams that eventually amalgamate to form the River Pool in Beckenham’s Cator Park – all had their sources in the Great North Wood which sits on one of South London’s most prominent pieces of high ground – stretching from South Norwood Hill, through the present Crystal Palace, Sydenham Hill and Forest Hill – to date these have included several without surviving names, those that I have called Pissarro’s Stream, Wells Park Stream and Adams’ Rill.

This lack of names is more than made up for by a quartet of options for this waterway – known variously as Boundary Stream, Boundary Ditch, the River Willmore and Shire Ditch.  Regular readers of Running Past will know I am partial to using ‘Ditch’ – it is common in the Quaggy catchment. However, it seems out of place here and given the significance of this watercourse, I think that it deserves ‘river’ status.

Rivers and streams often form the boundaries between parishes, wards districts and counties – as was covered in a post on the Quaggy catchment on Border Ditch which is part of the boundary between Lewisham and Bromley.

The boundary that the Willmore is used for refers to is a ‘lost’ one between Surrey and Kent (to the east), and later the frontier between Municipal Borough of Beckenham and Penge Urban District Council (UDC).  As a boundary it was there when John Roque mapped Surrey in 1762 (above) marking the edge of the surveyed land.

Penge has had a strange history in terms of boundaries – for hundreds of years it had been an isolated part of the parish of Battersea, itself part of the Hundred of Brixton.  In the second half of the 19th century the Metropolis Act brought it together with Lewisham and it was run by the Board of Guardians – this was a cross boundary arrangement with Lewisham being in Kent and Penge in Surrey. After the London local government re-organisation that came into force in 1965, Penge UDC was merged with its next door neighbour, Beckenham, over the Willmore (along with the Municipal Borough of Bromley, Orpington Urban District and the Chislehurst bit of Chislehurst and Sidcup Urban District.)  to form the London Borough of Bromley.

The main sources of the Willmore are in the high ground above South Norwood Lake.  The steep hillside coming down from the ridge that continues on from Sydenham Hill and Anerley Hill, on top of which once sat the Crystal Palace saw numerous springs where the geology changes and the gravel meets the London Clay beneath. The hillside below them is gently serrated with small valleys gouged out by fluvial activity as water tumbled down towards lower levels. These valleys are clear both on the ground, despite the volume of housing that clings to the hillside, as well as on Ordnance Survey maps where there are upward pointing notches in the contour lines.

Some of the flows are no longer visible either because they are no longer flowing due to changes in the water table or because they have been culverted.  The 1863 surveyed map above shows some evidence of the flows.

The reality on the ground now is a little harder to work out due to the extent to which, first the Croydon Canal , which opened in 1809, and its successor along much of the course 30 years later, the London and Croydon Railway, played havoc with the natural lines of the landscape, changing contour lines and flows.

Environment Agency 100 year flood risk map,  whilst relating to surface water is helpful in tracking former streams as storm flows will often follow the courses of former or hidden streams due to the small valleys that have been created.

There are two main groups of these the northerly streams ones which coalesce around Maberley Road and the Auckland Rise group which would have combined in what is now South Norwood Lake and Grounds, along with a southerly one originating around Goat House.

Maberley Branch

The exact sources of the streams forming this branch are not that obvious, development has made exploration of the upper slopes of the hill difficult.  In any case, changes in the water table have probably meant that they are no longer flowing,.  However, the multiple switchbacks caused by streams eroding the hillside are clear on Auckland Road, one around Fox Hill, the other in Stambourne Way (below).

Originally gravity would have probably suggested that the course was a downhill one – there are hints of this on the Environment Agency map.  However, the downward flow would have been blocked by the route of the Croydon Canal.  It is quite likely that its engineers wanted to use the streams to provide water for the reservoir that is now South Norwood Lake which was used to provide water for the canal.  This would probably explain this unexpected dog-leg to a confluence around the Harris Academy site and a flow onto the Lake.  The arrival of steam, 30 years after the canal no doubt confused matters further.

