Bygone Croydon and the dark side of nostalgia

By - Thursday 14th March, 2013

In a final look at Bygone Croydon, Liz examines the dangerous appeal of Croydon’s ‘sealed world’. When does ‘things ain’t what they used to be’ turn into ‘things were better before you lot turned up’?

Photo by Gary Birnie

As we all know, we live in times of fear. In the last five years, for many of us, that fear has considerably increased, and also tightened around us. An unpleasant shift has occurred as we have moved from an awareness of living in dark global days of terrorism, war and famine but experiencing reasonable optimism about our own lives, to a sense of immediate personal threat.

Our children, or we ourselves, struggle to find decently-paid employment. Young people cannot afford to establish themselves in life, and instead remain dependent on their parents. Services we have come to rely on contract or are withdrawn. Even the wonderful prospect of living longer appears a double-edged sword – living by what means? In what state of health? And communal life becomes strained by the awareness that rather than sharing with others, we are competing with them for shrinking resources.

Rather than grapple with the complexity of how our present world, memory can take a different path

In such times, memory can take on an edge of darkness. The Bygone Croydon page has consistently been shadowed by comments expressing anger and bitterness at change – and going further, to express something which often arises from this. When everything seems worse, particularly among the most economically insecure groups most threatened by change, the oldest human instinct is to look for someone to blame.

Rather than grapple with the complexity of how our present world – how the diverse community of Croydon came to be, the international history of this country, how we invited immigrants to work here and now rely on their labour, instead of acknowledging how old and deep the roots of these in-coming communities are, how their members fought for us in wars and have become part of us – memory can take another road. It can summon up an easier time, life in ‘a sealed world’, as George Orwell described it, when everyone was exactly the same and no effort was required. This is how racist comments creep across Bygone Croydon.

David, the admin of the Bygone Croydon Facebook page, has stated his intention to challenge racism, to his and the page’s credit. He has committed himself to address and if necessary filter such comments. It is important to say that this is not about freedom of speech, which we do not entirely have and never could although we like to declare that we do.

There are some things – threats, insults, defamations of character – which we are not free to utter. Or rather, we may utter them but there are consequences, sometimes in law, because of their effect upon others. Doing so also has malign effects upon us. It was James Baldwin, writer, playwright and poet, who put it best of all when he said simply: ‘Whoever debases others is debasing himself.’

Future Croydon

The Bygone Croydon page may itself become an engine of positive change, for when people take part in debates and share their thoughts, the possibility for challenge exists and second thoughts may come. The page certainly brings many other benefits to the community of Croydon. As David observes : ‘Lots of fans of the page are making contact with people they haven’t seen for a long time which is just incredible. It’s great to be responsible for that.’

Croydon is also, for those prepared to look around them and cease believing everything they read, a place of unexpected beauty and interest. As David also says: ‘As a result of following the page I would like people to take note of Croydon’s amazing and unique architecture, explore its diverse history and look beyond what’s immediate to them. I’ve had lots of people telling me they are starting to pay more attention to what’s around them because of BC and that excites me’. This opening of eyes, more than anything else, is the triumph of Bygone Croydon.

The page is a very modern-day success story. It’s another example of how the internet and social media, far from turning us into lonely misfits hunched in front of our keyboards, enrich our lives and bring people together. It’s both a resource for and an asset to our community and a fascinating repository for social historians. At its best, it celebrates Croydon, showing us how we became who we are and reassuring us with the continuity of our identity. The only unanswered question now is – just how far can this idea go?

Liz’s other two articles about Bygone Croydon can be read here and here. The page itself is accessible on Facebook here.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

    Love the article I

  • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

    I also find this sort of negative nostalgic thinking on my page, thankfully it doesn’t seem to be the overt view of too many. I hope people instead look at our history and some of the great things we had like an opera house etc. and feel inspired to try and make the towns future as great as they believe its past was.

    • Philip George Harfleet

      The Davis Theatre, one of the best and biggest cinema/theatres in Europe at one time, The Grand Theatre, The Orchid Ballroom (Purley), Purley Way open air swimming pool, Scarbrook Road swimming baths, the Empire Theatre (later Eros), Kennards arcade, etc., are all places indelibly tattooed into my memory. All wonderful, but long gone Croydon landmarks. Twas truly blissful then. Aah, sweet memories – these can never be demolished, as so many lovely places have been. I even think that The Swan and Sugarloaf is soon to be a Tesco shop! Oh tragedy, what next? The lovely town hall to be a bingo club or more offices.

  • George Harfleet

    I lived through some really dark days as a five-year old when the bombs first fell on Croydon Airport – and later, when the V1s and then the terrifying V2 rockets tried to wipe Croydon from the face of the earth.
    Remembering the very dark case of Craig and Bentley and the policeman whom Craig shot dead, but the murder, by the state, of Derek Bentley was equally tragic.
    Is today’s Croydon as dark as then? I know not; I no longer live there. I just hope not.

    • June Sutton ,//Bristow.

      I also lived in Croydon during bombing . It got so bad that myself, and other children were evacuated when things got less dangerous we came back to the war damage, We are here to tell the tail