Waterloo & City line walk

Waterloo & City line

WATERLOO to BANK

1 1/2 hours

The Waterloo & City Underground line is actually a true railway. It was proposed, built and operated by a railway company in order to offer a convenient connection between the Waterloo mainline terminal and the City of London. As it would cross densely built areas, only an underground line was reasonable. It opened in 1898 and was purchased in 1907 by the railway company that operated the Waterloo terminal.

The line could not be connected with the train main line in Waterloo because the trains leave from platforms elevated above the street level, as was usual in the mid-19th century. There is actually no possibility to connect the line with any other line and any heavy equipment or replacement carriages need to be hauled via a special lift into the underground shaft.

The line remained owned by the railway company and later by British Rail until 1994, the year when it was transferred to the London Underground network.

Routing note: There are many routes through central London and I have allocated each attraction to a specific train or underground line in order not to repeat myself too often. Obviously, as the walk passes Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral, you can visit them and this would add to the time estimate given above.

This walk connects in Waterloo to Waterloo network walk 1. It will also connect there with Bakerloo Line walk 1, with Jubilee Line walk 5 and with Northern Line walk 9. It connects in Bank with DLR network walk 1. It will also connect there with Central Line walk 7 and with Northern Line walks 10 and 11.

WATERLOO

 

Waterloo & City tube entrance

The underground station opened for the Waterloo & City underground railway shuttle in 1898. It was then extended as true Underground lines were built: Bakerloo line in 1906, Northern line in 1926 and Jubilee line in 1999. The location of the platforms and the length of the corridors is such that you could argue for three separate stations: the Northern and Bakerloo lines are located at the western end of the train terminal, the Waterloo & City platform in the middle and the Jubilee line at the eastern end. I accordingly use a picture of the entrance closest to the Waterloo & City platforms.

The Waterloo & City platform gives an unusual feeling because it is single track with rather short trains compared to typical Underground stations.

Exit the underground station through the main formal entrance of Waterloo train terminal. It is signposted either as Victory Arch or as “exit number 5” in the terminal.

Victory Arch at Waterloo terminal

I comment at length on the train terminal in my Waterloo walk 1. For the purpose of this walk, it is enough to mention the exit you are using, built as a sort of victory monument after World War I. Although called the Victory Arch, it actually commemorates the railway staff killed during the war. It is a good example of late Edwardian bombast making use of Renaissance elements like pediments and balustrades on a strictly symmetrical basis

Going down the stairs, you see in front of you a railway viaduct. Turn L following the viaduct arches.

Cross York Road and follow the viaduct in Concert Hall Approach

Next L Belvedere Road

R into Jubilee Gardens, walk to the riverside walkway

This green space was landscaped when buildings used in a 1951 exhibition were demolished. There is not much to see except grass and a few larger trees transplanted here in 2012. It is actually not advisable to develop the park much because it is extremely heavily used in summer by tourists relaxing and snacking before or after their London Eye experience.

R along the river Thames following the signposted Thames Path.

The path crosses under Hungerford railway bridge with its two pedestrian walkways, passes the Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Royal Festival Hall

The Royal Festival Hall is a big, squat concrete building that does not look very impressive from the riverfront. It is important for historical reasons as it was the first prestige building to be opened after the post-World War II financial difficulties. It opened in 1951 as a property of the Greater London Council and is now a separate institution. The architect’s concept was to create a completely new type of cultural centre, without the very British tradition of separating carefully the different classes of visitors according to how expensive their seats were. He also wanted to avoid any reference to post-classical bombast and the first visitors were overwhelmed, saying they felt transported into a future world.

View from the South Bank towards the Strand

In due course, some features had to be simplified, such as the greenery on the balconies overlooking the riverside. It is now a lively bar and restaurant but part of the balcony is accessible for casual visitors and this is definitely worth enjoying. The view centres on Charing Cross train terminal and the massive Strand hotels, which gives a more monumental feeling than in other places on the South bank.

The core of the building is a very large concert hall which is comparable to a shoebox, the typical shape for such venues until the 1970s. The acoustics were not fully satisfactory although they have improved somewhat after expensive refurbishment in 2007. The sound is described as being somewhat dry and stifled, so that concerts involving the voice are usually given elsewhere. Apart from the large hall, there is a large flexible space at the back of the building used mostly for performances and “open house” type of programming.

The colour scheme inside is an acquired taste, particularly where the carpets are concerned. I also was never impressed by the staircases. I find them awkward and confusing. Have a look at different levels and you will discover hidden corners with bars or shops.

Fountain in front of Queen Elizabeth Hall

The smaller concrete building near the Royal Festival Hall is Queen Elizabeth Hall. There is a very nice fountain between both buildings. When it is turned on, water curtains rise and fall in unexpected patterns and children daring a go will gleefully get drenched from time to time. Queen Elizabeth Hall was built in 1977 for concerts where a huge hall is less appropriate, such as chamber music. The two auditoriums are downright plain and ugly, but acoustics are excellent.

Inside Queen Elizabeth Hall

The building is a good example of the Brutalist style popular in the 1960s in Britain. It involves using concrete without cladding (therefore “brut”) and avoiding frilly decoration such as columns, pediments and scrolls. The lobby has a bar offering some views towards the river and is worth a short look for the elaborate ceiling. There was originally a much larger lobby wrapping all around the main auditorium, but large parts of it have been closed off as being of no particular use.

Haywards Gallery

A third building is also part of the arts complex. To reach Haywards Gallery, you walk between the Royal Festival Hall and the Queen Elizabeth Hall past the fountain. The gallery opened in 1968 and the architecture is very similar to that of Queen Elizabeth Hall as the architects worked together. The main difference is that the gallery feels a bit more like a construction game with vertical blocks and the hall like a flat structure. One of my pictures is funny, you might see the face of a monkey or robot.

Haywards Robot or Monkey face

I have never been inside the gallery, it houses exhibitions on contemporary art and admission charges are not low. The building is a bit awkward to reach and not very visible, so that planners hesitate about how to use it efficiently.

Continue on the riverside walkway. You will certainly notice underneath Queen Elizabeth Hall a long, gloomy concrete space with graffiti. In the 1970s, such locations were actually thought to be convenient passages away from the rain, but they attracted the wrong sort of denizens. The graffiti comes from a time in the 1980s when this was the core of the streetboarding scene in London when this was still an avantgarde activity copied from the USA. Most of the walkway has been fenced off for years for security and hygienic reasons and there are commercial interests pushing for it to be converted to restaurants and shops.

The path now crosses under Waterloo Bridge. You will find more details about the bridge in my London Bridge walk 1. You also pass the film showing room of the British Film Institute located directly under the bridge. The BFI is a public archive that started in 1933 to collect films and later television features in a manner comparable to the British Library. It owns a film theatre where it shows films of artistic or topical interest that get little room in commercial theatres and has a very faithful following.

The path then passes the National Theatre.

National Theatre

The theatre is one of the most prominent companies funded significantly with public money in Britain. I have never attended performances (being a foreigner, I have difficulties with the special accent and speed of theatrical English). The building is very imposing and quite controversial. It was opened in 1977 and the plans are by Sir Denys Lasdun, who was influenced by Le Corbusier. Typical for his style are slanting shapes and receding terraces. It is a special type of brutalist architecture.

Inside the National Theatre building

If you can save a few minutes, I recommend you have a look inside the building as there is a large lobby accessible independently of performances. The layout is utterly confusing, even more so than at the Barbican Centre, an other cultural building from the same period. But there are many unexpected lines of view berween the different levels, staircases and pillars that make it somehow fascinating. Strangely enough, I got to like the building, but I needed to go there several times before feeling comfortable with it.

Mock houses in Duchy Street

Continue along the river Thames until you reach a green space. You pass first a large, ugly office building and reach the green space shortly thereafter. The Bernie Spain Gardens are worth a short detour. The part nearest to the river is mostly grass and is used a lot by tourists. The rear part is more interesting. On the western side, there is a row of brick houses that are actually murals faking real houses. There are a number of shops but what I like more is the unusual street furniture out of wood. The garden itself is a central grassy bowl with a rim of bushes and flower beds. It is away from the tourist bustle and therefore a sort of oasis on this walk.

Bernie Spain Gardens

Bernie Spain Gardens

Follow again the river Thames passing the OXO Tower Wharf. The tower gets its name from the shape of the windows at the top of the pointed tower. It is an example of shameless commercial behaviour: there was a warehouse here in the 1930s where a food manufacturer stored inter alia beef stock cubes sold under the Oxo brand. The local authorities did not allow advertising on the façade and the tower was built in such a manner as to go around the ban.

OXO tower

The warehouse was demolished in the 1970s but the tower had become a landmark and the ground was purchased by the borough council in 1984 in order to safeguard it. It is now owned by a social entreprise that rents the ground and first floor studios to artists. It is definitely worth climbing the stairs in order to look at their work although they obviously cater to more affluent clients. There is also a restaurant higher up and the rest is luxury flats. Interestingly, as the building is not listed, only the ownership structure guarantees that it is left standing.

Old view of Blackfriars Bridge

The riverside walkway then passes a big concrete building that you cannot really see from below. It then crosses under Blackfriars road bridge. The subway is improved by two interesting pictures showing the bridge inauguration. I comment in detail on the bridge in my Blackfriars walk 5. There are actually three bridges, the road bridge, the red pillars of the former train bridge and the present train bridge. After the third bridge, you pass the conspicuous south bank entrance of Blackfriars train station, a rare case of a train station extending all the way above a tidal river.

Opening of Blackfriars Bridge

Birch garden in front of Tate Modern

The riverside walkway then passes a residential estate and a smaller pub building before reaching the garden in front of Tate Modern. I comment on this particular museum in my Jubilee line walk 6. The garden in front of the museum is mostly grass. What makes it pleasant and unusual are the rows of birch trees, the black and white bark making a nice contrast to the grass and to the dark red bricks of the building.

Just after passing the Tate Modern, cross the Thames on Millenium Bridge.

Cables of Millenium Bridge

The bridge got its name from being planned to open in the year 2000. It did open, but it swayed in an uncomfortable manner and had to be closed for two years before engineers were sure that no accident would happen. Modern computers can plan for bridges to sway slightly on purpose or within specific tolerance, but the innumerable tourists might have got nervous. 19th century architects realised that some bridges swayed when a famous accident happened in France: a bridge collapsed into the river Loire, drowning many soldiers who were being marched across it.

Spidery Millenium Bridge

The bridge had to be very thin in order not to impede navigation and is therefore a suspension bridge. You can see the anchoring of the cables clearly at the south end of the bridge. Very similar bridges were built in many cities, including the optical trick of a staircase sinking below the bridge level at one or both ends.

 

View upstream from Millenium Bridge

From the bridge, you have a limited view west because of the massive Blackfriars bridges. The most conspicuous building is the Charing Cross office complex. The view east shows primarily the somewhat chaotic jumble of mid-rise buildings in the City with landmark towers being actually further away. You can see some of Tower Bridge, but Southwark Bridge in the foreground is more conspicuous. To be honest, the best views are those towards both ends of the bridge.

View downstream from Millenium Bridge

View South from Millenium Bridge

The view towards the south end is dominated by the massive shape of Tate Modern, a former power station. The view towards the north concentrates primarily on St Paul’s Cathedral, the dome of which is exactly in the axis of the bridge. This was done on purpose as lines of view towards St Paul’s have a special role in London. A large aluminium sculpture at the end of the bridge will give you an interesting frame for the dome. I have many pictures of the bridge and this view as all my visitors from overseas insisted on taking it.

Classical framed view from Millenium Bridge

College of Arms

Before crossing the road in front of you, you will see on your left a large brick building with a courtyard, a magnificent grand staircase and a sparkling gilded iron gate. This is a venerable English institution, the College of Arms. I do say English although it is also competent for Wales because Scotland has an other institution, the delightfully named Court of the Lord Lyon. The college was founded in 1484; the present building is partly from the 17th century but much of it was rebuilt in the 1950s. If you feel you are entitled to a coat of arms due to some exalted ancestry or if you are a company intending to ennoble your production of mouth-water and knickers with a coat of arms, this institution is where you will need to go. Be warned that it is not really cheap.

St Benet’s Paul Wharf

Opposite the college of arms, you may notice a small church, St. Benet’s Paul’s Wharf. It was built in 1670; it is modest but pretty with very baroque scrolls of flowers above the windows. Opening times are very limited and I don’t think there is much to see inside. Benet is an old name for Benedict, but is amusing if you speak French as a “benêt” is a simpleton.

Ahead all the way to St Paul’s Cathedral.

I comment on the cathedral itself in my District Line walk 11, but the best view of the dome is from where you are. When architect Wren designed the cathedral in the 1670s, he had in mind the huge dome of St Peter’s in Rome and the impressive dome of the Val de Grâce built by Mansart in Paris for Louis XIV, the arbiter of good taste in Europe at the time. Wren’s innovation was to set the dome on top of a high cylindrical drum, which you can be thankful for as this provides the “rooftop” viewing gallery. There are actually many more layers between the level of the nave and the golden cross at the top of the dome.

Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral

In front of the cathedral R into Festival Gardens.

Festival Gardens

The gardens were landscaped in 1951 on the occasion of the “Festival of Britain”, the celebration that also led to the National Festival Hall being built. The ground was rubbish left after World War II bombs had destroyed the office buildings that were located here. The concept of the main garden is simple, a rectangular lawn recessed into the ground and enclosed by a flower border, plus an alley of trees around the garden. I never really fell in love with the garden because of the traffic along it.

Keep to the north side of the gardens (not along the busy road) and walk towards a small church tower standing by itself.

The tower is the only rest of the church of St Augustine’s Watling Street, built in 1683 but destroyed by bombs during World War II.

Ahead Watling Street

Cross Queen Victoria Street and continue ahead into a passage between office buildings called Bloomberg Arcade

L Walbrook (a narrow street)

London Mithraeum

The large building to your left is used as headquarters for a financial information company. Check locally whether the Mithraeum located in the basement is accessible. This word refers to the structure shown on my picture; at the time, it was freely accessible above ground near the adjacent crossroads. It is one of the best known Roman ruins in London. The lines of stones and bricks show the outline of a small roman temple where soldiers worshipped this oriental God. The site is very important for archeologists because they found here a number of important documents written on wooden tablets and preserved in marshy ground. Such funds are exceedingly rare.