Close to the Maberley Road entrance of South Norwood Lake and Grounds there is what appears to be a seasonal stream, in the incredibly dry summer of 2018 there was, unsurprisingly, a lack of water.  The occasional watercourse seems to peter out just before it would have entered the Lake.

Auckland Rise Group

Of the three streams that once flowed about ground there is little evidence for two of them other than depressions in roads marking their presumably former existence, certainly nothing flowing in the driest summer for 44 years.  However, the third is most definitely flowing.

The upper reaches while clear in terms of contours aren’t on the ground – a long slog up the steep, winding road through the Auckland Rise estate to a small bit of woodland failed to produce any of the obvious signs of water that the notched contours suggested.  Although there were a couple of rather attractive wooden owls an overgrown picnic areas.

The stream would have flowed past the childhood home of the crime writer Raymond Chandler, which is remembered with a blue plaque – he had been gone from there for almost 30 years before he published his first novel ‘The Big Sleep’ in 1939.The course emerges from Auckland Close (where there is no hint of the stream) out into some bramble dominated woodland, not some residual part of the Great North Wood as it isn’t marked on the Ordnance Survey map above.  It doesn’t seem to have a name but the nascent stream emerges, finding a way through the choked woodland floor to the edge of some school playing fields abutting South Norwood Country Park before disappearing into a rudimentary screen – presumably then going, submerged, into the Lake.

South Norwood Lake would have been the man-made confluence of all these streams – a reservoir for water needed to keep up levels in the 28 sets of locks in the Croydon Canal. It is a pleasant park, with an elegant cricket ground – the Lake is home to a lot of wildfowl and plenty of spots for fishing.  The latter has a long history here – there is a beautifully preserved pre-decimal sign indicating fees – which had risen a little by the time of writing.

Goat House Branch

John Roque’s 1672 map of Surrey (above) suggests a branch emanating from ‘Goat House’.  In terms of location this would have been around the location of the current major bridge over the railway, around 250 metres from Norwood Junction.  There was for a while a pub of the name next to the bridge.  The route on a 1960s OS map is much clearer than on the ground – there were boundary markers at the junction of Thomsett and Wheathill Raods with Marlow Road and then a little way up Cambridge Road.  As these are broadly the same as the contour notches this was probably the route of the branch.  Like its northern counterparts, the railway played havoc with the route, as the 1960s Ordnance Survey map below shows.

The outflow appears to be along the northern side of the Lake, where in the dry summer of 2018 a trickle of water was heading north-eastwards. It then gets disturbed by the railway (formerly canal) again, along with another line from coming into Crystal Palace from Birkbeck station and Beckenham Junction beyond.  The land either side of Croydon Road is fairly flat, although gently failing away to the east, so an exact route is hard to be sure of.  But it probably crosses Selby Road running through the South Penge Park estate crossing Croydon Road near the sad site of a boarded up pub, the Mitre, which closed in March 2018, a recent refurbishment seemingly having failed to attract sufficient new drinkers.

The course eastwards was probably originally crossing Tremaine and Samos Roads.  The confluence with the branch from Goat House would have been around here.

A slight depression becomes obvious in Marlow Road, while there are no obvious signs of water rushing beneath manhole covers (it was very dry though)  The route beyond the small Willmore-cut depression in Elmers End Road , is clear because until the mid-1960s the Willmore was flowing above ground at this point. It squeezed between gardens for Ravenscroft Road and Chesham Road.  It is obvious from both the blue of the water and the coterminous black boundary dots on the early 1960s Ordnance Survey map

A slight diversion is needed at this point as we are now very much in Penge here; Penge to the fluvial flâneur of a certain age, will always gave a grizzly association – the ‘Penge Bungalow Murders.’ Fortunately, these were fictional rather than actual homicides and were to the starting point of the career of ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, wonderfully played by Leo McKern. In the streets of Penge, bungalows are hard to find – I would love to think that this is John Mortimer’s inspiration about a 150 metres off course.  We digress though, and ‘she who must be obeyed,’ in this case the River Willmore, must be returned to.

