Locals concerned that Perry plans to sell listed Norwood Grove

Gone to pot: the gardens at Norwood Grove, once described as among the most beautiful parks in London, have been neglected and vandalised

CROYDON IN CRISIS: The cash-strapped council continues to allow Listed buildings to fall into serious disrepair while attempting to flog off public property that was bought through public subscription.

The way we were: how the Grade II-listed White House at Norwood Grove, opened to the public in 1926 by the Prince of Wales, used to look

Another day, another alarming report of the abandonment to near-dereliction of part of Croydon’s built heritage, while council officials make moves to sell off another piece of once-cherished public property.

In the case of Norwood Grove, which was bought 99 years ago through public subscription, it is arguable that the property is not Croydon Council’s to sell.

Norwood Grove was once described as “surely… the most beautiful of all the parks to be found in South London”. Not now it isn’t, with the Grade II-listed building, which is thought to be 200 years old and steeped in history, looking in a very sorry state, the gardens left untended and vandalised and its out-buildings subject to graffiti and some close to collapse.

Bordered by Covington Way and Gibson’s Hill, the grounds adjoin The Rookery and the broader expanse of Streatham Common, both of which come under the jurisdiction of Lambeth. According to Croydon Council – which in one shape or form has been in charge of the property for 110 years – Norwood Grove comprises “Mansion set in ornamental garden and grounds; Toilets…” Ha! Wait till you see the state they’ve been allowed to fall into, and “… bowling green”.

Well remembered: the blue plaque marking the charity works of Frederick and Mary Nettlefords

The house, known as the White House was, from 1847, the home of Arthur Anderson, the Scot who founded the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company – or P&O.

After Anderson died in 1862, ownership passed to the Nettlefolds, the family behind the engineering firm which later became Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds – or GKN. Frederick Nettlefold was a notable Victorian industrialist as well as a leading churchman. There’s a blue plaque on one side of the house to commemorate Frederick and Mary Nettlefold’s charitable works.

Following Frederick’s death in 1913, Nettlefold’s family sold the house to Croydon Corporation.

It is almost exactly 100 years ago that the parkland around Norwood Grove was last under threat of redevelopment – a proposition that was fiercely opposed by an “acquisition committee” that had the then Mayor of Croydon as its president and whose 14 vice presidents included two Earls, one Baron, two Members of Parliament and the Mayor of Wandsworth.

They even had god on their side: the committee patron was Randall Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Left to rot: the ‘stables’ at Norwood Grove today. Used by council gardeners as a nursery until 2019, Croydon is looking to sell the property for development

The committee had been formed by Stenton Covington (hence the street name) in 1910 to save the Rookery from development, and it was re-activated in 1924 to preserve Norwood Grove, too. They raised £18,000 – about £1.4million by today’s values – enough to save both sites, and to buy an additional 32 acres from the Nettlefold family.

So effectively, the White House and Norwood Grange had been bought by public subscription, to be handed into the care of the local council.

Norwood Grove was opened to the public on November 16, 1926, by the Prince of Wales (later to become Edward VIII, the abdicating king).

According to the council’s own archive, it was an event full of Edwardian pomp and circumstance: “The Prince arrived at 3pm and was conducted to the drawing room where local dignitaries were waiting to be presented, he was then led to a carved seat on a dais overlooking the Park. The Standard of His Royal Highness was then broken and the National Anthem played by the RAF Band.

Fenced off: the padlocks and fencing have failed to deter vandals

“After making a speech the Prince handed the Title Deeds to the Mayor of Croydon and the Mayor after receiving them gave the Prince a golden key cigar cutter, modelled from a key of the Grove, in token of remembrance of his visit.

“The Prince was then asked to plant a tree to commemorate the opening. Due to poor weather, the Prince planted a Cupressus macrocarpa Lutea [a Monterey Cypress] close to the French windows, not on the main lawn as planned.

