Tag Archives: Chaffinch Brook

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.


  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.