History of the area
The history of the area surrounding Selsdon Woods can be traced back hundreds of years. In the 1950s Mr. R.I. Little excavated a Romano-British settlement in nearby Kings Wood, half a mile to the south-west. A small farmstead and cemetery were discovered which had been undisturbed for 2000 years. Pottery found there indicated occupation from the middle of the first century to the middle of the second century A.D.
The section of Old Farleigh Road on the south west border of Selsdon Woods is an Iron Age track way to the Sussex ironfields via Farleigh, Titsey and Limpsfield Common, and in Kings Wood Mr. Little discovered 46 dene holes or depressions, thought to be marl pits. One 10 foot shaft contained Iron Age pottery. There are many lineal earthworks, which may be ancient field boundaries, similar to the mound and ditch which forms the Addington Boundary in Selsdon Woods.The name of Selsdon, or "Selesdun", is derived from the Anglo Saxon language meaning seat or mansion (seles) on a hill (dun), and certainly since the ninth century there has been a mansion on the site of the present Selsdon Park Hotel.
Origins of Selsdon Wood
Selsdon Wood was once part of the Selsdon Park estate. Selsdon was within the parish of Croydon from medieval times and was part of land owned by the Archbishops of Canterbury. From at least the 16th century Selsdon was largely divided between two farms, Selsdon Farm in the north (now Selsdon Park Hotel) and Ballards Farm in the south. Henry Ownstead, whose brother John owned Sanderstead Manor, held Selsdon Farm in 1584, and it remained in his family until 1660. It was then sold to Henry Bowyer, whose family held the land until the 18th century.
Rocque’s map of Surrey shows Selsdon Farm. The triangle in the centre of the map encloses our Wood. The buildings are situated where the Selsdon Park Hotel and Croydon High School currently stand and the adjacent triangle of land is predominantly woodland with fields to the southern tip and northern edge. There does not appear to be any settlement in Selsdon at this time apart from the farm although ‘hamlets’ are shown at Sanderstead, Addington and Farley.
The Bainbridge map of 1800 (see extract right) shows ‘Croydon Crook’ including an area marked as Selsdon Wood and several other recognisable place names such as David’s Crook, Green Hill and Ashen Grove. One of the most notable differences from the present map is the absence of the plantation, Steven’s Larch (see 1890 below) and the other wooded strips that now break up what was Great Field Hill.
The area marked as Broad Field is now The Gorses and it is clear that this area was not wooded at that time.
1800 - 1890
The estate comprising Selsdon Park, Selsdon Farm and Selsdon Woods was purchased by William Coles in 1809 but when he became bankrupt a year later it was sold to George Smith*, an MP, banker and director of the East India Company. The land was owned by the Smith family for most of the 19th century.
Smith transformed the farm house into a mansion (later to become the Selsdon Park Hotel) and made many changes to the estate, building a home farm complex, two lodges, a new farm and various cottages. He also landscaped the park and re-routed the Farleigh Road to the east.
There is little information about how the estate was managed but the woods would have been used for shooting and the fields probably as meadow or pasture as there is no indication that the land has been ploughed and the soil quality is too poor to support crops.
In 1883 the Corporation of Croydon was created as part of Local Government changes and “Croydon Crook’ became part of the Urban District of Coulsdon and Purley.
* George Smith (30 April 1765 – 26 December 1836) was a British Member of Parliament, banker and director of the East India Company. He was the fifth son of Abel Smith, a wealthy Nottingham banker, also an MP, and four of his brothers were also MPs. Smith entered Parliament in 1791 as member for Lostwithiel, and also represented Midhurst and Wendover in a parliamentary career spread over forty years. He was married to Frances Mary Mosley, daughter of Sir John Parker Mosley, 1st Baronet and they had 9 sons and 6 daughters. His memorial is in All Saints Church, Sanderstead.
The photo above shows Old Farleigh Road (then called Selsdon Hill) - looking towards Selsdon. The cottage, Cosy Cottage, is still there at the junction of Kingswood Way and the white gate on the right is where the entrance to the Selsdon Wood car park now is. The exact date of the photograph is not known but the lack of development of smallholdings in what is now Selsdon Vale means that it is pre 1918. (Many thanks to Dick Adamson for this photograph.)
