Laurie, Andrew, Nigel and myself. We start.(Ignore The Danger of Death sign)
Homo Sapiens emerged from Africa, so the most recent theories speculate, about 200, 000 years ago. They were a group that took over from and replaced other hominids such as the Neanderthals. There they were and here we are, Nigel, Andrew, Laurie and myself, large brained, standing erect on two feet, arms, hands, ears and eyes, four prime examples of Homo Sapiens that set out on a walk the other day from Crystal Palace train station and headed by foot across south London to Wandsworth. We and our bodies were doing what all hominids should do and that is move ourselves.
Laurie trying to remember how to walk. Practicing on Crystal Palace Station platform.
The four of us were walking section four, of The Capital Ring Walk, Crystal Palace to Streatham Common, about 4 miles and also continuing by walking section five, Streatham Common to Wimbledon Park, about five miles. I know all these places. I’ve driven through them and past them and taken the train through their various train stations up to Waterloo and out to south London destinations. Walking through them, at a pace not much more than two or three miles an hour, is a different experience altogether. The Capital Ring Walk is one of a series of seven different walks you can find described on the Transport for London website. Each walk comes with maps and descriptions of sites encountered and the historical background of various places along the way. The purpose written on the Transport for London Website describes the walk.
” The Capital Ring Walk offers you the chance to see some of London's finest scenery. Divided into 15, easy-to-walk sections, it covers 78 miles (126KM) of open space, nature reserves, Sites of Specific Scientific Interest and more.”
It also suggests it is a healthy thing to do, a way to get fit in an enjoyable way. I would rather get fit in this way, getting out and experiencing the world rather than be numbingly bored on the fitness machines in an enclosed gym.
Crystal Palace Station. Echos of the the great Crystal Palace itself which was located in the park nearby.
Andrew lives in North London, Nigel lives in Greenwich and Laurie and I live close to each other in Motspur Park, SW20. We decided on a time, 10am, to meet at the café in Crystal Palace train station foyer. The café at Crystal Palace station is small. The station and railway is run by Southern Rail but a group of young enthusiastic ladies appear to be making a vibrant going concern of the cafe. Home made cakes, freshly made sandwiches and a good selection of coffees and teas are sold. The tables and chairs are crammed into the small homely café. Mirrors and a nice selection of prints are on the wall. We were lucky to get a table to sit at. Andrew had arrived first and grabbed a table and four chairs to himself fighting off all comers until myself and Laurie arrived and finally Nigel. The only drawback was wanting to use the loo. The café did not have a toilet. They had an arrangement with Southern Rail though. A bright young lady behind the counter gave me a pass card to get through the electronic barriers onto the train platform to use the Southern Rail toilet facilities. This meant negotiating not only the ticket barrier but also a steep flight of steps onto the platform. But nothing is perfect.
The cafe at Crystal Palace Station, our meeting place.
We set off from the station, after taking a group selfie making us look like four manic teenagers rather than the four aging hippies we actually are. We set off westwards along Station Road and then turned into Anerley Hill Road and continued along Belvedere Road. Many of the houses are substantial in size,Victorian and Edwardian villas. We passed number number 22 Beleveder Road with a blue plaque positioned on its front. This plaque commemorated Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (1807-1889) who designed and had made the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park nearby. They have been a delight to children and adults for generations. Andrew made the point that they are not anatomically correct. This is an issue for paleontologists over the centuries. What does a dinosaur look like just from a few fossilized bones? We are much better at interpreting dinosaurs nowadays with sophisticated technology and analytical devises but what Dinosaurs were really like is something scientists will always explore. Andrew is one among many to speculate.
This is the house where Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1889) lived, designer of concrete dinosaurs. They can be found in Crystal Palace Park.
We arrived at Norwood Grove, a pleasant park land set around a hill with a large white Victorian mansion surmounting the central hill with extensive views over South London and Surrey.
Norwood Grove House.
The house and park have a rich history, including being the site of a hunting lodge used by Charles II and from the 1840s, the time from which the present house dates, being owned by Arthur Anderson the founder of the P&O, the Pacific and Orient shipping company. Of course it also has a mention in the Domesday Book. The Normans were nothing if not thorough. We stopped and sat on a park bench for a while next to the house taking in the views and discussing the varied planting of shrubs and trees in the park. It’s amazing the knowledge you acquire by the age of your early 60s.
Phil and Rosa's bench.
The park and the house are now owned by Croydon Council. It is used as an education facility. While we were there a toddlers play scheme was underway with tots on the verge of falling over and rolling down the hill at any moment to get lost in the shrubbery borders. The playschool assistants appeared vigilant. The bench we sat on commemorated “Phil and Rosa,” who had enjoyed a friendship and many happy hours together, presumably on this spot. I wonder if there will be a park bench commemorating us four one day?
