History of Chaffinch Brook

5 December, 2019

he main source of the Chaffinch Brook is not as first thought water catchments from Shirley Hills but from a number of springs. The confusion about the route of the Chaffinch Brook is wholly understandable because it is linked with two other streams; the East Chaffinch and the West Chaffinch. This goes some way to explaining why the stream bearing the same name can be found in diverse locations.

Until major development got underway in the 1920’s Monks Orchard was riddled with ponds and streams. During the winter months the water table was usually at a high level and such roads that existed were impassable in winter.

There was a wooden shed at the Long Lane end of The Glade where residents changed their waterproof footwear for more appropriate shoes before proceeding further with their journey. Even today the gardens of some properties can be moist for many months of the year making an ideal natural habitat for wildlife. Parts of Ashburton Playing Fields are often too wet to walk on without wearing waterproof footwear and sections of South Norwood Country Park are flooded for most of the year.

As the farmland was sold and used for housing development ponds were filled and streams culverted and buried underground for much of their length because of a health threat in the days before immunisation against diphtheria and antibiotics to control scarlet fever. This makes it rather difficult to accurately trace the course taken by the streams as they meander northwards. Early maps do not include small streams and guesses have to be made.

Chaffinch Brook
The Chaffinch crosses the Wickham Road and enters Monks Orchard near Verdayne Avenue. It continues to descend from Firsby Avenue, Woodland Way, Tower View, Woodmere Way, crosses The Glade, and continues along the green in Glade Gardens, Ham View, and Kempton Walk.

It reappears at the entrance of Greenview Avenue and proceeds along the edge of allotment gardens and the rear of properties in Ash Tree Way, Ash Tree Close, Norris Close, Fairford Close across the Monks Orchard Playing Fields, Horton Close and can be clearly seen as it emerges where it joins the East Branch and flows under Tesco’s Car Park and on under Elmers End Road.

Chaffinch Brook West Branch

The west branch tributary descends from Stroud Green Well, runs across the allotments and enters the playing field at the end of Glenthorne Avenue and along the side of the hospital boundary. It is then joined by the stream at Hazel Close and crosses Woodmere Avenue, onto Ashburton Playing Fields and Bywood Avenue and then continues through the back of Long Lane woods to join the Chaffinch near the Monks Orchard School playing fields towards Horton Close at the end of The Glade.

Prior to being hidden underground in a culvert the stream flowed towards the centre of Ashburton Playing Fields and the previous course is represented by a dry riverbed winding through the trees that once lined its banks. Prior to being placed in a culvert over thirty years ago heavy rainfalls could result in serious flooding in Bywood Avenue and the bottom of Chaffinch Avenue.

Chaffinch Brook East Branch – St. James Stream

Two names are applied to this tributary of the Chaffinch that does not flow through Monks Orchard. The stream rises in Spring Park Woods in West Wickham and runs down the backs of the gardens in Copse Avenue via The Alders to the White Hart, High Broom, towards the Beckenham end of Greenview Avenue and could be seen crossing the Upper Elmers End Road near the end of Altrye Way until the site was developed. The stream passes St. James Church but the name of the stream pre-dates the building of the church. It then joins Chaffinch Brook and flows onward into The Beck and then The Ravensbourne.

Regret was expressed at the disappearance of the ponds and streams that were once a feature of Monks Orchard. A large pond was situated near the bird sanctuary in what is now Lorne Gardens; it attracted swans, ducks and children from a wide area. The pond was filled-in during the early 1930’s and the site was used as a go-cart track until housing was built in the early 1950’s.

There is no longer a pond in the near locality where parents can take young children to feed the ducks, start to learn about wild life and explore the natural world. They now have to travel to Miller’s pond in Spring Park, South Norwood Country Park or Kelsey Park Beckenham. During the long summer school holidays streams were used by children as a source of play and daring adventures such as fishing for minnows, playing Pooh Sticks and leaping from one side to the other. Residents with long memories can recall the joy that these childhood pursuits provided whilst others will recall the pleasure of simply sitting and watching the stream meander by.

Story contribution from the Summer 2009 Edition of the MORA Magazine
<Working Men’s Club Lest We Forget >