Tag Archives: River Pool

Wells Park Stream – An Almost Lost Sydenham Stream

Running Past has already covered one of the many streams that flow into the River Pool whose sources are in the high ground of Sydenham Hill – Adams’ Rill – which rises a little way down the slope around Peak Hill.

The second of the streams has two main sources, both almost as high as it is possible to get in in the catchment – close to the watershed with the Effra, known locally as Ambrook River, of Sydenham Hill – the road, rather than the area.  Sadly, the watercourse seems to be nameless; however, if, dear reader, you are aware of an appellation please do get in touch.  But for the purpose of this post, I will give it a name. The first part is relatively easy – the watercourse is only visible in Wells Park so it seems appropriate to use that.  The second element is trickier; I am slightly tempted to continue with ‘Rill’, despite its geographical inaccuracy.  There are strong regional variations in stream naming conventions – the most common in the south east being Brook and Stream. Locally, in the neighbouring Quaggy catchment ‘Ditch’ was the most common name for a small watercourse – appearing in Hither Green, Milk Street and Grove Park to name but three; it even has a counterpart in the Ravensbourne catchment – Chudleigh Ditch, also known as Honor Oak Stream.  The latter though is a suffix is used by a couple of nearby watercourses in the Pool catchment in Penge – Border and Penge Streams – so it probably has to be Wells Park Stream.

The northerly source is around the housing association development of Mount Acre Close – the westerly pond on the map below; there is some impenetrable chain link fencing at the side (above, left), protecting the careless intrepid urban explorer from a deep gully.  There is no obvious sign of water though. The rest of the estate is guarded by robust looking close boarded fencing.

The reason becomes obvious when looking at late 19th century Ordnance Survey maps, the steep slope behind the fencing is a deep railway cutting – part of the line into Crystal Palace High Level station from Nunhead – where it met up with the Greenwich Park Branch covered a while ago in Running Past.  The former railway has annihilated the contours indicating the stream’s route at the foot of the cutting, now the social housing of Vigilant Close, managed by Lewisham Homes (bottom photo above).  The likely route seems to roughly follow a path through gardens to Longton Avenue, although the ‘private land, no public access’ signs as I emerged suggest I may have gone a little off track… A fierce look from a window should perhaps have been a warning.

There is a tell-tale dip in Longton Ave, caused, no doubt, by the stream’s erosion – all too obvious to the fluvial flâneur.  Beyond the tarmac, and into Sydenham Wells Park, a vista of the rest of the route emerges.  On a clear day it is possible to pick out the gas holders adjacent to the confluence with the Pool, but it was a little harder on a slightly hazy winter’s afternoon.  The distinct valley through the Park though is obvious – part of a much larger one bounded by Wells Park Road and Westwood (formerly just West) Hill.

In the mid-17th century mineral waters were discovered on Sydenham Common in the area now partially occupied by Wells Park – those taking the ‘waters’ were rumoured to include George III and they were described as ‘a purging spring, which has performed great cures in scrofulous, scorbutic, paralytic, and other stubborn diseases.’  Another described them as ‘of a mild cathartic quality, nearly resembling those of Epsom.’

The southern source too would have been close to the watershed; it too has been truncated by the arrival of the steam train to serve the visitors to the Crystal Palace.  The Green Chain Walk tacks up the side of the cutting behind the tower of Cambria House – there are one or two dips in the well managed woodland hillside (work was being carried out by Friends of Hillcrest Wood and the London Wildlife Trust when visited) which hints at possible former courses.

Back on High Level Drive (a continuation of Vigilant Close) there is a clear dip which is roughly in the right place for the formerly flowing stream, although the railway disruption makes this less than certain.  The landscape has effectively become terraced to make best use of the land with roads hugging the contours of the hill; passage to the next stratum of housing down, Longton Avenue, involves a circuitous detour.  A little further to the east along Longton Avenue was one of the homes of C S Forester, covered a while ago in Running Past.

Like the northern counterpart, the southern branch of the stream has eroded a small depression which has been smoothed rather than filled by the Edwardian road engineers.  Into Wells Park and the route becomes more obvious than that of its sibling – mainly due to the presence of water.  When the Park was opened it was noted that

“Advantage has been taken of the natural undulations and the existing watercourses … and was ornamented by a succession of small lakes and rivulets”.

