Tag Archives: Pissarro’s Stream

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)’