London has four SomethingTwenty postcode districts, one of which is SE20. Essentially it covers Penge, but its official postal designation is Anerley, a lesser suburb to the south. For the purposes of today's post I'll be exploring the Anerley half rather than the Penge half. And if you'd like to join me in sightseeing round SE20, I've provided a map to accompany my wanderings. [map]
20 sights to see in SE20
1) The very first thing to be built around here was a canal. The Croydon Canal linked New Cross to Croydon and seemed like a good idea in 1801, but this was swiftly disproven. All that remains of the canal is a brief section in Betts Park retained for pleasure boating, now little more than a landscaped trench overlooked by trees and modern housing, but the ducks seem to like it. For a map and additional background, the information board at the northern end is a) very good b) still legible. 2) Anerley is actually the name of a house, the first to be built on Penge Common after it was enclosed in 1827. A Scottish silk manufacturer called William Sanderson liked the remoteness of the spot and so named his home Anerley, either because it was a dialect word meaning isolated or because his was the 'anerley' house in the area. Sources vary. His canalside house is long gone, swallowed up by the suburb that followed, but was somewhere in the vicinity of Ashurst Close near the bowling club. As '80s cul-de-sacs go, it's not worth a detour. 3) After the canal proved uneconomic it was bought up by the London and Croydon Railway, a speculative 1830s venture which straightened out the route and replaced water with rails. William Sanderson allowed the line through his land on the condition that they built a halt near his house, initially called Anerley Bridge, thereby kickstarting the development that ruined his peace. The station's now called Anerley, a bleak pair of platforms absorbed into the London Overground network ten years ago. 4) A second stretch of the old canal survived beside the station and was made the centrepiece of Anerley Gardens (1842-1868), a demure attraction for Victorians in search of amusement. In addition to boating visitors could enjoy a maze and perhaps fishing, along with a Swiss-style chalet that served tea. It proved a popular day out until the Crystal Palace was erected half a mile away on top of Sydenham Hill, and Anerley Gardens could not compete. A walk through the estate along Castledine Road will show you where it used to be. 5) Only the tea chalet continued in business after 1868, completely rebuilt. It became the Anerley Arms, an imposing winged hostelry, which in 1984 survived a gas explosion and is now owned by Sam Smiths.
6)Anerley Town Hall is the dominant building on Anerley Road. It started out in 1878 as Anerley Vestry Hall, but was elevated to town hall status (and appropriately enlarged) in 1899 when the borough of Penge came into being. After Bromley took over it was no longer required, so is used by the Crystal Palace Community Trust as their events hub and business centre. 7) It's about time we visited the true heart of SE20, Anerley Post Office, which is immediately across the road. The only problem is it closed 'temporarily' five years ago, replaced by VALG Property Ltd, and is now identifiable only by the pillar box outside. Never fear, Royal Mail have finally found a replacement space at the back of Shillings supermarket which should be opening next month, except that's a ten minute walk up the hill which puts it in SE19 rather than SE20. I had hoped for a look inside to bring you a progress update, but the shutters at Shillings come down early at this time of year.
8) At 144 Anerley Road is The Douglas Fir, a microbrewery microbar currently serving up Hepcat IPA from one of its eight keg taps. The hepcats within keep passers-by informed by scrawling their latest programme of events across its window. 9) Also, if you're quick, Petal Florist nextdoor is offering Christmas flowers "half prise", specifically "mistoe" for £3 and "ponsia" for £5. 10) The last shop in SE20, just before the railway line, is the Anerley Frock Exchange, a 'Nearly New Dress Agency for Ladies and Children'. Hang on, no, it's been boarded up and sold for development. Sorry, but to reach 20 interesting places in Anerley I've had to broaden my net somewhat.
11) Don't go looking for Orchard Lodge, London's last secure children's home, because it's recently been demolished and replaced by a housing development called Venue. I note that its marketing prioritises Crystal Palace rather than Anerley because that's the buzzier neighbourhood. 12) Those with smaller financial reserves might prefer to purchase on the South Penge Park Estate, a dense warren of less-loved postwar blocks. One of its houses looked to be called 'Dogs Loose'. 13) Thornsett Road, by contrast, retains its generously apportioned semis and boasts a brilliant blue plaque double. Number 12 was the last home of Thomas Crapper, incorrectly famous for inventing the flush toilet, in reality a very successful plumber and "developer of the controlled flow cistern". Meanwhile... 14) ...nextdoor at number 14 lived author Walter de la Mare, a national treasure on his way up, and who wrote some of his better stuff here. I love that these two disparate celebrities lived in adjacent houses, which would be the inspiration for an excellent TV sitcom if only they'd been here at the same time, but alas Crapper died in 1910 and de la Mare only arrived nextdoor in 1912.
15) Marlow Fish Bar on Marlow Road looks to be the perfect corner shop, established 1962, and still serving up cream soda and spam fritters along with its wrapped cod and chips. 16) Off Oak Grove Road I found a dead end called Tramway Close. It can't have been a tramway depot, I thought, because it's on a backroad down a hill. But it was. 17) Number 31 Ash Grove is a most unusual house. For a start there's a giant barn owl painted across its entire side wall, perched on a seasonal tree stump. That went up last year. The front porch is a jet black cuboid with a bright pink door, like some kind of abstract art exhibit. And then there's the velociraptor in the flower bed surrounded by pure white gravel. I couldn't get all three oddities in the same photo, so I decided to prioritise porch and dinosaur.
18) The Robin Hood pub at the Croydon Road crossroads closed in 2002, suffered an arson attack in 2006 and has been replaced by an Aldi. Such is progress. 19) There is still a Post Office in Anerley SE20, but it's on Elmers End Road tucked away at the back of VM's Variety. If you want gifts, toys and groceries with your Special Delivery labels, do drop by. 20) Finally I must mention SE Twenty a few doors down, the smart cafe/kitchen which has named itself after the postcode it serves. If only it had been on the opposite corner of Ravenscroft Road it would indeed have been in SE20, but alas its postal address is BR3, and I am not a fan of geographically incorrect coffee.