The stream actually flows as a stream for twenty metres or so before disappearing into a culvert which seemed to have a rudimentary trap to prevent underground blockages downstream.  There seems to have been another pond, the Children’s Yacht Pond, lower down in the Park which has now been filled in (Source – eBay July 2016).

The exact location of the former confluence of the two branches of the stream is probably just beyond Taylors Lane.  There is a clear dip in the road close which marks the boundary between Victorian terrace and 1970s council housing as well as the location of the stream (when it flowed).

The path downhill is clear the stream’s route is a relatively deep valley between the higher land of Wells Park Road and Westwood Hill, it appropriately follows Peter’s Path.  There was a pair of small ornamental lakes here when the Ordnance Survey cartographers called in 1863 (see above).  They were filled in when the Victorian terraces to the south of Wells Park Road were built before the century was out.

Beyond the flats and concrete garages that replaced their late Victorian counterparts in the 1970s the route is barred by a locked a gate to Longton Nursery Allotments, with no sign of life beyond it on a cool January Friday afternoon.  It has been a nursery or allotments since the late 19th century, perhaps too damp and at risk from flooding to allow development at that stage. It too had a small pond along the line of the stream’s flow in 1893, although this too had gone before the outbreak of the Great War.

The next physical sign of the stream is another dip in the road, a relatively pronounced one in Jews Walk.  A few metres away was the home of Eleanor Marx at 7 Jews Walk (Source eBay Nov 2017); she was the youngest daughter of Karl Marx and she spent her last few years there with her long partner Edward Aveling – they had not married for political reasons.  The historical orthodoxy, based on the inquest findings, is that she committed suicide after discovering that Aveling had secretly married an actress.  A recent biography by the very persuasive Rachel Holmes, suggests that Aveling murdered her rather than it having been a case of suicide.  There is a little more on her time in Sydenham and the possible reasons for choosing the home in the Sydenham and Forest Hill History blog.

The stream next ‘appears’ crossing Kirkdale close to Collingtree Road, it became visible during  road works in the early 21st century.  As Collingtree Road has an upward gradient towards the summit of Peak Hill the route will have skirted around its base into what is now a small park – Kirkdale Green, it may well have been joined by water from another source here as at least one spring has been found underneath a Collingtree Road house.  The dip in the appropriately named Spring Hill shows the line towards the railway.  There is a large mound of earth adjacent to the likely former route with some brickwork similar to ‘springs’ elsewhere – I have not found anything on-line as to whether the small summit has any significance.

The short-lived Croydon Canal (opened in 1809) and then its successor the London and Croydon Railway will have blocked the passage it seems that that unlike some of the streams from Sydenham Hill, it appears that this one was culverted underneath – certainly it was still evident on the other side – after the railway largely took over the route of the Croydon Canal.

Over the railway, the valley is obvious when crossing Silverdale before cutting through the Thorpes estate, where it was above ground  pre-development as the 1863 map below shows.

The ‘Thorpes’ Estate (a suffix to Kings, Queens, Bishops, Prince, Dukes and Earls) is a largely Edwardian development built by the firm of Edmondson & Sons between 1901 and 1914 over the garden of the Old House, the former home of the Mayow family – who gave their name to the neighbouring road and park.

It is a conservation area where

“Features and details used were inspired by the Queen Anne, neo-Georgian and vernacular revivals using red brick contrasted by white roughcast, multi-paned sash windows, grey slate roofs and decorative pargeting.

The area’s character is enhanced by its compact layout of tightly packed houses, small front gardens and tree-lined streets.”

There are perceptible dips in the north-south roads on the estate as the postcard below (source eBay July 2016) shows.After leaving the Thorpes the lie of the land dictates that it would follow Sydenham Road behind the Dolphin pub.  While the Ordnance Survey maps suggest some sort of bucolic idyll of a stream tumbling down the hill towards Bell Green.  However, it wasn’t always like that – in 1856 the Lewisham Medical Officer for Health described it as

An open ditch at the back of the Dolphin Inn, Lower Sydenham (after which it was covered) is most dangerous and offensive.