1890 - 1923
In 1890 Selsdon Park and farmlands (679 acres) was sold by Mabel Greville (George Smith's great-granddaughter) to William Stevens, a printer and publisher of a popular magazine The Family Herald. He is remembered for creating the plantation of conifers, Steven's Larch. On his death, nine years later the estate was sold to Wickham Noakes, a brewer, under a mortgage that remained until his death in 1923. During this period there was a grand shoot each year in November to mark Noakes’ birthday and a gamekeeper, William Westall, was employed to manage the land for shooting. Around this time Ordnance Survey maps show a ‘Pheasantry’ (where the young birds were raised) on the estate, situated on the western side of Old Farleigh Road, probably close to where Ravenshead Close now lies.
1923 - 1925
On the death of Noakes, in 1923, the estate was broken up with A. E. Cresswell purchasing the land that makes up most of the present Selsdon Wood. The map (above) extracted from the conveyance document is strikingly similar to the current map (although the orientation is different) and includes Selsdon Wood, Greenhill Shaw, Hillocks Wood, Broom Wood, Broom Shaw, The Gorses, Stevens Larch and four fields. However, Broom Shaw and Puplet Wood which are outside the boundaries of the present Nature reserve were also included at that time.
Of the remainder of the original estate, 200 acres of parkland and the Selsdon Park buildings were sold to A D Sanderson and became a hotel, and the Surrey Garden Village Trust (founded in 1920) purchased 300 acres including Ashen Vale and Selsdon Vale. This land was to be divided into smallholdings for sale to ex-servicemen from WW1. Although only one house was to be built on each plot the destruction of the original woodland had begun and in 1926 the Trust began a movement to protect and preserve the Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve before it was all given over to building land.
An Appeal was launched in 1925 to raise £3210 to purchase Selsdon Wood as a “Proposed Nature Reserve and Bird Sanctuary’. Ownership of the land was to be vested in the National Trust (founded in 1895) with the Corporation of Croydon and the Urban District Council of Coulsdon and Purley jointly holding the wood on a 999 year lease and undertaking responsibility for its maintenance. In order to prevent the land being sold before the money could be raised a group of philanthropists contracted to buy 126 acres of the most heavily wooded section on the north east of the site. These were Sir Lawrence Wonsloy Chubb, Miss Alice Mabel Bonus, Miss Winfred Mary Hudson, Mr Ernest Alfred Earl and Mr Malcolm Grahame Sharpe.
In 1930 there was a further appeal - see the leaflet below - to raise £3000 to purchase the remaining part of the current reserve - a further 73 acres. A map was produced as part of this, which is remarkably similar to the present Selsdon Wood 1930 (right). This shows the land on option, Sections III and IV, which include most of the fields, Greenhill Shaw, Hillocks Wood and Broom Wood. The map bears the initials MGS and was thus presumably produced by Malcolm Grahame Sharpe.
(A shelter dedicated to the memory of Malcolm Sharpe - see 1973 below - stood in David's Crook until 2008 when it was burnt down by vandals. The wreck was cleared by LB Croydon the following year. The Friends are trying to find out more about Malcolm Sharpe. Watch this space for further information.)
This boundary marker - which reads 'Croydon Borough 1928' can still be seen in the wood. It is set into a bank of flint marking the borough boundary which appears as a dashed line on the Appeal map on the south eastern side of Court Wood (Section 1). One visitor to the woods recalled 'beating the bounds' as a choirboy 50+ years ago. We would be interested to hear more about this and about the significance of the date 1928 on the marker.
As the appeal of 1930 had still not
reached it's target, a group of local residents came up with a novel idea to
raise further funds. They produced the Selsdon Wood Quotation Calendar.
Residents paid 1/- to have their favourite quotations included and these were
set out week by week on a separate page. Mr Hector Hutt prefaced each month
with a brief paragraph of nature notes in italics.
The front cover is shown here and the 1930 appeal map (shown above) was used for the back inside cover.
The Calendar was priced at one shilling and 750 copies were sold raising £24.
One copy of the Calendar still exists and the owner, Ted Frith, has generously allowed it to be scanned for inclusion here. The high definition file is very large (40MB) but a 1.7MB version, which is still readable, is available from the link below. If you would like a high definition copy please get in touch with the Friends and we will be glad to supply it.
A Deed of Gift (right) was made in November 1935 in which the owners (see 1925 above) formally handed the land over to the National Trust. An official opening took place on 5th June 1936. The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Percy Vincent, (who lived in Purley) planted a tree and over 250 guests attended the ceremony. Local Guides and Scouts provide a Guard of Honour and the Band of the 3rd King’s Own Hussars sounded a fanfare of trumpets.
At the official opening visitors were invited to inspect the Memorial Bird Pool “kindly presented by Col. H.S. Wood, I.M.S.and Mrs Wood, of Kensington”. It appears that Lieutenant-Colonel Wood first suggested putting up a Bird Bath and Drinking Fountain as a Memorial to himself and Mrs Wood in correspondence with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 1930.
