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Crystal Palace, London

Crystal Palace
Photo showing road junction at the end of Crystal Palace Parade.
View of Crystal Palace from the park. Four London boroughs; Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth, and Southwark meet at this junction. A fifth, Lewisham, is only 0.6 km (0.37 mi) away.
Crystal Palace is located in Greater London
Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace
 Crystal Palace shown within Greater London
OS grid reference
London borough Bromley
Ceremonial county Greater London
Region London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district SE19, SE20, SE26
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
UK Parliament Croydon North
Dulwich and West Norwood
Lewisham West and Penge
London Assembly Bexley and Bromley
Croydon and Sutton
Lambeth and Southwark
List of places

Crystal Palace is a residential area in south London, England, within the London Boroughs of Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham. It is named after the former local landmark, the Crystal Palace,[1] which stood in the area from 1854 to 1936. The area is located approximately eight miles (13 km) south east of Charing Cross and includes one of the highest points in London, at 367 feet (112 m),[2] offering views over the capital. The area has no defined boundaries and straddles the convergence of five London boroughs and three postal districts, although an electoral ward named Crystal Palace and Crystal Palace Park are entirely contained within the London Borough of Bromley. It is contiguous with Anerley, Dulwich Wood, Gipsy Hill, Penge, South Norwood, Sydenham and Upper Norwood.

The district was a natural oak forest until development began in the 19th century, and before the arrival of the Crystal Palace the area was known as Sydenham Hill. The Norwood Ridge and an historic oak tree were used to mark parish boundaries. Today, the area is represented by three different parliamentary constituencies, four London Assembly constituencies and fourteen local authority councillors. After the Crystal Palace burned down in 1936, the site of the building and its grounds became Crystal Palace Park, which is the location of the National Sports Centre, containing an athletics track, stadium and other sports facilities. Crystal Palace Park has also been the setting for a number of concerts and films, including scenes from The Italian Job and The Pleasure Garden. Two television transmitter masts make the district a landmark location, visible from many parts of Greater London. Local landmarks include the Crystal Palace Triangle, a shopping district made up of three streets forming a triangle; Westow Park, a smaller park that lies off the triangle to the south west of Crystal Palace Park; and the Stambourne Woodland Walk.

A pneumatic railway was briefly trialled in the area in 1864. Once the railways had arrived, Crystal Palace was eventually served by two railway stations, the high level and low level stations, built to handle the volume of passengers visiting the Crystal Palace. After the palace was destroyed by fire, and with railway travel declining in the UK more generally, passenger numbers fell and the high level station was closed in 1954 and demolished 7 years later. Rail services gradually declined, and for a period in the 1960s and 1970s there were plans to construct an urban motorway through the area as part of the London Ringways plan. More recently, rail travel has seen a resurgence in Crystal Palace, with rising passenger numbers, additional London Overground services stopping at the station, a major station redevelopment in 2012 and proposals to extend the Croydon Tramlink service to the railway and bus stations.


  • History 1
    • The Crystal Palace 1.1
  • Landmarks 2
    • Crystal Palace Triangle 2.1
    • Transmitters 2.2
    • Crystal Palace Park 2.3
    • Westow Park 2.4
    • Stambourne Woods 2.5
  • Geography 3
  • Local government 4
    • Local authorities 4.1
    • London Assembly 4.2
    • Westminster Parliament 4.3
  • Media 5
    • Films 5.1
    • Music 5.2
    • Literature 5.3
  • Sports 6
  • Education 7
  • Transport 8
    • Roads 8.1
      • Cycle routes 8.1.1
    • Rail 8.2
    • Tram 8.3
    • Bus 8.4
    • Air 8.5
  • Notable people 9
  • Nearest places 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
    • Citations 12.1
    • Bibliography 12.2
  • External links 13


The ridge and the historic oak tree known as The Vicars Oak (located at the present-day crossroads of the A212 Church Road and A214 Westow Hill) were used to mark parish boundaries.[3] This has led to the Crystal Palace area straddling the boundaries of five London Boroughs; Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth,[4] Southwark and Lewisham. The area also straddles three postcode districts: SE19, SE20, and SE26. The ancient boundary between Surrey and Kent passes through the area and from 1889 to 1965 the area lay on the south eastern boundary of the County of London. It included parts of Kent and Surrey until 1889 and then parts of Kent, London and Surrey between 1889 and 1965.[5][6]

For centuries the area was occupied by the Great North Wood, an extensive area of natural oak forest that formed a wilderness close to the southern edge of the then expanding city of London. The forest was a popular area for Londoners' recreation right up to the 19th century, when it began to be built over.[3] It was also a home of Gypsies, with some local street names and pubs recording the link.[3] The area still retains vestiges of woodland. The third quarter of the 19th Century brought the Crystal Palace and the railways.

