South-Western Parks of the Capital Ring
Norwood Grove and its gardens near Streatham
Once I had decided to use the cardinal points of the compass as the easiest method to organise my writing about the countless parks and green spaces I passed through it became a simple matter of sorting out what to include and what not. Geographically the south-west begins at Crystal Palace rail station as it sits roughly in the centre of southern London below the Thames on the Ordinance Survey map.
The television transmitter mast at Crystal Palace (the most visible landmark in South London and visible from all points north and south) sits on top of a narrow ridge which descends eastward in the direction of Streatham. Ahead of it lies the remnants of an ancient forest which once densely choked the slopes between Norwood and Peckham Rye: a huge expanse of woodland which helps explain why Peckham acquired the old English name of ‘the settlement by the wood’. The same land is now choked with inner-suburban housing, sports grounds, graveyards, blocks of flats and social housing.
Striking out westwards heading for Streatham Common and onwards towards the river lay many small pockets of green, urban land. The first hidden park is Norwood Grove and the building at its centre (above) resembles a southern American plantation house. The type of dwelling where Rhett Butler whispered sweet nothings into the ear of Scarlett O’Hara. Alas it is closed with no plans to open it to the general public. Shame really. The house and its beautiful gardens once formed part of the much larger Streatham Common which lies a short walk ahead along a narrow canine-trod path. Both the house and grounds remain part of a ‘hidden South London’ which requires some local knowledge or it may be missed if your excursions don’t veer from the well trod paths and tracks of the Common. At the end of the path as the thick wood ceases to shelter you and the asphalt road abruptly ends your solitude sits the Rookery cafe. It has outside seating and is stuffed with cakes and other things and , most importantly, a good mug of tea which is always what you call for when you take a break.
Thames Water’s Streatham Pumping Station
I nearly stumbled past this unique building which I initially mistook for a temple or some form of prayer house.It sits back from a suburban road, nestled closely to other less grand dwellings but has a unique presence. The green copper cupolas give it a Moorish feel and there is no denying its exotic architecture but the original owners of the pumping station clearly gave some thought as to how this would blend with the surrounding environment when they built it in 1888. It sits on top of the embankment and close to the main London-Brighton rail line. Ahead, at the end of the road, lies Tooting Common Woodlands which is another green area close by but only a small part of the land it used to be.