While seemingly hidden for most of its course through Lower Sydenham from at least the 1850s, it may well have fed a small ‘water feature’ in Home Park visible on the first Ordnance Survey Maps;k, It possibly also originally provided water for the long-lost Sydenham Brewery, but hopefully by 1856 a different source have been found!  

This is an area which has flooded in the past – possibly as a result of the stream bursting out from its culverting – the photo below looking toward Home Park is from 1907.

The confluence with the Pool appears to have been between the unlikely pairing of gas works and watercress beds.  It would have been under what is now Sainsbury’s car park.

There is an outflow into the River Pool at  roughly the right location – little in the way of water flow is ever seen from it though.

Photo Credits

The maps are all from the National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons, the photo of the floods is via Steve Grindlay’s lovely photo stream on Flickr, which is well worth a visit, and is also on a Creative Commons.

Adams’ Rill – A Lost Sydenham Stream

The high ground of Sydenham Hill forms the watershed between the Pool and the Effra, known locally as Ambrook River, there are numerous springs on both sides of the fluvial divide; Running Past will be following those heading broadly east south east towards the Pool.  The first of these posts has a source around 500 metres from the edge of the Pool’s catchment on the small protuberance of the appropriately named Peak Hill.

Some maps mark a small pond in what would be the playground of St Bartholomew’s Primary School, although it has never been obvious on current or past Ordnance Survey maps, present day satellite views of the area or from the road.  However, that area would seem to have been the roughly the source of the stream.

The first obvious hint of stream is a dip in road as Sydenham Park Road (above) bends sharply to the north east close to a turning to The Peak and the likely original source.  The original flow would have taken the nascent stream through what are now gardens before emerging into a clear dip in Silverdale around Paddock Close.

The gap between the two roads is little more than 120 metres, but what lies betwixt the two will have changed the stream’s flow – firstly the short-lived Croydon Canal (opened in 1809) and then its successor the London and Croydon Railway will have blocked the passage.  Unlike some of the other streams coming off Sydenham Hill to the north of this, it seems likely that the flow continued under the railway as a series of ‘water features’ continued along the stream’s route when the Ordnance Survey surveyors visited in 1863, see above (1).

After a line that takes in some garages the hint of a shallow valley appears in the green flagged Mayow Park, particularly at the southern end facing onto Mayow Road.  The Park itself dates from 1875 and was created by public subscriptions from the great and the good in the area – particularly Mayow Wynell Adams.  It has a rather grand drinking fountain remembering the Reverend W Taylor Jones – another of the benefactors.

Sydenham and Forest Hill Recreation Ground was part of a Victorian movement of trying to allow the ‘less fortunate’ to take the air.  As was noted above, the 1863, post canal and railway, Ordnance Survey map suggests the stream was still flowing at the time the surveyors visited so the culverting was probably when the Park was created.

The stream crosses Mayow Road (see above – (2)) in a very clear dip where water often collects after rain and then heads off down Adamsrill Road in an obvious  valley, initially, at least, with paths to back gardens on the right being upwards as is the incline on Niederwald Road.  As the ‘rill’ in the street name is one of a myriad of names for a stream and the Adams prefix will have related to the local benefactor Mayow Wynell Adams, it is not unreasonable to call the stream Adams’ Rill.

The geographical pedant may dispute the appropriateness of calling it a ‘rill’ though as in relation to ‘hillslope geomorphology, a rill is a shallow channel (no more than a few tens of centimetres deep) cut into soil by the erosive action of flowing water.’  The size of the small valley as the stream heads down Adamsrill Road is considerably deeper than this.

As Adams’ Rill continues down the eponymous street, the locally listed gas holders Bell Green dominate the view.  The gas works have been there since the 1850s, it ceased to be operational  as a gas works in 1967 although it was not until 1995 that the first retail unit, Savacentre (now Sainsburys) opened on the site.  Other than the gas holders the only remaining  part of  Bell Green’s gas producing past is the works social club, now called the Livesey Memorial Hall (below).

