The Crystal Palace is in Peng.


Bill Tonkin

In the 2007 Picture Post Card Annual now out, is a long article on the Crystal Palace unfortunately headed "The Crystal Palace Fire of 1937" I suspect this was a type setting mistake by Brian Lund. I phoned him up and gently chided him on the c***  up on the date. He took it in good part and did not try to blame the printers. In case you think I was taking the Mickey I might mention that when Mike Perkins and I did our first book on the Postcards of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, I blithely wrote that Edward VII died in 1911. I was so sure I was right, I did not bother to check. When Alan Sabey phoned me up to congratulate us on the book, he casually asked if I was aware Edward died in 1910.

The P.P.C. Annual is not alone, Judges published a set of six post cards showing pre-fire views of the Crystal Palace, adding after each title ‘Before fire of 1937’. When the wrong year was noticed they re-issued the set with the correct date.

The article was fine, but I was sorry to see the Author claim the Crystal Palace was in Sydenham. Fourteen times if I counted correctly. Ever since they opened the new building in 1854 there has been this fixation that it was in Sydenham. Nearly every book on the subject will tell you so, and most of the post cards will have as a title "Crystal Palace, Sydenham".

Now the Crystal Palace has never been in Sydenham in the past, is not in Sydenham now, and is never likely to be in Sydenham in the future. I realise a person who stands up and says "I am right and everybody else is wrong" is going to be ignored, so let me put it like this "every Ordnance Survey map published since the earliest one of the Crystal Palace area, shows it is divided with a large part in Penge and the rest in Beckenham. I suppose later maps will show it as being in the London Borough of Bromley.

I am well off for maps as Nancy collected them like I collect post cards. I have original sheets of the 1894 - 96 drawn to a scale of 25.344 inches to the mile as well as maps of the same year to a scale of 5 ft to the mile, also the 1912 edition of 25.344 inches to the mile covering the Crystal Palace and surrounding area.

On one occasion she was touring the junk shops in Penge and went into one in Maple Road asking if they had any old maps. Yes said the man, could she see them please ? this presented a problem, they were difficult to get at he said. Instead of putting Nancy off this increased her desire to see them. Eventually after shifting a lot of furniture he was able to get at the maps. There were two on eleven foot rollers. A deal was struck and the dealer was no doubt glad to see the maps go and probably Nancy as well. We had a Cortina estate at the time and nearly half the maps hung out the back, fortunately it was all down hill going back to West Wickham, if she’d had to go up a hill she would have lost them sliding out the back of the car. When I got home from work the only place I could put them was resting up the stair well. Eventually I made iron brackets and they are now mounted up near the ceiling in the long passage from the front door. When fully un-rolled they must be about 25 feet long and cover the whole of Beckenham.

All of the Crystal Palace building including the covered walk from the Crystal Palace Low Level Station, and over half the grounds was in Penge. The Northern part of the grounds stretched into Beckenham. The boundary ran along Crystal Palace Parade and at the end of the parade by the round-about at the top of Anerley Hill (Anerley Road) it just crossed the pavement and nicked the edge of the building by the South Transept entrance. The boundary was altered in 1965 and now the whole of the Crystal Palace park area is in, and is administrated by the London Borough of Bromley, this includes the site and remains of the Palace building. If there had been the slightest chance of the Palace being in Sydenham then it would come under another borough, probably Lambeth.

It should be remembered that in the 1911 Pageant of Empire Penge had the place of Honour leading the procession in Part I while Sydenham was lost near the end in Part III scene II.

It would almost appear that since 1852 nobody writing an article or book has wanted to look at a map to see where the Crystal Palace was located. There was no need, everybody knew it was in Sydenham. It is only in a recent publication "Around Crystal Palace and Penge" by David R. Johnson that the record has been put straight. After all it must be remembered that the 200 plus acre estate that Paxton acquired for the Palace and grounds was called "Penge Place"

Why has it become accepted for over 150 years that the Crystal Palace was in Sydenham ? I would suggest the probable reason was good old fashioned snobbery and jealousy. Upper class Victorian Sydenham could not bear to let Penge have the credit for the wonderful building almost on Sydenham’s doorstep.

This stealing the credit worked both ways and when in 1877 Harriet Staunton was starved to death by her husband and members of his family in a house in Forbes Rd it became known as the Penge Murder. Nobody at the time liked to mention that the house in Forbes Rd was actually in Beckenham. Upper class Beckenham and murders just did not go together. The Beckenham Vestry even changed the name of the road to Mosslea Rd to further distance Beckenham from the crime. The Penge Murder has been kept alive up to almost the present day, in the T V programme ‘Rumpole of the Old Bailey’ when hardly a programme was shown where he did not mention the ‘Penge Murder’.


        © Exhibition Study Group 2007