Introducing The East London Line: Sydenham

By Londonist Last edited 99 months ago
Introducing The East London Line: Sydenham
Sydenham train station on ELL opening day / image by the author
Sydenham train station on ELL opening day / image by the author
Cobbs Corner / image by Rachel H
Cobbs Corner / image by Rachel H
St Bartholomew's church / image by Rachel H
St Bartholomew's church / image by Rachel H

The East London Line opened its south-east section yesterday, inducting a whole new swathe of London into the world of roundels. Given that, for a lot of people, south-east London might as well be populated by dragons, we asked some locals to give you a tour round their gaffs. Today, Stuart from the Sydenham Town community website, takes us round his bit of town.

So where is Sydenham?

A dinner party, a chat-up or an interview brings the question that is so difficult to answer... "well do you know Crystal Palace?" you tender, hoping London's answer to the Eiffel Tower and the target of every TV aerial might point most in the general direction. But to be honest if you are not on the tube map you just do not exist to most Londoners - dare one say all North Londoners?

Yet Sydenham preceded the tube as the place to travel by rail. The infamous pneumatic railway ran to Sydenham until the leatherclad vacuum tube was eaten by rats. It grew as a rich Victorian suburb where Pissaro painted, Liszt would play and George Grove would compile all there was to know about music, while WC Grace would knock off a few runs and then win a hurdles competition at the new fangled Crystal Palace Park before walking home to Lawrie Park Road.

The pneumatic railway is now the main London Bridge to Brighton line stopping at Sydenham station with a loop line via Crystal Palace and Clapham Junction to Victoria. The same line that is now also the London Overground line to Dalston Junction; together giving up to 10 trains an hour in each direction. There are two other lines serving Sydenham. Penge East (half of which is in Sydenham) and Sydenham Hill sit aside the Orpington to Victoria line. Lower Sydenham is on the Hayes to Cannon Street line.

All of which makes Sydenham arguably one of the best places for fast commuting into central London. As far out as you can go in zone 3, surrounded by good green parks and only 17 minutes from town. A secret known to few which results in possibly the best buy-per-buck you can get in the London property market. Thankfully many of the original Victorian mansions and villas (some of which still exist) have been redeveloped piecemeal over the last century to provide a wide variety of accommodation. Hence you do not get the monotonous homogeneity of many London communities.

This secret has been passed on quietly to some groups that have helped make Sydenham special. Probably the most obvious are classical musicians. Just how do you get a cello home after a concert on the South Bank or an Opera at Covent Garden? The tube is a bit tight, taxis are too expensive and you need to have a home big enough to swing a violin at a cat whilst practising not too far away.

Train to Sydenham and a Victorian or Edwardian villa does the job nicely. It also means that the day the Overground came was also the first night of the annual International Music Festival. The house orchestra of St Bartholomew's boasts some familiar faces from our grand London orchestras and helps attract artists from around the world.

On the other hand just £100,000 will find you a selection of modern purpose built flats. The variety, quality and prices match almost every market. Some Sydenham properties at the upper end have even been described as 'Dulwich Borders' by mischievous West End estate agents.

Except Dulwich is still not on the tube map. Sydenham now is. A secret to be soon discovered?

The local estate agents have been quietly plugging this for the last three years with their eyes on the Canary Wharf financial commuting market (change at Surrey Quays Canada Water please). Sadly the last three years might mean any bankers taking the stage at a future Sydenham International Finance Festival might not have the same impact as our musicians. But they may make quieter neighbours!

Last Updated 24 May 2010