The Crystal Palace

Image of the Crystal Palace before it was destroyed by fire.
The Crystal Palace

The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and glass building originally erected in Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. Following the success of the exhibition, the palace was moved and reconstructed in 1854 in a modified and enlarged form in the grounds of the Penge Place estate at Sydenham Hill. The buildings housed the Crystal Palace School of Art, Science, and Literature and Crystal Palace School of Engineering. It attracted visitors for over seven decades.[7]

Sydenham Hill is one of the highest locations in London; 109 metres (357 ft) above sea level (spot height on Ordnance Survey Map); and the size of the palace and prominence of the site made it easy to identify from much of London. This led to the residential area around the building becoming known as Crystal Palace instead of Sydenham Hill. The palace was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936 and the site of the building and its grounds is now known as Crystal Palace Park.


Crystal Palace Triangle

Photo showing a road leading into part of the triangle.
View into the Crystal Palace Triangle from Church Road

The "Crystal Palace Triangle", formed by Westow Street, Westow Hill and Church Road, has a number of restaurants and several independent shops, as well as an indoor secondhand market[8] and a farmer's market[9] on Haynes Lane. The triangle also contains a range of vintage furniture and clothing stores, as well as galleries, arts and crafts shops and other businesses.[10] There is an ongoing campaign to turn a building recently converted into a church at 25 Church Road back into a cinema, after the former bingo hall was purchased by the Kingsway International Christian Centre.[11][12][13]

Photograph of people at a street market stall.
Haynes Lane Farmer's Market

Crystal Palace still retains much of its Victorian architecture, although housing styles are mixed, including Victorian terraces, mid-war terraces and blocks of modern flats. Crystal Palace Park is surrounded by grand Victorian villas, many of which have been converted into flats and apartments.


Television transmission has been taking place from Crystal Palace since at least the 1930s[14] and two TV transmitter towers — Crystal Palace Transmitter – 640 feet (200 m) tall — and Croydon Transmitter – 500 feet (150 m) tall — stand on the hill at Upper Norwood, making the district a landmark location visible from many parts of the London area. The towers may appear similar in height and design, but the Crystal Palace mast, constructed in 1956, stands on a slightly higher elevation. The current Croydon tower was built in 1962.
Photograph taken at a distance showing entire height of Crystal Palace Park TV transmitter.
The Crystal Palace Transmitter, at 219 metres tall, is the fourth tallest structure in London, behind the Shard, One Canada Square and Heron Tower.[15]

Crystal Palace Park

Photograph of a wide tree-lined road running through Crystal Palace Park.
Crystal Palace Park

Crystal Palace Park is a large Victorian pleasure ground occupying much of the land within Crystal Palace and is one of the major London public parks. The park was maintained by the LCC and later the GLC, but with the abolition of the GLC in 1986 control of the entire park was given to the London Borough of Bromley.[16] Crystal Palace railway station is located by the park, as is the National Sports Centre. The park was formerly used for motor racing[17] and has been a venue for concerts, often performed at the site of the Crystal Palace Park Concert Platform.[18] In July 2013 Chinese property developer ZhongRong Holdings announced it was drawing up plans to build a replica of the Crystal Palace on its original site in Crystal Palace Park.[19]

The park is situated halfway along the Norwood Ridge at one of its highest points. This ridge offers views northward to central London, east to the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge and Greenwich, and southward to Croydon and the North Downs.

It is also one of the starting points for the Green Chain Walk, linking to places such as Chislehurst, Erith, the Thames Barrier and Thamesmead. Section 3 of the Capital Ring walk round London goes through the park.[20]

Photograph of an external wall and a gate at the boundary of Westow Park.
Entrance to Westow Park, Crystal Palace.