The valley crossing the main downward hill from Crystal Palace towards Elmers End at right angles becomes a little more pronounced here.

 

There are a couple of bridges over the former stream which are obvious – the first reflects different street names in once different boroughs either side of the bridge, the second while plainer fails to hide the concrete casing that the Willmore now has to lurk beneath squeezing between the houses. .

In 1894 the Lewisham and Penge Board of Works asked their counterparts in Beckenham to help pay for improvement works to what they referred to as Boundary Ditch as it was in places insufficient to deal with the volume of water entering from both parishes.

The culverting of the river seems to have started in late 1965 as it was promised in a statement by a Minister in April 1965.  This doubling up of street names is again apparent as the Willmore crosses the main road – the former Kent side is called Beckenham Road, the Surrey side High Street.

The stream passes over High Street, crossing next to Tesco.  The Willmore still flowed above ground alongside the southerly end of Kent House Road to around the railway bridge at the beginning of the 20th century – see above (source e Bay September 2015).

The River was then culverted and joined by Penge Stream, which will be covered in a later post and another, as yet,  nameless stream broadly following Parish Lane – this is clear on John Roque’s map of Surrey above. Oddly, until the mid-1960s the newly merged watercourse re-emerged between the gardens of Kent House and Reddons Roads before being forced into a sharp east turn behind the then Cator Park School (now like a school further upstream a Harris Academy) before traversing Cator Park to join the newly formed River Pool (the amalgamated Beck and Chaffinch Brook) .  It probably wasn’t the original course but the right angled diversion was probably to make cultivation easier – it certainly existed in the 1860s, before the area was developed.

Unlike upstream where culverting was over the top of the existing course, the 1965 works here diverted the flow, presumably under Kings Hall and Aldersmead Roads to enter the Park further south and run parallel to Chaffinch Brook for a hundred metres (the flows clearly audible through vented manhole covers), past the latter’s confluence with The Beck to form the River Pool. The Willmore enters the Pool in the same place as it did before but from a different angle.

 

Picture & Map Credits

The Ordnance Survey maps images are all on Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland – the specific links are contained within the text.

I cannot remember where I copied a small part of John Roque’s map of Surrey from – it is no longer available on-line in the form that I saw it.  If it is your organisation’s image, do let me know and I will properly credit you.

The 1968 Lewisham Floods

Mid-September sees the 50th anniversary of the 1968 floods in Lewisham caused by the Rivers Ravensbourne, Quaggy and Pool all overflowing their banks as a result of two days very heavy rain on 15 and 16 September 1968.  The summer of 1968  had been one of the wettest on record, so the ground was already pretty much saturated causing large amounts of water to immediately run-off with large amounts draining into the local rivers.

So what caused the floods? A warm and very moist air front which had its origins in the western Mediterranean converged with a cool, moist one from the Baltic over south eastern England.  The fronts then moved very little for two days.   A broad area from the Thames Estuary to Hampshire received six weeks of rain, 75 mm (3” for you non-metric folk), during those two days.  A large area including south east London received double this – 150 mm (6”) – 3 months of rain in 48 hours.  On  Sunday 15 September alone, the Met Office noted that Bromley saw the heaviest rain with 129.5 mm (5.2”); rain in Bromley  ends up in flowing down the Ravensbourne and Quaggy to Lewisham. With this volume of rainfall it is not surprising that drainage systems failed to cope.

To understand the sheer scale of the flooding it is worth noting that the Quaggy, which typically had a depth of 15 cm (3”) at one point was over 5 metres deep in Lewisham (1). Traffic was unable to run at all along the main road between Catford and Loampit Hill as the entire area, built in the Ravensbourne flood plain was flooded (2).

The Ravensbourne

The Ravensbourne runs in a fairly flat valley all the way through Catford and Lewisham and there was flooding all the way along course – The Times photographed flooding on Southend Lane, close to Bromley Road where the usually hidden Ravensbourne crosses (3).  There was flooding too further upstream at Bromley South where the Ravensbourne burst its banks.

