Remnants of the Great North Wood in focus: Spa Wood

Spa Wood credit Daniel Greenwood

Continuing a series of blogs on the Great North Wood, project officer Edwin Malins writes on the history and present-day ecology of Spa Wood.

Once the site of the famous Beulah Spa pleasure gardens, Spa Wood is an important fragment of the old Great North Wood, with its mature trees and numerous woodland-specialist flowers. It envelops a neighbouring area of amenity grassland like a crescent moon, and although a walk down its main path can give the impression that the wood is long and thin, it is quite easy to get lost wandering through its network of informal paths and glades. 

London Wildlife Trust launched the Great North Wood project in 2017 and now works with volunteers, community groups, landowners, and councils, to revive and reimagine this ancient landscape as a home for nature and people.

History

Formerly known as Bewlye Coppice, an adjacent wood to Bewlye Farm, the area was well-known for its mineral waters flowing from springs in the hillside. These chalybeate waters (containing salts of iron) had been celebrated for a number of years, but the spa and fresh air alone were not providing sufficient income for the site’s owner. In 1831 Beulah Spa opened to the public, a decadent concoction of exciting attractions; including a maze, two wildfowl lakes, a marching band to accompany dancing on the lawns, a camera obscura, and a telescope powerful enough to see Windsor Castle. These pleasure grounds were laid out by famous architect Decimus Burton, noted for his works at London Zoo and Kew Gardens.

For 25 years Beulah Spa attracted the great and good of Victorian society, including Charles Dickens and even Queen Victoria herself. But its fortunes changed in 1854, when the Crystal Palace was erected nearby, ultimately putting Beulah Spa out of business two years later. The site was auctioned off, and a large mansion - ‘The Lawns’ - was constructed, with other parts of the land being separately developed. The mansion was demolished after fire damage in the 1960s, but the remaining wood and meadow had already been conveyed to the Croydon Corporation in 1939 to be managed as an open space in perpetuity. The only surviving building from Beulah Spa is the Tivoli Lodge, now a private house on the corner of Spa Hill and Beulah Hill.