Caged!! The entrance to Norwood Grove.
One particular place we walked through bordered by Biggin Hill Road and Gibson Way was Biggin Wood. It is only a small wood hidden behind 1930s housing. It has a plaque displayed providing information about the flaura and fauna. It appears to be used by local schools for nature study. What fascinated me about this small wood though was that it is a tiny remnant of the Great North Wood from which Norwood, gets its name. The earliest records of the woods go back to 1272. It originally covered about three and half square kilometres and reached Lambeth, Southwark, Croydon and Bromley. Many oak trees were taken from the forest for ship building at Deptford and also charcoal burning was carried out in the forest. By this time, and it might be something to do with the allure of trees, Andrew, Nigel, Laurie and myself were having bladder problems. We were getting, “desperate,” not to put a fine point on it. We each found our own personal tree and disappeared behind it. Bladders are a bugger at our age. When we all emerged, which seemed simultaneously, we looked at each other and broke out laughing.
Biggin Wood, a small remaining part of the ancient North Wood.
We walked on to The Rookery Gardens. Nigel told me how he had brought his children here when they were young, to play. It is situated on a hill with wide views and has well laid out shrubs and bushes creating a beautiful garden. It is on the site of Streatham Spa. Queen Victoria visited Streatham Spa for the waters and stayed in a house on the site of The Rookery Gardens. There were three springs discovered at Streatham Spa in 1659. Walking on we passed the flamboyantly styled Streatham Common Pumping Station in Conyers Road. It was built in 1888 to a Moorish design. Laurie and I stopped to look at this building. We couldn’t decide what it was at first. We thought it was a Mosque.
Streatham Common Pumping Station.
It was good to be able to have time to talk to Nigel. I have not been able to see much of him in recent years. He now lives in Greenwich but he used to be a neighbour of mine in Motspur Park. We talked about education. He is a Professor of Law and I am retired junior school teacher. We had a discussion about creating practical learning experiences. Nigel told me how he had developed a course using practical situations as a learning experience. It was good to catch up on each other’s lives and our respective families.
I first got to know Andrew, many years ago, when the two us, in company with Laurie, took a fishing trip out of St Malo harbour in Brittany. The sea was a little choppy that day and I proceeded to be violently seasick for the whole time out there. We were out there for hours. Andrew and I, as we walked along had a discussion about a TV programme that he had seen recently about a group of retirees who took on the challenge of working on a Tuscany vineyard with the prospect of buying it and running it as a going concern. I thought it was too much hard work and an overly steep learning curve. Andrew was much more positive than me about it. He obviously is more adventurous than I am and prepared to take a chance on that sort of thing. Am I too cautious?
As we passed Streatham Common we noticed that a fun fair was being set up. Funfairs are great experiences. I love them. However, I can’t go on the rides these days and candy floss makes me sick. I’m no good at hoopla and I don’t really want to win a giant cuddly toy. The Ghost train is a clanking booing bore. My distance sight is a little blurry and doesn’t allow me to shoot straight on the shooting gallery. Maybe this walk was revealing something to me about myself? There is a very moving war memorial at the junction of Streatham Common North and Streatham High Road. It is set back amongst copper beaches and horse chestnuts on a piece of grassed land separate from the main part of the common called Streatham Memorial Garden. A bronze statue of a young soldier of the first world war is standing, head bowed holding his reversed rifle like a supporting crutch in front of himself. The attitude and pose is contemplative, prayerful and quite moving. I took a picture of Nigel standing in front of the memorial.
Nigel beside the war memorial at Streatham Common Memorial Garden.
Tooting Common was next. Tooting Common has a couple of associations. A good friend, Gabriel Mesh and his lovely daughter, Ellen, organize and run the Tooting Blues and Folk Festival on Tooting Common every summer at the beginning of August. The site of the festival , a short walk from Tooting Bec underground station is located near Dr Johnson Road. And here is the second association. In the 18th century Mr and Mrs Thrale owned Streatham House. The site was just off Tooting Bec Road and there is a road called Thrale Road in the vicinity. Mr Thrale made his money in the brewing industry. The famous Dr Johnson , creator of the first English Dictionary, got to know and befriended Mr Thrale. Dr Johnson visited the Thrales in Tooting and became much enamoured of Mrs Thrale. They had a platonic relationship by all accounts. Dr Johnson moved in with the Thrales and lived with them. He attracted other writers, artists and musicians to come to Tooting such as Fanny Burney and her composer father, Charles Burney, Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke and David Garrick. Hester Thrale became an important hostess, promoting the arts. Her painting can be found in the National Portrait Gallery just off Trafalgar Square. Dr Johnson had a word for our endeavours of course;
" Ambulation.n.s. [ambulatio, Lat.] The act of walking.