You must imagine the soldiers sitting on straw-covered benches on either side of the central alley and looking towards an altar at the end of the room. They would also recline on the benches for ritual meals. The religion was popular with soldiers because it involved a complex hierarchy of involvement in mysteries, a structure they were familiar with and that stressed comradeship. But we know very little about the beliefs as they were never really put in written.

Dome of St Stephen Walbrook

Nearly opposite the Mithraeum, you pass a church, St Stephen Walbroook. It is one of the many City churches built in the 1670s on designs by Christopher Wren and is considered one of his best designs, with the dome being a miniature version of St Paul’s. Architects particularly admired the transition between the four-sided crossing of the naves and the round dome using eight columns. Note that the dome does not rely on walls at all, only on the columns. This is made possible by the fact that the dome is actually in wood covered with decorative plaster, not in stone. This was a fire hazard but the church was lucky.

 

Altar in St Stephen Walbrook

The other peculiarity is the altar in the middle of the church under the dome. It is by Henry Moore and the smooth shapes in white marble complement elegantly the general scheme of the church. But using a sculpture as an altar is an unusual practice that led to a special appellate tribunal being constituted to discuss this point of theology; it is one of only two instances in history of this tribunal being required. It is called nicely the “Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved”.

The route ends at the large crossroads at the end of this street. There are several buildings of interest here such as Mansion House and the Bank of England, but I comment on them elsewhere (see for example my DLR walk 1).

BANK

Entrance of Bank underground station

The station for the Waterloo & City trains is actually located deep underground close to Mansion House and not close to Bank. It was therefore called City until 1940. Because of the considerable traffic at rush hour, access was not through a lift as you would expect; steep, very long inclines were provided instead and emerged into the concourse built under the Bank crossroads for the Northern and Central lines who opened both in 1900. The DLR platforms opened in 1991.

The long, steep incline caused frequent complaints and overcrowding in the corridor caused safety concerns, so that a so-called “travolator” was installed. It was an American novelty and the British authorities were very concerned about it being dangerous, very expensive and unreliable. It only opened in 1960 after 30 years of discussions. It is very popular nowadays with advertising companies because the specific shape of the corridor makes it possible to test “immersive” advertising using the ceiling as well as the wall. The word “travolator” is British English; other countries use the wording “moving walkway”. There are only two “travolators” on the London Underground network, in Waterloo and in Bank stations.

 

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Walk 5: Sandilands walk to New Addington

Walk 5

SANDILANDS to NEW ADDINGTON

3 hours

The Croydon Tramlink is a tram built in the 1990s because the borough of Croydon complained about having no convenient access to the Underground network. The line to Addington was built because this suburb has been developed in the 1960s without any convenient access to a train line, forcing residents to use slow and congested commuting routes by car or by bus.

The tram started as a private company that kept the ticket proceeds, but changes in the overall London fare system made it ever more complicated to calculate the appropriate compensation payments and the public authorities (TfL) purchased the system in 2008.

All stations on this part of the Tramlink were created ex nihilo in 2000 and use standardised platform furniture. There is no office or building, just a glass awning and vending machines, and I therefore don’t need to comment on the individual stops.

Please note that the Croydon Tramlink normally uses ticket readers like on a bus, but that a special, highly confusing regulation applies in Wimbledon, potentially causing overcharging.

Routing note: This walk connects in Sandilands with Tramlink walk 3.

I add at the end a route suggestion for an extension of the walk as London buses run beyond Addington to Biggin Hill. This suggestion is not included in the 3 hours estimate.

Several sections of this walk are through parks and can get muddy. I recommend sturdy shoes.

SANDILANDS

Sandilands tram stop

The tram stop opened in 2000 together with the tram line. The line coming from Croydon divides after Sandilands stop, joining a former train line via a very sharp bend where an accident happened in 2016. The train line is only used until the next tram stop.

Take Addiscombe Road towards the East (away from Croydon)

Note a blue plaque on house number 96, called Heron’s Croft. The core of the building is dated back to 1493 and it is likely to be one of the oldest structures in the borough. The roofscape and the impressive chimney are definitely not a recent addition.

Heron’s Croft from 1493

R Sandilands

Typical villa in Sandilands

The roads you are walking along in this part of the route are clearly not your average council estate style. Palatial villas are set back in spacious grounds with double garages and well tended front gardens. A grassy verge keeps any road disturbance away from the house door.

R Harland Avenue

L Radcliffe Road

Radcliffe Road

You are now in an area reserved for seriously affluent executives. Pedestrians are so unusual that there is not even a sidewalk – there is instead a wide green space to ride your thoroughbred to the park. A few uncouth denizens park their car in view of the road, which is certainly frowned upon in the more refined abodes, but you have to show some understanding for the cars of your cleaning staff or visiting children.

Interesting villa in Radcliffe Road

Most villas are kept in the mock Tudor style popular with brokers in the 1930s. I took a picture of a more interesting house with windows and brick walls unobtrusively inspired by Elizabethan mansions.

At the end R Ranmore Avenue

L Deepdene Avenue, turns very soon into a path along the edge of Lloyd Park, merges later into Lloyd Park Avenue

Valley in Lloyd Park

You will cross more of Lloyd Park after the next tram stop. The park is actual old parkland, given to the borough in the 1930s by the daughter of Mr Lloyd who had wished her to do so. This gentleman had inherited a very successful magazine publishing business (from his father who was a rather unsavoury character devoid of scruples) and became a noted philanthropist. The mansion, Coombe House, is now a Catholic school.

L along the tram tracks

LLOYD PARK

Lloyd Park tram stop

This stop is located close to an old train station called Coombe Road but the tram does not use the old train line beyond Lloyd Park stop. Like all stops on this section of the Tramlink, it opened in 2000.

At the end of the platform L into the park

Cross the car park and turn R past the café and a playground

Keep the same direction across a hedge, then R along the hedge to a second hedge

Football grounds in Lloyd Park

Lloyd Park was given by Mr Lloyd primarily with a view to set up sports grounds. This was a very popular concept in the 1930s with many boroughs landscaping so-called “King George Fields” for the same purpose. The park is still used for sports a lot, but you will easily notice that it is sloping in many places. As a result, it keeps to some extent the appearance it had as the park for Mr Lloyd’s mansion. There are clumps of trees here and there as in 18th century parkland and the trees are mostly indigenous species rather than the showy exotic species Victorians were keen on.

Coombe Farm buildings

Cross the second hedge and turn slightly L in order to leave enclosed farm grounds on your right.

You see the hedge on the picture. From this corner of Lloyd Park, you can of course see the farm that was a logical part of the estate. It is now used for commercial offices.

Further away up the hill, you can also glimpse an other large house, Coombe Lodge. The 18th century mansion is now a restaurant after having been used as a retirement home and later as the borough nursery. That you can see these different houses spread over large expanses of empty parkland is very unusual so close to London and is due to the fact that the estate was not developed by the owners in the 19th century as they were so rich that they did not see the point.

Coombe Park Lodge

 

Nearing Oaks Road

When the farm fence turns R, turn R as well still following the fence

Cross an access road and continue ahead on the paved footpath uphill

Cross a road and take the path ahead into the wood.

 

Addington Hills

You are now in a nature area called Addington Hills. The original name in the middle ages was something like “pebble dene” because the ground is mostly gravel. This explains the unusual vegetation. Instead of oak trees, you will find a number of pine trees while the ground is covered in places by heather. My route climbs a steep valley using the straightest line to the next tram stop. If you like the landscape and the exceptional heathland, you can turn left when you are at the top of the hill towards a viewing platform and a restaurant. There are fine views from the platform towards Central London and it is only a minor detour. Once you have reached the restaurant, the path towards the tram stop is marked.

Heath landscape in Addington Hills

Top of Addington Hills

The path ends at

COOMBE LANE

Coombe Lane tram stop

The tram stop opened in 2000 together with the tram line and is one of the least used as it is located between a very upmarket, leafy suburb and a wood.

L Footpath along the tram tracks towards traffic lights

You can rely here for a while on the very clear signposts for the London Loop, a long-distance path marked with green roundels bearing a kestrel.

Cross the highway and enter the grounds of Heathfield House. The entrance is at the corner of Coombe Lane with Ballards Way

Heathfield House

The house was originally one of many farms belonging to the huge estate of Addington. The present buildings date back to a Mr Riesco who bought the property in 1927. He had a keen interest in gardens and the borough agreed with him that they would continue to manage a garden for public enjoyment after they purchased the property in installments between 1945 and 1958.

Heathfield House rhododendrons

The house is not worth visiting as it is now the training centre for borough employees, but the gardens are a first-class attraction and are very well kept. This can be said for many parks in the borough as it is one of those with the best record in managing parks and gardens in London. What sets Heathfield aside is the very good collection of rhododendron. The nearest competition is in Wimbledon, showing how good it is.

 

Heathfield House azaleas

Heathfield House rookery

There is also a lovely rookery along a cascading brook (also a rarity in London). You will find closer to the house the more typical adornments of early 20th century country residences such as yew topiary, a modest but pretty rose garden, a walled garden with typically Edwardian pergolas, a pond and some interesting borders themed with the colour blue (a popular concept in the 1930s as advocated by leading experts at the time). As usual, it is my pleasure to dazzle you with corresponding pictures.

Heathfield House rose garden

Walled garden with pergolas

Overflowing pond

Blue borders

View of surrounding landscape from Heathfield House

One thing worth noticing while touring the formal gardens is how they open fully to the farm landscape beyond the property. In the English tradition, this would be done only if you owned this landscape and the farmland would be elegantly landscaped to look picturesque. Here, the idea is very different and more Japanese: the garden borrows the surrounding landscape as a background heightening the enjoyment of the planting. I venture the thought that Mr Riesco was well aware of this, being a well-known expert on East Asian ceramics (his outstanding collection forms the core of the borough museum in central Croydon).

Cottage in Riesco Drive

Tour the grounds and exit through the car park into Riesco Drive

L down the drive. It soon turns into a gravel track

Ahead across Bramley Bank Nature Reserve

This looks like a little like ancient woodland, but it was actually farmland until Mr Riesco decided to dig a pond and to plant a number of woodland trees he was interested in such as Austrian pines. Part of the nature reserve is heathland, which needs special protection in London as it quickly colonised by oaks if not managed on purpose.

Bramley Bank Nature Reserve

 

Clearing in Croham Valley

Exit the nature reserve at the corner of Chapel View with Valley Road

Cross Valley Road into an open space leading to Littleheath Wood. For this section, the London Loop signposts will be particularly useful.

The wood belonged to farms until the 1920s when residents of the newly developed suburb of Selsdon realised that the area might be developed soon as well. A fundraising action enabled the borough to purchase the area in 1932. The wood is not exceptional in terms of trees but is very pleasant and there are convenient benches in several places.

When you reach the wood, turn L along the edge of the wood. The water tower should stay on your left-hand side. The path skirts a playground and stays within a strip of wood all the way to the main road

L Addington Road / Selsdon Park Road

You are leaving now the London Loop.

Gravel Hill footpath

Opposite a church L and L again into a spur of Selsdon Park Road uphill

R Heathfield Vale

L Farnborough Avenue

The road turns R and passes a sports centre. When it turns R again, leave the road for a footpath ahead along school grounds.

 

Gravel Hill footpath

This is a particularly pleasant version of a paved path as it has grass verges on both sides and hedges or trees all along. It is much used by the children going to school and the very good shape of the path proves that making paths more attractive contributes to them being kept clean and pleasant by users.

The path ends at

GRAVEL HILL

Gravel Hill tram stop

The tram stop opened in 2000 together with the tram line.

Cross the main highway at the traffic lights

R along the tram tracks for a few yards

Soon L into Addington Park

The park is a somewhat unexciting piece of grassland. It was a small section of a much larger park landscaped in the 18th century by Lancelot Brown for Addington Palace. You actually get glimpses of the palace from the northern edge of the present park.

Addington Park

 

Addington Palace

It was built for the Mayor of London in the 1770s and was sold to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1807 because he needed a summer palace close to London after his old palace at Croydon had become so outdated as to be very uncomfortable. The property was later taken over by the borough and is now owned by a private company specialising in seminars and receptions.

Cross the park ahead towards the village and follow the village road ahead to the parish church

St Mary’s Addington

St Mary’s Addington is a very interesting village church. I found it open but this might have been by chance as a service was being held. The back wall behind the altar with three rounded windows is a particularly venerable item of architecture dating back to the 11th century, one of the very oldest in London. The church website says it predates the Norman conquest, which is difficult to prove. The very colourful decoration inside pays little attention to Saxon or Romanic tradition as it was commissioned in 1898.

11th century chancel of Addington parish church

The main attraction inside the church is rather a beautiful 16th century memorial to a Lord of the Manor of Addington. He died in 1576, as explained by a short text without the usual flourishes. It even sounds a bit terse for a memorial written at the time of Elizabeth I.

 

Monument to the Lord of the Manor in 1576

At the church R to the roundabout, cross the highway for

ADDINGTON VILLAGE

Addington Village tram stop

The tram stop opened in 2000 together with the tram line. As several buses have their terminal here, the stop is also called by Transport for London “Addington Interchange”, which sounds a bit overdone to me.

For the rest of the walk, just follow the tram tracks along a golf course.

 

From the path, you have a good view over the valley where the old village of Addington nestled away from bad weather. With binoculars or a zooming camera, you also get a better view of Addington Palace than you could from the park before.

Addington village seen from the golf course path

 

Path along the tram tracks

There is a path on the golf course side of the tracks passing

FIELDWAY

The tram stop opened in 2000 together with the tram line.

View over the golf course

The golf course was the first purpose-built public golf course in England in 1912 and was also the first public golf course transferred into management by a private company (in 1932). It was sold outright later on but remains one of the more affordable courses available in London. There are actually two courses, the one you are walking along being the larger, newer one. The wide open space of the golf course actually provides you with some extended views.

Continue along the tracks all the way to

KING HENRY’S DRIVE

The tram stop opened in 2000 together with the tram line.

Continue ahead along Parkway to

NEW ADDINGTON

 

Tram terminal in New Addington

The terminus opened in 2000 together with the whole tram line.

