From a lady I never met. A lady born in Crystal Palace in the early 1900s.
It sounds like an exotic faraway place, but it took us all of 70 minutes on public transport to get there from North London. Crystal Palace is a suburb on the southern outskirts of London. Well, was there a real palace I hear you ask? Yes, but of the glass and iron variety. In 1851, they built The Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition held in London’s Hyde Park to showcase Britain’s industrial achievements to the rest of the world. They moved The Crystal Palace to the Borough of Bromley over the next few years. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 1936. The suburb is now known as Crystal Palace.
In February 2016, during my second time living in London, I finally visited Crystal Palace. She lived there for the first three years of her life in an old narrow two storey house next to a railway line. I peered through the window of a closed down second hand clothing store which I kept reminding myself used to be the ground floor of her home. The inside interior had been redone but I could tell that the outside of the building, particularly the top floor, was original.
In my excitement at seeing her home, it took me a few minutes to find the demolition sign on the door. Any final words about the demolition application to be addressed to the contact within the next 2 days. How about the timing?! I almost didn’t get the opportunity to see where she lived in its somewhat original form! If you’re a believer of the saying ‘everything happens for a reason’, that is how I felt at that moment.
I took a few photos and started walking away when I realised just how big this moment was not only for me, but also for my Mum. I looked at the world clock on my phone and despite it being 1:30am at home in Australia, I rang Mum and told her to turn on the computer so I could show her the place her Mum was born. It took a few explanations in her drowsy state but finally she appeared as ‘online’ on Skype. I showed her everything I could see and after she asked a few questions about what she was seeing, and making comments like ‘it’s still there after all this time’, she politely thanked me for waking her up at 1:30am and asked if she could return to bed. But I know she appreciated the tour of her Mum’s home in England that she had never seen herself.
After enjoying an ice cream (on a freezing winter’s day) at the shop across the road, we made our way towards Crystal Palace Park. We were most interested in the dinosaur sculptures which were built in 1854 to accompany The Crystal Palace. If she was ever taken on a short stroll up the road to the park, I was looking at the same dinosaur sculptures as her all those years ago. There was also a hedge maze nearby (also first built in the 19th century) which we took the opportunity to get lost in. Every time we made the right choice, I felt as though she was there helping us make the decision.
She moved to Australia when she was three years old. There she had three children, one of which was my Mum. To apply for a UK Ancestry Visa, you need to prove that one of your grandparents was born in the UK. This meant that I had to order her birth certificate all the way from England. I almost didn’t believe it when it arrived in the post.
You might have guessed by now that ‘the lady’ is my grandmother. Sadly, she died before I was born. I was given her first name as my middle name so she will always be a part of me. I will be forever grateful to her for my connection to England and the extended life-changing opportunity it’s given me to live in this amazing city, so close to Europe. Visiting her home was the least I could do!