diamond geezer

 Thursday, July 07, 2022

TQ3566: Shirley Oaks

I suspect I have been to this grid square before. My uncle and aunt lived in the square nextdoor so probably drove me through it as a child, and the 130 bus route clips the southwest corner so I've probably been more recently. But 'probably' isn't good enough for this challenge, I need to have definitely been, so yesterday I definitely went.

TQ3566 falls in the Croydon suburb of Shirley, but not in the old bit with the windmill, the posh bit by the golf course or the normal bit with the shops. It's a tad further north in an area called Shirley Oaks, a disparate realm of suburban avenues, playing fields, allotments and historic child abuse. It's almost tram country but not quite, the closest stop being Woodside to the northwest. These are all reasons why you might not have been, and I possibly hadn't. Let's start with the entirely atypical central estate.

The Shirley Oaks Cottage Homes opened on 80 acres of former farmland in 1903. The idea was to give poor and disadvantaged children somewhere to stay - some for a few weeks, others for many years - in individual residential homes rather than a single oppressive institution. It was one of the largest cottage home developments in the country and accommodated up to 600 children, with ownership eventually passing to Lambeth council who shut it down in 1983. Only later did a shocking amount of child abuse come to light, numbering at least 1000 allegations against over 100 members of staff, which were finally laid before a public enquiry in 2020. Imagine living on the site of all that.

Today it's Shirley Oaks Village, a dense cluster of 1980s townhouses for those who prefer to live apart. It's bricky, gabled and attractive, a bit like Beckton but done properly, with numerous stumpy cul-de-sacs and parking prioritised over front gardens. A single loop road encircles the estate, bar one short gap that's for emergency vehicles only, making driving sufficiently circuitous that nobody would ever use it for a ratrun. In a very Eighties touch every road is named after a flower, the main loop having been renamed Primrose Lane. And in an easily-missed twist all those flowers have been arranged alphabetically following an anti-clockwise circuit (other than three pairs the planners inexplicably flipped).
Alison, Angelica, Basil, Betony, Burdock, Cornflower, Cottongrass, Crocus, Daisy, Daffodil, Eyebright, Fennel, Flag, Honeysuckle, Hazel, Iris, Kingcup, Lupin, Laburnum, Mallow, Marigold, Mistletoe, Oxlip, Parsley, Poppy, Teasel, Tulip.
A few of the children's cottages survive, since repurposed to less appealing flats. Meanwhile the school got replaced by Shirley Oaks Hospital, a private facility with 42 beds, one of which is where Ronnie Corbett died because he was almost local. I see from their price list that a circumcision costs £2575, a tonsillectomy £3300 and a hip replacement £12,825, which just goes to prove how brilliant the NHS is. What there isn't anywhere on the estate is a shop, which seems a baffling oversight because not everyone wants to trek down to the parade on Wickham Road for a loaf and a pinta.

The oddest thing about Shirley Oaks Village is that there are only two ways in and out, one the original entrance and the other an extra access road added alongside the allotments. There aren't even any footpaths punctured through to neighbouring estates, of which there are several, so residents with dogs have to make do with the pockets of grassland around the fortified perimeter. TfL kindly divert the 367 bus around the estate in a contorted loop, which Villagers probably appreciate more than passengers from Monks Orchard trying to get to Croydon.

Such isolation provides the ideal environment for a keen residents association, although it took Croydon Council threatening to build more homes along the access road to spur SOVRA into existence. A couple of weeks ago they held a summer fete on the playing field complete with dog show, tombola, tug of war and 'fire engine'. Another recent success was the conversion of a K8 phone kiosk into a lending library, which you can read about in much too much detail across six sheets of A4 on the village noticeboard.

But the Shirley Oaks Village Residents' Association's chief bugbear appears to be the preservation of civility, which means No Golf Practice, No Cricket Balls and of course Dog Owner's Clean Up After Your Dogs. My favourite passive aggressive notice appears halfway down Shirley Oaks Road and says Please Enjoy This Bench followed by But Please Take Your Rubbish With You followed by There Is A Bin Just Up The Road On Your Right When Leaving The Village followed by Only A Few Steps Away. The same notice appears a little further down the road attached to a tree, except this second bench looks like it's been stolen.

I did manage to escape Shirley Oaks Village for long enough to explore some of the rest of the grid square. I found the Stroud Green waterworks where the Chaffinch Brook rises. I found the Chaffinch Brook itself in a culvert alongside the garden path at 1 Woodmere Gardens. I noted an inordinate love of bungalows on the periphery of Monks Orchard. I wondered why nobody ever laid a pavement along Tower View. And I looked at the colour of the grass in Ashburton Playing Fields and wondered how dead and yellow it was going to be after a few more weeks of drought and heatwave. But all the interesting stuff was in Shirley Oaks Village, a tainted community transformed into a prim estate, and conveniently hidden well off Croydon's beaten track.

🟨=1405, 🟩=41, 🟦=6, 🟥=11

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