Sydenham Common

Route & what to see

site map

200 years ago the area this walk will take you around was Sydenham Common. Covering 500 acres it had undulating hills, streams and valleys. It was used for grazing animals, collecting wood, recreation, hunting and fairs. However in 1810 an enclosure act was passed, ownership passed to local landowners and major changes occurred. This walk was entered into a competition to design a Lewisham Heritage Trail and was adapted to meet their criteria from one I had already led. The additional information page consists mostly of follow-up ideas many suited to children.There are some pubs on the route but not all serve food. There are cafes near Sydenham Station. Wells Park is suitable for picnics

The walk is circular from Sydenham Station. Buses 75 122 176 194 202 312 450
It is about 3 miles (5 km) and is all pavement or hard paths but there are some inclines

There are some pubs along the route: the Talma (Wells Park Road), the Woodman & the Fox (Kirkdale) and the Railway (Sydenham Road).
The nearest cafs to the start/finish are the Hilltop Cafe near the railway bridge and Sema's Cafe on the corner of Silverdale. There are other shops & places to eat further along Sydenham Road. On the route you could picnic in Sydenham Wells Park.

From Sydenham Station cross Sydenham Road and stand on the railway bridge
170 years ago you would have been standing on an earlier bridge over the Croydon Canal which had been built in 1809. Boats were available for hire on a Sunday from the coal merchant’s wharf and you could row to Croydon. In 1836 the canal was bought by the London & Croydon Railway who replaced it with their track. Between 1903 and 1979 there was a station booking hall on the bridge. A new road off Venner Road has been named Canal Walk.

Walk west along Sydenham Road
In 1908 T W Williams who had been the manager of the London & South Western Bank (later Barclays) at No. 262 was due to stand trial for obtaining money under false pretences when he was found to have committed suicide. He had been prominent in local affairs and his name is to be found on a number of foundation stones in the area.

Look across the road
Before the enclosure you could have watched the Old Surrey Hunt setting off from the Greyhound. This was Sydenham oldest inn, built around 1720 with a Victorian extension on the front. It would have been adjacent to the canal when that was in existance.
The ladies outfitters on Cobb's Corner was founded by Walter Cobb in 1860 and extended on 1902. In 1940 three quarters of the shop with its contents was destroyed in an air raid but business continued in the undamaged part. It was restored and re-built after the war.

Stop outside the the Kirkdale Care Centre (Old Cedars)
In 1800 James Bulcock who lived in the Old Cedars was the victim of a highwayman operating in the area. This house had been built on the edge of the common in the 18th century.

Continue along Westwood Hill
The development of the common in the 19th century finally drove out the gipsies for whom the area had been a favourite haunt. Famous people such as Pepys and Byron record having their fortunes told by the Sydenham gipsies.

Go left along Hall Drive
This was the former drive to Sydenham Hall, the home of the builder Edward Strong the Younger. The house was rebuilt around 1805, became a school in the 1900s and was demolished in 1939.

At the end turn right into Lawrie Park Gardens
In the 17th century you would have been in the middle of Cooper’s Wood, a protected area of woodland. Before the 16th century much of the common was still heavily wooded but with the establishment of the shipbuilding industry at Deptford a lot of the timber was felled.

Stop when you reach a crossroads
To the left a large oak tree on the roundabout marks the boundary with Bromley Borough. In 1871 the French painter Camille Pissarro painted the view towards St Bartholmew’s Church, a picture now in the National Gallery.
View this image

Go along Lawrie Park Avenue towards the church
In the Victorian period its elevated position would have made this a desirable part of Sydenham with attractive large houses, some of which remain.

Left along Westwood Hill
From 1854 until 1936 the ridge ahead would have been dominated by the Crystal Palace building.

Stop when you reach Sydenham High School
The school moved into Horner Grange, a Gothic mansion of 1883, and its outbuildings in the 1930s. It was restored after a fire in 1997/8

Continue as far as Charleville Circus
This is directly over the 2km long railway tunnel dug through Sydenham Hill by the London, Chatham & Dover Railway in 1862.

Cross over and take the footpath opposite continuing along Ormanton Road
There are self-build houses, based on the Walter Segal concept.

At the bottom cross over into Sydenham Wells Park
The park, which had previously been fields opened in 1901. The former boating pond has been made into a playground with water features. There are spring-fed lakes.

Bear right then go ahead between the fences (lake on left). Keep to the left of the brick building (toilets & information) then go right towards a drinking fountain and noticeboard. From this go straight across the grass and exit into Wells Park Road.
From the 1640s until the 1830s you could have taken the medicinal waters at cottages located around the Sydenham Wells. The last of the well cottages (the Green Dragon) was destroyed by bombing in 1944.