Westow Park

A smaller park occupying 2.73 hectares (6.7 acres)[21] lies to the south west of the triangle on Church Road. Westow Park hosts the annual Crystal Palace Overground festival, a free community festival held over four days during the summer.[22]

Image of trees within a wooded area.
View of Stambourne Woodland Walk.

Stambourne Woods

To the south of the triangle is a small area of woodland occupying 1.92 hectares, containing the Stambourne Woodland Walk. It was opened in 1984 and covers an area of land between developments on Stambourne Way and Fox Hill. The land originally formed the gardens of Victorian villas built on the hill overlooking Croydon, but fell into disrepair. In 1962 Croydon Council approved terms for buying the land from the Church Commissioners and other local freeholders, allowing the construction of a link. Paths and benches were installed but much of the vegetation was left undisturbed, creating a woodland pathway.[23]


As the name Crystal Palace is relatively new, the borders of the area are not clearly defined and include parts of Anerley, Dulwich Wood, Gipsy Hill, Penge, South Norwood, Sydenham and Upper Norwood. Crystal Palace lies approximately eight miles (13 km) to the south east of Charing Cross on the Norwood Ridge and includes one of the highest points of London at 112 metres above the mean sea level (OS map reference TQ337707).[2] The Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, in the centre of the park, lies at 88 metres above the mean sea level.[24] The soil in the area has been classified as typically "Slowly permeable, seasonally wet, slightly acid but base-rich loamy and clayey soils", with impeded drainage, moderate fertility and a loamy profile.[25] The nearest Met Office climate station is based in Greenwich Park.

Local government

Crystal Palace sits on the boundary of four London boroughs – Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth and Southwark. A fifth borough – Lewisham – is nearby. As a result, the area is served by a diverse range of local government bodies and members of Parliament.[4][31]

Party colours
Colour Party

Local authorities

Several local authority councillors in the area were elected on 22 May 2014, at the same time as the European Elections. All seats are now held by Labour party candidates, after 2 Liberal Democrats in Bromley and 1 Conservative in Southwark lost their seats. The elected officials by ward for Crystal Palace local authorities in May 2014 were:

Local Authority Ward   Elected Councillors
Bromley Crystal Palace   Angela Wilkins
Richard Williams[32]
Croydon Upper Norwood   Alisa Flemming
John Wentworth
Pat Ryan[33]
Lambeth Gipsy Hill   Matthew Bennett
Jennifer Brathwaite
Niranjan Francis[34]
Southwark College   Andy Simmons
Helen Hayes
  Jon Hartley[35]
Lewisham Sydenham   Chris Best
Liam Curran
Rachel Onikosi[36]

London Assembly

The area is represented by four constituencies in the London Assembly. Their elected assembly members in June 2013 were:

Profile image of Valerie Shawcross AM
Profile image of James Cleverly AM
Profile image of Len Duvall AM
London Assembly Constituency   Elected Member
Croydon and Sutton   Steve O'Connell
Bexley and Bromley   James Cleverly
Greenwich and Lewisham   Len Duvall
Lambeth and Southwark   Val Shawcross

Westminster Parliament

The area is represented by three constituencies in the Westminster Parliament. In May 2015, their elected MPs were:
Constituency   MP
Croydon North   Steve Reed
Dulwich and West Norwood   Helen Hayes
Lewisham West and Penge   Jim Dowd



DVD Cover for The Pleasure Garden

The Italian Job has a scene filmed at the athletics track in the Crystal Palace sports centre, in which Michael Caine says, "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"[37][38] The Pleasure Garden was also filmed in the park[39] and Our Mother's House has a scene featuring Dirk Bogarde with several children on the park's boating lake.[40]


The park features prominently as the setting of an outdoor rave in the music video for The Chemical Brothers' number 1 single "Setting Sun".[41]

A mini-album about the history of the local area, entitled Fire & Glass: A Norwood Tragedy, was released in September 2007 by the Anglo-Dutch group, H.E.R.R.[42]

