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A Straight Line Walk Across London
by Paul K Lyons
18 - From peppermint and lavender to a school tragedy and a foam factory fire
Beyond the station, I pass from Sutton into Croydon, along Stonecroft Way, and turn left into Alfriston Avenue. Although there are older houses on Stonecroft Way, those on Alfriston Avenue are newer and more basic. They were built as council houses in the late 50s or early 60s on land that, until then, had still belonged to a farm. I walk a short way along the road called Therapia Lane. Another divorced part of this lane still exists to the west, connected to Beddington Lane. In the 19th century, Therapia Lane was a private farm road that linked fields growing lavender and peppermint to a distillery, established by Phillippe Auguste Lelasseur, in Mitcham Road (although from the 1850s carts would have had to cross the Mitcham-Croydon railway line). Mitcham peppermint oil became internationally famous and won a gold medal at the Paris exhibition in 1885 and again in 1889.
Rochford Way, a road with terraced houses, some with tile-hung bays, and others with gable fronts, leads me backs towards the 300 easting, and to the Mitcham Road (the A236). Set back from the main road is the Archbishop Lanfranc Secondary School, which began life on another site in 1931, and moved to Mitcham Road in 1956. Only five years later, in August 1961, the school was to suffer a terrible tragedy: a chartered plane carrying 34 schoolboys and two teachers crashed in a storm off the Norwegian coast. A report by the Royal Norwegian Commission concluded that the crash was caused by 'a deviation from the prescribed flight path for reasons unknown'. No evidence was found of mechanical or structural failures or defects in the Viking aircraft. In July 1986, 25 years later, the tragedy was remembered at a service held at the Croydon Crematorium Chapel. Afterwards, there was a procession through the crematorium grounds to the Lanfranc Memorial, and wreaths were laid. Terge Berge of the Strand Kommune, where the plane crashed, who had travelled from Norway for the service, advised those present that a footpath from the road to the memorial cross in Norway was well cared for and would be always.
Today, Lanfranc is a Foundation school with an annual budget of £2.5m, serving over 1,000 pupils, aged 11 to 16 years, with a gender ratio of 60% male and 40% female, some 45% of its pupils are from ethnic minorities. A road runs by the side of the school leading to the 'Croydon Adventure Project' and a 'Duke of Edinburgh Awards Centre' although this information is hard to discern given the weather-ravaged state of the notice-board by the gate.
Opposite, a service track which runs parallel to, and behind, Rochford Way, emerges into the Mitcham Road almost exactly on the 300 easting. This serves a large factory owned by Zotefoams plc, a company which produces foams that have 'controllable properties and are of a strength, consistency, quality and purity superior to foams produced by other methods' through 'a unique, environmentally-friendly, nitrogen expansion process'. Zotefoams also has operations in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and US, but this is its headquarters. The foams are used in a range of markets, including sports and leisure (buoyancy aids, for example, and cricket pads), transport (moulded gaskets in electric car wing mirrors), health care (orthoses), toys, building, and marine/military supplies. In October 2000, there was a huge fire at the premises. Local residents, including some in Therapia Lane, were evacuated; the tramlink was closed for a while; and it took 30 fire engines and more than 150 firefighters to bring the blaze under control. The factory, which suffered damage to stock, buildings and plant, resumed near full production within 10 days. Since then, however, the company has been through a rough patch, largely due to European market conditions.
Along the Mitcham Road, I quickly pass Selco builders warehouse and an
empty office block, on one side, and the Fernside Motor company on the other,
since I am anxious for refreshment at the Jolly Gardener's pub. Unfortunately,
it's closed, boarded up, and good for little more than advertising BSN Crash
Repairs Ltd along Redhouse Road at the side. Instead, I make do with an
average cup of tea in the BP garage at the corner of Mitcham Common. It
costs me £1.30.
A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting
by Paul K Lyons
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