The part of the Great North Wood within the parish of Croydon is recorded in the Doomsday Book (1086) as belonging to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Although the Lords of the Manor held the rights for hunting and felling trees for timber and allowed local tenants to graze pigs in the woodland, evidence of permanent settlement is virtually non-existent before the 19th century. This lack of development can be explained by the geology of the ridge. It is formed of heavy London clay that resulted in a poor environment for agriculture and building. However it was ideally suited to the growth of deep-rooted trees, including the English oak.
In the 17th and 18th centuries the area was famous for its gypsies, referenced in several local street names and the Gipsy Hill ward. The woodland also served as refuge for those fleeing the Great Plague of 1665-6 and was notorious for providing cover for outlaws and smugglers; the diarist John Evelyn recorded an encounter near the present Crystal palace District Centre where he was dragged from his horse and mugged.
Rocque’s map of the great north Wood of c.1745 shows the area still largely covered in forest. The area of land on which the Harold Road Conservation Area is located in today was called ‘the great stake Coppice’ and was owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The line of Church Road is also shown on this map. The road was an ancient route through the woodland leading southwest from the historic Vicar’s Oak. This, the most famous of the boundary oaks, was located at the point where the parishes of Croydon, Lambeth and Camberwell, and the detached portion of Battersea parish met, now marked by the crossroads of Anerley Hill, Church Road, Westow Hill and Crystal Palace Parade. Boundary oaks were planted to help parish authorities navigate the wooded area.
At the end of the 18th century, as shown by the 1800 Croydon Enclosures Map, the Triangle remained common land with only a few permanent dwellings. The Enclosure Commissioners set out the basic road network between 1797 and 1800, in most cases following the established tracks across the Common, including Central Hill, but also laying new roads, including Church Road. The common land within the newly created Triangle was not released for building until 1807. Throughout the first half of the 19th century the area gradually developed from one of dispersed farmhouses and cottages to a more concentrated village settlement.
By 1847 the Triangle was an established local shopping centre. By the middle of the 19th century the area had acquired a certain amount of residential and commercial development, including cottages in the inner triangle area and two storey narrow fronted buildings on the high streets. Two of the first buildings in the Triangle built between 1800-1820 were the Woodman Inn on Westow Hill and White Hart Inn on the corner of Westow Street and Church Road, serving passing travellers. A windmill, located behind the present day Royal Albert public house on Westow Hill, was built in the early 19th century to provide for the growing population of the village; it functioned until 1853 after which it was demolished.
The first large house in the area was The Mount on Westow Street built 1816-17, where the Salvation Army Hall now stands. In c.1820 a school for poor children was erected on land behind the White Hart, apparently occupying up to one quarter of the Triangle. It was run by Frederick Aubin (or Aubyn) from 1825 and was demolished by 1860, leaving behind its chapel built in 1854 and opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Beulah Spa Gardens were opened in 1831, located to the south-west of the Triangle. These fashionable pleasure gardens, open until 1856, helped to attract visitors to the area and to raise its profile in London society.
In 1815 the area now a tourist destination with middle and upper class housing led to the famous gypsies of Norwood being ordered to leave the area, having been apprehended as vagrants. The ‘Norwood Heights’ were well known as a place of refreshment and recreation, particularly to travellers on the road to and from London. As the population of London rapidly grew the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions of central London encouraged wealthier residents to move further out of the city to the clean air and dramatic views of London
The Crystal Palace District Centre close to Harold Road started to emerge during the first decades of the 19th century, with common land within the triangle of Church Road, Westow Street and Westow Hill being released for building in 1807. It transformed into a concentrated settlement and by 1847 was an established located commercial and residential centre.
In the 1830s the popularity of the area grew with the opening of the Beulah Spa Gardens in 1831 to the south of Harold Road. These fashionable pleasure gardens, helped to attract visitors to the area and to raise its profile in London society. The official Beulah Spa guide (1856) described Norwood as ‘a village situated on the outskirts of an extensive wood, and long famed for the salubrity of its air, and the beauty of its surrounding scenery with smiling villas’.
