Tag Archives: Crystal Palace Park

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

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W. G. Grace in South East London

WG Grace was born near Bristol and the vast majority of his career was spent playing for Gloucestershire and England. The blog touched on his final cricketing home a few months ago whilst exploring the route of the Little Quaggy in Mottingham and, with the centenary of his death approaching, it seem apposite to spend some time exploring the ‘swansong’ of his career in SE London.

Grace played his final Test in 1899 and severed his almost career long relationship with Gloucestershire the same year; the reason for the latter was that he had accepted an offer from the Crystal Palace Company to set up a new county team, the London County Club – Grace was secretary, manager and club captain of the new County club. He was given an annual salary of £600, probably very well paid for the time, and worth around £58,000 at 2015 prices, so quite moderate compared to the earnings of the current cricketing elite.

Grace was already 51 when the 1900 season started. The matches played by London County were given ‘first class’ status but were not part of the County Championship which had started ten years earlier – Grace had opened the batting with his brother Edward in the very first County Championship match against Yorkshire. The lack of involvement in the County Championship meant that Grace was able to attract various leading lights of the days to play for London County in what were effectively exhibition matches, whilst they retained their attachment to their counties. Notably amongst these was CB Fry, who retained his link to Sussex.

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WG Grace in London County colours – source Wikimedia Commons

The County had an inauspicious start losing to Surrey at the Oval by an innings in mid April 1900. The first home match at Crystal Palace was a draw against the same opposition three weeks later, both were the cricketing equivalents of pre-season friendlies.. The club played another eleven first class matches that initial season – although almost half were against teams other that counties – such as the Oxbridge Universities and the M.C.C.

Grace was the club’s big attraction though and he still averaged 37.09 with the bat in 1902, scoring 1187 runs; but as Grace’s form deteriorated with age, so did attendances and the London County lost its First Class status in 1904 and while it survived for another few seasons it folded in 1908.

One of Grace’s biographers, Robert Low, noted that

In truth, London County was never the serious cricketing project its backers had envisaged but more of a jolly swansong for the Champion in his twilight years.

The cricket ground was located roughly where the decaying 1970s athletics stadium is now located. It was also used for FA Cup finals, the 1905 final being the only surviving panorama picture (below) of the stadium. The stadium was taken over by Cristal Palace football club in 1905 who remained there until the park was requisitioned by the military in WW1, and slightly later by a speedway team that was later to become New Cross Rangers (covered in the blog in 2014).

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Whilst at Crystal Palace, Grace was also involved with lawn bowls persuading the Crystal Palace Company to turn some of the tennis courts into bowling greens and was instrumental in creating England’s first indoor bowling green under the glass within the Crystal Palace. He was also involved in some of the early internationals and governance of the sport.

Whilst playing for London County Grace lived in nearby Sydenham at 7 Lawrie Park Road, a house called St Andrews.  The house is no longer there is a new development there with a maroon plaque and the roads either side are named Cricketers Walk and Doctors Close.

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He then moved to Mottingham in 1909, living at Fairmount on Mottingham Lane, now a residential home.  The plaque was unveiled in 1966 by Stuart Chiesman, Chairman of Kent County Cricket Club, who was a son of one the founders of the Chiesman’s department store in Lewisham – which had been founded in 1884 – and was taken over by House of Fraser in 1972.

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Grace played for the local team, Eltham, who were based at Chapel Farm, the current location of Coldharbour Leisure Centre – where he played his final game on 8 August 1914 although he neither batted nor bowled. The last match he had batted in was against Grove Park, where he had scored an unbeaten 69 a couple of weeks earlier.

Grace died on October 23 1915, following a major heart attack, and was buried in the family grave at Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery in Elmer’s End, close to the resting place of Thomas Crapper.

Five Months On

It’s five months since my life was re-arranged by a Fiat Punto, while it is getting back towards normal, but is still some distance off, but still infinitely better than it might have been.

Life rather feels dominated by rehab work – near weekly trips to the physio and at least an hour a day of strengthening exercises and stretches, there is no alternative though – if I want to regain full fitness and range of movement I have to do them, and slowly, very slowly I am improving.

Running is still hard work, after three months of a relatively sedentary lifestyle my leg muscles had largely forgotten about the faster forms of pedestrianism and they grumble about every run when I start. But the running is progressing – I am coping with ‘faster’ sessions again – this week’s was a mile at just under 8 minute mile pace. At full fitness that would be around 6 to 6:15 pace, but it is real progress.

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The distances I run are increasing – my long run is now over 5 miles and will hopefully get up to around 10k this week. Hills are becoming bearable – I toiled up to the top of Crystal Palace on Friday, but it was easier than Greenwich Park 10 days before. The views from the decaying remains of the burnt out Palace were surprisingly clear, the Sphinx on the way down always seems a mixture of slightly surreal and delightfully familiar, a trip to the Park isn’t the same without seeing one of them, and a little further down the hill, but no less surreal are the rotting remains of the 1970s Concert Bowl, once a stage for the likes of the Beach Boys, Lou Reed and Eric Clapton but now dangerous and unable to be used.

And finally ….. ‘grazing’ in the dappled shade, I spotted another Lewisham Natureman stag escaped from its home borough, outside the former entrance to Thomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke.
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