By Dan Hayton with assistance from Paul Sowan
This walk allows participants to appreciate the geological and geographical setting of Croydon on one side of the Wandle valley, the gradual migration of the town eastwards up the valley side, and several of the major and historically important 19th and 20th-century developments which have made Croydon what it is today. These include pioneering transport developments 1803-1847, the establishment and works of the Croydon Board of Health (1849-51), the first big redevelopment scheme (1890-96) and 20th-century road works including the Purley Way by-pass, the central Croydon flyover and underpass, and the modern trams.
The walk began on the Wandle river terrace gravels at West Croydon, descended to the (now culverted) river Wandle in Pitlake and Old Town, and returned to the river terrace again in the town centre. Additional notes are included on short extensions to Wandle Park, Factory Lane, Purley Way, Lloyd Park and Park Hill.
WEST CROYDON TRAM STOP/BUS STATION/RAILWAY STATION: the tram stop is at approximately the location of the Croydon Canal terminal basin (opened 1809, closed 1836 to make way for the London and Croydon Railway) (GTL02887). Last century this was a nodal point for trolleybus routes. Croydon Station (renamed Croydon Town (1847), and has been West Croydon since 1851) was Croydon's first passenger station, opened 1839 as the terminus of the London and Croydon Railway (GTL01350). All the original buildings are demolished, although parts of the atmospheric railway buildings (1846-47) (GTL02828) can be seen, re-erected, later on this walk. Some 1860s (?) buildings remain, partially in use by Supreme Motor Spares, at the London end of the down platform. The line was extended to Epsom in 1847, and a branch from the remaining short bay platform at the country end was put through to Mitcham Junction and Wimbledon in 1855. A single terminal platform remains to remind us of the station's first status. The present station buildings date from 1933-34, St Mary's RC church, nearby, is beside a still recognisable old and extensive gravel pit. St Michael's church is by John Loughborough Pearson.
TAMWORTH ROAD: is approximately the alignment of the Croydon Canal Company's tramway to Pitlake (GTL02172). Much of Croydon, at some time or another, has resembled the huge cleared building site on the south side. Barlow and Parker's warehouse (GTL03243), on the roof of which Christopher Craig and Derek William Bentley were caught in attempted burglary in 1952, was on the north side about halfway down.
PITLAKE/REEVES CORNER: the modern tramline's triangle here is a reminder that this is very close to the former triangular junction of the Croydon Canal Company's tramway (c1809-1839), the Surrey Iron Railway from Wandsworth (operated 1803-1846) (GTL02158) and the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway (1805-1838) (GTL00160) — all of these early railways were horse-drawn and freight-only. The site of Harris's notorious mill and mill pond (GTL02581) is beyond and partly below the Roman Way flyover. The flyover is a replacement for one of 1847 to carry the road over the Croydon and Epsom Railway. Several other such structures were built over Croydon's railways, especially on the Brighton line, to avoid level crossings. Nearby is a modern flyover to allow the new trams to cross the railway line.
WANDLE PARK: the modern Tramlink, having crossed the railway (GTL02400), follows approximately the line of the 1855 railway to Mitcham Junction and Wimbledon, and forms part of the park boundary. The river Wandle used to emerge from its 1850/51 culvert (GTL02238) into Wandle Park (GTL02937) (acquired in 1890) and flow via several ornamental lakes — the culvert has now been extended (GTL02441) to the borough boundary, and the lakes filled in. The park, in a former marshy area, is made ground. In the middle is an electricity supply box, probably for cable junctions perhaps from the late 1890s or early years of the 20th century. This area had horse slaughterhouses, bone-boiling establishments, a solid sewage filtering establishment, and the Board of Health's gravel depot. Croydon Council's Stubbs Mead Depot is still here, on the site of the former East Surrey Iron Foundry (GTL02728) remembered now only from surviving cast-iron street drain gratings.
FACTORY LANE: is in part on the Surrey Iron Railway alignment. There are remnants of the Croydon A Power Station (a borough initiative dating from 1896 with numerous additions) (GTL02361). Parts of the generator hall survive on the east side of Factory Lane, and the transformers. switches and control room on the west. Nearby was Croydon's second (1866) gasworks, rail-linked, although only a gasholder now survives (GTL02369).
PURLEY WAY: is Croydon's early by-pass (1924), noted for the first use in the UK (1932) of sodium street lighting (GTL02453). The chimneys (all that remains) of Croydon B Power Station (by Robert Atkinson 1939-50) (now IKEA) (GTL02818) can be seen — once rail-linked from the West Croydon — Mitcham Junction line. Lots of modern light industry remains along and near Purley Way. Mill Lane leads to the dam across Waddon Ponds (additional springs feeding the river Wandle) (GTL02226), but the mill (GTL02605) has gone. Reflecting the Wandle's earlier importance as (for its length) one of Europe's most industrialised rivers (GTL02938), with numerous mills, the area remains very industrialised, although the modern industries do not rely on the river at all. And watercress was grown commercially alongside the Wandle well into the last century.
RETURN BY TRAM TO REEVES CORNER for CHURCH STREET
CROYDON PARISH CHURCH AND OLD PALACE: the Saxon village of Croydon is probably under the modern parish church floor and Old Palace site (GTL03118), Old Palace (the archbishops of Canterbury's residence, now a school) is one of the few places in the town where east Surrey's distinctive building-stone can still be seen, in Norman and later work, although much has recently been replaced by (probably) imported French material. During the 19th century the Old Palace was used as a calico printing and bleaching works (GTL02219), and equipped with a waterwheel (long since gone!) During its use as a factory. the Old Palace's great hall eastern wall collapsed into what is now Church Road. It has been rebuilt, and this is now the main school hall. Between the Palace and Church Street was Laud's (or My Lord's) pond (GTL02485), into which drained slaughterhouses, privies, and the first gasworks! The large 15th-century Parish Church (St John's) (GTL02730) was almost completely rebuilt (1872) after a fire in 1867. There is a large granite Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association trough outside the churchyard.
HOWLEY ROAD AND CRANMER ROAD: were laid out alongside the sites of medieval fish-ponds, used to supply the Palace. Further south are Salem Place, an area of former council flats built on what was in the 19th-century Bog Island (GTL02580), beyond that are Pump Pail and Southbridge Road (GTL02583) — the bridge became redundant when the Wandle was culverted in 1850-51, and the entire waterlogged and insanitary Old Town area was drained and the ponds filled in by the new local Board of Health at the same time. Until then, the dam at Harris' Mill pond had been responsible for holding back water in Old Town up to seven feet above its 'natural' level in the ground.
CHURCH ROAD: was originally Tramway Road, and follows the Croydon Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway (GTL02880) alignment. A flour mill and maltings (GTL02731) have long since disappeared. On the east side is Surrey Street pumping station (GTL00139), with gables dated 1851 and 1912. The 1851 building incorporated materials from the atmospheric railway boiler house and engine house at West Croydon (GTL00139), although not reassembled to exactly the same design. The engine house at West Croydon was of one main storey whereas that at Surrey Street is much taller, although re-used bricks, windows and doors can be recognised. The castellated addition of 1867 is by Baldwin Latham. There were further additions in 1872 (by T Walker) and 1912. The tall chimney has now gone. Although the buildings are now redundant for water supply purposes and empty, the wells are still pumped. The pumps now are submersible electric pumps, remotely controlled. A new use for them has yet to be decided. Water was pumped to the town's spectacular first reservoir (now demolished) at Park Hill and, in 1867, the adjoining and happily surviving water tower (also by Latham.)
OLD TOWN/SOUTHBRIDGE/ROAD FLYOVER: the flyover (constructed c1967-68) (GTL02157) has pedestrian underpasses which (inexplicably to the masses) require those passing this way, with heavy shopping, perambulators, and whatever, to climb up and over the River Wandle culvert of 1850-51! Nearby at the west end of the flyover Duppas Hill was the site of the clay pits (unusually in the Woolwich and Reading Beds) for bricks c1595 for Whitgift's Almshouses. The fire station with tower is by Riches and Blythin, 1960-61.
SCARBROOK ROAD: ran between springs and insanitary ponds (GTL02939) early in the 19th century (including the Scar Brook), but these were all done away with as a result of the local implementation of the 1848 Public Health Act, as a result of which Croydon formed a Local Board of Health and invested in mains water supply and drainage, before Bazalgette rendered London a similar service!
SURREY STREET: has long been the site of Croydon's market (a charter was granted in 1273) (GTL02477). The triangle between Surrey Street, Crown Hill, and High Street, is the scene of Croydon's first major redevelopment in the 1890s when Croydon's then slum district of medieval streets, alleyways and tenements was cleared away and the High Street widened from 29 feet to 50 feet — see the commemorative plaque on the Surrey Street/High Street corner (GTL02201). A comprehensive pictorial record of the lost alleyways and houses was made (Relics of Old Croydon, by John Ollis Pelton, a local tea merchant and councillor) and published. Unfortunately, far less has been recorded for posterity from the west side of Surrey Street, where a similar series of alleyways survives, although few old buildings remain. Mathews Yard has nothing of interest, and Sturts otherwise Waterworks Yard (GTL02439) has lost both its names (another view of the surviving pumping station buildings of 1851-1912 is still possible); there are still two older buildings in Overtons Yard, including a part of Page and Overton's brewery (1814-1954) (GTL02595); at the bottom of the yard were Croydon's first gas works (demolished) and a flour mill (demolished.) The Dog and Bull Yard (GTL02935) and Fellmongers Yard (GTL02438) survive. Nearby was a medieval stone-vaulted undercroft (GTL02261). Opposite Overtons Yard is Butcher Row (projecting first floors supported on iron and timber columns) and Bell Hill (mathematical tiles on jettied first floor at the rear of 16th/17th century cottages). Also on the east side of Surrey Street is the Croydon Advertiser's former printing works (GTL02489), beside the footbridge to the multi-storey car park (GTL02258). The ground floor level of the car park is used to store market stalls. The two ends of Middle Street (GTL02269), now separated by redevelopment of the Grants Department Store site, like Bell Hill, survived from the 1890s redevelopment. Roffey and Clark's printing works (GTL02207) was linked to their high street stationers' shop (GTL02506) by a footbridge (now gone.)