Walk extension to Biggin Hill

1 1/2 hours

Continue beyond the tram terminal on Central Parade

Cross the roundabout half L into Arnhem Drive

Typical suburb from the 1960s

New Addington is a rather unusual suburb. It was first planned in the 1930s as a smaller garden city in order to improve living conditions compared to slums in the Croydon area, but little was built before World War II. Most of the suburb was built in the 1960s. There are no high rise estates, the concept is more akin to the residential roads in the eastern suburbs with lots of small brick houses.

The suburb had very bad connections with Croydon and London until the tram was built in 2000. As a result, property was cheap and it was generally considered an undesirable backwater. Lack of investment in schools and public facilities in the 1960s also caused resentment and occasional problems with youth gangs. This seems to have been alleviated since, but the suburb clearly still does not attract commercial investment and offers very few jobs. To be honest, the roads are rather drab.

St Edward’s New Addington

My route passes the parish church, St Edward’s. It is a very plain brick building with little character. This is probably due to it being consecrated in 1957. This means it was built at a time when the government had very little money to spare, having to deal with the aftermath of World War II.

Just after St Edwards Close R into Milne Park

Walk along the whole length of the park to the children’s playground at the South exit

Milne Park

Milne Park is as plain as the rest of the suburb. It is nice to plan enough space for informal sports in a new suburb, but there is a conspicuous lack of any thought given to making the park an attractive place to spend leisure time. Very few trees, no flowers, no sculptures, no benches…

Ahead Comport Green

Ahead and L Fairchildes Avenue

R King Henry’s Drive. There is a path off the road soon turning away from it along a thin strip of wood

Soon R on the path along school grounds and a playing field

Public footpath away from New Addington

This is a rather nice path as you can see on the picture. At the end of the path, you skirt the very end of Greater London. The only area of Greater London located further south is the old parish of Cudham. It was added into London rather than left within Kent because there was a large RAF base also used for civilian airplanes.

At the end of the playing field, L into a public byway towards Jewels Wood. The byway is clearly marked with a green signpost.

There are several informal paths inside the wood, so that you must rely on your sense of orientation to some extent. Once you reach the wood, keep on the right-hand path (actually nearly ahead)

Turn a bit later R until you nearly leave the wood again

Then L downhill on an other footpath along the edge of the wood. This time, it is an official public footpath. This merges at the bottom of the wood into the road named Jewels Hill

Oaklands Valley

As you can see on the picture, you are now fully within the rural landscape of the North Downs. Biggin Hill is at the background of the picture on the hill; it is one of the highest hamlets within London. The north slope of the North Downs is usually a moderate incline cut by steep valleys. The south slope is a more spectacular escarpment, but you would have to look at my WAAL walks in order to visit it.

 

Public footpath towards Norheads Farm

Soon R Oaklands Lane

There is no footpath along this country road, but there is wide grass verge you can use

Ignore the first crossing with tracks. Soon afterwards, turn R onto a public footpath towards Norheads Farm. It is marked and there is also a notice “Slow” painted on the road

As you can see on the picture, this is typical North Downs landscape.

Pass the farm and follow R Norheads Lane. The paved road turns into a gravel track

Just before a pond with farm cottages, take the public footpath L towards a small wood

Cross the wood and turn L for a few yards on Beech Road

Very soon R Public footpath towards the village. The footpath merges temporarily into Rosehill Road, continues afterwards again as a footpath

Main shopping area in Biggin Hill

At the bottom of the footpath, you have reached the centre of the hamlet with just a few neighbourhood stores. You are so far into the countryside that you will soon pass a local road called an “avenue” – an unpaved alley shaded by beautiful old trees.

 

Unpaved “avenue” in Biggin Hill

At the end L Polesteeple Hill

The road turns half R and climbs towards estate buildings

Ahead between the buildings on a short footpath into Temple Road

Walk to the main road

St Mark’s Biggin Hill

The main building on main street is the parish church, built in the 1950s like the New Addington parish church. It is interesting to compare the architecture. The church in Biggin Hill has an impressive, freestanding tower with a somewhat strange crown of iron spikes at the top. The façade is a plain triangular shape, which was popular at the time as being symbolic and not too fussy, but the brick wall is very cleverly broken by a vertical shaft of glass over the whole height of the building. To be honest, one has to mention that the Biggin Hill church was a little cheaper to build because materials from a demolished church in Peckham could be re-used here.

R on Main Road past the parish church to find a bus stop towards New Addington or towards Bromley

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Walk 4: Arena walk to Beckenham Junction

Walk 4

ARENA to BECKENHAM JUNCTION

1 1/2 hour

The Croydon Tramlink is a tram built in the 1990s because the borough of Croydon complained about having no convenient access to the Underground network. The route followed on this walk links one of the main train lines to Kent with Croydon, making commuting easier. There was no such connection in the past because this involved fiercely competing train operators. Between Arena and Birkbeck, the tram uses tracks laid specifically for the purpose. Beyond Birkbeck, it runs parallel to an older train line linking Crystal Palace with Beckenham Junction.

The tram started as a private company that kept the ticket proceeds, but changes in the overall London fare system made it ever more complicated to calculate the appropriate compensation payments and the public authorities (TfL) purchased the system in 2008.

Nearly all stations on the Croydon Tramlink use standardised platform furniture. There is no office or building, just a glass awning and vending machines, and I therefore don’t need to comment on architecture. Please note that the Croydon Tramlink normally uses ticket readers like on a bus, but that a special, highly confusing regulation applies in Wimbledon, potentially causing overcharging.

Routing note: This walk connects in Arena with Tramlink walk 3. It connects in Birkbeck and also in Beckenham Junction with Victoria train networks walk 14. I wrote a different route for the tram as it serves additional stations. Finally, the walk connects in Beckenham Junction also with Victoria train networks walk 10.

ARENA

T1 Arena tram stop_B

Arena tram stop

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000. It is a tram junction where tracks coming from Elmers End (my walk 3) join the Beckenham to Croydon line. By the way, the name comes from a nearby sports facilities – stadiums are more fashionably called arenas nowadays despite not involving gladiators and wild beasts like in Roman times.

 

Follow the tram tracks north towards the track junction. The right-hand fork continues to Elmers End and features in my walk number 3. Cross the left-hand fork and take the public footpath L parallel to the tram tracks. It leads towards a sports centre and playground.

T2 South Norwood Country Park_B

South Norwood Country Park

You are crossing part of South Norwood Country Park. Most of it is a large expanse of flattish land. It was originally farmland prone to flooding and was bought by local authorities as the location for a sewage farm, the idea being that the effluent could percolate through the soil. This would be better than just dumping effluent in a river as this was known to contribute to epidemics including cholera. The scheme was ill conceived as it made no sense to drop sewage on waterlogged ground with a clay underground. The area was left abandoned except for occasional use by the Army or to get rid of bomb rubble after World War II. The bomb rubble explains the hill in the area you are crossing on this tour.

 

T3 View towards North Downs_B

Tram in the hilly part of the country park

The borough finally made the country park more accessible in 1989 by building paths and tracks throughout the area except for a corner near Elmers End station that was set aside as a nature reserve because of a lake with reed marshes attracting many birds. My Victoria train network walk 14 passes the lake while my Tramlink walk 3 visits the open spaces along the brook in the middle of the park. On the present walk, you get to see the hillier, partly wooded section.

 

T4 Totem near Pitch and Putt course_B

Totem near the pitch and putt course

The footpath ends at an access road

 

R on the access road walking along a pitch & putt course

The course reuses the site of the old sewage works. The ground hopefully had time to clean itself as the works closed in 1962, more than 30 years before the public was allowed into the country park.

L at the next opportunity on a public footpath along an other fence of the course

Ahead and L towards the tram tracks for

HARRINGTON ROAD

T5 Harrington Road tram stop_B

Harrington Road tram stop

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000 in order to give easy access to a cemetery. There were also vague plans to build a tram junction here, additional tracks running then towards Crystal Palace and replacing a suburban railway line. The plan was dropped as connections between Crystal Palace and Croydon are quite good already.

 

Enter Birkbeck Cemetery using the access road that crosses the tracks

Cross the whole cemetery to the main exit, passing the crematorium

T9 Old part of Beckenham Cemetery_B

Beckenham cemetery

The cemetery was opened in 1876 and was run by a private company, as usual in London. Because the owners lost interest once the cemeteries were full and did not generate any additional interment fees, boroughs usually ended up buying the grounds. This particular cemetery is still open for business and has therefore not turned into a wood, as was the case for example in Nunhead. There are no celebrity memorials but the chapel is quite nice. Unusually for the 1880s, the tower is square with no steeple on top and the style is early gothic rather than the more usual high gothic.

 

T8 Chapel in Beckenham cemetery_B

Chapel of Beckenham Cemetery

L Elmers End Road

 

BIRKBECK

T10 Birkbeck tram stop_B

Birkbeck tram stop and train station

The train station opened in 1930 when the number of residents in the area justified building it. It was originally a normal station with two platforms and a building, but the building burnt down in 1983 and one of the platforms was converted for use by the Tramlink in 2000. You see on my picture a wire mesh fence between the train tracks and the Tramlink tracks. I think this was installed in order to prevent Tramlink users from crossing the tracks illegally as they might step on the electrical third rail of the train tracks and get injured.

 

Cross under the train and tram bridge

R Mackenzie Road

Between Birkbeck and Beckenham Road, you cross a particularly bland suburb. This is the kind of suburbia that was easy and profitable to build in the 1930s but was heavily criticised by planners for lacking public amenities and bringing no feeling of community. Legislation was indeed passed at the end of the 1930s to make this kind of “ribbon development” less ubiquitous.

R Avenue Road

AVENUE ROAD

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000. The tram is normally single track while running alongside the railway line, but there was room to build a passing loop and two platforms here. It is a very minor stop in terms of traffic.

Cross the tram tracks using the footbridge

L Blandford Road, the road ends at the next tram stop

BECKENHAM ROAD

The tram stop is located a little awkwardly on top of a curving embankment but actually uses a location planned originally for a train station. The station was called Penge and was only used between 1858 and 1860 as a more convenient Penge station opened soon afterwards on an other train line.

R Beckenham Road (a busy highway)

T14 Baptist church in Beckenham Road_B

Baptist Church in Beckenham

The road crosses a train line and passes soon afterwards the Baptist church for Beckenham. It is an unusual church for this denomination as Baptist churches were systematically modest, strictly neo-classical buildings until the mid-19th century. The neo-gothic style was usually avoided as it reminded too much of the established Church of England, a church Baptist members were not very fond of. In the case of Beckenham, I am reminded of an early gothic village church as you would see in the French provinces.

 

 

 

T15 Beckenham fire station_B

Beckenham fire station

The road passes soon afterwards the fire station. Surprisingly, you do not see from the road a conspicuous hall for the engines. Even the tower is rather modest and the brick cladding makes it less conspicuous. The whole building is in strikingly red bricks, probably the best colour for a fire station.

 

 

T16 Mansion in Beckenham Road_B

Victorian house in Beckenham Road

The road passes several elegant late Victorian houses and ends at a roundabout with a very nice flower bed in the middle. The surroundings are interesting with an Art Déco post office on one side. The brickwork is very plain but you get the typical rounded corner.

 

T17 Beckenham post office_B

Art déco post office

T18 Film theatre in Beckenham_B

Film theatre in Beckenham

On an other side of the crossroads, there is a film theatre in classical Art Déco design. Beckenham must have been a modest suburb at the time as the theatre did not have the stunning front you can find in Streatham or Rayners Lane. It opened in 1930 and is one of the rather few theatres in London that have always been operated for films and that were not converted into a bingo hall or an evangelical church.

 

Cross the roundabout and continue

Ahead High Street

Follow this road as it snakes first L, then R

T20 Pizza restaurant with quirky name_B

Mock tudor building on High Street

Some of the commercial buildings along High Street have a rather nice neo-Tudor appearance, in particular one that was probably a pub and has been converted into an Italian restaurant. The name of the chain is hilarious in French, a “zizi” being a childish name for the male reproductive organ. What does set Beckenham High Street apart is that many buildings are not aligned in height or roof shape, giving them a pleasantly individual style.

 

T21 RC church Beckenham_B

Beckenham Roman Catholic church

Opposite the junction with The Drive, you can have a look at St Edmund’s Roman Catholic Church. The church is from 1938, which shows primarily in the massive, geometric tower with tall transparent windows. The main façade is neo-gothic, which is unusual for a catholic church of that period but might have been mandated by the appearance of the other churches in the vicinity. I was short on time and did not try to look inside, but the website shows a few interesting furnishings.

 

A bit further on, you pass the most impressive commercial premises on High Street, now operated as a barber’s. What sets the building apart is that it has medieval shapes and a Tudor-style brickwork with black glazed bricks inset in the reddish background. As opposed to suburban fancy neo-Tudor as seen at the start of the street, this shop is historically more correct Tudor – except for the too geometric corner niche that would shelter the statue of a saint in authentic houses from the period.

T22 Mock medieval house in Beckenham High Road_B

Good imitation of a Tudor mansion on High Street

 

T23 Pub sign in High Road Beckenham_B

Pub advertising itself as “historic”

When the street again bends right, you pass a pub with a white clapboard façade advertising itself as an “historic inn”. The location is historical but the house was rebuilt around 1900. I found the butcher’s next door more interesting as I had seldom seen such a choice of rather appetising sausages in London. Unfortunately, I have never found out how to cook them properly as German and French sausages need to be cooked very differently.

 

 

T24 Choice of sausages in High Road Beckenham_B

Remarkable display of appetising sausages

 

T25 Beckenham public conveniences with flower beds_B

Public conveniences and nice flowers

High Street reaches shortly afterwards a corner with Kelsey Park Road. There is a low building recessed behind flower beds at this spot. You might ignore the building as it only shelters public conveniences, but the flower beds are very impressive at the appropriate time of the year.

 

Continue on High Street. The road turns sharply L uphill towards the parish church and ends at the train station.

St George’s church was a venerable medieval church but was completely rebuilt in 1887 in a style interestingly defined as “confident” at the time. It is a rather standard type of neo-gothic construction except for the rather impressive tower. The four corner pinnacles are inspired by  examples in France; in original gothic times, only very significant towns could afford such an elaborate tower. The church suffered bomb damage during World War II but was rebuilt in the same style.

