Cox’s Walk in SE London is a former 18C public path which used to link a public house in Dulwich, The Green Man, with the spa at Sydenham Wells. It was a ‘path with a purpose’, a practical path. The path delivered you to the spa, or perhaps offered something stronger to those who had already recovered in the spa. Today it is a pleasant and well-used stroll in ancient woodland, between Dulwich and Sydenham Hill. It is interesting to see the continuity of purposes as it seems to enjoy a similar practical aim, only now it delivers people into the woods for exercise and enjoyment.
History of Sydenham Hill Wood
Sydenham Hill Wood forms part of the largest remaining tract of the old Great North Wood, a vast area of worked coppices and wooded commons that once stretched from Deptford to Selhurst. The wood is home to more than 200 species of trees and plants as well as rare fungi, insects, birds and woodland mammals.London Gardens Online, April 2012
Sydenham Hill Wood is a magical place. It has atmosphere and character and it is one of those places where you can slip into another layer of time. It is in the Borough of Southwark and so outside my project which is in the Borough of Lewisham. However, I wanted to include Cox’s Walk, which is along the edge of the wood because of the connection with Sydenham Wells Park.
‘…Cox’s Walk is an 18th Century oak-lined avenue that crosses the wood by an ornamental footbridge over the old railway track… [It] was created by publican John Cox as a public path through the Fifty Acre Wood opposite his inn, The Green Man. With trees on either side, it became a short cut to the spa at Sydenham Wells, one of a number of fashionable spas in the area. In 1739 Cox’s son discovered a mineral stream in the grounds of the inn and opened pleasure gardens. Cox’s Walk was acquired by Camberwell Vestry in 1898 and since 1965 is owned by London Borough of Southwark… ‘.London Gardens Online, April 2012
I can’t find a description of the path’s route but wonder if in the past Taylor’s Lane, a little ‘country’ lane alongside one side of Sydenham Wells Park, continued into Oaksford Avenue and onwards up the hill to meet Sydenham Hill Road which links to Cox’s Walk.
Sydenham Hill to the Bridge
This section of the walk feels somewhat impersonal, although it is pleasant, particularly on a hot day. It is a well-used and easy walk. There is a warning notice about the bridge closure at this entrance to the walk.
The railway bridge
The new Crystal Palace and South London Junction Railway opened In 1865, giving easy access to the new Crystal Palace. The railway cut across Cox’s Walk and so a bridge was necessary. It was built of teak(!) and iron! The bridge was restored in 1906, but upkeep was neglected when the railway stopped in mid-century. The local council finally closed the bridge at the beginning of 2020 because of safety concerns.
A diversion takes you through the woods, or you can slither down the slope alongside the bridge and walk along the defunct railway line for a while. After a while the diversion leads to the hollow of the railway line, which you can follow back towards the bridge, and up to the other side of the railway cutting. Turn right and you are back at Cox’s Walk at the bridge.
From the railway bridge to Dulwich
A wide avenue lined with large, old oak trees leads down the hill from the bridge to the pub in Dulwich, on the corner of Lordship Lane.
The Green Man pub
The Green Man pub was on the site of today’s ‘Harvester’. The building has been closed since 2011 and is an eyesore causing much concern locally. It is owned by Stonegate Pub Company, the UK’s largest pub company, which is in turn owned by TDR Capital, and it is difficult to understand why a wealthy company should choose to display itself in such a mess.
The real magic
Cox’s Walk is remarkable – an 18C public path still in use today – but the real magic is deeper into the woods.
Further information: Cox’s Walk