“The chair was given to Mr Covington as a token of appreciation of his work and he was also honoured by the construction of a bird bath in the garden and a road being named after him…

Down the toilet: Norwood Grove’s public loos have been unsecured and broken into

“The spade is kept in Croydon Reference Library and was again used in 1987 when The Mayor of Croydon planted another tree at Norwood Grove to celebrate its 50th year as a public open space.”

Whether Norwood Grove manages to last until the 100th anniversary of the playboy Prince’s opening ceremony must now be in some doubt, as under Tory Mayor Jason Perry, Croydon’s cash-strapped council is looking to flog off anything that is not nailed down.

For many years after World War II, the building was put to good, public use. As well as two nearby bowls greens rated as being “superb”, according to the Norwood Society, the oak-floored music room of the mansion was rented to the Norwood Grove Social Centre, “whose activities include dancing, drama, tennis, table tennis, whist drives, and so on”.

The original dining room, “complete with its hand-painted ceiling, is now a public tea room and other parts of the house are used by the bowlers and for storage and staff accommodation” the Society’s journal recorded 60 years ago.

House of ill-repute?: the former Rangers Lodge has already been sold off by the council, with a colourful outcome

Norwood Grove “consists of 32 acres of gently sloping, velvety lawns, falling beautifully towards Croydon, giving wonderful views and almost unlimited horizons”, the Norwood Society wrote, describing it as “a veritable paradise for trees and birds… The nightingale has been heard there and finches, jays, redwings, wagtails, woodpeckers, wood pigeons and wrens and all the English garden birds delight in this extremely pleasant grove”.

Today, residents from Norbury and Upper Norwood have become increasingly concerned at the state of disrepair that Norwood Grove has been allowed to fall into, particularly the old stables area, which until four years ago had been used as a nursery area by council gardeners.

Visitors to the Grove in the past couple of weeks have also observed visits from contractors acting for the council, looking at securing the site, perhaps in preparation for a sale.

“The security company was there looking at the stables to secure it,” according to an email from a loyal reader.

“Nice guy also took photos of the rose arbour where broken to pass on to council team as a health and safety issue.”

And they added: “They are definitely selling the stables. The council has been told to sell what they can due to debt.”

Another visitor to the park regards this as “the final step of asset stripping of Norwood Grove that the council has undertaken”.

Ill-maintained: the White House, with an old refreshment cabin at the side of house and the entrance to bowls club room

The first floor of the White House was converted to flats some years ago. It is believed that these flats may have already been sold off by the council.

The ground floor has been rented out to a nursery school run by Joan Runcorn for more than 30 years, and the bowls club still uses a room in the building. The council’s intentions here are, as yet, unknown.

Shocking: the dereliction around Norwood Grove saddens many visitors

Other attempts by the council to generate cash out of the Norwood Grove property have not gone so well. The Rangers’ House, a small lodge building at the top of the park on the pathway to the Rookery, was sold to a landlord who rented it out.

Locals say that the tenants used the lodge as a brothel; when the landlord discovered this, he evicted them, and took up all the floorboards inside to deter squatters.

Little work on the once-famed Norwood Grove gardens has been done for many months. “Just the occasional bin emptying,” according to one local.

Residents are concerned that the piecemeal disposal of parts of the park are denying the Grove an opportunity to have a sustainable future as a thriving public park. They don’t have to go far, to The Rookery and Streatham Common in Lambeth, to see a well-run and well-cared-for public parks and gardens operation, with public tea rooms doing a roaring trade most days.

“All these places that Croydon is selling off should be providing a rental income for Norwood Grove, to enable it to have a gardener and perhaps support gardeners for some other areas in Croydon.”

And locals remember previous instances in which the council flogged off public property that it didn’t actually own. Both Jason Perry and his cabinet member for finance, Jason Cummings, were part of the Conservative-run council that sold a large part of the Riesco Collection of porcelain which had been left by Raymond Riesco to the people of Croydon.

“Norwood Grove was bought by public subscription,” one regular park user, who has researched the council’s own archive, told Inside Croydon. “While the deeds might have been given to the Corporation nearly 100 years ago, that was only for safe-keeping. It surely doesn’t give the council the right, now, to sell any part of the White House, its out-buildings or the park.

