Luxury: Beckenham to Eltham Palace

Image result for images eltham palace

Let’s say you had a few million pounds spare, what would you spend it on?

That exact question came up for Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, and they put their money into creating a home out of an abandoned royal palace in what was then the avant-garde design style Art Deco.

In 1933 Art Deco was à la mode, it was the future. It was slim and fresh and elegant, arboreal, feminine, it represented Nature. So the Courtaulds rebuilt the old building, and added a wing, creating a series of cool, spacious, modern interiors. They put in electricity, underfloor heating, telephones, hidden lights, hidden passageways (scurrying staff), hot running water, and glass tiles. For a while at least, theirs was quite likely a world apart.

Nowadays we’ve all stayed in hotels with fantastic foyers, visited mansions and driven in limos, that is one of the benefits of the increased wealth, health care and invention of humanity over the last 100 years. We all of us enjoy what were remarkable luxuries for the Courtalds less than a century ago. They were buoyed by aristocracy, by status, which has thankfully been eroded, so that we see with the eyes of equality the photographs of the privileged at that time.

In our lifetimes we have seen, and felt, and tasted, this advancement, happening here in our own homes and across the world. At times I’ve been taken aback by what money can bring – I remember seeing a leaf-blowing machine in the United States (the wealth leader)  in the early 1990s, and thinking it an ostentatious labor-saving device – while other advancements have just accreted without us even really noticing. But before long we’re living longer, experiencing less pain, and holidaying abroad. You see this made manifest in the work of Prof. Hans Rosling, who tracks the changes of child mortality, income per capita and longevity across the decades to redefine the way we should see the present world.

The Courtaulds rescued – or seemed to – the Palace at Eltham, but only for a short while. Their energy did not extend for long. Big buildings are fragile; houses and grounds require enormous upkeep and quickly can come undone, which is why English Heritage took it over and restored it in 1995.

So we’re walking to Eltham Palace; here’s the route:


Curves north, parallel to the stage 14 route from One Tree Hill to Greenwich, one loop of the spiral out. We’ll pick up and move on to Woolwich next month.

This walk is the very heart of south east London; from the corner of Beckenham Place Park by the Ravens-bourne, walking through Plaistow, Elmstead and Mottingham on our way to the king’s quarters. When we get to the gate, we can pay a contribution towards the maintenance, and enjoy first hand the place.

Date & time: Sunday September 10th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place: 
Ravensbourne station, the 12:16 train from London Victoria will get you to Ravensbourne station in time, train details.
Distance: 5-ish miles, allow 2 hours for the walk, and same again for the palace and grounds
End point: Eltham Palace, nice cafe
: Free for the walk. Entry to the palace is £15 for adults, less for concessions
Book by
 email, or phone 077932 00932


The Ravensbourne:


Ravens bourne, or stream. When we passed we saw a raven in the water, nesting material in its beak.

Self-built houses on Elstree Hill private road:




The Gate House at Kings Meadow on Burnt Ash Lane. Here’s how it looks in 2017 (left) and how it looked three years ago in Sept 2014. Preference?

gate lodge 2017 

Light at the end of the tunnel beneath Elmstead Woods:

elmstead tunnel2

Grove park railway sidings:

grove park rail siding2

Elmstead – place of the elms, but there are no elms left, this is an oak and beech wood (more). Sculptures by Will Lee ()


Naturalist Bill Welch knows a bit about the woods

Mottingham ‘Village’ sign:

mottingham-village mottingham-village-sign

Ice house at ‘The Tarn’ Mottingham:


Ponies at Eltham:


ponies eltham2

Eltham fields have always been a place of free pasture, so you get a lot of horses here, and people with a mind for these animals (story).




Timber framed building:


Cafe view:


Wall of the palace moat:





Where is the Crystal Palace?

Crystal-Palace-transmitting-stationWhat’s that, asks Flavea, a fake Eiffel Tower?

Sure enough the Television Transmitter that reaches high above south London does look like that, but it makes me ask the question – Where is the Crystal Palace?

I just got back from Brussels, and after their World Fair they KEPT the Atomium, and it still looks amazing and from the future. It still represents the city, just as Le Tour Eiffel represents Paris.

