Our final destination in London was the town of Croydon in the far South of the Capital, famous for it’s trams, and also oddly for it’s lack of City Status…
Status: London Borough of Croydon, Greater London (historically Surrey), Town, England
Travel: London Overground (Clapham Junction – East Croydon), London Overground (West Croydon – London Victoria)
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Croydon Town Hall, Croydon Almhouses, Croydon Market, Croydon War Memorial, Clock Tower Arts Centre, Library, Croydon Museum, Tramlink, Croydon Minster, Croydon Pumping Station, Old Waterworks etc
Our exploration began outside Croydon’s magnificent Town Hall, with it’s distinctive Clock Tower shown to the far right of the building. This fantastic complex was designed by Charles Henman (1814 – 1884, Scottish Architect), and constructed between 1892 – 1896.
When it opened in 1896, it became the home of Croydon Borough Council, formed in 1849 when Croydon was still part of Surrey. In 1965 the Borough was abolished and combined with other local Boroughs to form the London Borough of Croydon in the newly created Greater London. The Borough Council still inhabit the building, which ranks amongst some of England’s most impressive Town Halls, alongside the incredible Victorian structures in Northern Cities such as Manchester and Sheffield.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, Croydon is quite notable for not having achieved City Status yet, which a total of 65 other settlements across the United Kingdom have been recognised as. As the Council have pointed out, Croydon is apparently the largest town in the whole of Western Europe that doesn’t have City Status, although as it is now just a part of Greater London it is considered merely a part of London. Had it still been part of Surrey it would have stood a better chance of gaining City Status, as its individual identity would have been more obvious.
Attached to the Town Hall is the stunning Clock Tower Arts Complex, which links into the Town Hall, with the Clock Tower itself, and the area directly behind it housing the Croydon Central Library. To the right you can see Braithwaite Hall, also part of the Original Town Hall, and home to the Croydon Museum, which showcases the towns history, and the part it played in different events through history including World War I (WWI). You can find out more on their official website here.
Directly outside the Town Hall, sat on the pavement, is the Croydon War Memorial, designed by James Burford, and crafted by Paul Montford (1868 – 1938, English Sculptor) in 1921 after World War I, to honour the fallen from the town. The main feature of the Memorial is the 30 ft Portland Stone obelisk, topped by a sarcophagus, and flanked by Bronze Statues of a Widow, and a Soldier. Dates for World War II (WWII 1939 – 1945) were added after the latter conflict had concluded.
The Clock Tower/Town Hall is not the only impressive building on the row, as looking to the right of Braithwaite Hall, you can see a building called “Union Bank Chambers” sat in the corner. As the name suggests, I assume that the building was purpose built for the Union Bank, opening in 1893, halfway through construction of the Town Hall. The 2 buildings, along with the neighbouring Nat West Bank Building to the right, also from 1893 (now home to the Spread Eagle Theatre), fit in perfectly together, providing an almost seamless block of history.
Outside Braithwaite is the final point of interest, a statue of Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901) erected here in 1903, 1 of many you will find in the UK, in most major towns and cities.
Croydon has a grand feel about it, much like Central London, with the shopping streets lined with multi storey buildings. This is “High Street”, and although you wouldn’t think it, the row of buildings shown on the left is effectively a large shopping centre, presumably created by knocking down the interior walls of the original buildings here.
1 such building is the “Former Grant’s Department Store”, the 2nd building along from the left, crafted out of Red Brick, intersplicted with various stone furnishings. Dating back to 1894, it was designed by Metcalfe & Jones for the Grant Brothers, who had bought out the shops previously on the site to construct their own building. In it’s day it was almost as famous as Harrods in Knightsbridge, Central London, and 1 of its most famous clients was the Royal Air Force, who purchased all of their uniforms from the store. The store would eventually close in 1985, and it wouldn’t be until the 2000’s that it became part of the shopping complex, along with the neighbouring building to the left.
Continuing North up High Street, we reached the pedestrianised “North End”, home to 1 of Croydon’s most historic buildings, the “Hospital of the Holy Trinity”, shown above. It was founded in 1596 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift (1530 – 1604), and completed by 1599, as a local hospital where such persons as required could find sanctuary and receive care, effectively becoming Almshouses. Whilst the mandate for the Hospital was obviously to care for patients, it went hand in hand with Whitgifts other desire, to provide quality education for the young. This led him to found the Whitgift School, formed out of 2 main buildings, a School House and the Schoolmaster’s House, built around the same time as the Almshouses. Sadly they were demolished in the 1960’s, to be replaced by a Shopping Centre of all things, although in a nod to the past the Shopping Centre was named the Whitgift Centre.