The London to Croydon Railway opened in 1839 with a station at nearby Anerley (now Anerley Station). The railway was later amalgamated with the London and Brighton Railway in 1846 to form part of the London, Brighton and south Coast Railway. The arrival of the railway resulted in the growth of development with affordable housing for commuters.
The earliest development within the proposed amended boundary of the conservation area occurred along Central Hill and South Vale from the late 1830s, linked to gradual development that was occurring in the wider area in the District Centre and on Beulah Hill. These early houses in the conservation area were mainly two-storey cottages, many of which survive today.
The Crystal Palace, an immense glass exhibition hall which had originally been designed for the 1851 great exhibition in Hyde Park, was rebuilt, altered and enlarged. In 1854 the palace was moved to Penge Common with expansive pleasure gardens laid out to the south, complete with such attractions as artificial lead mines and model dinosaurs. Living accommodation was provided for the army of workmen in Norwood New Town, a walled area between Oxford and Rockmount Roads. The arrival of the Crystal Palace brought massive change to the area. This, along with the arrival of the railways, encouraged a significant amount of development in the area. This growth initially concentrated on Church Road and Beulah Hill. It also included some larger and grander houses on Central Hill now within the Harold Road Conservation Area.
The Crystal Palace Low Level and Upper Level stations were opened in 1854 and 1865 respectively. The earlier Low Level station (now Crystal Palace station) was linked to the palace by a 72ft glass walkway named the ‘Crystal Colonnade’ and the High Level station (demolished 1961), by a fan-vaulted subway, which survives today and is grade ii listed. Along with the palace itself, these new stations had a significant impact on the character and development of the wider area, including increasing numbers of residents (many of whom commuted into central London), local businesses and visitors.
From the 1860s, large new buildings designed in a Victorian Classical style were completed on Westow Street and Westow Hill including most of the grand four storey brick buildings with shops at ground floor, still visible today. The prosperity of the area during this period is evident in the quality of craftsmanship, materials and decoration used in building work. Within the Triangle large terraced houses were built between 1854 and 1868 on both sides of St Aubyn’s Road and smaller terraced cottages on Carberry Road and later on Haynes Lane, built between 1868 and 1890. St Andrew’s Church, now the Greek Orthodox Church of St Augustine and St Helen, was erected on Westow Street in 1878 to a design attributed to architect Edward Power.
Many grand Victorian villas were constructed along Church Road in the 1850s and 60s. The Queens Hotel, the largest and most successful of several hotels in the area, was established during the first wave of enthusiasm to cater for the visiting masses. It was built concurrently with the palace in 1853-4 to designs by the architect Francis Pouget. The Hotel attracted numerous fashionable and important guests, including the emperor Frederick of Germany, Florence Nightingale, John Bright, and Emile Zola, whose 1898-99 visit is commemorated in a blue plaque placed on the building. tTe other famous French national who visited the area during the second half of the 19th century was Camille Pissarro, whose 1870 painting of Fox Hill now resides in the National Gallery, London.
Auckland Road was laid out in the 1870s to the south- east of Church Road, named after the lessee of the former estate that covered the area before 1827. Large houses were constructed on Auckland Road in the 1880s, alongside the construction of the gothic Revival Church of St John the Evangelist, designed by John Loughborough Pearson and constructed from 1878-87. During the 1880s and 1890s houses were also built on Fox Hill (at this time called Fox Lane) and Sylvan Hill.
During the 1880s the open fields between Beulah Hill and Central Hill in the ownership of the Archbishop of Canterbury were developed along the new road linking the two, Harold Road. The road was lined with grand Victorian villas. The Archbishop of Canterbury retained the freehold and offered plots of land for building with 100-year leases. These houses were largely aimed at wealthy City workers eager to escape the smog of central London and able to travel to work by rail.
