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The Town of Croydon

Croydon had always been an significant halt on the road south of London, and its role as a coaching town increased after Brighton developed as a fashionable resort in the 1780s. Soon afterwards, Croydon became the terminus of two important new commercial transport links, stretching southwards from the Thames. The first, opened in 1803, was the horse-drawn Surrey Iron Railway from Wandsworth (extended to Merstham, as the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Railway, in 1805); and the second, opened in 1809, was the Croydon Canal, which came from Deptford. Neither was a great success: the canal closed in 1836, and the railway in 1846. However, the route of the canal was taken over by the London & Croydon Railway (a steam-powered railway), which opened between London Bridge and West Croydon in 1839.

The town was already expanding, and the improvement in communications accelerated the process. However, the growth was uncontrolled, and this led to considerable health problems, especially in the damp and unwholesome working class district of Old Town. In response to this situation, Croydon became, in 1849, one of the first towns in the country to acquire a Local Board of Health: within two years, the Board had constructed a pumping station, reservoir, sewage disposal works, and several miles of pipes and sewers. As the town continued to grow, it became especially popular as a pleasant residential area for members of the respectable middle classes, who could commute to work in the City of London.

There was still a need for a more powerful tool of local government; and in 1883, Croydon was incorporated as a Borough. In 1889, it became a County Borough, with a still greater degree of autonomy. The new Council implemented the Croydon Improvement scheme in the early 1890s, which resulted in the widening of the High Street, and the clearance of much of the 'Middle Row' slum area (the built-up market place). The clearance meant that the 1808 Town Hall building also had to be demolished: a new and far larger Town Hall was opened in Katharine Street in 1896.

By the 1930s, the town centre was again becoming congested, and after World War 2, the Council decided to introduce another major redevelopment scheme. The Croydon Corporation Act was passed in 1956; and this led to the building of new offices in the late 1950s at precisely the time that the Government was beginning to encourage businesses to move out of central London. Croydon, with its excellent rail links, was an ideal site for relocation; and the town boomed as an important business centre in the 1960s, with an increasing number of office blocks being built (especially in the area between Wellesley Road and East Croydon Station). Taberner House, finished in 1967, became the administrative centre of the enlarged London Borough of Croydon, created in 1965. Croydon also developed as an important centre for shopping (the Whitgift Centre opened in 1969). In the same period, Fairfield Halls opened (1962); and a new underpass, flyover, and several multi-storey car parks were built.

 Aerial Photo of Central Croydon, early 1990s

Aerial photo of Central Croydon, early 1990s

Map: Ordnance Survey map about 1868

Croydon has continued to flourish in recent years, as the largest office and retail centre in south-east England, outside central London. At the same time, however, it has often been characterised as dull and inhuman. The late 1980s and 1990s have seen further changes, which may give the town a more attractive image in the future. These have included the demolition of some of the unfashionable 1960s office blocks; the pedestrianisation of North End in 1989; and the opening of the Clocktower, an important cultural and arts centre, in 1994.  A new urban light rail system, Croydon Tramlink, began operation in May 2000.

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Thursday, 24 April, 2014


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