T26 High Road Beckenham with parish church_B

High Street with the 1887 “confident” Church tower

 

T29 Parish church in Beckenham_B

Parish Church and churchyard

I have read that there are a number of interesting memorials inside but the church is usually closed apart for services. I just had a walk around the churchyard, a rather pleasant green space in the middle of the town bustle. In the part of the green space away from the church, you will find a few panels with details about the history of Beckenham, particularly about the World War II events.

 

BECKENHAM JUNCTION

T31 Beckenham Junction tram stop_B

Beckenham Junction tram terminal

The station was opened originally in 1857 as the terminal for a train line coming from Lewisham. The tracks are still in place but there are no passenger trains using them nowadays on a regular basis. The station was then extended in 1858 when a new train line from Crystal Palace was opened. This new line continued towards Bromley.

 

A further extension was needed in 1863 with the opening of the new main line from London Victoria through Penge.

Beckenham Junction is also used as a terminal for the spur of the Croydon Tramlink since the year 2000. The tram platform is independent of the train station and uses the standard colour scheme without any building.

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Walk 3: West Croydon walk to Elmers End

 

Walk 3

WEST CROYDON walk to ELMERS END

2 hours

The Croydon Tramlink is a tram built in the 1990s because the borough of Croydon complained about having no convenient access to the Underground network. A tram was chosen rather than a train because tram rails could be set on existing roads across the city centre of Croydon, offering a very valuable link of both train stations with the new line. Between West Croydon and Addiscombe, the tram tracks are laid on existing roads.

Between Addiscombe and Elmers End, the tram uses a former train line that continued towards Selsdon Road (south of Croydon). The section between Addiscombe and Woodside opened in 1885, that between Woodside and Elmers End in 1871.

The tram started as a private company that kept the ticket proceeds, but changes in the overall London fare system made it ever more complicated to calculate the appropriate compensation payments and the public authorities (TfL) purchased the system in 2008. It is one of several nationalisations that happened in these years in London, several private operators being quite happy to get out of contracts at the time of a financial crisis. The annual compensation payment alone had already risen to about 4% of the final purchase price, more than TfL would need to pay for the debt incurred in purchasing the system.

Nearly all stations on the Croydon Tramlink use standardised platform furniture. There is no office or building, just a glass awning and vending machines, and I therefore don’t need to comment on architecture. Please note that the Croydon Tramlink normally uses ticket readers like on a bus, but that a special, highly confusing regulation applies in Wimbledon, potentially causing overcharging.

Routing note: This walk connects in West Croydon with Victoria train network walk 24, with London Overground walk 19 and with Tramlink walk 2. It connects in East Croydon with Victoria train network walks 15, 17 and 18 and again with Tramlink walk 2. It then connects in Sandilands with Tramlink walk 5 and in Arena with Tramlink walk 4. Finally, it connects in Elmers End with London Bridge networks walk 25.

The tram uses two different routes through central Croydon. This walk describes the more cultural, westbound route while I describe the eastbound route in walk 2.

WEST CROYDON

A1 West Croydon tram stop_B

West Croydon tram stop

The tram stop is independent of the train station but obviously located close enough to enable easy interchange. Only eastbound services stop here.

The train station was first opened as a terminal for the line from London Bridge in 1839. An extension of the line towards Waddon and Sutton opened in 1847. Finally, a junction linking the line with Selhurst and London Victoria opened some time after 1862. Between 1855 and 1997, the station was also the terminal for a railway to Wimbledon, now replaced by the Tramlink.

By now, the station is used by through trains between London Victoria and Sutton, but is also a terminal for trains from the old London Bridge line, now run by London Overground to New Cross Gate and Shoreditch

The station was originalled called plain “Croydon”, but this caused confusion when an other Croydon station was opened on a new train line towards the South coast, so that “Croydon” was changed to “West Croydon”.

Follow the tram tracks southwards, crossing London Road into Tamworth Road

You are actually walking against the direction of the trams as this section of the line is only used by eastbound trams.

At the end of Tamworth Road, there is a tram junction. The tracks to your right are used by trams from and to Wimbledon. See walk 2 for this direction. The tracks to your left are the tracks used by westbound trams across the centre of Croydon. My route does not follow closely the tracks here as there are interesting attractions in the vicinity.

A2 Peculiar roof volumes near West Croydon station_B

Reeves Corner

At the end of Tamworth Road, continue ahead between the pebble space on your left and a central reservation with a few trees on your right.

When you reach a conspicuous white commercial building called House of Reeves, walk first L along the shop windows then R into Church Street, still along the shop.

Reeves is a longstanding landmark to such an extent that there is a tram stop named Reeves Corner. The building featuring on my 2010 picture was intriguing because of the elaborate roof. It burned down during riots in 2011 and has been replaced by the present somewhat simpler structure. The riots happened not only in Croydon but also in several other London suburbs and later in the Midlands. They started when a young man was shot by police in Tottenham, inspired copycat riots in other towns partly due to sensationalist media coverage and primarily reflect the dire situation in many working class suburbs after the 2008 financial crisis.

A3 Nave of Croydon parish church_B

Nave of Croydon Minster

Croydon parish church is located in a surprising place, reasonably far away from the shopping centres and pedestrian streets. This is due to the fact that Croydon developed originally close to the river Wandle around the summer palace of the archbishops of Canterbury and that traders moved uphill later. The church is a Victorian reconstruction after a fire in 1867; it has the title of a Minster, meaning there was a chapter of clerics serving the church in medieval times and not just one priest.

 

 

 

 

A4 Monument to an archbisphop of Canterbury_B

Memorials to archibishops

The church is built in a standard neogothic style but is worth entering for several monuments to archbishops. On my picture, you get a glimpse of a late gothic one to the left while the focus is on an imposing Renaissance one.

L along the church into a small green space

A5 Churchyard_B

Churchyard of Croydon Minster

My picture shows that this is not a remarkable park, but the picture is worth noticing for the croci blooming in March as the name Croydon is usually said to stem from Saxon words meaning “Crocus” and “Valley” (“dun”). Actually, the croci in the name are probably saffron, grown in Kent and Surrey in Saxon times after Roman colonists had imported it.

 

The path turns L and exits on

R Church Road

A7 Mock Tudor in Church Road_B

Neo-Tudor in Church Road

There is a cute timber building at the corner of your path; I think it is mock-Tudor from the 1930s, when this style appealed to the more affluent middle class.

A8a Old Palace school courtyard_B

Courtyard of Croydon school

My route continues L into Old Palace Road, but you can go on a short detour R on this road in order to see the remnants of the archbishops’ palace. The complex of buildings was converted into a school with a well gardened courtyard and a tall hall with very large windows. This was the Great Hall of the palace; the structure is mainly from the 1440s, which makes it one of the most venerable buildings in London, but the windows are way too wide for this early period and were indeed modified in the 1750s.

 

A12 Great Hall of former archbishop's palace_B

Greta Hall of the archbishops’ palace

You obviously cannot visit, but you can have a look at the main courtyard as there are several other nice buildings from the old palace still standing. Parliament allowed the archbishop to sell the palace in 1907.

A11 Croydon parish church_B

Rear view of Croydon Minster

Very soon L Old Palace Road

CHURCH STREET

The stop was created together with the tram tracks across central Croydon in 2000. It is served by westbound services towards Wimbledon and also by services ending at West Croydon.

R Church Street

You are temporarily following the tracks, walking against the direction of the trams as you are going eastwards while this is the westbound tram route.

B2 Mural in Church Street_B

Shopping in Church Street

The street is a good example of what happens when a town allows the construction of huge shopping centres. The nicer shops where you enjoy spending time move to the shopping centre, partly because it is so easy to park there and because you don’t get wet if it rains, while the former shopping streets are left to “one-pound-shops”, betting stands, convenience newsagents, tattoo studios and fast-food eateries. Rents are low, building owners invest little, many shops are abandoned and the street dilapidates slowly.

B3 Surrey Street market_B

Surrey Street Market

The more pleasant part of Church Road is towards the end and the best atmosphere in a side street to your right, Surrey Street, because of the food market. Market stalls have a similarly positive impact in many suburbs.

Ahead Crown Hill

There are two possible detours from the crossroads with the pedestrianised area, for a few yards L in order to have a glimpse inside the courtyard of the almshouses, and for a few yards in front of you if you want to check on the tram stop

C1 Almshouses_B

Croydon almshouses

The almshouses were built in 1596 by the archbishop along with a school that has been demolished since. You recognise easily the Tudor brickwork including a message in black glazed bricks, here W for Whitgift Foundation. The windows with the nice white surroundings appear very small, but this was made on purpose as residents were meant to concentrate on their communal life and on their courtyard. You cannot enter the courtyard but you get a feeling through the iron gate.

 

C3 Croydon Hospital in High Street_B

Whitgift foundation almshouses

 

C4 Glimpse of courtyard_B

Courtyard of the almshouses

GEORGE STREET

The stop was created together with the tram tracks across central Croydon in 2000. It is served by westbound services only.

If you do not go on the two detours, you will turn

R High Street(photo C6)

C5 On Natwest building_B

Decoration on a bank building

C6 Old advertising on main street_B

Edwardian department store on High Street

As Croydon was a significant market town in the 19th century, ambitious businesses of course needed to invest in suitably impressive premises. The most beautiful in my opinion is Grants House at number 13. Like most old department stores, it has been converted into offices, but it still has a lovely, ornate façade with signs advertising i.a. lace and gloves. Lace must have been a very prominent item ! The architecture is typically Edwardian, mixing Tudor-inspired brickwork with Renaissance-style scrolls and a tower in the style of French palaces.

L Katharine Street

C9 Pub in Katherine Street_B

Former bank building on Katherine Street

The street is strange, with one of the ugliest buildings of Croydon on the north side and some of the most beautiful ones on the south side. At the corner of Katharine Street with High Street, there is a large pub called the Spreadagle with a shining, golden bird. As you might have guessed, it was originally a bank building, sets of neo-classical columns suggesting stability and reliability (see the name of Northern Rock).

C10 Older Croydon theatre_B

Former theatre

The next building in the street is a somewhat disorderly combination of buildings in the French Renaissance style. One of them harboured a theatre while the hall down the stairs was converted into the borough museum. It is one of the most interesting suburban museums in all London and has reasonably convenient opening times. I found the exhibition of everyday life in the past not only intriguing but truly eye-opening.

C11 Rear aisle in French Renaissance style_B

Borough museum building in the style of a French château

 

It is the only museum in London that deals unobtrusively but very honestly with controversial social issues such as homosexuality in the armed forces or racism against Irish immigrants. I also learnt that Croydon had a small film industry and the comic films shown in the museum are absolutely hilarious. Finally, there is an excellent collection of Chinese porcelain including all important styles and periods. You might plan about an hour in order to visit at leisure.

 

C13 Main entrance_B

Main entrance of Town Hall

Continuing on Katherine Street, you reach soon the corner of the Town Hall, inaugurated in 1896. As a proof that Croydon was an outstandingly important town at the time, the ceremony was performed by the Prince of Wales. The architecture announces the Edwardian love of two-colour-schemes but manages to keep to the Renaissance style with few of the useless frills you saw on Grants House before.

 

C12 Council hall and museum building_B

Town Hall clock tower

There is a very imposing clock tower at the corner of the building. This was a logical symbol of market towns as it was particularly useful to merchants at a time when few people had pocket watches. Many London suburbs built clock towers in the 1880s, but most are modest stand-alone structures.

 

Half R into Queen’s Gardens

 

C16 Croydon town hall_B

Town Hall seen from Queen’s Gardens

The Town Hall overlooks a wide open space that is surprisingly recessed down stairs because it was originally a railway terminal. It has been converted into a very nice urban park. Taking advantage of the microclimate created by the embankments around the park, gardeners are able to grow a remarkable variety of mediterranean and exotic plants. They also plant formal flower beds in the style of Royal parks (geometric shape, plants in three tiers of differing heights, blocks of primary colours). There are few boroughs that can combine an imposing Town Hall with a beautiful park just in front of it.

 

Exit the gardens using a subway at the eastern end, passing under a major highway

L along the highway

Very soon R Path along College Green

D1 Green space in front of College_B

College Green

This large paved space is a typical product of the 1960s when plain lines and empty surfaces were seen as more elegant than grass, trees and flowers. The building facing directly the highway, Fairfield Halls, is a leading theatre and concert hall opened in 1962. It is actually one of the less brutal buildings of the period. On the other side of the paved space, the large brick building with a very imposing curved colonnade is the town college. The architecture looks like 1950s, as colonnades were avoided in the 1960s.

 

D2 Croydon college in 1950s style_B

Croydon College colonnade

Cross Fairfield Gardens between Fairfield Halls and the college to the eastern end and continue L along the college buildings, not crossing the train line

R up along the main road to the train station

EAST CROYDON

T61 East Croydon tram stop_B

East Croydon tram stop

The tram stop is located on the road viaduct just in front of East Croydon train station.

The train station opened in 1841 on a new main line and was originally called Croydon. When the train company merged with an other operator who also had a station named Croydon, it became necessary to change the name and this turned into Croydon East.

A new train line from Selhurst opened through the station in 1860, but the two operators insisted on keeping separate stations called respectively East Croydon and New Croydon from 1862 on. The two stations were finally amalgamated to a single East Croydon in 1898.

Between 1909 and 1924, the station was called officially East Croydon Main Line in order to make a distinction with “East Croydon Local”.

D4 West end of Addiscombe Road_B

Western end of Addiscombe Road

Follow now the tram tracks eastwards for several hundred yards, walking on Addiscombe Road. The road is pleasantly residential and somewhat leafy when you leave central Croydon, with occasionally a side walk separated from the cars by a raised strip of greenery.

LEBANON ROAD

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000.

D5 Development along Addiscombe Road_B

Suburban part of Addiscombe Road

Continue on Addiscombe Road. The road is now less interesting, but is difficult to avoid in this densely populated suburb.

SANDILANDS

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000.

Continue on Addiscombe Road while the tram line veers away from the road

L Outram Road

D6 Neoclassical style in Outram Road_B

Ornate house in Outram Road

I noticed an unusually ornate property in this road. Bow windows at the ground level are quite usual, but triple windows upstairs are not and the decoration above what must have been the entrance to a winter garden is really unusual.

