After my local team’s narrow defeat in the F.A. Cup last week against Manchester United it started me reminiscing about the area. For those outside the UK this might not make much sense but here are a few snippets of useless information about Crystal Palace, which is in South East London.
First of all there is no such place! True!
The actual area known as Crystal Palace is Upper Norwood (The Upper North Wood.)
The triangle which most people identify with the area is on the border of three London boroughs. When I worked there it was a nightmare trying to identify which council was responsible for a particular property. Even different numbered houses in the same road came under different councils.
This is partly the reason the historic park has been allowed to decay despite all the applications to renovate it. Getting three councils to agree on anything is not any easy task, and it doesn’t help when the dinosaurs eat all the paperwork.
The park itself is now in the London Borough of Bromley which despite the name is in Kent.
The Crystal Palace football team don’t play at Crystal Palace, but at Selhurst, which is South Norwood (The South North Wood) in the London Borough of Croydon, which is in Surrey.
Confused? You will be.
The name originated from the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, organised partly by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, to show to the world the industry, invention, design and new technology of Great Britain.
The building housing the exhibition in Hyde Park London was nicknamed The Crystal Palace due to its construction in the form of a massive glasshouse, using glass in a cast-iron frame. It was moved to Sydenham in South East London where it was enlarged and re-erected giving the area its colloquial name. Anyone who was anyone in Victorian times visited the exhibition including Charles Darwin, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and Alfred Tennyson.
In the 1850’s, the area was deep in the country and accessible only by train. When the Palace was relocated, the London Brighton and South Coast Railway built a spur from Sydenham to the Crystal Palace, the Low Level station. The London, Chatham and Dover Railway built a spur from Upper Sydenham to the High Level station to compete and try to gain some valuable custom from the Palace visitors.
The High Level station, the highest railway station in London was closed in 1929, but recently a vintage steam train ride was arranged for Crystal Palace fans for their away game against Southampton.
There are rumours that there is still a pneumatic train trapped inside the sealed tunnels. The carriage had sliding doors each end and a remote steam engine coupled to a fan. The railway had bristles to make it airtight and the coach was sucked along.
An alternative rumour is that a commuter train was trapped by a tunnel collapse and that the entombed passengers are still there to this day.
After work I regularly walked the few yards to the entrance to the grounds for an evening run around the park, passing the dinosaurs en-route. Seeing the small zoo brought a welcome sigh of relief, knowing we were on the home stretch after completing the circuit.
Another advantage of living close to what was once the most important sports ground in England was being able to use the Olympic pool for a swim. The only disadvantage was when it was in use for a gala or training. It was no problem having to swap from the main cold pool to the heated training pool; the other way round was not so much fun.
At one time the park was renowned for its motorcycle racing track. It was great to sit on the grassy banks and look down with a perfect view of all the action. I believe the Olympic athletics track was built round the outside of the racing track which was eventually left to become grass and weeds. Such a shame. Many of the clubmen went on to become famous names in their field; there is even a road locally named after the great Barry Sheene.
Before the Thames Barrier flood defence was built, a Bank in Crystal Palace was identified as the highest point in South London. The government installed various equipment so the building could be used as a communication centre in the event of flooding. Thankfully it was never needed. I’d love to know if the paraphernalia is still there; it would make a great museum piece.
This is more personal knowledge of the area rather than expert facts, but I think you’ll agree there’s some fascinating history for a place that theoretically doesn’t exist.