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Sydenham and Forest Hill

Price: £14.99

Sydenham may lack a Roman history but it has been home to one of Britain's leading Roman historians Dr Joan P. Alcock.

Joan has taken time out to write the history of Sydenham to complement her book on her other home town - Congleton. This book is both a scholary book and an everyday tome. You can dip into the book for fascinating facts you never knew about the place where we live. This is because Joan writes from a social perspective giving us an insight into the lives of the people who lived here before us - and also drawing strongly on the input of contemporary witnesses which, of course, includes Joan herself.

Joan has researched the archives at Lewisham, the Imperial War Museum, Crystal Palace Foundation and the Sydenham Society. She has also built on the work of other Sydenham and Crystal Palace historians - notably Steve Grindlay, John Coulter and Melvyn Harrison their collections of photographs and drawings. To these she has added her own collection of fine photographs which provide an intrinsic and colourful core to the book.

Regrettably not even Joan can make Sydenham's early history stretch beyond a short six page illustrated chapter. The remaining six chapters chart the town's early growth in the eighteenth century through to the twentieth - and into the twenty-first. These do include the expected sections on the coming of the Crystal Palace in 1855 and its fiery demise in 1936 but they do link directly into today - whether it the rededication of workman's grave at St Barts in 2003 or the politics of its division involving the Greater London Council, the National Sports Centre and Bromley Borough's ill fated plans for the multiplex up to the current restoration plans. These are accompanied by pictures of the Palace at its height and the evocative statues and dinosaurs that haunt the park today.

A major section of the book is dedicated to Sydenham and Forest Hill's experience in the two world wars. Did you know Sydenham had bombing attacks in 1917 & 1918? A striking photograph shows how one raid obliterated 198-202 Sydenham Road killing 18 people. The damage of the second world war was far more extensive. Again Joan brings the experience home with eye witness stories such as those of pupils at Sydenham High School when a V2 rocket exploded over them in 1944 - the only V2 known to have exploded prior to impact and averting a major tragedy.

These are but headlines from an extensive and comprehensive story of that time. Joan also points out how the ravages of war have affected how we see Sydenham today. And then there are the little nuggets of information. Did you know that besides the famous Pissarro painting of The Avenue/St Barts - there is a virtually unknown Pissarro of Lawrie Park Gardens? Sadly Joan did not manage to find an illustration. Did you know that Sydenham School's 1960s block was designed by Basil Spence? Or the Further Education Building in Kirkdale was by the Palace Architect Joseph Paxton?

This is a book everybody in Sydenham can enjoy. Finally besides an extensive and helpful bibliography at the back - Joan has included three walking itineries to bring alive much of which she has written.

128pages paperback 120 illustrations