Lt. Colonel & Mrs H S Wood, who died in 1956, were major contributors to the purchase of Selsdon Wood.
They asked that this quotation from Henry Van Dyke’s poem ‘God of the Open Air’ be engraved on this rock:
These are the things we prize and hold of dearest worth:
The light of the sapphire skies, Peace of the silent hills,
Shelter of the forests, comfort of the grass,
Music of birds, murmur of little rills.
Henry Van Dyke
They also asked for this inscription to be added:
We dearly loved the birds
Be kind to them
One of the Friends, Cecile Griggs has researched the life of Colonel HS Wood and the background to this donation. A pdf of her account can be downloaded from here. Lt Col H Wood and Selsdon Wood
The photograph shows the bird bath and pool in Linden Glade as it was in winter 1986 when it froze. The bath was originally fed by mains water but this was cut off some years ago as it was considered too expensive to maintain.
(Thanks to Adrian Steel for permission to use this image from his Flikr collection - see http://www.flickr.com/photos/ade46/3854915841/)
The War Years
1939-45 the Woods played their part in the War effort in several ways. In the
spring of 1942 the Great Field was ploughed by the Surrey War Agricultural
Committee, with the help of Italian prisoners of war. That area also
served as a decoy for Biggin Hill airfield and dummy tanks were placed with
their guns protruding from the trees.
On 15th August 1940 bombs were jettisoned into the Wood leaving craters. Several of these can still be seen throughout the Wood, the largest of which is probably the one in Steven's Larch near to the Centenary Plantation. The link below is to an eye witness account of this event by Andrew Harris.
All the bombs that fell in London between 7/10/1940 and 06/06/1941 have now been mapped and this map includes our wood see http://bombsight.org/?#14/51.3299/-0.0428. However, this period does not include August 1940 which may explain why the many hollows toward the centre of the wood (that I have always assumed to be bomb craters) are not marked on this map.
In 2015 the FSW received a communication from Chris Jennings who was a child in the 1950s living in a road called Selsdon Vale which flanked Vale Border. This was before the Selsdon Vale estate was built.
He recalled playing in Selsdon Wood and escaping from the two keepers (who carried shotguns) through a hole he had dug under the fence.
A further memoir was sent in by Steve Glover in 2016. He too had lived in Selsdon vale in the 50's where his father kept pigs and chickens on a smallholding called Ifra Tors. This provides another snapshot of a life very different from that of children today. Steve obtained a 1956 OS map of the area showing Ilfra Tors (grid ref 623/361). He estimates that the present day Goldfinch Road, Peacock Gardens and Lapwing Close now border the land.
The map is attached below in two formats. The first is the full map and the second shows it as two separate pages but is a little sharper.Depending on your browser you may need to download the first map to rotate it to the correct orientation.
Gazette September 1962.pdf
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Selsdon Vale and Forestdale estates were built. Town Planning regulations stipulated that a buffer of open space should be left to protect the woods. The area on the Selsdon Vale side, Fox Shaw, (see map below) is 150 feet wide and has been acquired by the local authority although it is outside the boundary fence of the wood and is not part of the National Trust property. On the Forestdale side the ‘open space’ is now mainly formed by the gardens of the adjoining properties although a strip of woodland beside the bridleway to the north has been purchased by local residents but left as unfenced woodland.
In 1965 the reorganisation of Local Government amalgamated the two councils into the London Borough of Croydon. Demand for timber in wartime and post war building had resulted in many areas of the wood being reduced to a scrubby thicket with poor tree coverage and consequent limited wildlife. A complete survey was undertaken by the new authority and replanting was recommended.
The first section was replanted in 1969. Over the next 25+ years
beech, oak, sweet chestnut, larch and Norway spruce were planted throughout the
wood with the coniferous planting mainly in the early years.
To maintain the flower rich chalk grasslands, the five meadows were cut annually by a local farmer who was paid for the work by keeping the hay for his animals. This photograph entitled 'Taking a Hay Crop from One of the Meadows' comes from a book called "Croydon Parks - an Illustrated History".
A brick shelter was built in the south eastern corner of David's Crook to replace a rustic thatched shelter that was burnt down. Like it's predecessor, the shelter was dedicated to the memory of Malcolm Sharpe (see 1925 and 1957 above). It stood until 2008 when it too was burnt down by vandals. The wreck was cleared by LB Croydon the following year.