R Addiscombe Road

(Note: this is not the Addiscombe Road you followed before, but you have walked into a new borough and both boroughs have roads with this name in confusing vicinity to each other)

ADDISCOMBE

A train station was opened here in 1906 on an existing suburban train line under the name Bingham Road Halt. The station was then closed in 1915 due to wartime economy measures. It was reopened in 1935 a few yards further but had very little traffic and was closed in 1983. The tram stop is on the location of the 1906 halt and opened together with the tram line in 2000.

Before crossing the tracks L into Everton Road

R Addiscombe Avenue

At the end L Dalmally Road

Very soon R on a clearly marked passage

R on the footpath along a former railway line, passing at the end under a road. The footpath ends at

BLACKHORSE LANE

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000.

Climb to the road you passed under before and cross over the former railway cutting

R Elmers Road

R on a footbridge across the tram tracks

Enter Ashburton Park

T5b Ashburton Park_B

Ashburton Park in rainy weather

This large green space corresponds to the grounds of a mansion that was built in 1788. It had been converted into a convent in 1878 but was sold to the borough in 1924. The council demolished the mansion, filled in the ornamental lake and also demolished the convent cloister in 1975 because of concerns about vandalism. The rest of the convent was converted into a local library. This history explains the somewhat surprising appearance of the building with a row of arcades opening towards nothing in particular.

 

T5 Library in Ashburton Park_B

Ashburton Park Library in a former convent

T3 Pavilion in Ashburton Park_B

Ashburton Park with colonnaded pavilion

There is no particular attraction in the park beyond the library and a small pavilion with a thin colonnade that reminds a bit of a plantation house.

Keep parallel to the tram tracks for

WOODSIDE

A train station opened here in 1871 because of a nearby racecourse. It was renamed Woodside & South Norwood in 1908, the name reverting to simple Woodside in 1944. The station remained open until 1997, when works for the tram started, and the tram stop opened on the same location in 2000.

T6 Former Woodside train station_B

Former Woodside train station

The original station building was sold to commercial premises and is still straddling the tracks. It is a typical example of the stations in this part of London with yellow brick walls and rounded windows. It is actually quite substantial because there was a train junction here with trains going to either Selsdon Road (south of Croydon) or to a nearby suburban terminal called Addiscombe.

 

 

T5a Ashburton Park_B

Ashburton Park

R within Ashburton Park keeping parallel to the main road called Spring Lane

 

At the end of Spring Lane, cross Long Lane onto a path ahead past the fire station

 

 

 

T6a Woodside fire station_B

Woodside Fire Station

The fire station is a substantial, elegant building with mock tudor eaves and small sculptures above the main garage gates. The sunray design above the lateral garage gates clearly points to construction in the 1930s as it was a typical Art Déco design.

Ahead along the path until you reach a much larger open space, Ashburton Playing Fields

T7 Ashburton playing fields in a sleet shower_B

Ashburton Playing Fields

The playing fields took over from Addiscombe racecourse. It was a very popular venue but the mayor of Croydon decided that it attracted all sorts of undesirable people from London in this genteel suburb and had the racecourse closed. The property was divided later into a golf course, residential developments and the present playing fields, as part of the low-lying area flooded every winter and was not suitable for development. It is actually one of the largest open spaces in the southern suburbs (nearly 50 acres, equaling 20 hectares), but it has few amenities.

 

T9 Same from east end_B

50 hectares for sports

L across the playing fields to the northernmost corner

L Bywood Avenue

T10 Long Lane Wood and bird sanctuary_B

Bywood Avenue Bird Sanctuary

The avenue passes on the right side a patch of woodland called rather ambitiously the “Bywood Avenue Bird Sanctuary”. It was a property bought by the borough in 1924 together with Ashburton Park, but was not developed into a park. The word sanctuary refers to the fact that part of the wood is fenced off, although this does not prevent stray cats and dogs from disturbing the birds.

 

Cross Long Lane and continue ahead on a footpath

The green space on your right is a private driving range used for golf lessons.

ARENA

T12 Arena station_B

Arena tram stop

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000. It is a tram junction with some services continuing towards Elmers End on a former train line and others continuing towards Beckenham Junction (my walk 4).

 

R along the tram tracks

 

 

T14_B

South Norwood Country Park

You are walking here along the edge of South Norwood Country Park. It is well worth walking a bit into the park. As you also get to see parts of it on my London Bridge walk 25 and on my Tramlink walk 4, you could for example walk this time towards the brook and follow it to the edge of the lake. You should be able to see the train station from there.

T16 South Norwood Country Park_B

Brook in South Norwood Country Park

The park contains a large variety of ecological zones from plain grass meadows to fully grown wood over several types of brushy areas. This variety results from mixed uses in the past: fields, pastures, quarries and brick kilns. From the 1860s on, the Borough of Croydon decided to buy increasing parts of the location in order to spread sewage.

At the time, it was considered efficient to flood meadows with the effluents as the resulting brine could trickle into the soil and hopefully be filtered enough that nearby rivers were not too polluted. Of course, anyone who could afford it would flee the vicinity of such smelly activities. I remember living as a child 5 miles from a sewage area and this was indeed obnoxious when wind came from the wrong direction. About as bad as living near a sugar beet drying factory.

T15_B

Bird lake in the country park

Sewage contains many dangerous bacteria and chemicals nowadays and has to be treated much more scientifically. In addition, the present country park was inappropriate for the purpose as the ground is heavy clay that prevented water from trickling into the soil and being filtered. The council closed the sewage works in 1967 and nature reclaimed most of the area.

 

The lake corresponds to the flooded quarry and is very attractive to birds. For this reason, it has not been landscaped and you can only reach the waterside on a number of viewing platforms.

ELMERS END

T17 Elmers End train and tram station_B

Elmers End train station and tram terminal

The station opened in 1864 on the new train line between New Beckenham and Addiscombe. It became a junction when a branch line was opened between Elmers End and Hayes in 1882. The original train line to Addiscombe was closed in 1997 and replaced by the spur of the Croydon Tramlink in 2000, so that Elmers End is now a train-Tramlink junction instead of a pure train junction.

Although I have no documents on this, I am pretty sure that the boxy glass-and-steel station building was built in 2000 and replaced the old building. The upper level of the building is airy enough but the main level is made of plain metal sheets and looks hardly better than a container shed.

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Walk 2: Mitcham Junction walk to East Croydon

Walk 2

MITCHAM JUNCTION walk to EAST CROYDON

2 hours

The Croydon Tramlink is a tram built in the 1990s because the borough of Croydon complained about having no convenient access to the Underground network. A tram was chosen rather than a train because tram rails could be set on existing roads across the city centre of Croydon, offering a very valuable link of both train stations with the new line. On most of this specific walk, the tram uses the route of a former train line opened in 1855 and closed in 1997. The train line ended at West Croydon station and the route between the two Croydon train stations was created for the tram line.

The tram started as a private company that kept the ticket proceeds, but changes in the overall London fare system made it ever more complicated to calculate the appropriate compensation payments and the public authorities (TfL) purchased the system in 2008. It is one of several nationalisations that happened in these years in London, several private operators being quite happy to get out of contracts at the time of a financial crisis. The annual compensation payment alone had already risen to about 4% of the final purchase price, more than TfL would need to pay for the debt incurred in purchasing the system.

Nearly all stations on the Croydon Tramlink use standardised platform furniture. There is no office or building, just a glass awning and vending machines, and I therefore don’t need to comment on architecture. Please note that the Croydon Tramlink normally uses ticket readers like on a bus, but that a special, highly confusing regulation applies in Wimbledon, potentially causing overcharging.

Routing note: This walk connects in Mitcham Junction with Blackfriars/Thameslink walk 9 and with Tramlink walk 1. It connects in West Croydon with Victoria train network walk 24, with London Overground walk 19 and with Tramlink walk 3. Finally, it connects in East Croydon with Victoria train network walks 15, 17 and 18 and again with Tramlink walk 3.

The tram uses two different routes through central Croydon. This walk describes the less cultural, eastbound route while I describe the westbound route in walk 3.

MITCHAM JUNCTION

T40 Mitcham Junction tram stop_600x600_100KB

Mitcham Junction tram stop

The station opened as a train station in 1868 when a new train line linking Sutton with Streatham was built, crossing here the older line from Wimbledon to Croydon. As no one lived nearby at the time, it was only built for interchange purposes. The tram platforms are located on part of the old station, but they are completely separate from the train network and there is no station building for tram travellers.

Exit the tram stop on the main road

L along the road for a few yards

Very soon L across a gate into Mitcham Common

Follow the inofficial path parallel to a train line. It turns slowly R until it reaches a fence.

T31 Mitcham Common towars Beddington Corner_B

Entering Mitcham Common

Mitcham Common goes back to medieval grazing commons but went through rather more changes than most. In the 19th century, it was used extensively for gravel digging as this was material that could be sold very profitably to construction businesses. Like in most London commons, the legal right of residents to sell this gravel prevented protection. In the case of Mitcham, a law was passed in 1891 to stop the abuse.

 

T36 Tram tracks across Mitcham Common_B

Tram tracks across Mitcham Common

The commissionners in charge with managing the common had a very small budget and were forced to rent out most of the common for a series of purposes. The section you are now in was taken over by the Ministry of Defence during World War II and used for a very large anti-aircraft gun battery. The derelict facilities were finally demolished in 1964.

 

T34 Beddington industry from Hundred Acre Bridge_B

Overview of former filter beds

Unfortunately, dishonest persons invented a new way to generate personal profit at the cost of commons in the 1980s. They would pretend to be “travellers”, occupy the land and allow all sorts of unscrupulous businesses to dump rubbish for a fee. When local authorities finally came to throw out the squatters, they also had to deal with the rubbish. This happened in this corner of the common.

 

All this past probably explains why no mature wood has been able to grow yet. I suspect the ground is bad quality and possibly polluted. What you get is a mix of hawthorn, gorse and pioneer trees, which is actually not ugly.

L over the footbridge

Ahead on the public footpath until you reach the tram line

T35 Public footpath along Mitcham Golf Course_B

Mitcham Common golf course

The footpath runs along the edge of the common. On the right side, you saw from the footbridge a huge expanse of empty landscape. Part of it was used for industrial purposes and may be polluted, so that I have no idea what will turn out of it. Most of the area is part of a huge refuse handling complex and is obviously outside the common, but is becoming wooded as the filter beds have been abandoned for décades.

 

T33 View from Hundred Acre Bridge_B

Empty land from Hundred Acre Bridge

On the left side of your path, you walk along a public golf course. It was originally larger as per the 1891 act, but was too expensive to maintain and was reduced to the present size in 1931. The wooden fence is not very forbidding and I even saw the one or other stile, but I don’t think there is any public footpath crossing the golf course. It is easily accessible but obviously a bit dangerous as you might get hit by a straying ball.

 

R along the tram line

BEDDINGTON LANE

The tram stop uses the location of the former train station. The train station was called Beddington from 1855 until 1887 and Beddington Lane from 1887 until 1919. It was then renamed somewhat uselessly Beddington Lane Halt and reverted to Beddington Lane in 1969. There are no remnants of the train station.

Cross the tram tracks and then the main road into Brookmead Road

You can follow the public footpath ahead and this will merge into Red House Road. As this implies walking along ugly industrial premises, I recommend you walk rather into Mitcham Common to your left and climb the hill for the views. It is easy to go down afterwards to Red House Road.

T39 Crystal Palace from Mitcham Common_B

Crystal Palace seen from Mitcham Common

This part of Mitcham Common did not suffer the same fate as the two sections I already commented on. As the commissioners were desperate for money, they split the common north of the golf course in two sections, one which remained a flat expanse of grass mainly used for informal sports and the other one that was rented to public authorities to dump rubbish.

 

 

 

T40 Croydon from Mitcham Common_B

View East from Mitcham Common

After several decades of this, very serious problems started to appear such as leakage of polluted liquids and a plague of mosquitoes. The rubbish tips were covered and left to develop slowly a natural cover, which will ultimately be oak wood. An other part of the common was then rented out for dumping construction rubble, a deal called in typically “British governement” manner “landscaping”. Local residents objected strongly and only one hill of rubble came to fruition, the one I suggest climbing.

 

T38 Pond in Mitcham Common east_B

Pond on Mitcham Common

From the hill, you see one of two sizeable ponds on the common. They stem from gravel digging as in most London commons. Being on a common, fishing was free for a long period but this caused problems as fishermen overfed the fish, causing algae to grow too much, and left tackle and rubbish along the waterside. Fishing is now licensed and the commissioners also make it less attractive by removing regularly any too large fish. I found all this information in an interesting brochure on Internet: look under http://mitchamcommon.org/wp-content/uploads/Mitcham-Common-A-Short-History.pdf

 

R along the main road (A236 Mitcham Road)

R Rochford Way, soon turns L

R Therapia Lane

L Alfriston Avenue ending at

THERAPIA LANE

This busy tram stop was built for the new line in 2000.

Cross the tram line at the stop

L Ampere Way all the way to

AMPERE WAY

T43 Ikea chimneys_B

Landmark for a furniture store

This is also a busy tram stop built for the new line in 2000. Between October 2006 and March 2008, it was called Ikea Ampere Way because the Ikea company managed to convince TfL to change the name in order to advertise for a new shop. I would be curious to hear how much Ikea paid for this. TfL must have been disappointed as this remained a one-off occasion – or TfL was possibly unable to find other takers to give other stations temporary names after the 2008 financial crisis. I am sure “Northern Rock Merton Park” or “Enron Beddington Lane” would have been lovely.

 

Follow the footpath directly along the tram line all the way to the next stop. The path crosses the tracks twice and passes also underneath a highway viaduct.

WADDON MARSH

There was a Waddon Marsh train station in the close vicinity. It opened in 1930 as Waddon Marsh Halt, changed to plainer Waddon Marsh in 1969 and closed with the train line in 1997. There are just minor details reminding of the station. The tram stop was opened in 2000.

T45 Waddon gas works_B

Former gas works in Waddon Marsh

You can see the steel skeleton of an old gas tank overlooking the area. Waddon Marsh had very busy railway sidings delivering coal to a large power station built here in 1896. Fortunately, the footpaths along the tram line enable you to ignore the somewhat sad view of the derelict industrial premises.

 

Cross the tram line again and follow the tracks for a few yards along Drury Crescent.

When Drury Crescent turns R, continue along the tram tracks in Turners Way

Continue along the tracks on a new footpath across a brook all the way to the next tram stop

Note: The footpath did not exist when I walked through the area as there was construction going on, but recent maps show it clearly

WANDLE PARK

The stop was created for the tram line in 2000.