Cross and go right along Wells Park Road (formerly Wells Road)
The District Electricity Supply Works were located to the left in the 1890s.

Continue to Mill Gardens
Until the 1880s there was a windmill standing here along with cottages built in 1820 - 1830 which remained until 1961.

Take the next left into Halifax Street
In 1891 the residents of this street (then called Hanover Street) included: at No.1 Sarah Ann Blick, a widow and her 4 sons Arthur (23) a printer, Walter (21) a cheesemonger’s assistant, William (16) an apprentice compositor and Alfred (14) an office boy together with Eliza (32) a schoolmistress niece; at No.3 Elizabeth Norris (52) a widow and 3 lodgers Fred (52) a fancy worker, James (50) a decorator and Charles (48) a carpenter; at No.5 George Lillywhite (35) a coachman, his wife Ellen (31) their 3 children Beatrice (7), Frank (4) and Maud (2) together with a lodger Thomas (20) a groom and at No.7 Ann Hurst (56) a widow working as a laundress and her 4 children Sarah (34) also a laundress, Henry (24) a gardener, Jane (21) a dressmaker and Eliza (17) a domestic servant. Quite a lot of people in 4 small houses!

Follow this road round
Note at the end the flint-knapped rear of the Woodman pub. Several pub names recall the uses of the common.

At the end go left into Kirkdale
For the Victorians this and part of Dartmouth Road was the main shopping centre of Sydenham and was known as the High Street (until 1936). For a number of years in the last century there was a laundry next to the Woodman. The two weatherboarded cottages on the right would have been some of the first buildings to have been built on the common after its enclosure.

Go right into Charlcote Grove
Number 2 (then Charles Street) was the home of John Scott Russell, involved with the construction of Brunel’s Great Eastern ship at his yard in Millwall.

At the end you come into Baxter’s Field. Follow the path that goes across (not around) the field
In 1867 George Baxter, who had developed a new colour printing technique, was killed by a horse drawn vehicle. This open space was named after him.

Leave the field and continue along Radlet Avenue. Take the first right into Round Hill and go into the side road opposite number 3
The church spire came from St Antholin in Watling Street, built by Christopher Wren in the 1680s. It was moved to Round Hill House (demolished in the 1860s) as a folly around 1850.

Return to Round Hill and continue to the end
Two large handsome houses of 1857 on the right hand side have been incorporated into the Courtside development.

Go left into Dartmouth Road
The library has an attractive frontage. This was built next to the Girls' Industrial Home (1890) and swimming baths (1885).

Cross and retrace your steps. Go left into Sydenham Park Road then left into Albion Villas Road
Numbers 5/6 were the site of the Sydenham Children's Hospital 1872-85. At the end is Sydenham's Millennium Green.

Returm to and continue along Sydenham Park Road
Sydenham Park was laid out on the site of a reservoir belonging to the canal company which was drained in 1836. This had provided top-up water but also recreational facilities (swimming, skating & duck-shooting).

Take the first right into Sydenham Park and walk to the end
The congregational chapel is now in use as a fitness centre. St Bartholmew’s National School was replaced by the R C Church (1974).

Cross Kirkdale
In 1792 several thousand soldiers engaged in mock battles here, an event watched by a large crowd including the royal family of George III.

Go across to the fountain
In the early part of the last century the site behind this (now retirement homes) would have been occupied by the telephone exchange. Dialling SYD 1 at that time would have connected you to Cobbs store. Prior to this it had been a public hall and earlier the Fir Lodge School, attended by Ernest Shackleton.

Take the road to the right of the fountain – Jews Walk
This led to Westwood House (built 1766) the home of Lady Charlotte Campbell, a lady in waiting to Caroline, Princess of Wales. It became the Teacher’s Orphanage (1899 - 1939) and was demolished in 1952 to be replaced with the Sheenewood Estate. Number 7 was the home of Eleanor, daughter of Karl Marx. In 1898 she took her own life here by drinking prussic acid, having discovered her lover had secretly married.

At the end turn left into Westwood Hill
Number 12 (marked with a blue plaque) was the home of the Shackleton family from which Henry practised as a doctor. There were 8 daughters and two sons including Ernest, who was to become famous as an Antarctic explorer.

Walk through the churchyard of St Bartholomew’s Church
This was designed by Lewis Vuillamy and built in 1827-32 but did not become the parish church until 1856. To the right of the entrance path is a memorial to men killed whilst working on the construction of the Crystal Palace. The first vicar Charles English has an unusual tomb depicting a church.

Continue along Westwood Hill to the road junction
In the 1920s doctors occupied the old parsonage which had been built for Charles English in 1848. It was replaced by Kirkdale Corner in the 1930s.

Sydenham Station is just ahead on the left 2009

[additional information] [walks list]