Ancient Streams On Sydenham Hill

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Ancient Streams On Sydenham Hill

Post by Falkor » 24 Aug 2007 19:08

Atleast 5 streams once flowed in Sydenham and Forest Hill, but can no longer be found, except maybe underground. Their courses were in and around Wells Park, Dartmouth Road and London Road--the area that was once common land known as Westwood (later Sydenham) Common. Running along the west of these lands is the ridge of Sydenham Hill, which also marks the western boundary of the Ancient Parish of Lewisham; the streams in question flowed along the hill's eastern slope.
I mean Sydenham Hill as in the whole hill from Crystal Palace Parade to London Road, including the slope, ie the topographical feature. I understand that, because of impervious rock deep below the surface, water gathers and emerges as springs (this is a crude and probably inaccurate description, but is the best I can offer).
A number of springs were once discovered in the area of what is now Wells Park...
In the 1640s it was claimed this spring water had healing properties. The fashionable came from London to drink it, and wells were dug into the water-table to ensure a regular supply. Several cottages were built, to provide a home for the well-keepers and shelter for the visitors. There is a suggestion that visitors were often unruly and drunk.
But there is no reference to the nearby stream. Of course, springs are often to be found near a stream or river.

Maps showing the old stream(s)
*1607 Sydenham Common survey by Ralph Treswell.
*1800 Land Use Map of London & Envorions by Thomas Milnes.
*c1811 Croydon Canal map.
*1849 Drainage Map by the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers.
*1863 Ordnance Survey Map.

By superimposing the 1800 Land Use map onto a modern day map I've been able to ascertain--with some accuracy--where these streams once flowed...
Blue = stream
Red = possible stream

Stream 1 was almost parallel with the bottom of London Road and Perry Vale.
Stream 2 crossed Dartmouth road at the bend where Forest Hill Pools was built.
Another stream flowed in the valley between Thorpewood Avenue and Derby Hill, crossing Dartmouth Road at the bend by the pools. When the pools were built, about 8 feet below ground level at the back, this culverted stream was exposed. Today it flows through a hole in the wall retaining the land behind, and trickles into a drain.
Stream 3 crossed over the site of Sydenham Girls School and in-between Albion Villas Road and Longfield Crescent.
Stream 4 crossed Sydenham Park area, which was soon to become a reservoir for the Croydon Canal.
Stream 5 began at the very edge of Mayow Park and crossed the line of the railway over to Peak Hill.
Stream 6 was the longest and it's course included Wells Park, Jews Walk, Kirkdale and Spring Hill (at the foot of Peak Hill).
you will remember a couple of years ago that a brick culvert was exposed in Kirkdale. This culvert contained that stream.
This last stream was also exposed once during works at Silverdale.

The next map is the same modern day one shown above, but now includes part of the Croydon Canal, along with it's reservoir and feeders. The Croydon Canal opened in 1809 and was drained and replaced by the railway in 1839 (only stretches in Dacres Wood Nature Reserve and Betts Park, Penge, now exist).
Dark blue = Canal and Reservoir
Purple = Canal feeders

We can observe that the widest part of the canal was at the bottom of Albion Villas Road, but didn't quite include what is now the Millenium Green--this has always remained common land.
The main feeder ran alongside Dartmouth Road and London Road.
Notice a small feeder that connected the canal with the reservoir--perfectly aligned with Longfield Crescent.
The last feeder crossed Kirkdale from Sydenham Park along the site of Farborough House then took a sharp turn at what is now Prospect Close before coming towards Jews Walk just north of Longton Grove.

Was the main canal feeder based partly on stream 1? It seems highly unlikely given the zero margin of error between the 1800 and modern day maps--atleast regarding their vertical alignment--the feeder and stream were too far apart. Could the feeder instead be partly based on the 2nd stream? Here, at the site of Forest Hill Pools, the feeder changed direction and was on the same alignment as the stream for a short span, so the connection is therefore very likely.
When main drains were laid in the 1860s these streams were culverted, but occasionally they are uncovered.
Perhaps this work took place during the construction of the Croydon Canal, as the 1849 Drainage map doesn't show the minor streams; it seems they all disappeared early on, except the long Wells Park/Spring Hill stream, which made it to the 1860s Ordnance Survey map...
Light blue (left) = course from 1849 drainage map)
Light blue (right) = course from 1800 Land Use map)
Turquiose Blue = course from Croydon Canal map

This stream flowed down from near the very top of the Sydenham hill ridge, intially as two seperate channels--one beginning at Mountacre Close--another at what is now High Level Drive. They merged into one stream just beyond Taylors Lane at the start of Peters Path. The stream then flowed across the allotments area, and onto Jews Walk and Kirkdale. Apparently, it once went as far as Bell Green to join up with Pool River, but I can find no evidence of this.
The stream seen in Wells Park today is without doubt a descendent of the older stream and it's lower channel, as revealed at the opening ceremony:
"Advantage has been taken of the natural undulations and the existing watercourses ... and was ornamented by a succession of small lakes and rivulets".
However, the Croydon Canal feeder was not entirely based on the stream, since the "head" of the feeder met the stream, but then this passed between the "tails" as evident on a map showing the canal and reservoir. It seems the Spring Hill part of the stream was culverted under the canal and they both existed at the same time, but exactly where it crossed Spring Hill needs more careful study.

The 1800 Land Use map is also useful for studying other historical landscape features other than streams; I'll finish this topic by showing where some of the old footpaths roughly spanned...

*Steve Grindlay (quotes)
*Maps (listed near the top).
*Sydenham and Forest Hill Past (book by John Coulter)

Further Reading
Sydenham/Dulwich Wells
Sydenham Walkabout (29-Oct-06)
This shows more detailed analysis of the main stream's sources using the same technique presented here.

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