There were lots of memories on Facebook threads on this of using boats from Peter Pan’s Pond – originally a mill pond on the Ravensbourne (now the pond outside Homebase) to row around the area, including getting into the bar at the Tiger’s Head and generally playing in the flooded waters.

In nearby Watermead Road, flood waters reached 1.5 metres deep in places (as they did on Southend Lane) – houses there took a year to dry out and there was some looting after the flood waters receded.   A little further downstream is one of iconic pictures of the Lewisham floods – the Robertson’s Jam Factory which had the Ravensbourne immediately behind (on a Creative Commons via David Wright on Geograph).    

Unsurprisingly, a hundred metres further down Bromley Road, there was also flooding at the junction with Aitken Road (on a Creative Commons via David Wright on Geograph). Those with basement flats were particularly badly affected – in one on Barmeston Road the water went up to the ceiling.  

The volume of water coming down the Ravensbourne was augmented by the also flooded River Pool (see below) – the confluence is just south of Catford Bridge.  This meant that Catford Town Centre was under water.  There were memories on Facebook of free buses being laid on to transport people wanting to get from Stanstead Road to Brownhill Road, elsewhere refuse lorries did the same thing.

There was a ‘not entirely successful’ attempt to sail from Catford to Lewisham on a wooden garage door brought downstream on the Ravensbourne.  More appropriate forms of water transport were used in Ladywell Fields where an unknown kayaker paddled close to the railway bridge.

The extent of the flooding becomes apparent in the foreshortened by telephoto lens shot looking towards Ladywell Bridge from the around the ‘playtower’

While not shown in the picture there was a boat that ferried people across the worst of the flooding at Ladywell.  Marsala Road, parallel to the Ravensbourne, itself became ‘a fast flowing river’ with water levels inside houses rising to over a metre above ground level at one point.  There were Facebook memories of playing on a tractor inner tube in the flood water on the street. The ground floors in neighbouring Elmira Street were flooded too.

In Lewisham it seems that the flooding caused a crane to topple over – presumably on the Sundermead Estate that was being built at the time (4).

The Quaggy

From its entry into Lewisham at Chinbrook Meadows (and no doubt further upstream too) there was flooding along the Quaggy, Just outside the park in Marvels Lane, next to Sydenham Cottages as the Quaggy burst its banks.

Lee Green flooded, although probably not as badly as it had done in the past from snow melt in the early 19th century.  Manor Lane, where the Quaggy is bridged and Leahurst Road flooded too. There was flooding on Lee High Road and the parallel streets – with memories of submerged basements and flooded gardens around Eastdown Park – the photogrpah belwo shows the bottom of Dermody Road and the bridge over the Quaggy into Weardale Road.

On Lee High road itself the shops on Manor Park Parade (opposite the Rose of Lee, now Dirty South) had almost 2 metres of water in their basements).

At Lee Bridge water reached the top of the steps of the White Horse and there are rumours of paper money floating in the basement of the then Midland (now HSBC) Bank opposite, which were covered in a blog post on the last stretch of the Quaggy.

The bottom of the High Street flooded as the whole area around the Quaggy and Ravensbourne confluence was inundated – perhaps the most icon photograph of the floods are of the ‘Lewisham Lake’, it made the front page of the Daily Mirror but local people put on their wellies just got on with life as the photograph below outside the Odeon (formerly Gaumont) shows.

One of the largely culverted tributary streams of the Quaggy, Hither Green Ditch, seems to have flooded on Verdant Lane.

The Pool

The Pool effectively forms in Cator Park in Beckenham from the confluence of The Beck, Chaffinch Brook (which certainly flooded) and the River Willmore (often known as Boundary Stream).   Unsurprisingly, the River Pool flooded too at, and below, Bell Green.  The photograph below is from Winsford Road, with the backdrop of Grangemill Road in Bellingham (on a Creative Commons via David Wright on Geograph) – the area flooded to the left is still open ground and known locally as Dog Field (after a very short-lived greyhound track that was once there).  The high waters washed away large amounts of coke from the gas works, off screen right, which was deposited on the allotments behind Dog Field.