By 1886 the Burdetts Upper Norwood and Penge Street Directory recorded twenty-four houses on Harold Road, five of which were unoccupied. Gatestone and Bedwardine Roads were laid out and developed after Harold Road in the 1880s and 1890s, as were Vermont Road, Rockmount Road, Highview Road, Troy Road and Essex Grove. The houses were large and accommodated families and servants, who lived on the top floor.
In 1890 the site for the Upper Norwood Recreation ground was acquired by the Croydon Corporation from the ecclesiastical Commissioners and laid out as a public park. The Victorians saw the importance of recognising the need to protect green spaces for recreation. The layout of the park included the construction of Eversley and Chevening Roads. The land was drained and planted with 1600 trees and shrubs, the turf stripped and re-laid, and the land ‘fenced’ with suitable entrances. It was opened on the 14th May 1890 by the Mayor of Croydon on the same day as the opening of Wandle Park.
The new park in Upper Norwood included serpentine walks, a bandstand, tennis courts, changing rooms, a drinking fountain and a shelter (the latter two provided in 1891 after the park had opened), and the ground was well used for football and cricket. The eastern part of the park was extended in the 1920s. The western end of the park was used as allotments in the mid-20th century due to food shortage during the First World War. The depression within the ground at the eastern end close to Harold Road marks one of the headwaters of the Effra River. It was still visible as a stream in the early 20th century, but is now culverted underground. The sunken area was filled in with soil in the late 20th century, when the bandstand was also demolished.
The Triangle maintained its role as a shopping area serving a large residential population, but the loss of the Palace’s economic influence meant that no significant new development took place during the following decades. During the first half of
the 20th century the area was increasingly used for light industry. The destruction of the Crystal Palace by fire in 1936 following a long period
of decline had an impact on the wider area. The loss of the Palace’s economic influence resulted in a lack of any substantial new development in the inter-war and post-war periods.
During the Second World War the main damage within the Harold Road Conservation Area was the destruction of number 24 Harold Road by a bomb with slight damage to neighbouring 22 and 26 Harold Road. In 1952 the Church Commissioners started selling off the freeholds of their property in the area, a large portion of which was purchased by the Wates company, who undertook various developments in Upper Norwood, including a large development between Harold Road, Highfield Hill and Beulah Hill in the 1970s.
There have been some small developments within the conservation area boundary since its designation in 1973. Two short terraces of houses have been built set back from South Vale – Courtney Close was built in 1975 and numbers 26a-d (adjacent to 20-26 South Vale) were constructed in the late 1980s. In 1954 the Triangle was recorded in a Croydon Development Plan as being used for small scale industry within the triangle and retail for the street frontages. In the 1970s there were strategic road widening proposals for the area that were never realised and deterred other large-scale development occurring in the area.
The Crystal Palace Transmitting Station was constructed in the mid-1950s on site of the former Crystal Palace aquarium; construction of the mast, which came to be over 200m tall, began in 1954. The smaller Croydon Transmitting Station located on Beulah Hill was established in 1955, and the current mast, around 150m in height, was constructed in 1962. Both towers are visible from long distances across London. Many of the workshops and yards, including the former Woodman Inn stable yard, were lost when much of the inner Triangle was re-developed with housing between 1975 and 1981 by Clifford Davies Partnerships for Barratt Homes, described in the Pevsner guide as being ‘better-than-average’.
This development included the laying out of Ovett Close (demolishing early Victorian cottages), Brunel and Telford Closes. Since 1980 other development has occurred in the Triangle, including the Norwood Heights Complex on Westow Street, which opened in 1984 and won the 1985 Croydon Design Award. Four large blocks of flats were constructed in 1981-2 on St Aubyn’s Road, built for the Croydon Churches Housing Association on the site of the Grade II listed St Aubyn’s Church, which, despite its listed status, was demolished in 1980.
The flats won the 1983 Croydon Design Award and are described in the Pevsner guide as having ‘elevations with very fancy coloured brickwork’. In the later 1980s, Nesbitt Square was constructed to the south west of Westow Street, also winning a Croydon Design Award in 1988.
Harold Road Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan
Church Road Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan
Upper Norwood Triangle Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan