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South Croydon is a somewhat indefinable area. For most people it starts at the Blacksmith's Arms (now called O'Neill's), where the High Street becomes South End, continues down to the Swan and Sugarloaf, where the South End becomes the Brighton Road, and stretches down past the Red Deer and on to the Royal Oak. To the west it includes Haling and Pampisford Road, and to the east it shades off into Croham and Sanderstead once one crosses the London-Brighton railway line. Thus it is a long thin area, defined by the main road and the pubs along it.
The Brighton Road is certainly one of the oldest roads in Croydon, and is shown on all the earliest maps. However, although it seems likely that the Roman Road through Croydon took the same route, this has not yet been proved. In the 18th century it was designated a Turnpike, and a tollgate was situated at the Selsdon Road junction.
The Swan and Sugarloaf and Red Deer are both old pubs but the present impressive buildings only date from late Victorian times. There is a theory that the unusual name of the Swan and Sugarloaf is the result of a misunderstanding of the coat of arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which shows a mitre (shaped roughly like a loaf of sugar) and a crosier (shaped like a crook, which could be taken for a swan's neck). An ingenious story - but probably nonsense. An alternative theory is that the sugarloaf was a common sign for grocers, and that if the Swan Inn also sold groceries it would have had two signs, or one which combined the two symbols. The area behind the Red Deer was formerly called Gibbet Green, as it was the site of a gibbet where executed criminals were left to rot.
The junction between Brighton Road and Selsdon Road, occupied by the Swan and Sugarloaf, has a long history of connections with transport. In addition to the tollgate, the horse trams from Croydon used to terminate there in the 1880s, Balls Bros. used to stable the horses for their bus company behind the pub, and motor buses used the triangular piece of land as a bus-stand. However, the electric trams (from 1901) trundled past, as their depot was further down, past the Royal Oak.
Other transport-related features include South Croydon Station (1865), Selsdon Station (1885), now closed, and the early Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Railway. The latter was a horse-drawn freight railway which ran down the western side of the Brighton Road, from 1805 to 1838. South Croydon Bus Garage was built in 1915 and was heavily damaged by a bomb during the Second World War.
It is hard to visualise it now, but on the eastern side of South End was a "gentleman's family residence in a parkland setting" called Blunt House. Built in 1759 and demolished in 1889, the estate lay where Aberdeen and Ledbury Roads now stand.
On the western side of the Brighton Road stands Whitgift School, in its grounds, opened 1931. This was previously the site of Haling Park, one of the ancient manors of Croydon, originally extending to 400 acres. In 1592, Queen Elizabeth I granted Haling to Lord Howard of Effingham, Lord High Admiral at the time of the Armada.
Croydon's previous importance as an agricultural centre for rural East Surrey is indicated by the siting of an extensive cattle market in Drovers Road. It was opened in 1848 and in its heyday could handle hundreds of cattle and horses and thousands of sheep, most of which would have been driven through the streets of South Croydon on market days. The cattle market closed in 1935.
The two main churches in the area are both Grade II Listed Buildings. St. Peters was designed by G. Gilbert Scott and was consecrated in 1851. It is in Gothic style, mainly of flint. The church was originally built without a spire. When they added a spire in 1864 it burnt down before it was finished. The local fire brigade's equipment was totally inadequate and the church itself was only saved by the arrival of steam fire engines from London. The other Listed church is St. Augustine's, in flint and yellow stone, designed by J. Oldrid Scott, and consecrated 1884.
PHOTO: Motor buses outside the Swan & Sugarloaf, 1911
MAP: South Croydon in 1847
Sunday, 1 March, 2015