Illustration by David E Holmes originally published in LB Croydon Parks Department Woodland Ramble (1980 Revised Edition)
1974The LB Croydon Parks Department published a map in 1974 showing the areas newly planted since 1968. These included Steven's Larch, Greenhill Shaw, the Gorse area and the region near the Gorses on the other side of The Wend. The map also shows 3 Special Sanctuaries and the new housing developments surrounding the wood with the Fox Shaw buffer zone marked.
The Jubilee Plantation was created to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. This includes oak and beech and was funded and planted by the Croydon Girl Guides.
(See Areas of Special Interest page for photographs and more information about the Jubilee, Maruje Dale, and Centenary Plantations.)
In the same year LB Croydon Parks Department published a pamphlet 'Woodland Ramble' describing a walk through a number of the local parks and woods including a section on Selsdon Wood.
The Maruje Dale Plantation was created by a group of young people on a Youth Opportunities Scheme organised by Gordon Alexander of Croydon Council Parks Department. The name of the plantation was made up from the names of those who took part. During their training they covered coppicing and maintenance work and they were taught how to make benches and bird boxes with the wood. New trees were also planted - mainly beech.
The plantation was protected by rabbit-proof fencing but a gateway was made for badgers to allow access along their well used tracks between the set and feeding grounds. This had a sprung gate, heavy enough to prevent the entry of rabbits but allow the larger, stronger badgers to pass freely.
Badger Gateway Illustration by M.J Currie originally published in LB Croydon Parks Department Woodland Ramble (1980 Revised Edition)
The Centenary Plantation was created to commemorate the
centenary of Croydon Council. One hundred English Oaks and Birch trees were planted with the intention that the Birch would be felled when the Oak had matured.
The scheme was originated by Croydon Councillor, Dudley Mead and was paid for by public subscription by Selsdon residents. In Selsdon library there is a book containing the names of all who subscribed (£5 per tree - quite a lot in 1983).
Three oaks were planted by
the Mayor of Croydon in the Southern corner of David's Crook to mark the 50th
Anniversary of the Official Opening. A plaque marks the site.
This photograph of the event (right) was originally published in the Croydon Advertiser. Many thanks to them for permission to use this image.
This piece from the Croydon Advertiser of January 1987 highlights another contribution from a volunteer group - The National Trust Activities Group. It is not known for how long this continued but there was no long term voluntary activity in the wood in 1987.
At this time two keepers were employed and their duties included patrolling, pest control, care of toilets and car park, as well as forestry.
The bear that stands beside the car park was carved in the first year (1988) as a spectator event during the show. It was carved by a local tree surgeon, Selwyn Smith who now lives in Wales.
The Croydon Country Show.pdf
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A booklet, ‘Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve - An Illustrated History’ was published to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Opening of Selsdon Woods in 1936. Most of the maps and other illustrations on this page are taken from this booklet.
2003 - Founding of SWAG
A support group, SWAG, the Selsdon Wood Action Group, was set up. The constitution was drafted at meeting on 8th November 2003 following an inaugural meeting held possibly in September/ October that year.
SWAG notice boards were put up at Kingfisher Gardens and Quail Gardens gates. (These had rotted and fallen off by 2015 when they were replaced by new FSW boards.)
It is not known for how long SWAG was in action. Please get in touch if you can tell us more.
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2007 - FSW
The Friends of Selsdon Wood was founded by Dawn Gibbons (who had also been involved with SWAG, which had folded. The inaugural meeting was held on 12th November at the Julian Huxley, Selsdon. The event was attended by 12 people including Ernie Thomason, the Park Ranger, Meike Weiser, the Community Partnership Officer and Sara Bashford, the Selsdon Councillor responsible for Woods. There was also a representative of Selsdon Residents Association attending. At this meeting it was agreed to set up a Friends group to maintain and promote the wood.
The Friends of Selsdon Wood obtained grants to purchase name boards for the woodland paths - £500 from the London Tree & Woodland Grant Scheme and £500 from the Selsdon Residents Association. The Friends added £75 to allow the first two phases of the project to get under way. For more information and photos see the Projects page.
The FSW also did some clearance work in the Jubilee Plantation and planted 250 mixed whips. For a full account see the Areas of Interest page.
The 75th Anniversary of the opening of Selsdon Wood as a National Trust Nature Reserve was celebrated with a charcoal burn over the weekend of June 3rd, 4th and 5th. A similar event was held in May 2012. Details of these charcoal burns can be found on the Events page.
On 3rd March groups of Brownies and Rainbows planted 60 trees in the Jubilee Plantation to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. See Areas of Interest page for photographs and more information about this event.
On 7th August the Friends of Selsdon Wood installed a new seat at the top of Green Hill, donated to commemorate the establishment of the FSW in 2007. We also attached a lost property box to the notice board in the car park.
