We can’t be certain when the first house called ‘Penge Place’ was built, but John Cary’s ‘pocket atlas’ map of 1786 shows a house just west of Old Cople Lane and south of its junction with (what is now) Crystal Palace Parade; and an Ordnance Survey map from the early nineteenth century shows a house called Penge Place which appears to be on the same site.
However, this house was replaced in the 1830s by a new Penge Place, a few hundred yards further south. This new mansion, designed by the architect Edward Blore who went on to work on Buckingham Palace, was in turn demolished less than twenty years later to make way for the Crystal Palace. It was located in the vicinity of the Crystal Palace’s concert platform, close to where the headless statue of Dante still stands.
Old Cople Lane marks the point where the Kent-Surrey boundary, coming in from the north, encounters Penge hamlet. For about two miles from this point the county boundary is also the Penge boundary, hence the reference in the 1604-5 document to the ‘shire (i.e. county) ditch’. It was not unusual to mark an important boundary by digging a bank and ditch. Penge’s ditch is long gone, but a few miles to the south there are still traces of what may be the Kent-Surrey shire ditch in woodland near New Addington.
The boundary ran downhill alongside Old Cople Lane, and we might assume that when the Crystal Palace was built it would respect these ancient lines on the landscape. It did no such thing. The Crystal Palace wiped out old roads, built new ones, and promiscuously straddled the Kent-Surrey border. So in order to trace the boundary we must take a walk through the middle of the Park.
Cary’s 1786 map gives us a general impression of the boundary line, but is impossible to reconcile with the modern landscape. This is where the much more detailed nineteenth century maps come into their own. The 1871 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map shows the old county boundary snaking across the Crystal Palace site from the Old Cople Lane entrance to the north-west, grazing the northern edge of the Lower Terrace, heading south of the Maze across the ‘North Basin’ which is now the NSC swimming pool, and just north of the tree-lined avenue which still leads to Penge Gate. It exits the Park somewhere near the bus stop, crosses Crystal Palace Park Road, and heads through the BT telephone exchange towards the railway line.
We don’t have to rely only on the map: there is also a small and rather forlorn boundary post hiding among the trees just north of the path to Penge Gate (marked ‘3’ in red on the map below). It announces itself as ‘Penge Hamlet 1875’ and may mark the point where the boundary line veers slightly west to leave the Park.
In addition to Old Cople Lane, Rocque’s 1768 map of Surrey, and Cary’s 1786 map, both show a track called Three Gates Lane, running east-west from Penge Gate up to Vicar’s Oak. And the eighteenth century maps also show three hills and two farms. The hills – Windmill Hill, Timber Hill and Isabel Hill – seem to have been within the area now occupied by the Park, but I haven’t shown them on my map because it’s impossible to work out where they were. We should remember that the Crystal Palace represented an enormous exercise in landscaping, not just in connection with the building and terraces at the top, but across the whole site where new lakes, fountains, picturesque glades and verdant lawns were created. I suspect that elevated points which once counted as ‘hills’ were simply absorbed into this new, artificial landscape.
The farms, Barnards Farm and Swingate Farm, are easier to locate. Barnards Farm seems to have been just east of Vicar’s Oak, while Swingate Farm was across the county boundary in Kent, on land now occupied by the north-east corner of the Park and the top of Crystal Palace Park Road.
Next time: onwards to the Porcupine!