What’s it all about?
London’s elite – including, it is said, George III – used to make the journey to South East London to take Sydenham’s restorative spa waters, but it was not until the arrival of the railways and the relocation nearby of the Crystal Palace in the mid 19th century that the area became fashionable. Now Sydenham, a large area spread across several different boroughs, is a bustling neighbourhood with a range of shops, bars and restaurants to choose from, and is exceptionally well served for green spaces, being surrounded by award winning parks. Since its incorporation into the Overground network, Sydenham has become well connected to the City and Docklands, as well as being a short hop away from the entertainments of the Crystal Palace Triangle. Families with young children are spoilt for choice too, with all types of schools being represented here.
- Danish-French impressionist painter Camille Pissarro produced many paintings of the area and his 1871 work The Avenue, Sydenham was bought by the National Gallery in 1984.
- Famous one time residents of Sydenham include explorer Ernest Shackleton, television inventor John Logie Baird and the entertainer Bud Flanagan.
Architecture and property
Originally known as Shippenham, Sydenham began as a small settlement of a few cottages among the woods, whose inhabitants grazed their animals and collected wood. The neighbourhood grew rapidly, however, after the opening of the first canal in 1809 and then the railway in 1839, and many houses were built at the time of the relocation of the Great Exhibition to Sydenham in 1854. All this means that there is a huge variety of housing stock, including grand Edwardian statement homes, Victorian terraces, classic three bedroom 1930s semis and 1960s townhouses, as well as flats in newer developments.
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Eating: Humble on the outside, Millennium Tandoori was voted the Best Takeaway in Britain by readers of the Evening Standard in 2013. If you prefer to go out for your Indian food, Gurkha’s on Sydenham Road has a good reputation. If your tastes veer more towards traditional pizza and pasta dishes, head for the Trattoria Raffaele, also on Sydenham Road, or That’s Amore in Kirkdale. A relatively new addition to the area is 161 Food + Drink, serving as a wine bar, cafe and off licence. There are many more restaurants in Crystal Palace and Forest Hill, both of which are just a few minutes away.
Drinking: Two local favourites are The Dolphin, which offers decent pub grub and has a beautifully designed garden at the back, and The Golden Lion, which is home to the Sydenham Film Club on the last Thursday of each month. A short walk up Sydenham Hill brings you to the Dulwich Woodhouse, with its traditional country pub feel and family friendly vibe.
Events: The annual Sydenham Arts Festival has been building momentum each year and now encompasses music, theatre, dance, art and film, often in unexpected places, both indoors and out.
- The monthly Sydenham Market showcases local traders and offers a range of street food and artisanal produce.
- Calabash of Culture offers ethnic books and gifts, as well as hosting a vegan cafe. Long term fixture the Kirkdale Bookshop also hosts exhibitions and book readings.
- For your everyday needs, there is a large Sainsbury’s store at the Bell Green part of Sydenham, with two smaller Tescos and a Lidl.
- Sydenham Library runs a local service, and there is a large library with many facilities just down the road in Forest Hill.
- The Horniman Museum in Forest Hill is very close by and offers a great collection of exhibits, some of which you can touch, as well as having beautiful gardens and an aquarium.
- The Bridge Leisure Centre in Lower Sydenham has two pools, a gym, an indoor cycle studio and outdoor pitches for several sports, as well as a cafe and soft play area. Or head up to Crystal Palace to the Grape and Grain pub, where Swing Patrol London holds regular dance sessions. And of course there is always the sports centre at Crystal Palace, which has one of only nine Olympic sized pools in the country.
Sydenham has many lovely local green spaces such as Sydenham Wells Park, Mayow Park and Alexandra Recreation Ground, which are well maintained. There are shaded walks in Dulwich Wood and Sydenham Hill Wood, and pockets of woodland along the railway line at Dacres Wood, which is also a nature reserve, and at the locally maintained Albion Millennium Green off Albion Villas. Crystal Palace Park, with its lake, concert bowl, Victorian dinosaurs and sports stadium, is close by.
A new development from the housing association Hexagon will provide 40 new homes, as well as refurbishing the listed Greyhound pub, turning it into a restaurant.
Rail: The area is very well served by rail, Sydenham, Sydenham Hill and Lower Sydenham stations, as well as Penge East and West, all offering trains into central London. The journey to London Bridge from Sydenham takes 20 minutes, and Victoria from Sydenham Hill is under 15 minutes. The arrival of the Overground now links the area directly to Docklands and Shoreditch.
Bus: The main bus route through Sydenham is the 363 to King’s Cross, mirrored by the N63. A short walk up to Crystal Palace Parade gives access to a range of buses to other destinations. The 176 and 197 also serve the area.
Road: Sydenham lies very close to the South Circular, offering easy access for weekend escapes into Surrey and Kent, and makes for a simple journey to the ferry port at Dover.
Cycle: Waterlink Way is a car free cycle route allowing you to cycle north along the banks of the Pool and Ravensbourne rivers from SE26 all the way to Greenwich. Head south and the route takes you through Kelsey Park to South Norwood Country Park and beyond.
There are many primary schools in the area, of which Eliot Bank and Haseltine have proved consistently popular, while Sydenham School at secondary level (girls) specialising in STEM subjects and, just down the road, Forest Hill School (for boys) are also local favourites. There is an independent option for girls at Sydenham High School and the nearby mixed Harris City Academy Crystal Palace is highly regarded. There is also a LIFE (Learn in a Friendly Environment) school close by in Forest Hill, specialising in providing education, support and guidance to young people who are at risk of being excluded from mainstream education.
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