Foresters Hall, Westow Street


Arthur Conan Doyle was active in the area between 1891 and 1894. Although he lived in nearby South Norwood he visited the Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood area regularly in connection with the Upper Norwood Literary and Scientific Society. The Foresters Hall on Westow Street was then known as the Welcome Hall (or just Welcome) and it was in that hall in May 1892 that Arthur Conan Doyle was elected president of the society. He was re-elected to the post in 1893 and resigned in 1894. Each occasion was in the same hall.[43]

The writer Deborah Crombie sets her 2013 mystery, The Sound of Broken Glass, in the Crystal Palace area of London.[44]


Crystal Palace has had a long association with sports and Crystal Palace F.C. (1861) was one of the 12 founder members of The Football Association. The original football club disappeared from records in 1876 and it was not until 1905 that the current Crystal Palace F.C. club was re-formed. The club played on the grounds of The Crystal Palace, on what is now the site of the National Sports Centre, until it moved to Selhurst in 1918. The grounds also hosted the FA Cup Final between 1895 and 1914. Despite the move to Selhurst, the club retained the Crystal Palace name, which is in use to the present day.[45]

A panoramic view of the Crystal Palace ground during the 1905 FA Cup Final, the only such photograph of the stadium known to exist.

The historical grounds also hosted the first England Rugby Union match against New Zealand in 1905, which New Zealand won by 15-0, and the short-lived London County Cricket Club.

Athletics stadium at the National Sports Centre.

In 1964, a 15,500 seater athletics stadium and sports centre was built on the site of the football grounds in Crystal Palace Park. The athletics stadium was known as the National Sports Centre and between 1999 and 2012 hosted the London Athletics Grand Prix among other international athletics meetings. The Crystal Palace triathletes club is also based here.[46] Since the London 2012 Olympics, the status of the stadium and aquatics centre as the main facilities for their sports in London has been superseded by the London Aquatics Centre and Olympic Stadium. This led to Crystal Palace F.C. submitting plans to rebuild the stadium as a 40,000 capacity football stadium, without the running track.

A motor racing circuit was opened around the Park in 1927 and the remains of the track now make up some of the access roads around the park. The track was extended to two miles (3.2 km) in 1936, before being taken over by the Ministry of Defence at the start of World War II. Race meetings resumed in 1953, and the circuit hosted a range of international racing events, continuing until the last races in 1974.


Harris City Academy Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace contains three primary schools, Paxton Primary School, Rockmount Primary School and All Saints C of E Primary School, and one secondary school, Harris City Academy.[47] Crystal Palace Park also contains a branch of Capel Manor College, offering courses in Animal Care, Arboriculture and Countryside, Horticulture and Landscaping and Garden Design along with other short courses.[48]

In 2013, due to a shortage of primary school places in both Crystal Palace[49] and London,[50] proposals to open a new primary school by September 2015 were put forward, with plans submitted to the Department for Education in January 2014.[51] The proposals were approved as part of wave 6 of the Free Schools Programme and the school is scheduled to open in September 2015. As of October 2014, the school is considering three possible building configurations – with the Greater London Authority running a public consultation on each option – all of which would involve demolishing one of the existing seated stands around the athletics track at the National Sports Centre.[52][53]



The area is served by the A212, A214, A234 and A2199 roads. The roads that make up the triangle (Westow Hill, Westow Street and Church Road) form part of a one-way system and are in a 24-hour controlled parking and loading zone. There is a coach park inside Crystal Palace Park.

The area would have been affected by the cancelled London Ringways motorway plans, as one of the radial routes connecting the South Cross Route to Ringway 2 (the South Cross Route to Parkway D Radial) would have run through a part of Crystal Palace Park, following the railway line.[54]

Cycle routes

London Cycle Network routes 23 and 27 travel through Crystal Palace. Route 27 runs from Anerley Hill through part of Crystal Palace Park towards Bromley and route 23 through the Crystal Palace triangle to connect to Borough and Croydon.[55]


Photograph showing the older brickwork main station building with a green metal extension (now demolished) on the side that was formerly used as the ticket office.
Crystal Palace Station, showing the now demolished extension.

Crystal Palace is accessible by rail from Crystal Palace railway station, where Southern trains run between Victoria on the Crystal Palace Line and London Bridge on the Brighton Main Line, and where London Overground trains run to Highbury & Islington on the East London Line. In addition, Southern services run to Beckenham Junction, Sutton and Epsom Downs.[56] Crystal Palace railway station is one of the few stations to border two zones, Zones 3 and 4.[57] The South Gate of the Park is accessible by rail via Penge West, which is served by Southern trains from London Bridge and London Overground services.