Cross the tracks and enter Wandle Park

T48a_B

Spring in Wandle Park

The park is primarily a circular patch of lawn with an alley of trees around most of it. It did not strike me as very impressive but this a bit unfair because this is an outdated impression from 2010. There is a small brook running through the middle of the park and the borough website mentions a rose garden and an ornamental garden.

 

 

T48c_B

River Wandle in Wandle Park

The park was originally a meadow along the river Wandle and was landscaped into a small urban park in 1890. It was actually a very popular attraction because the river was used to feed a sizeable boating lake. As usual at the time, there were also a bandstand, a bowling green and tennis courts. The lake was filled in and the river was diverted into a concrete culvert in 1967 because the borough considered the water flow to be unreliable and prone to flooding.

 

R parallel to the tracks until you reach the access to a footbridge over a train line. Cross the tracks and turn

L Waddon New Road

Ahead along the tracks into Cairo New Road

The road passes underneath a motorway viaduct and turns sharply R

The ugly motorway underpass is typical of Croydon. In the 1960s, enthusiastic city planners decided to completely remodel and modernise the town in order to make it an attractive, successful city with all conveniences for car drivers such as a circular motorway. As usual in Britain, the plan petered out due to costs, delays and opposition by landowners.

REEVES CORNER

The stop was created for the tram line in 2000. Only eastbound services stop here.

T52 Roof in Drayton Road_B

Reeves Corner in 2010 before the riots

The name of the stop is peculiar because it refers to commercial premises destroyed during a riot in 2011. The “house” was rebuilt and stands on the opposite side of a large empty site so that you don’t really notice it. My picture shows the old building, which had a rather attractive, unusual roof scape.

 

 

T50 Reeves Corner tram stop and peculiar sign_B

Evangelical church

The building behind the tram stop on my picture had a sign mentioning “house of favour”. I checked and this is the name of an evangelical church led by a gentleman originally from Nigeria. It is now called more impressively “Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries International”, which sounds a bit like a successful business.

 

L Tamworth Road. From now on, you follow exactly the eastbound tram tracks all the way to the end of the walk.

T51 Terracotta eagle in Reeves Corner_B

Former pub entrance with ceramic eagle

At the very start of this road, I noticed nice glazed tiles over the entrance corner of what was originally a pub. They combine to a spread eagle seen from behind. Eagles are common heraldic devices, but usually seen from the front. The premises now house a community centre catering to young people and their parents. The charity running the centre (Lighthouse Educational Society) follows the teachings of Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, the pet enemy of autocratic Turkish president Erdogan.

 

A little further on, you pass a Baptist chapel from 1866. As usual for this denomination at the time, the building is in an impeccably clean neo-classical style with modest proportions.

CENTRALE

The stop was created for the tram line in 2000. Only eastbound services stop here.

T53a_B

Centrale tram stop

The name of the stop is actually that of a nearby shopping centre, the developers of which paid a contribution to have the stop built. It is a very large complex opened in 2004 in direct competition with a somewhat faded but similarly huge shopping centre, the Whitgift Centre. As the competition forces the two owners to compete for the same large anchor tenants, they announced in 2013 that they would like to combine the two centres in order to have a stronger bargaining position against the big retailers. There would be no disadvantage to shoppers as big retailers anyway have the same prices throughout London.

 

Continue on Tamworth Road

Ahead Station Road passing

WEST CROYDON

The tram stop is independent of the train station but obviously located close enough to enable easy interchange. Only eastbound services stop here.

The train station was first opened as a terminal for the line from London Bridge in 1839. An extension of the line towards Waddon and Sutton opened in 1847. Finally, a junction linking the line with Selhurst and London Victoria opened some time after 1862. Between 1855 and 1997, the station was also the terminal for a railway to Wimbledon, now replaced by the Tramlink.

By now, the station is used by through trains between London Victoria and Sutton, but is also a terminal for trains from the old London Bridge line, now run by London Overground to New Cross Gate and Shoreditch

The station was originalled called plain “Croydon”, but this caused confusion when an other Croydon station was opened on a new train line towards the South coast, so that “Croydon” was changed to “West Croydon”.

The road and the tram tracks soon turn R away from the train line

At the main crossroads R on Wellesley Road

T57 Renowned Croydon urban landscape_B

Concrete world of Croydon

This whole section of the walk is overshadowed by huge concrete towers. They were built in the 1960s as part of the plan to make Croydon a successful, busy city with easy access for cars. Compared to old Victorian houses, flats in towers actually were much more comfortable in terms of plumbing, lifts, parking space, views etc. Some were built as council estates, but not in central locations, and prices in well located towers were not low.

 

Urban planners were wrong about two issues. First, they did not expect car traffic to become so heavy that most commuters prefer using trains, so that the space devoted to cars was actually overestimated and would have looked much nicer if it had been devoted to greenery. I will admit that maintenance of sterile concrete spaces is cheaper and easier than maintenance of parks… The second issue is that living in flats did not really catch – as soon as people have children, they look for a house with a small garden. Only people who cannot afford a house remain in towers, and segregation according to income and joblessness is a recipe for trouble.

T58 Shopping centre entrance on Wellesley Road_B

Shopping centre and concrete towers

In terms of architecture, the Croydon towers are among the most boring in London. It seems that architects of the period paid very little attention to the outside appearance of these buildings, being more interested in the technical aspect of lifts and in the layout of flats. In towers owned by local councils, there is slowly more interest into at least painting large frescoes on the huge concrete surfaces. In towers built over the last twenty years, architects have also started to be more inventive with the shape, materials and colours of balconies.

 

T54 Shapes of Centrale shopping mall_B

Blocks of flats linked to Centrale shopping centre

You will be passing on the way Whitgift Centre. What you see from the road is the upper level of the shopping centre due to the lay of the land. It is interesting to compare the older Whitgift Centre with the newer Centrale: the second one includes a number of smaller estates with flats integrated into the shopping centre while the first one has a flat roof with nothing above. Obviously, the Centrale model is more profitable for the developers but is also more conducive to a mix of residents as young people can be quite happy about the easy access to shops. The Centrale version is also better in ecological terms as there is less loss of heating energy when you have a building above.

 

WELLESLEY ROAD

The stop was created for the tram line in 2000. Only eastbound services stop here.

T60 Imposing style on Wellesley Road_B

Art déco tower on Wellesley Road

Just before the road tunnel under the crossroads, you can have a look at older towers on the west side of Wellesley Road. The one on my picture is definitely Art Déco with the protrusion on the façade reminding of an ocean liner. The bands of windows enable much light into the offices, a typical feature of the hygienic thinking of architects around 1930.

 

L George Street

EAST CROYDON

T61 East Croydon tram stop_B

East Croydon tram stop

The tram stop is located on the road viaduct just in front of East Croydon train station.

 

The train station opened in 1841 on a new main line and was originally called Croydon. When the train company merged with an other operator who also had a station named Croydon, it became necessary to change the name and this turned into Croydon East.

A new train line from Selhurst opened through the station in 1860, but the two operators insisted on keeping separate stations called respectively East Croydon and New Croydon from 1862 on. The two stations were finally amalgamated to a single East Croydon in 1898.

Between 1909 and 1924, the station was called officially East Croydon Main Line in order to make a distinction with “East Croydon Local”.

 

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Walk 1: Wimbledon walk to Mitcham Junction

Walk 1 WIMBLEDON walk to MITCHAM JUNCTION

2 1/2 hours

The Croydon Tramlink is a tram built in the 1990s because the borough of Croydon complained about having no convenient access to the Underground network. A tram was chosen rather than a train because tram rails could be set on existing roads across the city centre of Croydon, offering a very valuable link of both train stations with the new line. On this specific walk, the tram uses the route of a former train line opened in 1855 and closed in 1997.

The tram started as a private company that kept the ticket proceeds, but changes in the overall London fare system made it ever more complicated to calculate the appropriate compensation payments and the public authorities (TfL) purchased the system in 2008. It is one of several nationalisations that happened in these years in London, several private operators being quite happy to get out of contracts at the time of a financial crisis. The annual compensation payment alone had already risen to about 4% of the final purchase price, more than TfL would need to pay for the debt incurred in purchasing the system.

Nearly all stations on the Croydon Tramlink use standardised platform furniture. There is no office or building, just a glass awning and vending machines, and I therefore don’t need to comment on architecture. Please note that the Croydon Tramlink normally uses ticket readers like on a bus, but that a special, highly confusing regulation applies in Wimbledon, potentially causing overcharging.

Routing note: This walk connects in Wimbledon with Blackfriars/Thameslink walks 11 and 12, with Waterloo network walk 10 and with Underground District Line walk 6. It connects in Mitcham Junction with Blackfriars/Thameslink walk 9 and with Tramlink walk 2.

Please note that two short sections can be muddy or even flooded after heavy rains. You can bypass them easily on paved paths if needed. Sturdy shoes may nonetheless be more comfortable. Please note also that the walk runs along several nature reserves and that your dog will need to be on a leash.

WIMBLEDON

 

Wimbledon station

This is a venerable train station as it opened as early as 1838 on the train line linking Battersea (extended to Waterloo ten years later) with Woking. An other train company opened a line towards Croydon in 1855; this line is the one that was later converted into the Croydon Tramlink. A third train line opened in 1868, linking Wimbledon with Streatham. The present Underground line towards Putney and the West End opened in 1889. Finally, the train line to South Merton opened in 1929 and was extended to Sutton in 1930.

The station building was rebuilt in the 1920s in preparation for an expected extension of the Underground towards Sutton. This did not happen due to opposition from the train company serving Sutton, but the building proved quite convenient. Although it looks like concrete, the building is actually clad in much posher Portland stone. It is strikingly Art Déco with very straight lines and no ornaments, and it does not have a first floor as it was not necessary any more to house the station master in the building as was usual in the 19th century.

The hall is somewhat confusing inside because it serves no less than 10 platforms with staircases not in a straight line. Train enthusiasts will certainly enjoy this station where the Tramlink, the Underground and two train companies provide a large variety of colours and shapes within a relatively small space.

Cross the major road in front of the station and take the public footpath between the two large buildings. The footpath runs along the train line southwards.

Third rail power supply

You probably do not notice anything special about this main train line. Europeans will immediately wonder about this main trunk line not being electrified as they expect overhead power supply rather than the third rail system used on most lines in England. The third rail is cheaper to build but implies a safety risk (in case of trespassing, evacuation of a train or works) and is cumbersome to maintain. The speed reduction caused by falling leaves in autumn sounds like an outrageous joke to people living in Paris or Berlin. Indeed, the Paris regional system called RER and the Moorgate to Hertford line in northern London switch from overhead to third rail only once they reach sections that are fully underground.

L across the tracks using the footbridge

Ahead towards the tram line, the footpath turns R along the tracks and reaches a residential road

DUNDONALD ROAD

(to reach the station, you would detour L from my route for a few yards)

The tram stop was created in 2000, opening with the tram line.

Sherwood Road conservation area

Ahead on the marked footpath, ends at a roundabout

First L Kingswood Road

Kingswood Road

This residential road leads across a conservation area, a sensible designation considering the nice houses and the trees lining the streets. This suburb was built on farmland bought by John Innes, a businessman who decided to settle here. He is an interesting character: his parents had plantations in Jamaica making them rich but ended up selling out in order to get free of the moral dilemma of having slaves; he did not marry and his estate funded a school of horticulture. The suburb was developed according to the guidelines of the garden suburb movement and catered from the onset to the more genteel middle class.

L Kingston Road crossing the tracks

Art déco door of a telephone exchange

You might notice a conspicuous brick building on Kingston Road. The small entrance door at the corner is worth a look as it is a prime example of art déco from the 1930s. The sunray motive is typical but is seldom attempted in bricks. The lintel reminds a bit of Maya architecture in Central America and this is not surprising as reminders of the glory of the Empire (here British Honduras) were quite popular at the time.

Just after the tracks R on the footpath along the tram line

MERTON PARK

The tram stop was created in 2000, opening with the tram line. It is very close to an old train station also called Merton Park but there are no remnants visible from the tram stop.

Ahead skirting the end of Rutlish Road

Walkway on a former train line in Merton

The footpath crosses a local nature reserve that corresponds to a minor train line that linked Merton Park with industrial premises near the current Colliers Wood Underground station. The area was made accessible in 1994, twenty years after the last train ran. It is interesting to see how much vegetation grows naturally over a period of some 40 years.

Ahead on the footpath along the edge of an enclosed playing field

When the first fence ends, turn R across Abbey Recreation Ground.

Abbey Recreation Ground

This minor green space has no amenities of particular interest. It is a remnant of the grounds of an estate sold in the mid 19th century to developers. Interestingly, the property was owned by Lord Nelson when he died in 1805; despite having been the home of a national hero, no one bothered much when it was demolished, which shows how differently our ancestors thought about heritage issues.

The recreation ground has a single exit opposite near the parking spaces

R Morden Road crossing the tracks on a bridge

MORDEN ROAD

Morden Road tram stop

The tram stop was created in 2000, re-using the site of an old train station also called Morden Road. There are no remnants of the train station.

Shortly after the bridge L on a public footpath marked Phipps Bridge

The footpath crosses a triangular area between the tram line, the main road and a marshy area along the river Wandle. There are several paths but you cannot get lost if you take care not to cross the train line. I recommend taking the left-hand path at the first opportunity. You can then cross a paved path and continue ahead onto a boardwalk that meanders through wetlands.

Entering Morden Hall Park

This area is covered in reeds because it is flooded on occasion by the river Wandle. It is obviously one of the core reasons for the park being an important nature reserve.

You are now in Morden Hall Park, a large property actually owned by the National Trust. It was originally an estate owned by the businessman who operated a nearby snuff mill. He lived in a suitable mansion and set a large park around it but gifted everything to the heritage organisation in 1942 in order to ensure that no development would take place. As usual with the National Trust, there are many panels with explanations all over the property.

 

Wetlands in Morden Hall Park

One of many arms of the river Wandle in Morden Hall Park

Morden Hall with the moat

The boardwalk ends near small bridges. Turn right in order to cross the first two arms of the river and continue ahead. You pass on your right first Morden Hall itself, then the Stable Yard.