“It’s less than a year since Jason Perry was elected on a pledge to protect the borough’s open spaces. He doesn’t appear to be doing a very good job of that here in Norwood Grove.”

Croydon’s built heritage and parks in peril under Mayor Perry

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Cressey College looks to be on the rocks over park and Ofsted

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12 Responses to Locals concerned that Perry plans to sell listed Norwood Grove

  1. John Woodhouse says:

    This cultural vandalism must be stopped

  2. Jason, the musical – all your singalong favourites, including

    Who will buy this wonderful building?
    Such a price you never did see!
    Who will tart it up and destroy it
    I bet it’s another Tory

    Consider yourself stitched up
    Consider yourself taken advantage of
    We’ve ripped you off so much
    It’s clear we’re going to do it again

    Fools, stupid old fools!
    They voted for Brexit
    Now they’re starving and cold
    Who cares if they snuff it

  3. Ian Kierans says:

    It is about time the any Governemnt seeking election should have in its Manifesto that any and all gifts bequests and items bought by public subscription remain in trust and any attempt to sell those assests left in trust will be a criminal offence by not just those that attempt to sell but also those that buy as they are receiving stolen goods.

    Once in power they should have that pledge enacted into legislation.

    Then every item sold by carpetbagging executives and Mayors should be investigated and where possible brought to court and those that profited sequestered.

    When a gift is given in perpetuity and for the use of residents that should be sacrosanct.
    If not then perhapsit is time to set up Trusts that hold assets seperate from politic’s and dodgy Councils in every Borough acroos this Nation.

  4. Lewis White says:

    This would never happen in North London.

    There would be loads of the Great and the Good raising loads of money and setting up a trust to rescue and restore this truly beautiful house and park, which graces the West-facing hills on which it stands, seen for miles.

    It looks rather like Kenwood House, but prettier.

    maybe Croydon just has too many nice old houses, notably Coombe Cliff, and Heathfield House. If the latter two were sold off, in entirety, with planning permission for conversion and additional buildings, would this generate enough to save Norwood Lodge, which must rate as the very jewel in the crown of Croydon’s “heritage buildings in heritage parks” ?

    The problem is that in the current dire financial situation caused by a mix of self inflicted wounds and strangled funding from austerity-obessesed central government, Croydon is in the old Fire sale scenario. No time for a rational look at disposal and maximising the arising sale prices, and funding designs for each.

    Just sell sell sell !.
    Cheap cheap cheap!

    We know where that all ends.

    A hash, as they end up selling a bit here, keeping a bit there. All ends up unworkable.

    Inside Croydon suggested that the National Trust should be asked to take over Heathfield. I am sure that they would agree to take Norwood House, in view of its exceptional qulaity and exceptional location.

    If any more time goes by, it will get vandalised until it has to be demolished.

  5. Billy James says:

    What do people expect when you have the biggest village idiots in Croydon in charge…

    Perry and Cummings will just sell it off to their fat tory developer mates…..

  6. Ed says:

    This has been a sad place to visit for years but it and most other parks in Croydon have just got worse. There’s so much potential but they’re all depressing to visit as there’s so much neglect in plain sight. Look at what Lewisham have done with Beckenham Place for a contrast – and they’re not a council known to be especially rich.

    • Lewis White says:

      Ed mentions Lewisham Council’s Beckenham Place Park. I used to live in a Parks department cottage right in the heart of the park in the late 1970’s.

      The has been substantially improved in the last 5 years with substantial funding from the National (Heritage ) Lottery, which has re-created a beautiful lake on the site of 75% of the original lake, which had been drained or dried up around the trun of the 19th / 20th Century, and part infilled to make a golf fairway.