" Ambulation.n.s. [ambulatio, Lat.] The act of walking.
From the occult and invisible motion of the muscles in station, proceed more offensive lassitudes, than from ambulation. Brown's Vulgar Errours, b. iii. c. 1." (The 1777 edition)
Tooting Bec Lido.
Laurie had been given orders by Pat, to visit Tooting Bec Lido. Pat was brought up in Tooting and often spent her Summer holidays at the Lido. However, we were getting tired and the day had been long so Laurie felt he had done his duty with a few posed photographs next to the Tooting Bec Lido sign. Tooting Bec Lido is one of Britain's oldest open air pools — it opened to the public on Saturday 28 July 1906 as the Tooting Bathing-Lake. Digging the lake had been proposed by the Reverend John Henry Anderson, Rector of Tooting, as a project to provide work for unemployed local men. It holds one million gallons (4,500 m3) of water. It is the largest swimming pool by surface area in the United Kingdom being 100 yards (91.44 m) long and 33 yards (30.18 m) wide.
The scene of vigorous press ups was happening just in front of us. Did we care?
We walked on to Wandsworth Common and found a park bench to eat our packed lunches. We sat on a bench in a shaded green area surrounded by trees and lovely Victorian houses. Wandsworth Railway station was to our left. As we sat quietly munching away on our sandwiches and contemplating life ,as you do, a young couple with a dog appeared on the opposite side of this piece of greensward. The young lady sat down on a bench with the dog tethered to a long lead. The young man proceeded to do energetic press ups on the ground in front of his admiring lady. We felt exhausted just watching him and, if I am truthful, a little bemused. What was THAT all about?
Wandsworth Common took us past the playing fields of Emmanuel School. At a distance we could see some of the boys playing a cricket match. The main line to Waterloo from the south goes past Wandsworth Common and Emmanuel School. On the morning of the 12th December 1988, on the line just outside of Clapham Junction station and located at the bottom of the railway embankment below Emmanuel School a crowded passenger train crashed into the back of another train that had stopped at a red light. Thirty-five people were killed and over four hundred people were injured. Sixth form boys from Emmanuel School scrambled down the embankment to help carry stretchers and help injured people on the train. As you travel on the train up to Waterloo, if you look up on the embankment as you approach Calpham Junction, there is a small memorial garden with a stone monument placed near the top of the embankment commemorating this terrible disaster. I remember it vividly because Marilyn taught in Lambeth at that time and took the train on this line. She didn’t get home until midnight on that day. All transport systems were stopped. I couldn’t get hold of her either so I was worried that she was safe. In fact she had got on the train that left just before the crash.
From Wandsworth Common we walked towards the prison.
A terraced cottage in Alma Terrace leading up to Wandsworth Prison.
The road leading to the prison has some lovely Victorian terraced workmen’s cottages fronted by well-kept gardens with tended rose bushes, hydrangeas and other hardy shrubs. When you get to the end of this road it is quite a shock to be confronted by the high prison walls and austere, foreboding entrance of Wandsworth Prison. Andrew and myself searched the sky to see if we could see any drones. It has become general knowledge that criminal gangs have been getting drugs and other illegal items into prisons by way of remote controlled drones, but of course we saw none. In 1965 Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train robber escaped from Wandsworth and travelled to Brazil. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned here briefly before he was sent to Reading Gaol where he wrote the famous Ballad of Reading Gaol. Rather sadly in 1953 Derek Bentley was executed here. His crime occurred when he was escaping from a robbery over some factory roofs in Croydon. A policeman appeared. Bentley was reported to have shouted to his accomplice, “Let him have it!” His accomplice shot the policeman dead. Bentley was accused of his murder and so executed. But the evidence was hearsay and Bentley had quite severe learning difficulties.
The entrance to Wandsworth Prison.
Andrew, Laurie, Nigel and myself walked on. We decided to stop at the Halfway House pub next to Earlsfield Station in Garret Lane. It was my idea. Laurie told me off and has reminded me of my misdemeanor ever since.
Keen to have a beer.
Nigel, Andrew and Lauire had walked some of the Capital Ring Walk already, before I interloped on this day. They had made a policy of not going into pubs and drinking. It was my influence that made them buy pints and sit down, in a very convivial atmosphere, to have a drink or two. Well, I don’t think it took much persuading but there you are. And so we ended our walk. We will continue with some more of the Capital Ring sections another time I am sure.
As you can probably tell, it is good to walk. Very good.