But the Crystal Palace, all that remains is the name of a part of town, an echo of what was once there, like Lincolns Inn Fields, like Notting Hill Gate, like Beaver Lee Brook. A great glass building, a crystal mansion. Judging by the scale of the platforms and stairways, the great plaster sphinxes, it was pretty impressive, but it’s gone.

The walk crosses South London, following in part the Green Chain route. This is a wealthier area than we saw last time in Merton, with a fair amount of green space. The Green Chain route meanders into various parks. We start where we left off in Norbury, but climb quickly up Beulah Hill, across Norwood Green, and Westow Park, and on to Crystal Palace Park.


Date & time: Sunday August 13th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Norbury station
Distance: 6.3 miles, allow around 3 hours
End point: 
Beckenham Hill station, Lewisham
Book by
 email, or phone 077932 00932
: Free

Along the way there are some views of the City, from Convent Hill and Gipsy Hill.





Volleyball at the National Sports Arena


athletics track crystal palace

And dinosaurs by the lake:


A bit of recent historical context for the renovation of the dinosaurs HERE

The walk continues to Beckenham Place Park:




Here’s a map:




This is South London. Stage 23

We’re heading into unexplored territory now, Merton!

One of the reasons I was curious to take a spiral walk around London was I didn’t know so many places on the outskirts of the city – and I wanted to know them. Places like Merton, Barking, Roding, Tulse Hill. Where were these places? What were they like?

Now for some of these I’m beginning to put shape to names, mental maps, connections. Uh huh, Edmonton, grubby busy corner of the north circular, but it has the Pymmes Brook flowing in to it; oh yeah Barn Elms, a little ledge by the edge of the Thames because the flood plain behind is blocked to entry; o yeah Wanstead, a little hearth land of the ghostly forest of Epping.

So here we are in South London – any further south and we’d be in the Unofficial City of Croydon, (which is what the Croydon people should name it, and then eventually it would become official). We begin at the scruffy end of Wimbledon, looking for countryside, but finding just remnants tucked in close to the Wandle river, until we reach Morden Hall Park – thank you National Trust – across Mitcham “Common”, up Pollards Hill, and on to Norbury Hall Park. A pretty nice walk without too many suburban streets.

Reed bed board walk Morden Hall:

boardwalk morden hall

coots splash

Geese on Mitcham Common:

geese micham commonhuskywateringhole

rosebay willowherb

Date & time: Sunday July 9th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Wimbledon station, District line or South West Trains from Waterloo, meet outside “Centre Court” the shopping centre, see photo
Distance: 5.5 miles, allow around 3 hours
End point:
Norbury station
Book by
 email, or phone 077932 00932
: Free, but bring an Oyster card for the Tram


Stage 22 – Beverley Brook and beyond

Twice now we’ve encountered the Beverley Brook, first, briefly, at its conjunction with the Thames between Hammersmith Bridge and Putney Bridge (see Walk 12) and it intersects our spiral route again as we pass across Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common.

Like many urban waterways Beverley Brook suffered neglect and pollution for decades, but a few years ago a number of agencies committed to clean up the river and restore its meanders, and we are able to see the first fruits of their work in our walk. There’s some great coverage of the works done on the South East Rivers Trust website and on the Royal Parks site. You get a sense of its scruffiness a few years back from this piece by Andrew Bowden and on the Lost Rivers site.

We begin at Mortlake station and quickly come south into the verdure and space of Richmond Park. Here we meet again the Beverley (translation: Beaver Lea) Brook and follow it along open woodland from Sheen Gate to Robin Hood Gate.

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Date & time: Sunday June 11th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Mortlake station South West Trains from Waterloo
Distance: the walk is 6 miles, with a break after 4m at Wimbledon Windmill
End point: Wimbledon station
Book by email, or phone 077932 00932
: No charge


taken from Merton guide


queens mere wimbledon



Stage 21 – Ealing to Kew. West London.

This is one of the shortest stages of the London Spiral, a mere 4 and a half miles – and that’s to the Pagoda. But we can’t just march through Kew village sticking to the route, without taking time in the treetops and glasshouses of the Royal Botanical Gardens. There’s no way a walk past the National Archives – whose job is to shut things away for 30 years until the sting has gone out of the story – would be as good, even taking into account the pleasure of crossing the Thames at Brentford.


No, here we must detour into the varied and remarkable expanse of Kew Gardens on a mid-May spring time visit.