 The exact route the stream took to the River Pool is not clear – the gas works obliterated the contour lines.  However, on modern 1:25,000 maps there is an upward pointing contour line to the north east of the gas works (now a retail park) site, it contains a small pond – often complete with fishing heron.  It is just possible that the the pond is the last remnant of Adams’ Rill and that the stream is still just flowing.  The confluence would have been roughly at the location below – although as the current river landscape was constructed in the mid-1990s after the Pool was taken out of its concrete casing under the gasworks, it is doubtful that it ever looked like this when Adams’ Rill was flowing. 

 

Notes

  1. From National Library of Scotland on a Creative Commons
  2. Source – eBay – September 2017

The Sounds of Running

And the wind blustered …

Molly is called

Molly ignores

She continues to gently sniff and snuffle

 

And the wind blustered …

A woodpecker’s taps echo through the copse

The 8:08 from Catford brakes on its approach,

The bridge sighs and rattles

IMG_0816

And the wind blustered …

The confluential rumble of the merging of Pool and Ravensbourne

‘The Hipster’ misjudges his approach to the footbridge,

Mutters an apology

 

And the wind blustered …

‘Brompton Woman’ smiles and greets

A cackling-like call from moorhens scurrying across the path

The soft purr of a well maintained Giant’s Shimano

 

And the wind blustered …

The Pool gurgles and splashes under Boris’ bridge

The gentle pad of trainer on tarmac

Water caresses and gently shifts stones from the island of the now lost country seat

island

And the wind blustered …

The ferrous acceleration of the fast train just past Lower Sydenham

A cacophony of internal combustion

Bell Green

 

Today is an odd anniversary, 365 days since my neck was broken by a car travelling at around 35 mph that failed to stop on the pedestrian phase of a pelican crossing; I survived and recovered thanks to the National Health Service, a fantastic physiotherapist and a lot of hard work.  I wanted to mark the anniversary in some way, but I thought it better to use it to draw a line and move on rather than reflect on the year gone – I did that to a large extent anyway a few weeks ago in my Review of 2015.

For reasons I cannot fathom, one of the changes in me is that I have become much more aware of sounds. So it seemed appropriate to recognise and embrace that change and also to try something new here. The piece above is a series of sounds turned into words that I noticed along part of one morning’s run to work, along a path sandwiched between a railway and the River Pool that I share with cyclists and dog walkers – many of whom I know by sight, and several of whom I have ‘named.’  The overwhelming sound that morning was wind (other days it is birdsong and on return journeys often children) … until I got to Bell Green….

Reflections on the Rivers Ravensbourne & Pool

As I recover from an accident, I am still a while off running but my urban wanderings always seem to draw me back to my regular running routes.  

This week my still (slightly) short days at work have left me with time to follow the Rivers Pool and Ravensbourne from Sydenham back towards Lewisham.  It seemed slightly odd not running, but it gave a rather different perspective.  

Monday’s leaden skies saw me focus on the both the mural under the bridge near Bell Green – which was painted a couple of years ago, but I have never stopped and looked at – plus the more industrial and metallic elements of the route.  





Friday morning should have seen a partial eclipse and, given the juxtaposition of it with the vernal equinox, meteor showers and the aurora borealis being visible in parts of Britain, it would have had our ancestors heading for the henges and hills.  Sadly it was just 50 shades of grey in London (photo by @weareblackheath).  



The afternoon though was almost perfect spring weather – clear, mild and sunny.  I niddle-noddled along paths alongside the river, which I don’t usually use – tending to stick to the smooth tarmac – to save time on my run to work and to make intervals or tempo runs safer on the run home; it made a wonderful change.



I also spotted several reflections, which at a faster pace I would have undoubtedly missed.



Any wanderings of a fluvial flâneur would not be complete without the sight of a semi-submerged, upturned shopping trolley, one was spotted in the reflection of the Riverside Building of Lewisham Hospital – an odd cocktail of drugs on a past stay there left me convinced of the presence of dayglo squirrels in the adjacent Ladywell Fields. 



Sadly only grey squirrels were visible this week, and alongside the rivers a green woodpecker, a heron and the iridescent blur of a kingfisher was seen a couple of times.  It was two spottings of different wildlife that oddly pleased me more – Lewisham Natureman stags – one by the Ravensbourne under the road bridge in Catford, the other shyly hiding in the corner of the former Ladywell Leisure Centre site as I went from the Ravensbourne to the Quaggy catchment.