Above: The large house standing beside Kirkdale.
Until 1854, when the Crystal Palace that had been in Hyde Park was opened on a new site at the top of Sydenham Hill, the communities of Forest Hill and Sydenham were relatively small. The effect of having the Crystal Palace, with its exhibitions, concerts, firework displays and extensive park created an ideal setting for the ‘rich set’ to live as close as possible to the new attraction. Even today, a walk along the road called Sydenham Hill will reveal enormous houses indicating the very rich residents from those times. Once that road was built on, other people found places nearby to build a house – like Kirkdale and later still Honor Oak Road.
Due to the passage of time – being over 150 years since the Crystal Palace was erected on what is now Crystal Palace Parade – as well as the disastrous fire when the Crystal Palace burned down in 1936, many of those houses are no longer with us. During the Second World War some of them were destroyed and some of those that remain have been converted into flats.
In spite of all this change, many of the great houses are still to be seen, if only you know where to look. One house in particular is what the locals have nick-named ‘Dracula’s Castle’. The large house stands at the highest point of Kirkdale, near where it joins onto Sydenham Hill. When it was first built the views from the house must have been spectacular. From the top floor of the house on side it was possible to see across London to locations like St Paul’s Cathedral. From the opposite side of the house were views extending as far as the North Downs. Today large trees and modern blocks of flats probably block many of the views.
The real name of the house is Eliot Lodge which was first built in the early 1850s. The name derives from the fact that it was built on land owned by the Eliot family, who, as Earls of Dartmouth, were Lords of the Manor of Lewisham. The house was enlarged around 1870 to almost twice its size. The earlier part is near the road. The elegant tower was also built onto the original smaller building. It is possible to see the house from the drive. The brickwork for the later addition is easy to see because it is a slightly different colour from the original building.
It is probably the largest house in Kirkdale. It stands back from a large driveway and a smaller spooky black side gate. Its nick-name is due to its lavish and rather spooky exterior. It certainly adds some individuality to the area which is being eroded by the constant advance of banal modern housing estates.