Date & time: Sunday May 14th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Ealing Broadway station
Distance: the walk is an easy 3 – 4 miles
End point: Kew Gardens
Book by email, or phone 077932 00932
: No charge for the walk, but it’s £15 for a regular adult ticket to Kew


View from Kew Bridge to Brentford Ait (centre) and Brentford (right), ford at low tide

We quite liked Ealing on our last walk, and this stage takes in Walpole Park (too bad Pitzhanger house is closed for refurbishment).


Kew Green cricket:


Pictures from Kew Gardens in spring:


the Hive –


view from treetop walkfromthetreetops

lily pondlilypond



Stage 20 – A spiritual journey

Date & time: Sunday April 9th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Wembley Central station, Bakerloo line or overground
Distance: the walk is an easy 4.9 miles
End point: Ealing Broadway station
Cost: No charge

Wembley is not intrinsically a sunny place, but the Indian community in Wembley has brought colour and celebration to the fabric shops and fruit stalls, and they’ve built on the Ealing Road, a wonderful, ornately carved, beautiful temple, or mandir.

shri wembley open doors

This is the Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir, and is my favourite of the several remarkable mandirs that have been planted in north London. The stonework was all created in India and shipped to London for assembly. The exterior structure is more impressive than the shrines inside which seem small and doll-like.

We take a detour along the Grand Union Canal, to the foot of Horsenden Hill, then past Perivale tube station. There’s almost a view of the anachronistic Hoover building from the A40, but it’s in scaffolding.


And a stop for music at St Mary’s Pitshanger by the River Brent, which surprisingly has regular Sunday concerts:


Route –

This walk is the fifth western section of the spiral: the first was the tight inner growth ring between Kings Cross and Euston; the second, still close to the centre, was down through The Regent’s Park; third was Maida Vale south to Chelsea; fourth was the expanse of Wormwood Scrubs; now here we are one more spiral out heading south through Alperton and Perivale, to Ealing. Click for full spiral route.









Where to place thirty thousand new homes?

London is big, but is it big enough to absorb 30,000 new homes built in the next 2 years?

Actually the answer is Yes, there are thirty thousand new homes being built in Colindale in north London, and pretty fine they look too. Every big developer is putting up their block of flats, or rather luxury apartments, gathered round communal gardens, each home with a verandah, and a fitted kitchen. In 2004 then-mayor Ken Livingston’s team identified this area as a growth area, prime for new homes, and the London Plan led to the Brent and Barnet Area Action Plans, which saw by 2010, the start of a big-scale rebuilding programme.


Redrow are building Colindale Gardens on the site of the old Hendon Police College.


Colindale is an area that has seen many attempts at development in the past century, and most of it not much wack, as we’ll see on our walk, but the new plan looks as if it has staying power, through the combined effect of investment in infrastructure and shops, competition between developers, which is increasing standards, and the big-picture, blood-stirring London Plan from the Mayor’s office.

While house building has fallen across London as a whole, in northwest London new builds grew by 12%, according to Land Registry transactions, a growth rate exceeded only by Stratford and the east (see our Stratford walk).


Meeting place: Colindale station, Northern line
Date & time: Sunday March 12th 2017, 1pm
Distance: the walk is an easy 4.5 miles
End point: Wembley Stadium
Cost: No charge

All this building work means that our walk is a point in time, a snapshot of the birth of a new community and a new identity. Come this way again in a year or two, and it will be much more settled, much more centred. Right now the place is new and unclad and fast changing. It looks continental, not really English; the density of housing is high, but so is the amenity.

Here’s an article from the Guardian on how these developments get their initial funding.



We passed through the “Roe Green Village Conservation Area”, built at end of WW1 for the workers of the local Aircraft Manufacturing Company:

The walk moves through densely packed Colindale onto the empty space of Fryent Park, an old remnant of Middlesex, whose field lines and hedgerows are intact, where the population density on a March afternoon can drop to 1 person per square mile, as low as the Cairngorms, and you’re looking at how it was 700 years ago.

fryent-country-parkFryent Country park view from Google Earth




Wembley – another area experiencing remarkable change through building.

Article on Europe’s tallest modular tower, for student accommodation.


The route:

fryent route

Like to join the London Spiral? Contact: 077932 00932