Walking the Norbury Brook

What is it with these South London rivers? Probably my favourite walk of 2023 was the River Shuttle walk I did in February. I was guided into the dark by a brilliantly luminous full moon that made me think of Steve Moore’s magical book Somnium, which is set around the summit of Shooters Hill, not far from the source of the Shuttle at the foot of Avery Hill. I’d started the year by continuing my walk along the fantastically named River Quaggy – the whole route a delight. And then the Beverley Brook walk to celebrate London Rivers Week was one of the most bucolic and relaxing London walks of the year. The Norbury Brook continued this trend of South London river walks that entered my soul.

Norbury Brook at Heavers Meadow Selhurst
Norbury Brook at Heavers Meadow Selhurst

I started my Norbury Brook walk on a blustery November day at South Norwood Station, a name that calls to mind the Great North Wood that covered this part of South London. I only had a blog post from the brilliant Diamond Geezer to guide me, other online sources were scarce, but the brook is well marked on maps. The Norbury Brook rises a mile or so away from the station, just beside Selhurst Railway Depot, which is where I first encountered it as the brook emerged through a brick arch from beneath the tracks and ran along the side of Heavers Meadow. The first sighting of a river is a magical moment, when the river deity casts its spell upon you.
We then soon lost the river as it descended beneath the road which gave us the opportunity to admire Maud Milton’s wonderful mosaic roundel on the front of Selhurst Station. I filmed Maud in her studio when she was creating this mosaic for Southern Rail, the tiles embossed, designed and conceived in collaboration with the local community forming a unique portrait of the area and its heritage. The Norbury Brook was there alongside Amy Winehouse, Adele and Wilfred Zaha among the names of Selhurst luminaries celebrated on the tiles.

Selhurst mosaic by Maud Milton
Norbury Brook mosaic tile Maud Milton

(Sub)urban river walks always involve a bit of zigzagging through the streets to catch glimpses of the watercourse as it flows between the houses. We commenced our river dance in Swain Road, swerving round into Ecclesbourne Road, Boswell and Lucerne. The brief absence from the river making the heart grow fonder and I was wowed once again by its beauty as it elegantly opened up the landscape.
We crossed into Thornton Heath and walked down Brook Road. There were some classic old iron park railings in Thornton Heath Recreation Ground that guard the river as it flows along the edge of the open space.

Norbury Brook at Heavers Meadow
Norbury Brook at Heavers Meadow
Norbury Brook
The Norbury Brook from Swain Road
Ecclesbourne Road, CR7

Exiting the recreation ground the brook crosses Braemar Avenue and Strathyre Avenue before running along back gardens popping into view again in Ederline Avenue and Dunbar Avenue. Walking beneath the railway bridge that crosses Manor Farm Road, a fine phalanx of iron railings alerted me to the presence of the river. And there it was, blessing a culvert carved into one side of Manor Farm Nature Reserve before ducking under a brick arch to cross Norbury Avenue.
The brook next leads us into the expansive Norbury Park, purchased by the Corporation of Croydon from a builder in 1935 after it’d briefly been a golf course. Previous to that, this had been a series of open fields owned by Pembroke College, Cambridge. There’s an article on the history of Norbury Park via the Norbury Watch blog: 
“In 1583 the area that we know today as Norbury Park was then known as Palmers Fields and it comprised of 75 acres. In 1583 the executors of the will of Archbishop Grindal (who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1575 to 1583) purchased Palmers Fields for £500 on behalf of Bees Free Grammar School in Cumberland which had been Archbishop Grindal’s native home. In 1606 the governors of Bees Free Grammar School leased Palmers Fields to Pembroke College Cambridge for 1,000 years at a nominal rent in exchange for the maintenance of a fellow and three scholars at Pembroke College.”

Where the Norbury Brook heads under the grassland to cross the park it seems to pick up another water source via a large concrete outlet – could this be a tributary or maybe just drainage from the park or adjacent allotments? It was carrying quite a substantial flow.
I wondered if this was the tiny tributary I’d crossed on Norwood Grove earlier in the year  that was said to be a tributary of the River Graveney – which the Norbury Brook becomes once it leaves the park. But that might equally have been the Donny Brook or the Falls Brook which make their confluence with the Graveney further along its course in Streatham. I will now need to walk that rivulet from Norwood Grove to see exactly where it ends up.

Norbury Brook
Thornton Heath Recreation Ground

Hermitage Bridge on Streatham High Road marks (more or less) the spot where the Norbury Brook becomes the River Graveney. The brook somehow becomes a river and changes its name to one associated with a local family who owned this land in the middle ages.

River Graveney
River Graveney

 I pursued the Graveney into the sunset as it led me into Streatham. I watched it catch the golden light as it drifted across Sherwood Avenue. I spied another slice of this suburban magic from Helmsdale Road before my final sighting of our glorious river running fast and loud as it crossed Streatham Vale. The light was fading fast, it was nearly dark, and I had no chance of reaching the confluence with the Wandle, 2 miles away or more, before it was pitch black. Satisfied I had walked the Norbury Brook, I decided the save the final reaches of the River Graveney for another day.

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