In the 19th century,Hermitage Road was no more than an un-named track extending between Beaulah Hill, to the south and Central Hill to the north. It was a very steep slope dipping down in the middle then rising up again to the boundary of Central Hill in the north. The track was called ‘An undeclared public highway’.
Maps and Land Ownership
Hermitage Road Allotments in Byfield Road
Building of the street
Looking north up Hermitage Road towards Central Hill.
Significant Street Buildings
In the 19th century, Beaulah Hill, located to the south of Hermitage Road, saw a very steep slope, dipping down in the middle, then rising up again to the boundary of Central Hill in the North. The track was called ‘An undeclared public highway’.
Viewed from the top of Hermitage Road saw open land, very picturesque, with Oak and Horse chestnut trees, bushes dotted about, and very colourful in the spring with wild flowers and buttercups in abundance, bringing the area to a sea of yellow.
On the left, to the centre, was the reputed area of the Great North Wood that originally ran through the south of England, but now, just a relic of the past. The ‘dip’ was often flooded, due to the rising of a tributary of the river Effra, known locally as ‘the ditch. The men would make planks from trees to enable access to the footpaths to Beaulah Hill.
Around 1928 tress were being felled, and where the once open spaces had been, council and private building was being developed. Council houses were built near to the dip, and in the now made up road. a grating was installed in the road, and one could hear the water rushing through. This was an attempt to ease the flooding that used to occur. The tributary of water followed on through to the recreation ground where during the second world war a reservoir was erected.
Councillor Rear Admiral Jesse Hope Harrison lived at No.1 Hermitage Road. The year 1935 saw the jubilee of George V & Queen Mary. Councillor Rear Admiral Harrison present prizes to the children, at Rockmount School, who had written essays on the Crystal Palace. To celebrate the 25 years reign of King George V & Queen Mary, beakers were handed out to the children, which bore portraits of the King & Queen, along with the borough arms of Croydon.
Further up the hill on the right, near to Central Hill, stood the grounds of the Norwood & District Cottage Hospital, opened in 1882 by contributions from prominent people. Everyone thought very highly of the Cottage Hospital. In the earlier 20th century, one could see four large brick pillars, outlining the entrances to The Norwood Cottage Hospital. My friend visited her brother whilst in the Hospital, and because she was so small, a nurse brought a small step ladder, so she could climb up to hold her brother’s hand.!
An A & E unit was built alongside the hospital for minor accidents and small injuries, these were quite numerous from handmade stilts, cycles and skate accidents, as well as falling off trees! Scrumping was ideal in crawling through the broken fences at the top of Hermitage for windfalls in the Beaulah Hill gardens for apples. The nurses were very kind to the children, maybe it was because of the added attraction of the sweetie jar on the many visits with small injuries to the hospital! these were given to make you feel brave! Alongside the A & E unit were the nurses tennis courts.
During World War two the Cottage Hospital was part of an Emergency Medical Scheme for service personel and civilian casualties.
With the welcome of the NHS in 1948, (although at the time we begrudged having money taken out of our wages!) People were still supplying essentials to the hospital, but this now ceased. For the average person, the worry of not finding money for the doctor or the hospital was very welcome, as often it would be neighbours who helped out with the cost.
In 1953 the name changed to The Norwood & District Hospital and in 1974 saw the reorganisation within the N.H.S , and came under the jurisdiction of the Croydon District Hospital. Later the Norwood Cottage Hospital changed to a care home for invalids and renamed Canterbury House, The A & E unit was renamed York House, also Acorn House was added. In 1983 the wards were temporality closed and re-opened in 1984 for mentally handicap patients and social care.
Sadly to-day this fine hospital is now no more, and caters instead for various ailments and social care. The other units are one bedroom flats, and at the rear several profitable establishments.
The War Memorial in Westow Street pays a tribute to the hospital:
‘ As a lovely memorial , an endowment for the Hospital was presented,
and this monument erected’.
Passing the hospital, fences covered the long gardens of houses from Central Hill, although later through the war damage these were all broken and derelict.
Across the road on the right hand side, lay the Convent of Virgo Fidelis. A grass verge rang ran all along the boundary in Hermitage Road, together with Oak trees and Horse Chestnut trees. There was an abundance of acorns from the Oak trees, these were collected by the boys for pig food. The Convent farm lay just inside Virgo Fidelis grounds, and many local people were employed for farm work. Maybe as an added incentive to the collecting of acorns for the pigs, the boys made for the Convent swings, only to be chased away, as soon as the Nuns saw them. The boys knew every panel in the broken fence where they could rush through. In the evening the older boys would creep through the fence to make their dens, also for gambling, which was illegal in those days. Often there would be a scurry, if the police found out, the boys would then scarper, and try to find another place for gambling.