A little further upstream the Pool overflowed near Bell Green making the bridge from Southend Lane impassable other than by boat

Pool River in Flood - 1968

Elsewhere in the South East

Given the extent of the weather front it wasn’t surprising that the flooding wasn’t an isolated issue for Lewisham, although it was one of the areas that was hit worst; large swathes of south east England were flooded with rail contact between London and Kent was being completely cut.   Edenbridge in Kent was completely cut off after the River Eden, a tributary of the Medway, burst its banks. 150 passengers on a diverted train from Charing Cross to Hastings stuck on the train for almost 12 hours at the station there (6).

The AA described the picture from above with only a little exaggeration –  ‘The whole of the area form Essex to the Sussex-Hampshire border was like a giant lake, with dozens of main roads and hundreds of secondary roads flooded.’ (7)

In days when mobile communication is the norm – landlines were the only means of telecommunications – over 78,000 (9), including many in Lewisham were down as the GPO were overwhelmed (8).  Still 28,000 of those out of action by 19th September (10)

In the days that followed the flooding spread as the storm water made its way down the Thames – East Molesey being particularly badly affected. (11)

The Immediate Aftermath

In the days after the flood before the water subsided the army were brought into deliver food to those cut off on upper floors (14). Shops had sales of tinned food without labels which became something of a lucky dip and town centre shops, such as Chiesmans, had flood damage sales.

Basements were pumped out – including the Rose of Lee (now Dirty South) and no doubt the shops opposite.

The Mayor of Lewisham had used his dinghy to ferry a few people around and investigate what was happening on the ground (lake?) himself whilst the area was flooded (11).  However, the then Tory run council was accused of “falling down” on its duties.  Some victims were paid up to £1600 from surpluses on funds set up following the Lewisham Rail Crash in 1957 and the Hither Green one of 1967 (12).  Some were rehoused by the council, but beyond that, other than giving people a bottle of bleach, there seems to have been little practical support for those families make homeless or having had possessions ruined – particularly those who weren’t insured.  After the floods subsided, carpets were hung over fences and other possessions left outside in the hope that they would dry out and recover …..and then there would have been the smell as they probably didn’t properly dry out.

Lewisham’s population has changed a lot since 1968, many of the areas alongside the rivers have seen gentrification and those with better paying occupations move in.  It is easy to forget the changes in the last 50 years – ‘Employers, Managers and Professional Workers’ made up 34.5% of the adult population in last census in 2011 – in the census immediately after the floods in 1971 only 10.5% fell into this category.  Census employment categories have changed a lot over time but it is worth remembering that manual work still dominated in the area at the time of the floods.  Household contents insurance was rarer, and then, as now, poorer households didn’t have it.   While overall household insurance costs from the floods across south east England were estimated at £15 million (13), this would obviously not have taken into account those without.

There was little in the way of a Parliamentary debate about the floods – Parliament was in recess when the floods happened and seems to have moved-on by the time that the floods were debated in mid-October – in the Commons the focus was on farming and in the Lords, oddly on a telephone exchange in Cobham that was flooded for a couple of days.

Longer Term Changes

There was little change in approach to moving peak flows downstream, a continuation of plans that had been started on the River Willmore (Boundary Stream) in Penge and other local rivers of creating concrete banks and beds to move water on faster – sometimes referred to as ‘channelisation’.

 

This continued along parts of the Quaggy – notably between Grove Park and Eltham Bridge (see above); the River Pool between Bell Green and Catford had its meanders removed (left) and the concrete casing and straightening continued from its confluence with the Ravensbourne all the way through Catford, Ladywell and Lewisham (see below).

There were still occasional more localised flooding’s but the real downside of the concrete straight-jackets was that the lack of natural banks and beds meant that the rivers lost much of the plant and wildlife.

New approaches started to be developed from the late 1990s, with large scale flood water storage areas in Sutcliffe Park (above) and Weigall Road which hold peaks flows – much of this happening through work by QWAG, the Environment Agency and other local groups. Similar work is planned in Beckenham Place Park.   More natural, wider banks and meanders have been added and restored in several areas – notably in John Roan Playing Fields, Chinbrook Meadows, Manor Park and Ladywell Fields (below from late 2013) – these allow the rivers to hold more water in peaks, slow down flows and allow the return of plant and wildlife on banks.

Notes

  1. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 17, 1968;
  2. Ibid
  3. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 5; Issue 57357.
  4. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 5; Issue 57357.
  5. ibid
  6. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 17, 1968; pg. 1; Issue 57358. (796 words)
  7. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 1
  8. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 17, 1968; pg. 10; Issue 57358. (1129 words)
  9. The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 20, 1968; pg. 2; Issue 57361. (376 words)
  10. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Sep 18, 1968; pg. 1; Issue 57359.  (792 words)
  11. South East London and Kentish Mercury 19 September 1968
  12. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 16, 1968; pg. 1
  13. The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 23, 1968; pg. 4; Issue 57363.
  14. The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 20, 1968; pg. 21; Issue 57361.

Picture Credits

  • Most of credited within the text
  • The Ordnance Survey map of the Pool’s meanders is via the National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons
  • The photograph of Marvels Lane is from Borough Photographs, used with permission of Lewisham Archives
  • The photograph outside the Odeon has appeared numerous times on social media, never credited – if you are the copyright owner do let me know so that I can credit you (or remove if you would prefer.
  • The remaining 1968 photos were copied by Emily Hay from Lewisham Archives and are used with the kind permission of both
  • The modern photographs are mine, feel free to use them, credited, for non-commercial purposes.

A massive thank you to Emily Hay both for the photos and talking with me about her childhood memories of the floods – it was really helpful and much appreciated.

Pissarro’s Stream – A Lost Sydenham Watercourse

There is evidence of at least a dozen streams having flowed from the high ground of Sydenham Hill to the River Pool.  Many no longer flow – some victims of changing water tables and spring lines, others lost to Victorian drainage.   Running Past has already covered a couple of these – Adams’ Rill and Wells Park Stream, and over the next few months will cover most of the others.  This post covers a stream to the south of the other two which, as far as I can see, is currently nameless, but will be referred to as Pissarro’s Stream, for reasons that will become obvious as we proceed downhill.

The stream seems to have emerged around the location of what was originally called Horner Grange (above), just east of Charleville Circus. The upward pointing contour lines (streams erode, so notches appear on contours) peter out around the Grange.  Horner Grange was built as home to William Knight who made a fortune diamond mining in South Africa in 1884, and he lived there until his death in 1900 – he was buried at West Norwood Cemetery. After Knight’s death, the house became a hotel and then the freehold was bought by Sydenham High School in 1934.  The Grange remains but its grounds have been heavily built upon by the School and there are no publically visible hints of fluvial activity.

A contour  line notch below the school suggests a route across a small cul-de-sac, The Martins, off Laurie Park Gardens. There is a small depression in the road which is clearly visible.

Just below it, on the stream’s course was the large Westwood House, once home to Henry Littleton – who had made his fortune from Novello’s, the music publisher.  Littleton invited many of the leading lights of classical music of the era to stay and the music room saw performances by both Dvorak and Liszt.

The house had started more modestly around 1720, but there were several ‘water features’ including a small lake, perhaps fed by the Stream – this is visible on the Ordnance Survey map below (on a Creative Commons via the National Library of Scotland) from the 1860s.  The scale had reduced by the time the map was redrawn in 1897 . Westwood House later became the Passmore Edwards Teacher’s Orphanage and was demolished in 1952 to make way for the Lewisham’s Sheenwood council estate.