HIGH STREET: the west side frontages are all from the widening of 1890-96, and include the Castle Coffee Tavern, the impressive stone-built main Post Office, the former Roffey and Clark's stationers (GTL02506), Grants' department store (GTL02242), and the 1895 Croydon Advertiser offices (the paper was founded in 1865 in nearby Katharine Street) (GTL02451). Everything opposite has gone — including the former Greyhound Hotel (GTL02290) and Hammond and Hussey's ironmongers (GTL02410).
KATHARINE STREET/QUEEN'S GARDENS: next to the Corn Exchange is Croydon's third Town Hall (GTL02248), by Charles Henman (1892- 96 with modern library extension) which is on the site of the short-lived Central Croydon station (infrequent trains to Willesden Junction 1868-1871 and 1886-1890) (GTL02119). There is a small local history museum display (Lifetimes) and the Clocktower shop where a good range of local publications can be bought (GTL03154). Below Fell Road there are two shallow tunnels running eastwards from the Town Hall basement. One emerges at a manhole in a rockery beside the former public toilets block, and was the emergency escape route from the Borough's Cold War Emergency Control Centre. The other connected the old courts in the Town Hall with the former police station and cells which were demolished to allow the gardens to be enlarged. Part of the railway cutting on the Central Croydon branch line now forms part of the Queen's Gardens (GTL02120). Notice especially the retaining wall on the Katharine Street side. On the corner of Katharine Street and Park Lane, note the former Gas Company's offices of 1939-42 (GTL02454) by William G Newton and Partners. Croydon's gas supply was, until nationalisation, always in the hands of private companies.
PARK LANE/FAIRFIELD: Fairfield Halls (1960-62) (GTL02260), the Technical College (1953-59) (GTL02436), and the intervening covered car park (GTL02285) are within the former Fair Field (the fairs were suppressed in 1868) which accommodated the lines from East Croydon to Central Croydon and later became the site of gravel pits (GTL02192), then railway sidings and a railway training school. The underpass (GTL02181) dates from the 1960s.
GEORGE STREET/WELLESLEY ROAD: a short way along Wellesley Road (towards West Croydon) can be seen the former Municipal Offices (Water and Electricity Departments) (GTL02185), commenced in the late 1930s and unfinished at the start of the war, although in partial use from 1941.
PARK HILL RAILWAY CUTTING (GTL02136): the original London and Brighton Railway line (1841) southwards from East Croydon was of two tracks in a conventional cutting with sloping sides made through the Thanet Sand. This has been widened in the 1860s and the 1890s and now accommodates five tracks without additional land-take. The sloping cutting sides having been cut back and replaced by brick retaining walls. The bases of supports for overhead electric wires for local services before third-rail electrification can still be seen.
PARK HILL/LLOYD PARK: from East Croydon a tram can be taken (New Addington direction) to travel through Joseph Firbank's three Park Hill tunnels (between Sandilands and Lloyd Park tram stops) (GTL02176; GTL02177; GTL02178) on the former Woodside and South Croydon Railway, or back to West Croydon (via Reeves Corner.) Firbank, famous for one of the contracts on the Settle and Carlisle Railway, took an extraordinary three or four years to construct this very short (4km) railway, largely as a result of attempting to tunnel through quicksands and loose running pebble beds at Park Hill. The three closely spaced tunnels (rather than one long one) reflect the geotechnical difficulties — the north and south tunnels are standard bores of elliptical profile (though mainly London Clay and Thanet Sand respectively), whereas the central tunnel is a cut-and-cover tunnel under a semicircular arch along the floor of a large cutting made in the centre of the hill, presumably to remove the most troublesome ground incorporating the Blackheath and Woolwich and Reading Beds. The railway closed in 1983 and part is now used northwards and southwards from the Sandilands tram stop for Tramlink. Lloyd Park (GTL02598) and adjoining land alongside Coombe Road contains many of the town's former chalk pits — two in Lloyd Park are still visible. Others are in non-public land.
PARK HILL RECREATION GROUND: also from East Croydon it is a short walk via Altyre Road to the Park Hill recreation ground and park where the Park Hill Water Tower (1867) (GTL03117) can be seen. The structure is now empty and roofless. The mound to the south is all that remains of the demolished cylindrical brick-vaulted covered reservoir of 1850-51. At the south end of the park is Coombe Cliff (GTL02256), a former residence of John Horniman, tea-merchant, better known for his museum at Forest Hill.
The Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society's Museum Without Walls displays will be found at many of Croydon's tram stops. Further details from 96A Brighton Road, South Croydon, Surrey CR2 6AD
© GLIAS, 2001