History in Sanderstead News
There is a more detailed account of how Purley Beeches was bought for the benefit of the community in a 1985 edition of Sanderstead News. We've reproduced the article here with the kind permission of Sanderstead Residents Association. It was written before the 1987 storm and gives an interesting insight into Croydon parks almost 40 years ago.
"Croydon's resistless march is on us, the electric trams are near our doors, the two railway lines have already cut up the centuries old Purley Oaks. Are the Beeches to go too for want of a little public spirit?"
Eighty years ago, residents of Sanderstead were as concerned about development as they are today but its pace was very much faster and more obvious then. In 1891 there were only 96 houses in the Parish of Sanderstead, but the number had more than doubled to 203 by 1901 and was to double again by 1907. Fears were expressed that even if the Beeches were saved it would soon be the only open space between Croham Hurst and Riddlesdown since the ability of Purley Downs Golf Club to purchase its freehold was then in doubt.
The new building was concentrated near the railway. In 1903 Beech Avenue was driven through the west side of the wood and notices were erected advertising plots for sale. The price was £800 per acre compared with only £350 seven years earlier. In September 1903 Mr. M. G. Sharpe wrote to the 'Croydon Advertiser' drawing attention to the danger to the Beeches. This was quickly followed by another letter, from Capt. Albert Carpenter, RN., DSO., of the Red House urging Croydon Rural District Council to press for the acquisition of the Beeches as a public open space. Approaches were made by the District Council to Surrey County Council, the Corporation of the City of London (who already owned Riddlesdown and Farthing Down) and the recently formed National Trust, but none of these was able or prepared to purchase.
Meanwhile, Capt. Carpenter contacted the landowner, Mr. Esmé Arkwright, and secured an offer of 12 to 15 acres at £400 per acre on a seven-year lease with interest payable at 4% per annum and the option to purchase during the period at the original price. This was acknowledged to be a very reasonable proposition but when it was placed before Sanderstead Parish Council they were not willing to accept a lease as a charge on the rates. To provide a breathing space in which further attempts could be made to raise the capital required, Capt. Carpenter and others whose houses overlooked the woods, recognising that "the Beeches make Lower Sanderstead what it is", decided to lease it themselves as a private park from 31st March 1904. They engaged a full-time keeper and for the next three years met the costs of rent, wages and maintenance out of their own pockets.
By 1905 Capt. Carpenter and his associates had established an impressive organisation to launch an appeal for funds. It was headed by a General Council whose thirty eminent members included the Archbishop of Canterbury, two bishops, four peers, two MPs and six knights, among them Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Two of the three founders of the National Trust appear on the list and the third is shown as a subscriber to the fund, as was the Trust itself in the amount of £5.
It was decided to set a target of £l,400 to be raised by public subscription, leaving £4,000 which it was anticipated would be borne by the civil parish of Sanderstead. An imaginative public relations exercise was undertaken which resulted in sympathetic articles appearing in the local and county press and in 'The Sphere' and other London journals. By early 1907 the appeal had almost reached its target and the following breakdown of subscriptions has survived:
Residents of Lower Sanderstead £746
Open Space Societies £250
Companies and Residents of London £181
Croydon Residents £117
Surrey and elsewhere £ 78
In the meantime opinion on the Parish Council had become more favourable to the idea of purchase. In June 1906 they resolved "that in their opinion it was desirable that the Beeches should be preserved for the benefit of the public if doing so would not entail a greater expense than an annual rate of 2d in the £.'
At meetings in January 1907 this motion was reworded to include specific authorisation to contribute £4,000 subject to approval by Surrey County Council and the Local Government Board (the precursor of the Department of the Environment). It was passed unanimously by the Parish Council and at a Parish Meeting shortly afterwards it was passed by 50 to 30 votes but a poll was claimed and granted. This was held in the village school on 2nd February when the voting was 178 for and 114 against, a total of 292 out of an electoral list of 337, allowing for removals.
The size of the commitment undertaken by the Parish needs to be seen in perspective - its total rateable value was only some £13,000 in 1901 and £26,000 in 1907. The 2d additional rate compares with the existing general rate in 1907 of 1/6d and a poor rate of 3/10d. It is easy to understand why the original proposal to acquire the Beeches had not won sufficient support. The voting in the parish poll reflected the divergence of interest between the farmers and cottagers of Upper Sanderstead and the villa residents of Lower Sanderstead. It was only the steady and expected increase in the latter during the three-year campaign that gave them the necessary majority.
Once the Parish had voted the Local Government Board held a public inquiry as an essential preliminary to the raising of the loan and it was not until 6th November 1907 that the purchase of 12¼ acres of the Beeches was completed.
To raise the loan the Parish Council had declared that the land would serve as “a recreation ground and open space”. Nevertheless, it was clearly intended to be a different sort of place to the South Croydon Recreation ground, to the north of Purley Oaks Station, which a Sanderstead resident described at the time as “merely an athletic playground, always occupied by lads or men playing football. It is of no use to the women and young children of the neighbourhood”. To preserve the decorum of the Beeches the purchase contract provided that there were to be no “caravans, booths, shows, swings, roundabouts or school treats of any kind”. It would comfort our predecessors to know that, despite all the building that has taken place in the neighbourhood in the intervening years, the Beeches still look today much as they do in the Edwardian photographs preserved in the local history archives of Purley and Croydon libraries on which this account is based. We hope to return to the subject of the Beeches in a later issue and tell the story of their extension.
VANDALISM IN PARKS, GARDENS AND OPEN SPACES
One of the most depressing features of present-day life is to see young trees which have been planted by Croydon Council in parks and public places which have been either broken off or totally uprooted before they have had a chance to become established. It is not unknown for flowers and shrubs, planted for the delight of us all, to be dug up and removed during the hours of darkness. While ·much of the wanton destruction of this kind is the handiwork of young hooligans this is by no means always the case - it has been known for middle aged people to be caught digging up plants in Queen’s Gardens during the night!
Croydon Council Parks Department formed early last year a mobile security squad of dog handlers to combat this problem. The radio-controlled teams can respond very rapidly to reported incidents of vandalism taking place. This is usually followed by the police being called and several prosecutions have already resulted. It is thought that the activities of the mobile squads have already had a deterrent effect on hooliganism and vandalism.
The co-operation and assistance of local residents is requested in order to make this work more effective. If you should see anything amiss taking place in any park or open space, telephone the security force at Taberner House on 688 2212 - they are on call 24 hours per day. A dog handler team will be immediately despatched to the trouble spot and the matter referred to the police if appropriate.