A world renowned architect has revealed the secrets of the highway men and prehistoric animals buried under The Heath in an audio archive unearthed, by The Chronicle.
Dame Jane Drew, who was born in 1911 and grew up in Thornton Heath on Parchmore Road features in the British Library’s National Life Story Collection: Architects’ Lives also speaks about how Thornton Heath inspired her to become an architect.
She was a pioneer ahead of her time making a pact with actress Peggy Ashcroft, who she went to school with in Croydon, never to adopt men’s surnames. Her contemporaries were the artists Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore and it was reputable that she had reputedly been a spy for MI6.
The architect who died in 1996, revealed in conversation with author Margaret Garlake about her childhood in Thornton Heath.
She recalled that from the family home at 8 Parchmore Road: “I could see the station yard with all the horses being dressed for the coal and all the people going to the workmen’s train until 7.20am, that was the last workmen’s train and then a big lull until the toffs with big hats came along.”
“The Heath which was very narrow and stretched down to the Clock Tower was apparently where the highway men were buried on non consecrated ground so they couldn’t build there and that became The Heath. Mr Robbins who mended the boots, he told me they dug up elephant tusks when they built the station.”
While writing her autobiography in the 80s she sketched her surroundings, most notably her parent’s bedroom and the nearby Grangewood Park where she was taken for walks an an infant.
She was one of the leading exponents of the Modern Movement in London and with her second husband, Maxwell Fry she worked in West Africa designing schools and universities. They collaborated on designing housing in the new capital of the Punjab in India.
In London she did social housing, buildings for the Festival of Britain, and helped to establish the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Her first marriage took place in St Paul’s Church and she described how as a child she would: “Get in through the back door…it was always left open and if I was cross and miserable I felt better for being in the space. “
She explained her inspiration for architecture was prompted by the “Building everywhere around us on what had been Green Lane and Red Lane ….was all covered with council housing they were building in between the wars ….and we saw all this building all the time and I thought it was all terribly dull.”