Morden Hall with the Victorian access bridge

Morden Hall is now an elegant restaurant with some 19th century decoration. It sits in the middle of lawns and is enclosed by a moat. This is not a medieval feature, just an 18th century fancy, and the moat is fed by the river Wandle. The bridge over the moat is normally closed but is worth a look as it is an elegant Victorian cast iron bridge.

 

River Wandle near Morden Hall

Morden Hall stables block

The former stable yard a little further on is where you get information about the property. There is a gate under a clock tower. Such clocks were usual in Victorian estates as this was the way the staff knew when to do certain duties. We can understand easily that normal staff would not be able to afford pocket watches in the 19th century, but what is really interesting is that such clock towers were not customary in the 18th century, a more leisurely time when staff could be relied upon to follow natural times like sunrise and sunset.

Former Morden Hall dairy

Part of the stables yard was a dairy, which could have been due to the borough using the property for grazing cattle in the mid-20th century. But dairies were also a normal occurrence in any large estate as it was the only way to ensure a supply of fresh milk.

Morden Hall Park

After the stable block, you reach the main access road. If you are interested in a bit of shopping, there is a National Trust garden centre and shop a few yards to your right. Otherwise, turn L across the river.

Rose Garden in Morden Hall Park

The building directly astride the river was the snuff mill that provided Mr Hatfield with the means to purchase the estate. The larger house behind the mill was first a hunting lodge for the original deer park and was later turned into a residence for Mr Hatfield’s son. The house has a very nice rose garden in summer.

 

Rose Garden

River Wandle near the Rose Garden

Cross the rose garden ahead and exit through a small gate back into Morden Hall Park

Aim for the small bridge over a minor arm of the river and cross the river. You might notice the row of impressive trees building a crescent away from the river. This was the original alley entering the property as it was fashionable to let visitors enjoy a view of the park before glimpsing the mansion.

Original access alley for Morden Hall

Instead of taking the alley, continue ahead to the edge of the park for

PHIPPS BRIDGE

The tram stop was created in 2000, opening with the tram line. “Phipps” is a family name referring to a family influential in the late 18th century.

R along the tracks (do not cross them)

South part of Morden Hall Park

You are still in Morden Hall Park, but more in the landscaped section that would have been used in the 18th century for vistas and grazing.

The footpath turns later away from the tracks towards a busy road

L along Morden Road passing a small shopping parade

Just after the shops

L Ravensbury Path (a public footpath)

BELGRAVE WALK

The tram stop was created in 2000, opening with the tram line.

Cross the tracks and continue ahead to the next road

R White Bridge Avenue

When the road turns L at the end, continue ahead on a footpath along a commercial fence. Continue ahead across the first road (an industrial access road)

R Church Path (a residential road)

Mitcham parish church

I did not detour to the parish church from which the road has its name. If you want to have a look, the church is a short distance up the street. The building dates back to 1821 and the architecture is a restrained version of neo-medieval. As classicism was still fashionable, involving unadorned walls and uncluttered lines, the church looks much less frilly than Victorian examples.

Ahead along the edge of London Road Playing Field, the footpath is called Baron Walk

London Road playing field

This is a plain green space with a small playground for children. There is a pleasant sitting area with a mysterious small sculpture in the middle. From afar, it reminds me of a Mayan petroglyph.

Turn L within the playing field towards the large brick estate buildings. Maps are not perfectly clear, but I expect you will find only one exit towards the main road (there was an other exit altogether when I walked the route in 2010, but it has apparently been closed)

R London Road crossing the tram line on a bridge

MITCHAM

(to reach the station, you would detour L from my route on an access road called Tramway Path)

The tram stop was created in 2000, re-using the site of an old train station also called Mitcham. There are no remnants of the train station.

R Morden Road, actually along the tracks although they are hidden in greenery

After passing two side streets, L into an open green space past fitness equipment (just before the River Side Café)

Entering Ravensbury Park

You are entering here Ravensbury Park, a green space set on the grounds of two factories and the mansion of their owner. There are a few interesting panels giving details. The property was abandoned in the late 19th century when chemical colours killed the business of the local calico factory and the borough bought part of the grounds in order to keep some green space while the rest was developed. The park was opened in 1930, providing primarily a walk along the river Wandle, while the river was dammed in the 1970s in order to provide an ornamental lake.

Lake in Ravensbury Park

Cross the side arm of the river on the paved path and walk to the river Wandle

L (upstream) along the river following the paved cycle trail

Estate seen from the Wandle Trail

You are following here the Wandle Trail, a very nice walking and cycling trail running all the way from the Thames in Wandsworth to the river spring in Waddon with few interruptions. A beautification effort in the 2000s included markers, signposts and several unusual gates probably meant to force cyclists to slow down when reaching main roads. In this particular section, the path gives you a few glimpses of a housing estate from the 1970s to your left that is interesting to look at. It is unusually low rise, with mature trees and a direct view to a side arm of the river. Definitely not a typical council estate.

River Wandle in Ravensbury Park

When the path ends at a road, cross the river on the Bishopsford Road bridge

Continue along the river, now on the south bank passing football grounds

 

Path along Watermeads

The path runs here along a sturdy fence instead of directly along the river. The area behind the fence, Watermeads, is a nature reserve. It is actually frequently flooded and it would not be sensible to build a paved cycle trail through it. When the path reaches the riverside again, you enter Poulter Park, named after the gentleman who gifted the property to the borough. His 19th century mansion, Bishopsford House, stands on upper ground to your right, but what you see is actually a 21st century building as the original mansion burnt down in 2001. It is now a block of private luxury flats.

21st century version of Bishopsford House

Follow the paved cycle path (the Wandle Trail) as it meanders along the river passing large playing fields.

Poulter Park

At the end of the cycle path, you reach Watermead Lane, a residential road along the river

Wandle Trail in Poulter Park

Mill Green

L on the road bridge across the river, you are now on Goat Road.

This road soon runs along a large open space (on the right side). You can walk in the open space called Mill Green as long as you keep close to Goat Road. Being a green, it is just a plain expanse of grass without amenities. There is a canal running through it, confirming that the name comes from a former mill.

At the large crossroads at the end of Goat Road, cross Goat Road and take a path along a row of houses. The path is parallel to the main road but is separated from it by a strip of greenery.

The path crosses two minor roads and reaches the end of the row of houses. It ends shortly afterwards at the third access road, Aspen Gardens

R towards the main road, cross the main road for

MITCHAM JUNCTION

Mitcham Junction tram stop

The station opened as a train station in 1868 when a new train line linking Sutton with Streatham was built, crossing here the older line from Wimbledon to Croydon. As no one lived nearby at the time, it was only built for interchange purposes. The tram platforms are located on part of the old station, but they are completely separate from the train network and there is no station building for tram travellers.

 

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Walk 8: Canning Town walk to Woolwich Arsenal

Walk 8

CANNING TOWN walk to WOOLWICH ARSENAL

2 1/4 hours

The Docklands Light Railway was originally built in 1989 to connect the former London docks undergoing conversion with the City of London. As authorities were sorely short of funds and did not expect much traffic initially, they settled for a lightweight service comparable to a driverless tram. It is a railway and not a tram because it runs on dedicated tracks and never on rails laid on a road.

The high success of the initial line led to an extension of the network over the years. The section between Canning Town and King George V opened in 2005 in order to improve the connections to London City Airport. The airport was hugely popular with businesspeople because it is close to Canary Wharf and to the City, but also because the smaller size of the airport made passport controls easier to organise and much quicker (this is less the case nowadays, particularly after 5 pm). But the airport had no good connection with public means of transportation and the fleet of taxis was causing congestion in the area.

The line was then extended to Woolwich Arsenal in 2009, providing a useful link between the train line from Kent and Canary Wharf bypassing the overcrowded interchange at Lewisham. The line was built by a private consortium and leased to public authorities, which enables the government to pretend it did not occur a debt although it is actually a debt in disguise as the leasing contract must be honored and includes a healthy profit margin for the private interests. It is uncertain whether the consortium built for a significantly lower cost than the government would have had, this being the only potential justification for fattening private profits with public leasing payments.

Before the DLR line was built, there was a cumbersome connection between Canning Town and Woolwich via a train line and a ferry, but the train line ran over a different route. As a result, the DLR line did not re-use the old tracks. These are still visible in a few locations.

The DLR is a system similar to a tram. Travel is ticketed in a manner similar to a bus and you need to be aware that Oyster cards are occasionally charged surprising amounts if you are not very careful about where you touch the machines.

Routing note: This walk connects in with Underground Jubilee line walks 9 and 10 and with DLR walks 5 and 7. It connects in Woolwich Arsenal with London Bridge network walks 7 and 8.

CANNING TOWN

T1 Canning Town station_B

Canning Town station

The station was originally a normal train station called Barking Road and was renamed Canning Town in 1873. It opened in 1847 on the railway linking Stratford with the Woolwich ferry. The railway closed at the end of 2006 and was partly converted to a DLR line that opened in 2011 (my DLR walk 7).

 

In 1999, London Underground opened services on the Jubilee line through Canning Town. Finally, the DLR line to Royal Victoria and Beckton opened in 1995 and the additional DLR line between Canning Town and London City Airport opened in 2005.

These many lines imply a complex set of platforms. The lower level includes the former train platforms, now used by the DLR from Stratford, and the Jubilee Line platforms. They need to be kept strictly apart due to the different power system. An upper level was built in 1995 for the DLR line from Poplar.

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Canning Town station platforms

There is no real station building, but there is a half subterranean concourse for the Underground platforms. The unusual layout of one platform above an other one, but both being open-air, was solved by the architect with rather elegant, unobtrusive shapes. The roof above the upper platform reminds of an airplane wing. Unfortunately, it was fashionable in the 1990s to use undecorated concrete and this material turns grey and dirty over time.

 

Exit the station and turn R along the main road Silvertown Way

When the main road rises on a ramp, keep R to level ground, this is unmarked Peto Road

At the end L under the highway viaduct, you are now on Victoria Dock Road

R across DLR tracks using the obvious footbridge

You are crossing here the DLR line between Canning Town and Beckton, a line using the track bed of the old dock railway. It was the first railway built specifically to serve a dock in 1855. Before that, goods were transferred from docks via canal barges for longer distances or via horse-drawn carriages.

Ahead (away from the big roundabout) on Tidal Basin Road

Walk to the riverside

R (south) along the end of the basin

T3 Excel Centre from south side of dock_B

Royal Victoria Dock with Excel Exhibition Centre

The basin is Royal Victoria Dock, opened in 1855. It was a landmark development as it was the first dock built specifically for the new large steamships with a railway connection. The dock looked very different at the time as it was subdivided by piers bearing warehouses. Business dwindled to nearly nothing in the 1970s when container transport became widespread and the dividing piers were dismantled. This happened possibly in order to provide a good venue for water sports as there are not many convenient reservoirs available for sailing in London. There might also have been safety considerations as the basin is used as the runway approach for London City Airport in easterly wind conditions.

 

L continuing along the waterside

T5 Wesley Avenue_B

Development along Royal Victoria Dock

You get good views from this quayside towards the newest developments around Victoria Dock. The older developments were publicly-owned and located on the southern side of the dock where you are walking now. The area was considered unattractive for commercial development because of the vicinity of industrial premises, noise from the airport and a glaring lack of conveniences such as shops and pubs. The architecture is standardised and not very imaginative in order to limit cost but it was considered a very good quality development at the time. The awards it gained appear justified as the buildings look as good as new after twenty years and residents keep the roads in very good and clean shape.

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Old dock cranes

The north side of the dock, which is better served by the DLR and located closer to employers such as Canary Wharf offices and the exhibition centre, started to be developed by speculators in the 2000s. You can see that the area caters to affluent buyers but not to rich investment bankers as the buildings are very massive with plain shapes, trying to maximise the number of flats on the ground available in order to compensate the fact that individual flats do not find buyers at the same outrageous prices than along the Thames in Wapping.

T2 Royal Victoria Dock from west end with pedestrian crossing_B

Footbridge across Royal Victoria Dock

The spidery footbridge in the middle of the basin was built in 1998 in order to link the new developments on the south side of the basin with the DLR station at the Exhibition Centre as the line to City Airport did not exist at the time. The footbridge is designed in a manner reminiscent of the masts of 19th century sailing ships. It was built high enough to enable sailing and boating underneath.

 

R Keats Avenue (it should be the 3rd road marked by a double set of former harbour cranes, all other roads having no cranes to mark them)

Ahead Beaulieu Avenue

Ahead across a small park

Ahead West Mersea Close

WEST SILVERTOWN

T6 West Silvertown station_B

West Silvertown station

The station opened in 2005 together with the new DLR line in order to serve nearby housing developments.

Although the station is an unmanned stop, it appears much more substantial than the flimsy viaduct stations built on the older DLR line from Poplar to Beckton. The colour theme is particularly drab, the red pillars of the older line having been judged a little too 1970s. The staircase blocks are a bit blocky and there is something strange about one block being encased in glass and the other one being left open to the wind and rain.

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Platforms in West Silvertown station

The platforms are encased in a rounded shape that appears to flow seamlessly into the core viaduct. This is indeed an elegant solution and the awnings protect passengers much better than in the older stations.

L along the DLR viaduct (you are on North Woolwich Road)

R Bradfield Road

The road soon turns R and passes the entrance to Lyle Park. Do not walk on the road beyond the park entrance. The park looks initially like a small playground but is much deeper and wider than it looks from the entrance.

T8 Entering Lyle Park_B

Entering Lyle Park

T9 Harland & Wolff ornamental gates_B

Ornamental gates in Lyle Park

The park was laid on the grounds of a sugar factory in 1924 when the owner (Mr Lyle, co-founder of well-known corporation Tate & Lyle) moved the factory away and gifted the ground, providing the only park in what was at the time a densely populated area with tenements for factory and dock workers. The borough put a bandstand on a raised area near the Thames but there were not many other amenities. The bandstand has disappeared but was replaced in 1994 by an imposing cast iron gate salvaged from nearby repair shipyard Harland & Wolff. The planting is low maintenance without formal flower beds, but the rose bushes around the old gate are lovely in summer. There are also a few other nice bushes and a heather bed near the entrance.

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Roses in Lyle Park

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River Thames seen from Lyle Park

The park is nearly always empty, people being more attracted to the larger and more accessible Thames Barrier Park. As the park looks out over the Thames, you get a view towards the industrial premises in Charlton. My picture shows a seagoing ship, which is not very often the case upstream of the Thames Barrier.

