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Crystal Palace Subway: A hidden survivor of a lost Victorian train station

Back to their Victorian glory: The restored sphinxes of Crystal Palace Park

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One of the restored red sphinxes in Crystal Palace Park

Crystal Palace Park is a South London gem. Although well-known by locals, many people living in the other parts of the capital haven’t made the journey… and they’re missing out! As a born and bred South Londoner, I’ve been visiting the park since I was little and continue to today. The park was established in 1854 as a permanent base for the Crystal Palace – built for the Great Exhibition three years earlier. The Crystal Palace – a huge iron and glass structure designed by architect Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) – had already wowed visitors in Hyde Park, and would have a long-term home at the expansive Sydenham grounds with views across Croydon and Surrey. Together with the surrounding land, the park became a Victorian pleasure ground. Two train stations serviced the park, while an Italian garden and fountains, a maze, an English landscape garden and dinosaur exhibition were opened.

The Crystal Palace stood for decades until it was destroyed by a fire in November 1936. Today, the only remainder of the Palace is its Victorian terraces, ruins of its water towers and the surviving six of the original collection of 12 sphinxes. The sculptures of the half-man, half-lions flank flights of steps on the Upper Terrace and feature cartouches and hieroglyphs on their bodies and base. The sphinxes were based on the red granite sphinx at the Louvre museum in Paris – from the reign of Egyptian Pharaoh Amenemhat II (1929-1895 BC). They are likely to have been the idea of architect Owen Jones (1809-1874), who was partially responsible for the decoration and layout of the Palace in its new environment and designed the Egyptian, Greek and Roman courts within the exhibition.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

One of the sphinxes before and after restoration

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One of the Crystal Palace sphinxes looking south over the terraces and park in 2015 – before restoration

For decades, the sphinxes were painted red to match their original inspiration across the channel in France. Tests have shown the re-painting stopped in the 1900s when the popularity in the Palace had declined. For most of the 20th century, the sphinxes were their base grey colour. Understandably, they’ve taken quite a battering from the elements over the years and were cracking, ending up on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register.

In 2016, the Grade II-listed sphinxes were restored as part of a £2.4million project funded by the Mayor of London, Historic England and Bromley Council. The project also includes the restoration of the terrace steps, the famous Victorian dinosaur sculptures and a new café. The work included repairs to the holes and cracks and repainting to their original Victorian colour of red with a mineral paint to help conserve them longer. I’ve loved the sphinxes since I was a child and having witnessed their deterioration over the years, I was thrilled to see them restored to their former glory. I hope they continue to survey the park for another 150 years and beyond.

  • The Sphinxes are located by the terraces on the northern-western part of Crystal Palace Park (access from Crystal Palace Parade, Upper Norwood, SE19. Nearest station: Crystal Palace. For information about visiting the park, check out Bromley Council’s website.
© Paul Furst/Wikimedia Commons

Some of the sphinxes (circled) outside the Crystal Palace in 1854
© Paul Furst/Wikimedia Commons


Read about the Victorian subway hidden under Crystal Palace parade here.

To find out about another set of London sphinxes on the Victoria Embankment, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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Urban Orient review: A taste of Vietnam in a laidback, cafe setting

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To start: Banh Khot – Vietnamese pancakes with shrimps

Vietnamese has been steadily growing in London as a popular cuisine after years of dominance by other Asian food, such as Thai, Chinese and Indian. However, I found I’ve often had to go into East London to find decent Vietnamese… until now. I’m quite well acquainted with the many venues on offer in Crystal Palace. However, due to their lack of a website or Twitter presence, I wasn’t aware of Urban Orient until a friend suggested eating there. Last weekend, a large group of booked a table, and were given one by the large windows so we were able to watch the bustle of Crystal Palace going by. Although open for dinner, as well as lunch, the open kitchen and woodwork gave the venue a relaxed cafe-vibe which I really liked. The interior was decorated with vintage IndoChina paraphernalia and old typewriters which made it stand out to other Vietnamese restaurants.

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Delicious: Bun Cha Ca – vermicelli noodles with salad and lightly spiced battered fish

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Piping hot: Won ton soup with pork

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Urban Orient is located on Westow Street in Crystal Palace, just on the junction with Church Road

To start with, a friend and I shared our starter of Banh Khot – a plate of four mini savoury pancakes filled with shrimps, mung bean and roasting herbal flavours (£4.80). They weren’t quite what I was expecting when I heard the word pancakes, but they were compact and delicious and I would likely order this again when I return. For my main, I had the Bun Cha Ca – vermicelli rice dish with crunchy salad and spicy fish sauce topped with delicately spiced battered fish. It was incredibly filling and delicious. One of my friends chose the Won Ton Soup with pork and really enjoyed it, but again found it very filling.

The staff were incredibly friendly and relaxed, especially having to put up with 12 of us chatting away. The menu is very good value and includes a mix of dim sum, soup noodles and rice dishes. The venue is cash only and BYOB – which frankly I believe a lot more venues should be BYOB. A friend and I shared a bottle of Sauvignon between us with corkage only £4. Overall, it is a good value and a pleasant place for a relaxed meal. I will definitely be returning.

  • Urban Orient, 74 Westow Street, Crystal Palace, SE19 3AF. Tel: 020 8616 4511. Nearest station: Crystal Palace.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Relaxed cafe vibe: The restaurant is light, airy and informal


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For contents of all Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.

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Olympic Torch Relay comes to Crystal Palace