Walking with John Goodier

Great North Wood

Photography: Sally Williams

Click on a site name for more information on its history and details of how to get there.

The Great North Wood used to stretch from Croydon to Deptford. A search of our Inventory brings up 14 entries that mention it. And I picked up some of them on the Capital Ring walk that I wrote about some years ago. My visits in this report have been to sites around Norwood Junction, and the first three were all once part of the Great North Wood.

The first two sites are well wooded and are managed mainly for habitat and claim a link with the Wood. The Lawns off Beulah Hill is the site of Beulah Spa, laid out in 1831 by Decimus Burton. The Spa closed in 1858 and parts of the site were built on, including a mansion called 'The Lawns' which burnt down in the sixties. There is a small play area and dense mature woodland with informal paths; the lodge is now a private residence.

Beaulieu Heights is a bit more formal but is mainly wooded with paths through the trees. There is a Western Hemlock which is the Queen's Jubilee tree: the one formal bit of planting. Paxton may have been involved in the garden of one of the houses on the site. It became a park in 1938, although much of the woodland is regrowth after a fire in 1976.

With Grangewood Park we come to a more formal landscape. It is well wooded but the trees are spaced out giving a more parkland feel. At the centre of the park, where Grangewood House once stood, is a formal garden area with some flower borders. At the top of the hill are the sports facilities: children and adult equipment, tennis courts and a bowling green. At the south end of the park are the original iron gates, a nature area and some rose beds. The Park Keeper's House, with a panopticon bay window once giving good views of the entrance and the main path, is boarded up.

In contrast to these hilly sites is the Queen's Road Cemetery. It is a flat, long oblong site that was designed by E. C. Robins and opened in 1861. There are two adjoining chapels with a spire and the war memorial stands in front of them. The cemetery has some interpretation boards on the history of Croydon, the history of cemeteries and burial, the life and times of some of the people buried here, and a full list of war graves.

Returning from the cemetery I passed a couple of small parks. Wilford Road Recreation Ground is in a housing estate and has some play equipment and plenty of seats. There is an area for community gardening near the entrance. Whitehorse Road Recreation Ground is larger and is mainly grass with some good pollarded trees around the perimeter. There is a small formal area, which was laid out in 1936 as an enclosed rest garden for the elderly.

The next part of my exploration starts at Beckenham Cemetery and Crematorium, which opened in 1876 and was once known as Crystal Palace District Cemetery. It was designed by architect Alexander Hennell and had two chapels. During the Second World War, one of the chapels was destroyed in a bombing raid, the other is now the crematorium, which was opened in 1956. There is an old poster depicting the cemetery in the waiting room showing what it used to look like. The cemetery is now privately managed. The original gates are in place and there is a large waterfall garden and various gardens of remembrance. There are a wide variety of burial monuments; headstones, kerb plots, and special modern brightly coloured tombs with a specific area designated for the various styles. There is a SANDS area with the sweet but sad collections of toys and a War Graves area with simple white headstones. The cemetery is well maintained and one point I particularly liked is that the trees are crown-raised to about the same level as a browse line in traditional parkland which lets the light in and provides views through the cemetery.

The Croydon canal opened in 1809 and closed in 1836, but two parts of it remain in my area of exploration and incidentally the only parks on this trip that I have been to before. There is a stretch of canal next to Betts Park, which opened in 1935 with funds from the King George's Fields Foundation. The Foundation became the Memorial Trust on the King's death the following year. The section of canal is to the north of the park and is surrounded by iron railings. Restoration and refurbishment is due to take place in November 2018. The rest of the park is trees and grass.

The canal reservoir is accessible from Woodvale Avenue and is home to Croydon Sailing Club. The lake and adjacent land have been used for sports since 1881. The area was later taken over by Croydon Corporation and finally became a public park in 1969. There is a small running track and to the north a rugby pitch. There is an old Croydon Council board giving the original size regulations and fees. It was 30 shillings per season!

My final trip started at Norwood Junction. Famous for having the first reinforced concrete underpass to the station — opened in 1912; not a garden but it is a public space. The first park is South Norwood Recreation Ground, which opened in 1889. Apart from the neglected bowling green fenced off near the entrance, the park is given over to sport. There are tennis and basketball courts and the grass shows marking for a variety of sports. There is street workout, trim gym and children's equipment. Mature trees from the original planting line the edges of the park as well as the main path through the park.

Heavers Meadow is a strip of wild scrubland with some grassy areas. It follows the Norbury Brook and ends close to the southern end of South Norwood Country Park. At the western end there are bunds to keep out vehicles, but these include a Croydon Stone commemorating 50 years of the borough. A walk along the bridge over the railway depot brings you to Brickfields Meadow, which has a large lake in one of the former brick pits. It is a mixture of grass and woodland and interplays with the new housing to the east.

Woodside Green is a small hamlet with a village green (divided by roads). The first record is from 1662 and the Green itself became a public space in 1871. The war memorial stands on the Green and the area retains its small village feel despite the modern traffic.

The last park is Ashburton Park, which was opened as a municipal park in 1924 on the site of a late eighteenth-century mansion and its grounds. In 1882 Woodside Convent Orphanage for the sons of gentlemen was established here by Father Tooth, which operated until the 1920s, and its red brick convent chapel, now empty but once used as the public library, remains in the middle of the park.

So I visited a few successors to the Great North Wood and a variety of parks and open spaces. They provide plenty to do, from joining in the wildlife management to taking part in sport and exercise or just sitting in the sun. And if you are inspired to find out more about these historic sites and the Great North Wood, there is much to discover.

Betts Park
Betts Park

Croydon Canal
Croydon Canal


Heavers Meadow
Heavers Meadow

Queens Road
Queens Road Cemetery