Norwood, Croydon/Lambeth

A sprawling south London suburb that begins south of Tulse Hill and fills a broad south-easterly swathe that continues almost as far as Croydon

Hidden London: Willow Cottage, Norwood, by David Anstiss

The Great North Wood of Sur­rey cov­ered the whole of mod­ern Nor­wood until the 17th cen­tu­ry. The wood pro­vid­ed tim­ber for build­ing hous­es and ships (includ­ing the Gold­en Hind), a liveli­hood for char­coal burn­ers and pig-keep­ers, and a home for gyp­sies and squat­ters. By the mid-18th cen­tu­ry defor­esta­tion had cre­at­ed large areas of heath­land.

A few late-18th-cen­tu­ry prop­er­ties sur­vive on Arnulls Road, near the present Nor­wood Grove recre­ation ground, includ­ing Wil­low Cot­tage, which is shown in the pho­to­graph above.*

From 1799 the enclo­sure com­mis­sion­ers sold or allo­cat­ed plots of land of vary­ing sizes and entire­ly new set­tle­ments arose. Where groups of small plots were sold, as in Low­er and South Nor­wood, work­ing-class hous­ing fre­quent­ly appeared. Where larg­er areas were acquired by indi­vid­ual landown­ers, for exam­ple on Beu­lah Hill and in oth­er parts of Upper Nor­wood, sub­stan­tial vil­las began to be built, although the process did not accel­er­ate until trans­port links improved.

Hidden London: The Jolly Sailor, South Norwood, by Nigel Chadwick
The Jol­ly Sailor, South Nor­wood

With the open­ing of Beu­lah spa in 1831 and of the Jol­ly Sailor sta­tion (now Nor­wood Junc­tion) in 1839, and the relo­ca­tion of the Crys­tal Palace to Syden­ham in 1854, Nor­wood rapid­ly filled with homes for the upper mid­dle class­es. Work­ing-class enclaves like Nor­wood New Town pro­vid­ed reser­voirs of trades­men.

Many of the prop­er­ties were extrav­a­gant­ly grand and as ear­ly as the 1890s some suc­cumbed to rede­vel­op­ment, in the form of demo­li­tion or con­ver­sion to insti­tu­tion­al use or into flats.

After the First World War munic­i­pal projects altered the char­ac­ter of areas such as Knights Hill and Gip­sy Hill.

Coun­cil build­ing con­tin­ued to increase after the next war, peak­ing in the 1960s when many old­er prop­er­ties were replaced. Nev­er­the­less, despite the rav­ages of the 20th cen­tu­ry, much of Nor­wood retains a Vic­to­ri­an air.

Because south London’s major through routes skirt the edge of the dis­trict and it lacks a strate­gic shop­ping and leisure cen­tre, Nor­wood is much qui­eter and less well-known than neigh­bours like Streatham.

James Thomson, who provided the lyrics of ‘Rule Britannia’, praised the rural seclusion of the Great North Wood in his ‘Hymn on Solitude’, published in 1729. ‘Perhaps from Norwood’s oak-clad hill, / When meditation has her fill, / I just may cast my careless eyes / Where London’s spiry turrets rise, / Think of its crimes, its cares, its pain, / Then shield me in the woods again.’

Postal district: SE19
Station: Southern and London Overground (Norwood Junction, zone 4)
Further reading: John Coulter, Norwood: A Second Selection (Britain in Old Photographs), History Press, 2012
and Alan Warwick, Phoenix Suburb, Norwood Society, reissued 1991
Websites: Virtual Norwood and The Norwood Society
* The picture of Willow Cottage at the top of this article is adapted from an original photograph, copyright David Anstiss, and the picture of the Jolly Sailor, South Norwood is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Nigel Chadwick, both at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse of either image is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.