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When Herds Grazed on Gypsy Hill

It has been many years since cows last grazed in the open fields of Norwood. However such a scene can be found in the Norwood Society's publication, "The Story of Norwood".

This fascinating view shows a dairy herd feeding in a field at the lower end of Gypsy Hill in the 1890's.

This field survives today as a public open space called Long Meadow or Bell Meadow between Gypsy Hill and Dulwich Wood Avenue.

At the turn of the twentieth century this meadow was known locally as French's Field, after Thomas French, a dairyman from nearby Croxted Road who grazed his cattle there.

His dairy building survives today half way down Gypsy Hill between Woodland Road and Cawnpore Street, In an old photograph taken in the early 1920s it can be seen with the wording Crystal Palace Dairy written under its three gables.

Another dairyman, James Bacon of Elder Road, also used the field to graze his herd. His dairy flourished in the latter half of the nineteenth century. His milkmen, smartly attired in their aprons, were once a common sight riding around Norwood streets in their small pony traps with a large metal milk churn at the rear.

At each end of the meadow there was a small triangular plot of land. These can still be seen today, one where the middle of Dulwich Wood Avenue joins Gipsy Hill and the other survives as the roundabout opposite "The Paxton" public house in Gypsy Road. Tradition has it that these small, isolated plots of land were old plague pits in which local villagers who died of the disease were buried.

Although there is little evidence to substantiate this legend, their location on the very edge of Camberwell parish would make sense. The villagers would obvious wish burials of those who passed away from such a highly contagious infection to take place in the most distant part of the parish.

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) mentions in his book "The Journal of the Plague Year" that victims of this dreadful disease were to be found among the woods and commons at Norwood. He writes: "The country people would go and dig a hole at a distance from them and then with long poles with hooks at the end of them, drag the bodies into these pits and then throw the earth in from as far as they could caste it to cover them."

The cattle that enjoyed the lush grass thereabouts did not seem to suffer any adverse effects from the pasture, neither did the generations of young Norwoodians who were raised on the milk produced by the cows who grazed there.

Last modified: 14th January 2013 - Copyright Canning and Clyde Residents Association
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