West Norwood is largely a residential area of South London within the London Borough of Lambeth. It borders the London Boroughs of Croydon and Southwark. It sits in-between the areas of Crystal Palace, Dulwich, Gipsy Hill, Streatham, Tulse Hill and Upper Norwood. Surrounding train stations are Herne Hill, Gipsy Hill, Tulse Hill, West Dulwich and West Norwood
“Norwood” recalls the “Great North Wood”, a name that was formerly used for the hilly and wooded area to the north of Croydon. Before 1885 West Norwood station and the surrounding area was known as Lower Norwood, reflecting its being at a lower altitude than Upper Norwood. Gipsy Hill in specific and rather ironically gets its name from the gipsies who encamped in the woods there for many years in and around this time period.
Many places in the area offer beautiful and distant views including glimpses of the City, Canary Wharf, The Shard, Crystal Palace, Dulwich and the ridge at Leigham Court Road.
West Norwood has become somewhat of a shopping area populated largely by individual shops. The main shopping area is in Norwood Road which is characterised by the high percentage of independent shops with a modest number of major high street retailers.
Norwood High Street contained the earliest group of shops in the area but never developed into a major shopping centre, as the main shopping parades were built during the decades around 1900 along Norwood Rd between York Hill and West Norwood station. Horse-drawn trams shuttled passengers along this road from the terminus in front of St Luke’s Church towards the middle of London.
At the focus of the shopping parades on Norwood Road and Knights Hill is St Luke’s church and gardens. Consecrated in 1825, St Luke’s is one of the so-called “Waterloo” churches. To its eastern side is West Norwood Cemetery, one of the “Magnificent Seven” which has the greatest number of listed cemetery monuments of any in England, attracting many visitors.
A new facility, the West Norwood Health and Leisure Centre, is due to open in 2014. This is located on Devane Way; a road named after a catholic priest who served the West Norwood community for many years. It will offer leisure facilities including swimming, gym, dance studio and community space as well as health resources, both GP and dental.
The area is well served by public transport with London National Rail stations at each end of the main shopping area: West Norwood and Tulse Hill from which there are frequent services to Victoria and London Bridge, as well as surrounding locations. There are eight daytime bus routes and two night time services. The South Circular A205 passes through the Tulse Hill area, with the A23 Streatham High Road to the west.
The railway line from London to the Crystal Palace was opened in 1856 with a station at Lower Norwood (since renamed West Norwood). These improved communications heralded major changes. Many of the larger houses and gardens were demolished and replaced with predominantly more modest housing over the next four decades
Much of the Arch bishop’s land in Norwood was wooded until the 18th century, when the future development of West Norwood was assisted by the Lambeth Manor Enclosure Act of 1806. Much of the land covered by this Act was owned either by the Archbishop of Canterbury or by Lord Thurlow, who died in the same year. Before this The River Effra ran alongside the current Elder Road, in a northerly direction, and was prone to flooding which emphasised the need for a revamp.
The main building of the Norwood Home for Jewish Children (“The Jewish Orphanage”) was completed in 1862. It was a three storey edifice, with the appearance of a Jacobean palace. This structure was demolished in 1963, after the children had moved in groups to live in nine houses supervised by house parents in a less institutional environment, meeting for communal activities at a new synagogue built on the original site. In the 1970s, the charity started to move out of the area entirely and the main site was sold to Lambeth Council, which developed much of it for a housing estate, keeping only a small area beside the railway line as open space. This open space is now occupied by the recently developed West Norwood Health and Leisure Centre. An account of a boy’s experiences of living at the Orphanage between 1928 and 1933 can be found online.
Of the original buildings only the porter’s lodge off Knights Hill now remains, its curving Dutch-gables, red brick with black diaper work and mullioned windows echoing the design of the main 3-storey institution. The Arnold & Jane Gabriel Home was built on the Wolfington Road frontage of the orphanage in 1910; it was converted into a primary school in 2012, with extensions still under construction in February 2013.