South of the River

Click on a picture to see a larger version

Coot feeding chick
Coot feeding chick, Crystal Palace Park

Yesterday we went to meet our friends who live in a rather strange place. We tried to go there by train but because of the endless rail works, we had to complete our journey by bus. When you get there, the place resembles London but is in many ways subtly different, despite the fact that the area is served by the familiar red buses. It is a very populous place but I am told you can’t get to it by taxi as London cabbies refuse to go there.

The name of this strange place? It is called South of the River.

A corner of Catford
A corner of Catford

To meet our friends we travelled to that province of SotR called Catford. Catford is quite an interesting place, but we didn’t tarry there long and this photo should not be regarded as being particularly characteristic of the area. It’s just the only one I had time to take.

My excuse, if I need one, is that I am fascinated by buildings with turrets.

Our destination was the site of a remarkable building, originally created for the 1851 Great Exhibition, moved to this site in 1854 and, sadly, destroyed by fire in 1936, Crystal Palace Park.

Crystal Palace Museum
Crystal Palace Museum

Our first stop was here, at Crystal Palace Museum, whose unassuming exterior conceals a rather unassuming interior. I am unable to show you anything from inside it, however, as they ban photography. You know my opinion of museums who do that – more as an unthinking knee-jerk reaction, I suspect, than for any well founded reasons – so I won’t say any more about it except to deprecate it once more.

Crystal Palace Park
Crystal Palace Park

To be honest, there wouldn’t have been much to photograph anyway, as the exhibition consists of little more than a few fragments – the odd broken plate or shard of decor – and photos and the odd letter or ticket. The best exhibit, I think, is the scale model of the Palace. The museum is run by the Crystal Palace Foundation and admission, fortunately, is free.

Crystal Palace Park is extensive, an agreeable green space in which to spend a warm sunny afternoon. It is dominated by the BBC’s TV mast but the latter’s slim form is quite attractive in its way.

Delapidation and decay
Delapidation and decay

The no doubt once elegant built structures in the park now show signs of dilapidation and decay. Some are fenced off because they are unsafe. There must once have been noble sculptures lining the terraces in the picture but they have all been damaged or destroyed.

Note that I am not blaming anyone (unless it is everyone’s favourite whipping boy, the government), because preservation is an expensive business and money is not easy to come by these days.

Sir Joseph Paxton
Sir Joseph Paxton

After several designs for the hall of the Great Exhibition had been rejected, the winning proposal was submitted by Joseph Paxton, Head Gardener at Chatsworth House, who happened to be visiting London. This gained Paxton immediate fame and a knighthood. His head, wearing a somewhat bemused expression, today watches over people enjoying the fresh air of the park.

The park of course holds a surprise if you do not know what else it contains.

Pigeons watching me watching them
Pigeons watching me watching them

Turtle
Turtle

Within the park is a lake, visible but fenced off, which is a good place to see water fowl (such as the coots at the top of the post) and other animals and birds.

For example, Tigger spotted this turtle that had hauled out onto a low tree branch. Can you spot it on the larger photo?

We saw ducks, coots, herons, Canada geese, moor hens, grebes and a cormorant.

Prehistoric creatures
Prehistoric creatures

But what about these strange creatures lurking in the undergrowth? They are not like anything you will see walking on the earth today. Here is the park’s secret.

The Victorians became very interested in the extinct prehistoric animals that science was beginning to reveal and a set of reconstructions, built according to the knowledge of the day, was created and placed in the grounds of Crystal Palace. Many still survive, though we now know that the details are often wrong.

On a warm and sunny Sunday, you expect somewhere like Crystal Palace Park to be busy and full of people. Even so, the lake provides the odd tranquil corner where, just for a moment, you can forget the crowds and enjoy the sunshine reflecting on the water and watch the activities of the birds and other creatures.

The odd tranquil corner
The odd tranquil corner

Crystal Palace was rightly regarded as a marvel and as a showcase of the wonders produced by Britain and her Empire. Even if the patriotic fervour had dimmed somewhat by 1936 and the Palace was now home to rather different – though still exciting – activities, it was still a grave disaster when the flames engulfed Paxton’s masterpiece and brought it to ruin. We shall not see its like again.

Or will we? There is an organization dedicated to building Crystal Palace anew. Can they possibly succeed or is this just an eccentric dream, inevitably doomed to failure? Time will tell.

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About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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