      The house (the Mansion) was built by the Cator family. It is a white stone Georgian building set in its park. Whilst some land was sold for building many years ago, possibly by the GLC or LCC whose park it was until Lewisham took it over , (probably in the 60’s), the hundred or so acres of park and the mansion remained substantially intact in the 20th Century, and since, with around a quarter of the area remaining as woodland, about half as a golf course, a quarter as football pitches, and the rest as the house and its gardens.

      The mansion was used in part as the golf course club house, with a nature centre, and a storage facility for a theatre costume collection.

      In the late 1970’s I designed a Masterplan for the renewal of the park, nothing of which was implemented as there was no money.

      I was delighted to see, around 2015, that at last the Council had been sucessful in getting Lottery funding.

      This has enabled phase 1 of the park restoration to be done. This has re-created the lake, which is used for fresh water swimming (absolutely fresh with no pollution !!) and done much good work around the mansion, and converted the stables yard from being a parks depot and area office into a cafe, and much more.

      As yet, the mansion is unrestored. It needs a huge amount of mney to do that.

      Bexley Council, some 20 years ago, got similar funding and restored the very similar Danson Park house.

      Norwood Grove is very similar to both Beckenham Place and Danson parks as these are surviving examples of mansions in theor parks.

      It London, there are many examples of parks without their mansion (e.g. Oaks Park near Carshalton) or where the mansion is sitting in a tiny area of park, the rest having been sold off for building.

      When rich families became far less rich, many great houses were sold to councils and people who could not afford to look after them properly.
      Wartme requistioning, for use by the army and allied armies, wrecked many others.

      Norwood Grove has survived so far, and is worth saving. It is far too good to be allowed to go to waste.

      I really hope that a trust–maybe the National Trust– takes it over before it gets wrecked by neglect, weather and vandals.

      In its current, semi-bankrupt state, my guess is that the Council have no money to bring to the table.

      Above all, this building needs appropriate uses to make sense of the building, plus the money to restore the park and maintain the landscape and building.

      Is there an organisation out there who could take it off Croydon’s hands, BUT, keep much or the house open and most of the park open to the public free of charge?

      And what do the councillors and political parties think?

      And what does the Mayor plan to do?

      Vision, anyone?

      • Angus Hewlett says:

        Grangewood just down the road from Norwood Grove is another ex-mansion park. The foundations of the big house have been preserved as a sunken garden. Unfortunately with money running short, both the surviving gatehouses/lodge houses have been flogged off as private homes in recent years.

  7. Patricia Randall says:

    The angels of God are weeping over Croydon, may thier tears break the hearts of those who have the power to make the needed change, and restore beauty to Croydon, for Croydon to be again a part of England’s green and pleasant land.

  8. David Lucas says:

    Given the dire state of Croydon Council’s finances, would creating a Trust for Norwood Grove and its land possibly be a way forward? Still needs money though.

  9. Nick Davies says:

    The spade can’t have been used in 1987 to celebrate 50 years. Either it was used in 1977 or to celebrate 60 years. I wonder if it still exists in the library or was sometime borrowed by a builder never to be seen again?

  10. Lewis White says:

    By the way, that picture of the dried up fountain with the weird roots or dead plants, and rubbish is truly stomach-turning. It would take about 3 hours for 2 people to clear it out and sweep it. It is a total disgrace, and any councillors for the local ward and in charge of what ever council grouping that has allowed this neglect to happen should resign in penance.

    The state of that park and building is clearly a long-running saga of neglect and absence of vision.

    Who is in charge of Parks? Officer or Councillors ?
    Well, actually, I think I know….. the answer is, no-one.

    Parks no longer have an identity.

    I suppose, given the absence of a realistic budget, to be Parks manager would be a very frustrating job at present, but –in todays world, where we all know of the importance of parks and woods and playing fields to our physical and mental health, it is bizarre that Croydon spilt up its parks team years back.

    Other London Boroughs like Southwark and Lambeth really care about their parks.

    In the old days of the post war period, when councils had public works committees, and even parks and recreation committees, the councillors would have been appalled and done something about it.

    Are the current generation of Councillors up to the job, or do they merely occupy space?

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