Much to the children’s delight when autumn appeared, the conkers were ideal for playtime. Who would be the champion Conker King?. For this, a conker would be hardened up, by putting the conker in the oven or soaked in vinegar, a hole would be made with a skewer, and threaded through with string, knot at the end, and you would swing the conker to each other to see whose conker broke first. In fact the humble conker has far more reaching amenities than we ever knew. There are conker championships everywhere and at Northampton there is an annual conker competition for world wide championships. Each October a conker championship is held and the money raised is given to a chosen charity. I always understood that the conker was used for soap in world war one, and that it was the Vikings who first introduced the idea for soap.
This area was reputed to be part of the Great North Wood, two giant Oak trees stood either side of the road, one demolished during the development of housing and the other at a later date.
Musto’s field, came next, with fences up to Beaulah Hill, this hid the gardens of the Beaulah Hill houses. My mother used to tell me that Musto’s field was a good area for blackberries, often when they had picked a bowlful of blackberries, the farmer would be seen with his dog, everyone ran away as fast as they could, dropping the blackberries on route. In later years Mr. Musto said that they need not have worried, as he could hardly walk, and the dog was partially blind! In later years, this area saw the roads of Pytchley Crescent and Ryfield Road and on the north side, near to the woods, land was allocated for allotments.
The war years from 1939 – 1945 saw many changes: bombs, doodle bugs and rockets. We always felt we were very lucky in the ‘dip’, as the route of the doodle bugs seemed to have their run along Central Hill & Beaulah Hill.
1944 June 29th A V1 rocket fell at the top of Hermitage Road, devasting the large houses in Central Hill with the blast affecting the Cottage Hospital.
On the other side of the road, in June 29th 1944 a V1 rocket devasted the Virgo Fidelis Priest House, this led to broken fences and open ground at the top of Hermitage Road. In Rycroft Road July 1st 1944 a V1 rocket damaged quite a few houses in Hermitage Road.
In around 1946 land was acquired from Virgo Fidalias for the erection of the new pre-fabricated buildings, used as a temporary accommodation for the unfortunate victims made homeless through the bombing, this was called the Convent estate. In 1967 with the new development of New Town, the prefabs were demolished and new council houses and flats were built.
With the added population, a new Rockmount infant/primary school was erected in Hermitage Road, on land acquired from Virgo Fidalias convent ground, adjacent to the woods, and the old infant school in Rockmount Road demolished. Paul Inman was the caretaker of the new infant school, and saw the disaster caused by the demolition of Rockmount Primary school, school relics were thrown out in the playground, boxes, books and papers all getting soaked with the rain. Through Paul’s thoughtfulness he collected all that he could, and took the relics back to his house. At a later date the Croydon Education department collected these archive records from Paul Inman.
A few years ago the Hermitage Road Infant/ primary school was demolished and a new wing built on the back of Rockmount School in Chevening Road for the infant children. A new unit in 2014 was built in the school’s position in Hermitage Road, called The Priory, catering for autism and special children’s needs. ??
The year 1966 saw England win the World cup, awarded by Jules Rimet. A few weeks later the cup was stolen. Mr. Dave Corbet whilst walking his dog ‘Pickles’ saw ‘Pickles’ with a newspaper package all tied up with string, looking, he saw the end of a cup, Mr. Corbett thought straight away, ‘Could this be the World Cup’ he took it to the Gipsy Hill Police Station who thought at first it was a hoax, then said ‘It does not look like a cuppy to me’ !! but it was. Later two chaps were charged with the theft. An ironical ending is, that I found that Mr. Corbett lived only a stone’s throw from me!
From those early days of a meagre council house, alterations have taken place beyond anyone’s imagination. Council houses could be brought, and over the years sold and sold again. The price now for a council house in Hermitage Road is around £400.000: One finds this hard to believe when people found it hard find the extra rent money for a council house. A council House was so exciting, owing to the attraction of a bath, gone were the days of a tin baths being brought in for bath night.
Hermitage Road to-day, is nothing like it was all those years ago: From when it was an ‘ Undeclared public highway’, that idyllic leafy lane trail of those early days are long gone. Looking at the same scene to-day sees houses filling all spaces Two pieces of land are still remaining, one between Eversley and Chevening Road, that used to be an allotments, then later acquired to enlarge the recreation ground, and the allotments on the opposite side of the road now allocated for buildings. A lonely survivor still remains from those early days, the Red letter pillar box in the dip with insigna ‘E R ‘ at the top, and by the side marks where the stamp machine used to be, a penny slot for a penny stamp (those were the days) , such excitement when this was first erected about 1937
At the top of Hermitage Road on Virgo Fidelis Convent land stands St. Mary’s nursery where once the Priests house stood. There are over ten thriving businesses, plus a bus service No450 , how glad those early residents would have been for a local bus. Puffing up Hermitage Road in both directions was the hill, breathless as you reached the top, for the bus routes of No. 2 & 137 or No 49 & 68 busses. The bell of Virgo Fidelis would be chiming the time, and you just lived in hopes that the bus would be a few minutes late! as you ran for the bus on the way to work.
Nothing can change progression, but memories of yesterday are nice to remember.
Nostalgia by Beryl Doreen Cheeseman (Nee Geary)
Dormansland Surrey RH76RQ 2020