After visiting the park, come back to North Woolwich Road

R continuing along the DLR viaduct

PONTOON DOCK

T20 Pontoon Dock station_B

Pontoon Dock station

The station opened in 2005 together with the new DLR line. There are only smaller housing developments in the area, but there are some industrial premises and what was planned as a major park.

The station is an exact copy of the West Silvertown model and does not warrant an additional comment. My picture taken from below shows that the rounded shape of the awnings does not actually flow seamlessly into the main concrete beam of the viaduct, but the optical effect is reached by steel trusses and this is enough to be elegant.

T21 London Cruise Terminal (sic)_B

London Cruise Terminal in 2010

I suggest you climb up to the platform as it will provide you with a nice view of the Royal Victoria dock. As you can see on my picture, there was only wasteland between the station and the dock at the time and you had a very interesting view of a derelict warehouse and polluted factory sitting threateningly over what was the new London Cruise Terminal. Actually, most ships use the much larger cruise terminal in the Tilbury docks because this avoids going through narrow tidal locks. For ships that are small enough to go through the Thames Barrier, a new cruise terminal is planned on derelict industrial premises in North Greenwich.

Detour from the DLR station into Thames Barrier Park

T17 Bartlett Point development_B

Thames Barrier Park

The park opened in 2000 after many years of difficult and costly work as the land had been used by a chemical factory and was heavily polluted. It was a core project to make the developments on the south side of Royal Victoria Dock sufficiently attractive and proved extremely popular with local residents but also later with people from further away due to the very convenient DLR access.

 

 

T18 Thames Barrier Park_B

Birch trees and café in Thames Barrier Park

A good proportion of the park is the typical set of wide open green spaces as this is popular for football and picknicks. One peculiarity is that most trees are birch trees, a pioneer tree that is happy with difficult, quickly draining ground such as former industrial soil. There are few locations in London with parks on this type of soil and therefore not many occasions to see large clumps of birch trees.

 

 

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Formal garden in Thames Barrier Park

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Formal garden in winter

The formal part of the park will come as a big surprise to people used to the English style of gardening. The landscape architect was a French company and the result of their planning is indeed the kind of postmodern park that has been quite popular in Paris and Brussels since the 1990s. It involves very geometric planning with long straight lines compensated by thick hedges pruned in wavy shapes.

 

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Garden in the postmodern style

T18a_BT17b_BFlower beds in the typical English style are eschewed in favour of coloured planting between the hedges. Postmodern landscaping likes curving walks meant to lead you along the most interesting viewpoints, a little like in traditional Japanese gardening, but this was not done in Thames Barrier Park, you can just walk along the hedges to enjoy the colourful flowers in season. One advantage of the hedges is that they cut wind (it can get really hot in summer, with people sunbathing); in addition, they are evergreen and provide an attraction in winter as well.

 

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White planting

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Blue planting

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Newham war memorial in Thames Barrier Park

The main sight within the garden is a structure that looks like a pavilion on thin pillars. It does not protect much from wind and rain as the roof is very high up with no side protection, but this is linked to the fact that the structure is actually a war memorial commemorating the victims of German bombs during World War II in an area that was a prime objective due to the docks and factories.

 

 

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Unusual view of Thames Barrier at low tide

The park looks out to the river and provides a very good view of the Thames Barrier, possibly even a better view than you can get from the official information centre on the other river bank. The barrier was designed in the 1970s once it became apparent that large seagoing ships would not need to visit the upstream docks any more, using rather the container terminals in places like Tilbury. The structure was finished in 1984 and is used half a dozen times a year, in most cases in order to prevent the rising tide from adding to a swollen river after heavy rains. The principle is simply that of rotating gates that lie on the ground of the river in normal times.

On exiting the park, resume walking along the DLR viaduct

At the road roundabout ahead, still on North Woolwich Road. The road merges into Factory Road

T22 Silvertown Music Hall_B

Church turned into a cabaret

The building that looks like a sizeable church on this road was indeed a church built in 1857 and is a listed monument since 1971 because of its unusual structure. It is actually built in steel with the bricks being just a covering. The borough had intended to convert the former church into a local museum, but the roof burned down in 1981 and the building ended up being converted into a commercial music hall in 2003. It specialises in matinees with catering.

 

T23 Poppies mural in grounds of Music Hall_B

Poppies mural and war mémorial

You might want to pay attention to the small war memorial in the grounds of the music hall. The wall behind the memorial has been painted beautifully with two scenes, one with a view of the area in the early 20th century with a large ship looming in the background due to the local repair shipyard, the other scene with a poppy field in Flanders. If you travel to Flanders nowadays, you are unlikely to see many poppies as this very fragile plant cannot resist the herbicides widely used in the industrialised agriculture of Flanders. Note that the sun rises over Flanders while it is still dark in Silvertown in the picture, which mirrors actual conditions.

Shortly afterwards L across a former train line using the old footbridge

T24 Tate & Lyle factory still working_B

Sugar factory and disused train line

The footbridge gives you a good view of the derelict train line from Canning Town to the Woolwich ferry, now being converted to the future Crossrail line. The large factory in the background is the London basis of food multinational Tate & Lyle and is a sugar refinery. It is one of the very few industrial premises still having full normal production activities within London, helped by the fact that smaller seagoing ships can reach it as it is downstream of the Thames Barrier.

R along the former train line on Connaught Road

L Parker Street

At the end R up a short ramp to reach the access road for

LONDON CITY AIRPORT

T26 London City Airport station_B

London City Airport station

The station opened in 2005 together with the new train line and was the main reason for building the line.

This is one of the very few DLR stations with an actual building and even a staffed ticket office as arriving international passengers often need information and assistance. The station consists of a plain glass box below the viaduct and a rather drab grey oval box encasing the platform. The aesthetics is very “1990s financial sector”: cheap, plain but flashy enough. The view of the platforms shows a good colour scheme with blue steel girders giving rhythm to the curved glass surface.

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Platforms at London City Airport station

 

 

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London City Airport terminal

By the way, the terminal itself is a small, utilitarian structure with a very plain glass and concrete front. It is clearly meant as a convenient terminal for businessmen, not as a flashy welcoming structure for tourists or as a high-throughput hall for masses of stag party candidates on their way to Mallorca. Airlines would love to land larger planes at this very convenient airport as there would be high demand from travelers, but the runway would be very difficult to extend and the tarmac is already congested at rush hour.

Leave the station using a subway under the access road (should be marked “Drew Road”)

L Drew Road

at the end R Leonard Street

L Newland Street

Just before the end of the road R into Sheldrake Close

Ahead on the footpath into the open space, then L still within the open space

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Sheldrake Close open space

This is the type of small open space that was not turned into an official park but has exactly the same function. It is clearly a legacy of the garden suburb movement and remained popular until the 1950s. Then came the time of the high-rise tower estates. Current fashion goes to inward-looking gated estates that look like classical garden suburbs but are off-limits to passers-by and force you to walk along main highways.

Cross a first road, continuing ahead along houses. The footpath turns R at the end towards a road corner with a small open space

T31 BT satellite tracking station_B

Satellite tracking station

From the open space, you have a view to a row of large satellite dishes on the other side of the main road and former train line. This is a location bearing originally the complicated name London North Woolwich Earth Station. It is now called the London Teleport but is still not a Star Wars teleportation terminal. It is used to catch signals from a large set of specialised satellites, some of them for financial institutions who need to keep in light-speed-contact with exotic stock markets in Central Africa or Pacific islands. Built by BT, it was sold in 2007 to a group of pension funds as it is the kind of low-investment, stable-return infrastructure business they like to invest in.

At the end L Fernhill Street

R Manwood Street

After a small park L to reach Dockland Street

At the end R for

KING GEORGE V

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King George V station

 

 

The station opened in 2005 as a temporary terminal for the new DLR line and was converted into a normal station in 2009 after the line was extended to Woolwich. It serves a number of nearby housing developments although these are not very sought after due to the noise from the airport.

 

 

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Platforms at King George V station

As usual on the DLR network, there is no station building. The platforms are actually invisible from the road because of a particularly ugly and massive wall. Seen from the footbridge, the platforms are very plain with a simple corrugated iron awning.

At the east end of the DLR station, turn R on Pier Road (there is a pavement sign saying “ferry”)

 

T34 Shopping square in Pier Road_B

Shopping square in Pier Road

The road crosses a small square with a few shops beneath rather low apartment buildings. The setup shows clearly that this is not a flashy suburb, but the shops are certainly very useful as they are the only ones within a significant distance.

The road turns R at the end past the former train terminal. Walk to the rotunda of the foot tunnel

 

T35 Disused North Woolwich terminal_B

Disused North Woolwich train terminal

The former train station is a very nice building from 1847, the time when train stations were still major landmarks and the access to a fascinating, nearly glamorous means of fast transportation. The terminal was built accordingly in a majestic neo-classical style. It was unusual to build stations in U-form in order not to lose valuable ground surface and the terrace above the passenger hall must have been very enjoyable for the station master whose apartment gave out on it. The building is in red bricks, a contrast to the more or less contemporary station in Greenwich, built in yellow bricks.

The building and the platforms were used for a small railway museum until 2008, when it was decided to use some of the grounds for the construction of the Crossrail tunnel. I have found no information about the potential future use of the nice railway terminal.

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Woolwich ferry pier

Take the Woolwich Foot Tunnel or the free ferry. As I comment on the tunnel in a Jubilee line walk, I suggest taking rather the ferry if it is operating. It is free since 1889 and runs quite regularly. It is actually the only ferry in London that really makes sense from a traffic point of view as there are no Thames crossings between Dartford and Greenwich. If you happen to cross with a GPS system one day, look at the screen while in the middle of the river. This gives interesting “riddle pictures”.

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Woolwich ferry

Once you are on the right bank of the Thames, walk up the ramp from the ferry pier to the large roundabout.

Walk around the roundabout on the L side and continue ahead on the main road (John Wilson Road)

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Former film theatre in Woolwich

The corner building near the roundabout, the Gateway House, now houses a church named interestingly the “New Wine Church”. I love the name as it could be used to comical effect in a number of manners (drunken churchgoers ? wine made of some new ingredients ?) while I acknowledge that this church in the evangelical tradition has a number of highly commendable charitable activities. The building was built in 1937 as a film theatre in the Art Déco style typical for this type of venue at the time.

T38 Detail of art déco facade_B

Art Déco detail

As opposed to the more decorative style of the early 1930s, the vertical shapes are not compensated by curving horizontal shapes and this gives a somewhat austere look fitting with the economic crises of the late 1930s. The building is used by the church since 2001.

Very soon L Powis Street

T39 Corner Powis Street_B

Former film theatre on Powis Street

One of the most conspicuous buildings near the start of the street is also an imposing Art Déco building and was a direct competitor to the other one as it opened also in 1937. The style is more traditionally Art Déco, combining vertical elements such as the tower with curving horizontal shapes. Very large plain surfaces in red brick were the height of fashion, inspired by Dutch contemporary architecture (and conveniently cheap to build). It is now also a church in the evangelical tradition, part of a very successful organisation founded in 1989 by a gentleman of Nigerian origin. As opposed to the New Wine Church, it is known more for missionary enthusiasm and investment in impressive cathedrals than for charitable outreach.

T40 Art déco in Powis Street_B

Former Art Déco department store

Just after a large parking area, the street narrows between two very urban buildings. The left-hand one is a derelict building that looks like a factory from the 1930s with the typical band of large glass windows inspired by the German Bauhaus concept. The tower is not very ornate but it was indeed a department store belonging to the cooperative movement. The building is probably listed and renovation seems under way but I do not know for which further use.

 

T42 Mid-victorian style in Powis Street_B

Former seat of Woolwich Cooperative

The building opposite with the Edwardian entrance tower marked “Central Stores established 1908” was the central building of the shopping cooperative founded by arsenal workers in 1868. It turned progressively into of the most successful cooperatives in Britain with 500,000 members throughout the southeast of England. The 1973 crisis forced it to merge into the larger Co-op group.

Although I am very much in favour of the cooperative movement as such, I think some questions can be asked once cooperatives reach such a size that individual members have very little personal link with the organisation. The difficulties of the Woolwich cooperative were indeed closely linked to the fact that members saw no differences any more between their shops and capitalist competitors apart from a very small rebate at year end. More work on appropriate governance and communication structures would be warranted.

The building is very Edwardian in terms of colour scheme (red with cream-coloured highlights) and decoration (unashamed mix of styles including Palladian, Italian Renaissance, Dutch gables, neo-romanesque window arches and a statue in the baroque tradition). The building houses other commercial interests by now. There are several commercial buildings in a similar style further up the street, but they are all much smaller and less impressive.

T44 1950s example_B

Typical shopping building from the 1950s

The very last building at the corner opposite the DLR station is a concrete box used by a bank. It is worth a short look as it is a typical structure from the 1950s, a period when not much was built in London. The concrete boxes encasing rows of windows and curtain walls are typical and testify to a new construction method: a limited number of concrete pillars carry the weight of the walls and floors and the outside walls have no carrying function.

This enables much thinner walls, which saves a lot on costs and construction time although it proved a problem later in terms of insufficient insulation against outside temperatures, causing huge heating or cooling costs. It also provided a new aesthetics, the “shoebox style”. Fancy decoration in the Edwardian or Art Déco tradition was hopelessly out of fashion and plain concrete walls were decorated if in any manner with a contemporary abstract painting (popular for schools) or with a cast iron sculpture. In the present case, there is no decoration at all.

The road ends opposite the station

WOOLWICH ARSENAL

T45 Woolwich Arsenal DLR station_B

Woolwich Arsenal DLR terminal

The station opened in 2009 when the DLR line was extended beyond King George V and is the terminal. It is one of very few underground stations on the DLR network. Although there is an easy connection to the nearby suburban train station, the two buildings are very different and clearly separate.

The station being subterranean, the only thing above ground is the entrance pavilion, a plain glass box that I suspect can be conveniently integrated into a shopping centre if the plot gets developed one day (there is a good example in Brixton). The awning is a fancy item where the light designer could have a little fun.

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Mural in Woolwich Arsenal DLR station

An other fun item is the mosaic encasing the stairs with depictions of everyday items in bright colours. Obviously, it is meant as a serious work of art in the direction of pop art.

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