Crystal Palace used to have a second railway station, the Crystal Palace (High Level) railway station. The station was built to serve passengers visiting the Crystal Palace, but after the fire in 1936 traffic on the branch line declined. During World War II the line serving the station was temporarily closed due to bomb damage. Although repairs were made and the line was reopened, the requirement for reconstruction work and the drop in traffic led to the decision to close the station and branch line in 1954, followed by the demolition of the station in 1961. Despite the demolition, a Grade II listed subway remains under Crystal Palace Parade.[58] The Crystal Palace pneumatic railway was also built in Crystal Palace circa 1864.

A London Overground train waiting at a platform in the station.
London Overground train at Crystal Palace.

The low level station remained open, although passenger numbers at that station also fell after the fire of 1936 and many services were diverted to serve London–Croydon routes instead of the Victoria–London Bridge route. Rail travel was in decline across the UK in the 1960s and 1970s when the Beeching Axe was imposed. During the 1970s, two outer platforms used by terminating trains were abandoned and the third rail was removed.

More recently rail travel at the station has seen a resurgence and new services have started running. Passenger numbers increased each year between 2004 and 2013.[59] Since May 2010, the station has served the East London Line branch of the London Overground, connecting with the Docklands and Shoreditch. In 2011 services were extended to Highbury and Islington.[60] The station underwent redevelopment in 2012, which brought the original Victorian booking hall back into use, created a new cafe in the station building and provided wheelchair access through the installation of three lifts; this work was completed by the end of March 2013.[61]


There have been past proposals to connect the Croydon Tramlink to Crystal Palace, with mayoral candidates citing the desirability of the initiative.[62][63]

Crystal Palace Bus Station


The area is served by multiple bus routes, many of which terminate at Crystal Palace Bus Station. These services include routes N2, 3/N3, N63, 122, N137, 157, 202, 227, 249, 322, 358, 363, 410, 417, 432, 450 and 931.[64]


The nearest major international airports are Heathrow and Gatwick. London City Airport and Biggin Hill Airport are also nearby.

Notable people

Marie Stopes in her laboratory, 1904.

Marie Stopes, early promoter of sex education and contraception, was raised in a house on Cintra Park shortly after her birth in Edinburgh, in 1880.[65]

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, artist and sculptor who created the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs in the park, lived on Belvedere Road between 1856 and 1872.[66]

Jim Bob, Carter USM frontman, currently lives in Crystal Palace.[67]

The African-American Shakespearian Actor Ira Aldridge lived in the Crystal Palace area.[68]

Queen's Hotel on Church Road. Émile Zola stayed here briefly.

The French novelist Émile Zola lived in what is now the Queen's Hotel on Church Road between October 1898 and June 1899.[69] Zola fled to England after being convicted of criminal libel in France on 23 February 1898, a direct consequence of the publication of his open letter "J'accuse".

Francis Pettit Smith, one of the inventors of the screw propeller and a contributor to the construction of the SS Archimedes, lived in the area between 1864 and 1870.[70]

British rapper Speech Debelle was born in Crystal Palace. She left the area because of "traffic and parking problems".[71]

Author, musician and National anarchist activist Troy Southgate was born and raised in Crystal Palace.[72]

Camille Pissarro, Danish-French Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painter, stayed in Crystal Palace between 1870 and 1871.[73][74]

Nearest places

See also



  1. ^ Mills, Anthony David (2001). Dictionary of London Place Names. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280106-6
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  43. ^ The Norwood Author — Arthur Conan Doyle & The Norwood Years (1891–1894) by Alistair Duncan ISBN 978-1-904312-69-7
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  • Alan R. Warwick The Phoenix Suburb: A South London Social History; Publisher: Norwood Society; ISBN 0-904034-01-1

External links

  • Crystal Palace Foundation
  • Crystal Palace Community Association
  • Upper Norwood Triangle Conservation Plan
  • Historical images of Crystal Palace
  • The Transmitter – local magazine
  • Upper Norwood Library
  • Virtual Norwood – community web site
  • The Norwood Society
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