History of Norwood

Norwood covers a vast, ill-defined area between (and sometimes including parts of) Streatham, Dulwich, Penge and Croydon. The name means the north wood - north that is of Croydon. Norwood was not a single ancient parish and so has no historic nucleus. It was mainly in the parishes (now Boroughs) of Croydon and Lambeth with some parts in Penge (Bromley) and Dulwich (Southwark).

Much of what went to make up Norwood was common land, and development was accelerated by the enclosures of these commons in the late 18th and early 19th century. The character of later developments was largely fashioned by the commissioners’ decisions as to the size of the plots; large plots resulted in large houses and small plots in small houses. The major freeholders were the Archbishop of Canterbury (Lord of the Manor of Lambeth and Croydon), whose land was later managed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and Lord Thurlow, who owned land to the west of Dulwich.

The earliest development took place in the first 40 years of the 19th century and the new population was one of wealthy City commuters, who had the time and money for a long daily journey. Examples of houses they occupied were those in the large plots on the south side of Beulah Hill on land sold by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Other developments took place on Lord Thurlow’s lands to the south of Tulse Hill after his death and the break up of his estate by his executors. Wealthy City commuters were a finite market and later attempts to build to their taste and scale on land adjacent to Beulah Spa failed.

It might have been thought that the Crystal Palace, which opened in south London in 1854, would have stimulated development. Certainly the railway lines that served it greatly shortened journeys to the City and the West End. However developers overestimated the demand and where villas for the middle-class were planned, such as in Selhurst, South Norwood Park and Eldon Park, ambitions have to be refashioned and terraces were erected instead.

Norwood was curiously ill-served by places of entertainment - presumably the influence of the Crystal Palace, but – a symptom of aspiring status and availability of land – it was the site of one of the new private cemeteries opened in the 1850s on the fringes of London, ensuring that at least some of its new residents remained permanently.

Norwood declined after 1890 and many of the largest houses went into institutional use or, more recently, were demolished and replaced by blocks of flats.