Sydenham Garden is a voluntary association that is developing a community garden for people coping with significant illness in their lives. The nature reserve, situated between Queenswood Road and Wynell Road, will contain a small garden therapy centre of environmentally friendly design. The majority of the remaining land will be managed as a nature reserve. For something of its history…
The site of Sydenham Garden was, until the mid 1970s, occupied by the Wynell Road Nursery. Before this it was part of the garden of a large house, just to the south of Sydenham Garden, on a site now occupied by 23-25 Queenswood Road. The house was known as Perrymount.
Perrymount was built in the 1790s and originally called Perry Vale Farm. However, Sydenham Garden was not, at this time, part of Perry Vale Farm. In the early 17th century the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers, using a bequest to fund an educational endowment, had been acquiring land in Lower Sydenham, mostly on either side of Perry Hill. The Leathersellers’ estate included fields now occupied by Sydenham Garden, the Forest Hill Bowling Club and the Paxton Road estate.
Perry Vale Farm was on the eastern edge of the Old House estate. This, the largest estate in Sydenham, was created during the 18th century. It stretched along Sydenham Road from the Greyhound to Mayow Road and extended north to Perry Vale. The extract from the Old House Estate Map of 1815 shows Perry Vale Farm house (plot 12) with a great crescent of water to the west, and the farm buildings (plot 11). Sydenham Garden (marked by a white square) is in the southwest corner of the field owned at the time by the Leathersellers’ Company. The “Footway”, an extension of Berryman’s Lane across the fields to Perry Vale, was to become Mayow Road. It was sometime during the 1820s or 1830s that the Leathersellers sold the Sydenham Garden site to the Old House estate for, by 1843, the owner of Perry Vale Farm (no. 2577 on the Tithe Map) and the Sydenham Garden site (2579 on the Tithe Map) was William Dacres Adams of the Old House.
Sydenham Garden at this time was described as an orchard. We tend to assume this means apples, but in the 19th century it referred to a garden consisting of any small, cultivated fruit trees. The only roads near Perrymount at the time were Perry Vale to the north and Perry Rise to the east and “perry”, of course, refers to pears and the drink produced by fermenting them. It is tempting to suppose that Sydenham Garden was planted with pear trees, particularly as there is at least one old pear tree surviving on the site.
On 15th December 1831 The Times published a notice of an auction at Perry Vale Farm for “Live and Dead Farming Stock and Household Furniture also dairy utensils, and numerous other effects”. This may have heralded the change of use from farmhouse to country retreat that the house underwent. By the late 1840s it was renamed Perrymount, and had been extended and enlarged.
For about 100 years, until the opening of Wynell Road Nursery in 1927, Sydenham Garden was an integral part of the garden of Perrymount probably, for much of that time, as an orchard. During those years there have been several interesting residents of the house.
Samuel Laing, barrister, politician, author and chairman of the Crystal Palace Company (1852-1855) during its re-erection and opening in Sydenham, was at Perrymount from 1847 to 1849.
Charlton James Wollaston, a civil engineer, was largely responsible for laying the first undersea telegraph line, between Dover and Cap Gris Nez, in 1850. Unfortunately it was not a success; the insulation was defective and water entered the cable. He was at Perrymount 1851-1857
In 1901 Mme Sophie Ayer and her son Jules were living at Perrymount. In 1909 Jules married Reine Citroen and moved to St John’s Wood. Their son, born in 1910, was christened Alfred Jules, but became better known as A J Ayer, the philosopher. His grandmother moved from Perrymount in 1913 but it is tempting to believe that the young Ayer played in her garden and orchard as a toddler.
The next occupant was John Quiller Rowett. He was at Dulwich College with Sir Ernest Shackleton, and they remained close friends until the latter’s death in 1922. Rowett was the principal backer of Shackleton’s last expedition to the Antarctic. It was Rowett who saved the James Caird, the small boat in which Shackleton undertook the perilous voyage across the Antarctic Ocean, to rescue the crew of the Endurance. Rowett later presented the James Caird to Dulwich College, where it can still be seen. He was at Perrymount 1915-1920.
During the 1860s Mayow Road was laid out, and Perrymount became known, rather prosaically, as 39 Mayow Road. During the late 1890s building began in Queenswood Road. Just before the World War II Perrymount was no longer able to resist the advance of progress and was demolished, to be replaced by 23-25 Queenswood Road. All that survives of the outbuildings is 16 Queenswood Road, which has a modern plaque bearing the date 1860. This is the stable block of Perrymount, and is on the site of an earlier farm building.
In the 1894 map one can see the extended house with Sydenham Garden to the north. Along the boundary with what is now the bowling green is a line of greenhouses. These greenhouses can be seen on maps as early as 1868. Although much of the present rather ruinous greenhouse probably dates from the time of the nursery, it may well be that some of the structure survives from the 1860s building.
A further survivor is the water pump. In 1975 it was “thought to be the only surviving pump connected to fresh spring water in London”, which gives it a particular distinction, and one can only hope that plans to restore it receive the support they deserve. The pump may well be quite old. Before the supply of piped water in the 1850s, a pump or well was essential for any well-appointed home.