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Although it is possible that there was an earlier market, the official history of Croydon's markets begins in 1276. In that year, Edward I issued a charter to Robert Kilwardby, Archbishop of Canterbury, authorising him to hold a weekly Wednesday market, and an annual nine-day fair (16th - 24th June). Most probably the triangular market place (the area bounded by the modern High Street, Surrey Street and Crown Hill) was laid out at about the same time. A second charter, for a Thursday market, and a three-day fair, 20th - 22nd September, was issued in 1314; and a third, for a Saturday market, and a one-day fair on 24 June, in about 1343. When the Archbishop's officials arrived to collect the tolls in 1344, however, they were violently assaulted, 'so that their life was despaired of'.
The Saturday market was the one that survived, still held in the area of the old market place, despite the buildings that began to grow up there. Meat was sold in Butcher Row (modern Surrey Street), and corn on the better drained High Street side of the site. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, a Market House (also known as the Town Hall) was built in the High Street: corn was traded on the open-sided ground floor. Daniel Defoe, in the 1720s, described Croydon as 'a great Corn-Market, but chiefly for Oats and Oatmeal, all for London still'. There was also a Butter Market in the High Street, where dairy products and eggs could be bought and sold; and in the middle of the market triangle there was a small Fish Market.
The Town Hall was rebuilt in 1809. The ground floor of the new building consisted of a large open hall, the Cornmarket, which could be cleared and converted into a Criminal Court when the Assizes were held in Croydon. The new arrangements gave the authorities the opportunity to regulate the market more closely than before. By 1818, DW Garrow could call it 'the best [corn] market on the southern side of London.' As Croydon became more urbanized, however, trade fell away. In 1861, the main market was moved to Thursday (the day of the cattle market), but this did not stop the decline. By the early 1870s, the market had been squeezed out of the Town Hall, and had moved to a room at the King's Arms Hotel. When the third Town Hall opened in 1896, the complex included a small Corn Exchange in Katharine Street: this was, however, never popular, and closed in 1907 (although the name over the entrance is still to be seen). Corn dealing on a small scale then seems to have returned to the King's Arms, before disappearing from Croydon entirely in about 1915.
A beast market was originally held in Surrey Street, with animals penned in the yard of the Three Tuns inn. A purpose-built cattle market opened at the Greyhound Inn in 1844, but closed within a year. In about 1838, however, a man named John Searle started a cattle market in South Croydon. This was the forerunner of the Cattle Market, opened by Mr E Hales on approximately the same site in about 1848, and substantially reconstructed in 1851. It always remained in private hands. The market was held on Thursdays, and was a success until the early twentieth century. By the 1930s, however, Croydon's declining agricultural importance meant that it was no longer commercially viable. It closed permanently in 1935, and flats were built on the site. The market is still remembered in the name of Drovers Road; and in the circular stone cattle trough, originally in the centre of the market, but now to be seen in Norbury Park.
The Cattle Market, South Croydon, in 1851 [394.6 CAT]
The Butter Market was rebuilt in 1810, on two levels to take advantage of its sloping site. Its activities overflowed into Market Street itself. William Page, writing of the 1820s, remembered how 'the town on Saturday was indeed a lively one . . . a continuous stream of peasants flocking in to make their weekly purchases.' By the late 1860s, however, this general market was in decline, and the Butter Market closed down in 1874. It then became offices for the Croydon Chronicle, before being demolished in the early 1890s.
Plan of 1890, showing the original medieval market area filled with buildings, on the eve of being completely redeveloped. Highlighted are the Town Hall of 1809 (orange), with the Cornmarket on its ground floor; and the Butter Market of 1810 (yellow). Behind the Town Hall was an open space with eleven pitches for stalls. Behind the Butter Market was Market Street, the last remnant of the original open market place.
After the Butter Market closed, street trading continued, mainly on an informal basis (although eleven pitches for stalls behind the Town Hall were formally let out). This unofficial market soon became centred on Surrey Street.
Henry Still described the market in 1888:'There is every Saturday evening a congregation of people in Surrey Street . . . They come there with barrows and some with moveable stalls, and there sell goods and commodities of various descriptions. I think I am not far wrong in saying, that in Surrey Street on a Saturday evening you can buy almost every kind of market commodity, from pills, upwards or downwards. . . I think some of them come from London and some of them are residents of Croydon.'
The modern market dates from 1922, when the Council first approved it as a six-day event, Monday to Saturday: it was further regulated in 1927.
Lilian Thornhill has recalled Surrey Street between the wars: 'The market was a most exciting place on a Saturday evening, each stall lit by naphtha flares, their flickering flames adding to the excitement of the scene. In the days before easy refrigeration all perishable goods had to be disposed of by Saturday evening, and this drew crowds hoping for, and obtaining bargains. It was a much noisier place then, with each stallholder calling his wares, and cheapjacks and quacks 'telling the tale' to sell their potions, some offering to draw corns, an operation that always drew a boisterous audience.'
In the 1960s, as central Croydon was transformed into a streamlined modern business and shopping centre, Surrey Street market was seen by many as a shabby anachronism. It survived, however, it is now widely regarded as a colourful and attractive feature of the town centre. In 1997, trading on Sundays began, separately managed from the weekday market, and offering a different range of goods.
Other markets in Croydon have included Westow Street Market, in Upper Norwood, which grew up in the 1880s, and survived until after the Second World War; a market at Portland Road, South Norwood, which had a brief existence in the 1880s, but then disappeared; and New Addington Market, which opened in 1973, and continues to flourish, held on Tuesdays and Fridays. The 1990s have seen the growth in popularity of market-visiting as a leisure activity, and the emergence of various privately-run markets, notably the Sunday Market in the car park of Croydon College, which began in 1996.
Saturday, 4 July, 2015