The Hospital was certainly an interesting find to see in the centre of Croydon, and it almost looks as though the Town was built around it. Some areas of the building have been restored over the years, including the Chimney Stacks, which were apparently replaced in 1860.
Croydon is also famous for its Tram Network, called Croydon Tramlink. The original line, which crosses Croydon town itself, was opened in 2000, built out of necessity as the London Underground doesn’t reach this far into South London. Tramlink is the only system of it’s type in London, and has since expanded to include 4 different routes, which reach as far as Crystal Palace & Wimbledon towards Central London.
Much like the Metrolink in Manchester, some of the lines follow routes which had previously been run by National Rail, but have been subsequently abandoned etc, such as Tramlink Route 2 between Birbeck and Beckenham. Unfortunately we visited Croydon on a Bank Holiday Weekend, and it appears the town centre portion of Tramlink was closed for engineering works, so we didn’t see any of Croydon’s iconic trams.
Our next stop was on Church Street, for a visit to Croydon Minster. The history of the Church in Croydon is believed to go back as far as Saxon Times, and presumably various different Churches have inhabited the site.
The present building was built sometime around the 14th/15th centuries, becoming a focal point for the community in Croydon until 1867, the year in which it was gutted by fire, leaving only the stone work of the Exterior Walls and the 125 ft West Tower standing. They were successfully incorporated into a new Church building by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878, English Architect), completed by 1870. The buildings design reminds me of Reading Minster, in the town of Reading, Berkshire, which also follows the chequer board stone design.
Very close to the Minster, on the portion of Church Road heading off East back along the road, lie “Numbers 2 – 8 Church Road”, which are very reminiscent of the Almshouses we saw earlier. Despite the familiar design, they were actually only built in the 19th Century, although they could easily pass for 16th century houses.
Moving back towards the pedestrianised streets, we wandered through Surrey Street, home to the Surrey Street Market, held weekly between Monday and Saturday. There are a variety of stalls, mainly selling fresh produce such as fruit/vegetables, and it’s history can be traced as far back as 1276, when a Market Charter was granted to Croydon by another Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Kilwardby (1215 – 1279).
The Charter allowed the Town to hold a Market, and was designed to stop a large number of rival Markets popping up which would have drawn trade away from Croydon, as by law only areas specifically granted a Charter could hold 1. Generally a Charter would define the area between Markets as a days travelling time, which today may only be a few hours.
Our final stop was also on Surrey Street, at the old Pumping Station of the 1840’s. Whilst it would eventually become part of the Croydon Waterworks (built in the 1860’s), it was originally built by the London & Croydon Railway (LCR), as part of their desired new system to create a railway which would run under atmospheric pressure. It would work by creating a vacuum with a pipe which the train can run through, and then a piston would be fired under the pressure to move the train. The Pumping Stations (of which there were 2) housed the piston engines, and would also allow the extra pressure to escape once it had been used.
The system proved a failure, and all investigation into the project ceased. The Pumping Station in Croydon was moved, to become the Surrey Street version we still see today, whilst the 2nd Station at a location now in the London Borough of Lewisham was demolished.
I am unsure when the Waterworks eventually closed, however the site currently lies derelict, but it is another important piece of Croydon’s history and I hope it is protected for the future.
For us it was time to head back into Central London. We had arrived at East Croydon station, having taken a train from Clapham Junction, and we left using West Croydon, which completed an almost loop between the 2 stations back to Clapham Junction. Whilst the Underground doesn’t reach Croydon, it has good connections on the National Railway Network, as well as the London Overground with regular trains into London, and South towards Putney and Gatwick Airport near Crawley. Tramlink is a great asset for the town, and allows easy access around the Borough of Croydon, and makes a change from the Underground tunnels which crisscross Central London.
As we found, Croydon is full of history, and a really interesting town to visit. There are charming, and spectacular buildings, and I do believe it would truly deserve City Status should it ever be granted!