A dedicated bench was also installed this summer in Field 2 in memory of Heather Creamer, a lover of Selsdon Wood, who died in December 2012.
In the summer of 2014
Croydon Council installed raised banks around the car park area. These are
called soil bunds and replace the wooden posts that had largely rotted away.
Their purpose is to prevent the possibility of invasion of the woods by
travellers or other vehicles. They are better deterrents than posts (which can
fairly easily be knocked down by a determined intruder) and are also a more
permanent solution to the problem. They looked a bit messy when first built but
they soon grassed over and in future years will be mown at the same time as the
field paths to keep them neat.
The photograph shows the soil bund on 16/8/14 - only 2 weeks after completion and seeding.
The Council installed two new bins in
the car park - part of a programme of renewal of 130 bins borough wide. These
have no separate slot for dog poo - it all goes in together - and there is a
cigarette stubber on the top. It is hoped that the slot is
narrow enough to prevent the dumping of household waste and to stop foxes raiding
the bins and spreading mess. So far this has proved to be the case.
2014 - 2015
In 2014/15 FSW undertook the renovation of the notice boards at the 6 entrances to Selsdon Wood. They had been up for 20 years or so and contained out-of-date information and had also been damaged by graffiti. Although the boards were Council owned they were unable to fund any work on them in the current financial climate. The FSW were able to obtain grants to cover most of the cost and in February 2015 the first completed new board was erected in the car park. The project had taken 18
months. For a full report see the Projects page.
On 25th March we had some unwelcome visitors - 3 travellers' caravans in the car park, It was reported to the police and Council who were aware of them as they had previously been in Selsdon rec. then Selsdon Park Hotel staff car park. They were moved on by bailiffs on 27th March. They had made a bit of a mess but it was cleared by the following day by Council contractors and the FSW.
2015 April 28th
2015 Eight New Benches
During the month of April five new benches were installed in the wood by the FSW. Two were to replace old benches that were rotten and three were dedicated benches in new locations. The latter comprised benches dedicated to the memory of woodsman Rob Sowter and to Janet Bickerstaff (a founder member of the FSW), both presented by the FSW, and a bench for G G Lewis presented by his friends and family. For more details and photographs see the Projects page.
A further 3 dedicated benches were installed in the autumn of 2015 to commemorate the lives of Michael Boyd, Vera May Cannon and Jan Stupes Martin. All were presented by the families of the deceased. Full details can be found on the Seats page.
In June 2015 new nesting boxes and plaques were installed by FSW. These included bird and bat boxes made by Jim Dunning and plaques in Linden Glade (see 1936 above) and The Gorses.
The old SWAG (Selsdon Wood Appreciation Group) notice board at the Kingfisher Gardens gate was replaced with a new board for the FSW notices and a similar board was sited at the Quail Gardens gate. (See 2003 above for more about SWAG.)
2015 August - Redecoration of the Toilet Block
for the Council started work on this on Saturday 22nd August 2015 and
by Tuesday 1st September the internal work was completed. All internal
walls were painted white, the floors resurfaced in grey and external doors painted
green. The door to the Ladies was replaced as it was very rotten at the base. FSW had to move out of our store to allow it to be painted and all our resources were relocated temporarily to the garage. They were returned to the store on 3rd September.
On completion of the work the FSW applied to Croydon Council for a licence to make use of the "mess room" which had been largely unused since there ceased to be a full time warden. Thanks to funding from the local Councillors' Ward Budget we purchased a display board which is installed in the mess room and bears a series of displays linked to events and walks. These displays also include a "museum" of items found in the wood such a the skulls of various mammals.
2016 May - FSW win Community Woodland Award
The Friends of Selsdon Wood were delighted to receive an award from the Forestry Commission for being a community group that works effectively to protect and develop London's trees and woodland. The group was nominated by Mathew Frith of London Wildlife Trust and attended an event at London City Hall on 26th May 2016 to receive the award.
2016 May - Restoration of Linden Glade
In May 2016 the FSW held several additional workdays to clear and restore the pond in Linden Glade and to create a wooden henge to replace the broken down fence. Full details of this work with photographs can be found on the Workdays page.
The History of Selsdon Wood Up to 1945 by Ted Frith
Janet Bickerstaff wrote a Project in 1986 for the Open University Changing Countryside Course on the History and Management of Selsdon Woods. She has kindly given permission for us to publish this and a copy may be downloaded from here.
History and Management of Selsdon Woods
See also the page on Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve History from the LB Croydon Leisure and Culture website: