Friday, 7 December 2012

Upper Norwood Methodist Church

The stained glass windows of medieval churches and cathedrals are often described as the cinema of their day; not just for their technicolor images, but also for the epic stories they illustrate. Whatever your beliefs, they still have the power to impress today, and there are some wonderful examples of modern glass design right here on the Triangle. Every time I walk past Iceland on Westow Hill, my eye is caught by the glowing red and white cross at the end of an otherwise rather dismal alley.

The current church on this site was built in 1964 by, Edward Mills, a modernist architect of some note. His biggest project was the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre. 60s architecture may not be to everyone's taste, but this shy and retiring building has an impressive interior, which combines simplicity and sobriety with theatrical exuberance. Fortunately it retains most of its original fittings, including the pews, pulpit, font, and of course, the flamboyant windows.

I was met at the church by it's enthusiastic and friendly young minister, Reverend Imran Malik, who has only been in his post for 3 months. The son of a Presbyterian minister, he was born in Baddomalhi in Punjab, and came to Britain in 2005. Despite his background, Imran was drawn to the teachings of John Wesley, and chose Methodism over his father's denomination. Unlike most of the locals I've written about, Imran did not have a choice about living in Crystal Palace, but was posted here by the church. However, he has quickly embraced his new community, and is excited by the church's physical presence on the High Street, giving him plenty of opportunities to engage with the locals.

This Sunday (9th December) at 11am, the church will be holding a family Carol Service.

Merry Christmas!

You can read more about the building in this 1965 issue of Concrete Quarterly.

Upper Norwood Methodist Church
Westow Hill

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Subway

We've recently celebrated the restoration and reopening of our imposing Victorian Railway Station, but up until the 1950s there was a second equally grand station, situated parallel to Crystal Palace Parade at the top of Farquhar Road. The site has long since been redeveloped with an NHS prosthetics centre and housing, so it's unlikely that this station will ever make a comeback. The station, designed by Edward Barry, whose father, Charles was the Architect of the Palace of Westminster, was a grand Victorian terminus with a glass roof supported on a colonnade of arches down the middle. It closed permanently in 1954, eighteen years after the destruction of the palace it served. I suppose there were different concerns and priorities in the 1950s, but I always feel that having already lost London's greatest exhibition space, it's a shame nobody at the time saw any merit in retaining the vast station shed as an alternative Crystal Palace. If the building still existed today, it would no doubt be a thriving market hall, or quite possibly a cinema.

However, traces of the station and the railway line that lead to it, have not been totally erased. If you've ever walked through Dulwich and Sydenham woods for example, you will have come across the tunnel portal there. Another stands at the end of Crystal Palace Parade beneath the turn into College Road. But perhaps the most exciting structure is the most hidden. Below the Parade is a subway which formed a direct link from the station to the Palace. Subway is too prosaic a way of referring to what could be mistaken for the crypt of a long vanished cathedral.

It seems strange therefore that this extraordinary space - I once heard to referred to as London's Alhambra - is locked away from public view, except on special occasions, (my birthday as it happens). The one-off reopening was thanks to the persistence of 2 locals, Jules Hussey and Karl Richter, who, over a pint one day, decided something had to be done, and set up The Friends of Crystal Palace Subway. In the great tradition of local campaigning, they battled hard against the twin dragons of local bureaucracy  and health & safety. Thanks to the assistance of local volunteers, they were able to clear the site and make it safe enough for the powers that be, to agree to the opening. The longer term goal is to find an appropriate use for the site, and the funds for its restoration and development. While the vibrant Byzantine style cream and red brickwork of the vaults is in remarkably good condition, the rest, as you will see, requires plenty of attention.

Karl Richter & Jules Hussey
Karl & Jules with volunteers, Ray Sacks, Brian Abbs, Terence Smith, & Patricia Trembath MBE

Friday, 16 November 2012

Brown & Green - Crystal Palace Station

This is a travel announcement! Arriving at Crystal Palace station is now officially a pleasant experience. Not only has our great Victorian ticket hall been revamped and reinstated, thus dispensing with the tortuous inconvenience of the 1980s annexe with its precarious staircase, but those marvellous Tilli sisters have also opened one of their splendid cafes there. Done up with panache using salvaged and retro fittings and furniture, it makes jolly good use of the imposing space, I'm sure you will agree.

You can read all about the cafe, and all manner of other local news in the current issue of The Transmitter, the favoured gazette of Upper Norwoodians.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


Although he wasn't the first to sell vintage in Crystal Palace, for many years, Andy Stem was its sole standard bearer on Church Road. He has had a presence on the street for 22 years now, which surely earns him the title of the Triangle's Vintage Godfather! Having spoken to many locals in the course of writing this blog over the last 18 months, his influence, and that of his shop, Bambino, is indisputable. Where he started, many others have followed. As well as running the shop, he has been very much involved in setting up Church Road market, and the annual Crystal Palace Festival. After so many years in the business, he might be forgiven for wanting to put his feet up, but as all the recent changes indicate, he seems to be moving up a gear. The shop has doubled in size, and it now includes the Triangle's coolest cafe run by Ant West, aka the Anarchista Barista. Next on the agenda,  Andy is installing wonderful old pharmacy cabinets and an old fashioned cash desk. He's also planning to don  shopkeeper's overalls in the manner of Ronnie Barker. "Fork Handles" anyone?

Andy Stem, Vintage Godfather

Like many others I've interviewed, setting up shop was a complete break from Andy's previous life as a scientific editor, and again, like many others, the stepping stone was learning the ropes on a market stall. Predominantly selling bikers' leathers, he also showed a taste for the quirky objects that are now the staple of vintage interior shops, but there is no formula at work in Bambino. It's a shop that ploughs a very individual furrow. Andy's biggest buzz to this day, is matching an obscure item to a customer. Over the years, he has seen Church Road change from a semi-derelict backwater to the thriving destination it now is, and is a firm believer that locally owned independent businesses are the way to regenerate the area in a way that retains its personality and individuality. Getting the cinema opposite reopened, would also provide a valuable boost, he adds.

The recent caffeine injection on the premises is clearly having its own regenerative effect. Like Vivienne's tea room down the road, it provides a reason for people to hang out, animating both the shop and the street. Ant, a recent settler from New Zealand, takes his coffee very seriously, and is on a mission to reeducate our palettes, sullied by years of coffee  chain mocha-chinos and corporate marketing. Having operated from various establishments on the Triangle, it seems that as part of Andy's vintage emporium, Ant has found the perfect blend.

Ant West, Anarchista Barista

So, if you're not sure what you're after, head along to Bambino this weekend, and chances are Andy will have just the thing.

28-30 Church Road
020 8653 9250
Open, Thurs-Sun 10-6pm