Just below Sheenwood, the stream comes to one of the more famous artistic views in South London – Pissarro’s painting of The Avenue, Sydenham dating from 1871 (Via Wikipedia on a Creative Commons).  Pissarro was to later note to his son ‘I recall perfectly those multicoloured houses, and the desire that I had at the time to interrupt my journey and make some interesting studies.’ (1)

Pissarro was one of a number of artists who fled France at the beginning of the Franco Prussian War in 1870.  While unlike some of his fellow artists, Pissarro wasn’t at risk of conscription – he carried a Danish passport but left to escape the Prussians in his village of Louveciennes.  He settled in Norwood, close to his mother who had already fled France with other members of her family.

The stream would have flowed around where  Pissarro set up his easel on what was then Sydenham Avenue, now Lawrie Park Avenue, although the stream was almost certainly not visible on the ground at that point in time – it wasn’t marked on the map surveyed in 1863 (see above).

It is often said how little the view has changed, certainly the backdrop of St Bartholomew is still there and the road remains. While the view would have been similar until the 1960s, Dunedin House to the left is still there, but less visible.   The street is now dominated by 1960s or 1970s housing, the mode of transport is much changed and the trees are much bigger even at a similar time of year to the original (see below).

Beyond Pissarro’s view, the stream would have crossed Hall Drive, where there is a perceptible dip, and then dropping a little further to Lawrie Park Road – the hollow is more  distinct there.  The Stream would have flowed close to the site of the home of one of Sydenham’s more famous former residents, the cricketer WG Grace – whose time in South London was celebrated in Running Past around the centenary of his death.

The short-lived Croydon Canal (opened in 1809) and then its successor the London and Croydon Railway will have blocked the passage of the stream.  Whether the stream  was flowing when the former was built at this point is debatable, and if it was, it is unclear as to  whether it was culverted underneath or allowed to drain into the Canal.

Over the railway, Venner Road is crossed by the stream at Tredown Road, the course is clearer from contours than it is on the ground.  Beyond another faint dip on Newlands Park, the ground flattens out into lower Sydenham.  The route, becomes much less clear to follow.  Even the Environment Agency Flood Risk maps which show 100 year surface flow peaks and often indirectly indicate former streams don’t help much here.

However, they show clearly the two possible routes for the stream, either side of a small hill that is obvious from Kent House Road to Kangley Bridge Road.  There are possible routes either side of the knoll.

595134BA-ED3D-4F34-B9CC-41399EA736DB

The northern option around the less than grassy knoll would necessitate crossing Trewsbury Road (picture above – source eBay November 2016) and then passing close to the Kilmore Grove former ghost sign and the home of the author Graham Swift’s father in Fairlawn Park before a confluence with Wells Park Stream around Home Park.

The southerly option would have seen a flow through Alexandra Recreation Ground where there is a very slight dip, through another on the elegant Cator Road Beyond Woodbastwick Road the boundary would have bifurcated from the Indeed, the Environment Agency surface water flood maps, which show 100 year  extremes, and often highlight to course of former or hidden streams suggest potential flows either side of the hillock.

image

There are a couple of southerly options  – Bing maps has a bit of blue indicating a stream through some allotments off Kent House Road – it wasn’t visible either on aerial photographs or marked on Ordnance Survey maps  and despite the warm sun of the late afternoon when I was doing the ‘fieldwork’ no one was visibly tending their vegetables.  Notched contours on Ordnance Survey maps would support this route though, as do some ‘puddle’s on Environment agency map above.  However, as the flows onwards from here would have seen the pre-development contours obliterated by the Beckenham and Penge Brick Works, so any certainty is hard to come by.

The second option would take the stream close to the junction with Kent House Lane and Kent House Road, alongside some other allotments, there is flowing water for around 50 metres to a confluence with the Pool, including a small bridge that carries National Cycle Route 21.  As there is water flowing and any post on a stream is better with an actual fluvial flow this would be my preferred option for the final metres of Pissarro’s Stream.

Notes

  1. Quoted in notes adjacent to painting in Tate Britain’s ‘Impressionists in London, French Artists in Exile (1870-1904)’