Bygone Croydon

By - Wednesday 27th February, 2013

Bygone Croydon is a Facebook sensation. What does it tell us about how we see the past?

The Bygone Croydon Facebook page was founded by a gentleman who wishes to be known only as David back in May 2010 .

Before continuing, for non-aficionados: a Facebook page contains photos, comments and videos and can be seen by anyone who visits it on their computer and clicks a button marked ‘Like’ – a bit like joining a club. People who Like a page can put content onto it which all other members can see, comment upon and share with others. Members recommend their group to people they think will also like it, and this is how a page grows.

The huge response Bygone Croydon has received demonstrates an enthusiasm among Croydonians to re-visit and connect with their past

Facebook pages about celebrities have millions of members: 55,517,408 for Lady Gaga, 5,905,461 for Marilyn Monroe and a mere 101,846 for Cliff Richard. Small interest groups can have half a dozen.

Bygone Croydon began quietly, ticking over with a few dozen Likes and shares. Then in late 2012 the page exploded, gaining 6500 followers within four months. At the time of writing it has 7,344 and is Croydon’s most active page, meaning that it gets more comments, new additions and shares than any other. In early 2013 it began to use the Twitter social media platform and is about to launch a website.

The huge response Bygone Croydon has received demonstrates an enthusiasm, perhaps even a hunger, among Croydonians to re-visit and connect with their past. So what does all this interest in yesterday really mean, and what can it teach us as we plan for tomorrow?

Why Bygone Croydon?

In David’s own words : ‘I’m a very nostalgic person and tend to look more into the past than into the future, it just fascinates me and always has done since I was a kid. I had a few pictures of Croydon that I’d collected over the years and thought maybe a handful of people might be interested so I started the page. Essentially I just started it for myself and friends, I’m still in shock as to how popular it’s become!’

From his present base in West Sussex, David, a Croydon resident for over 20 years and who has lived both elsewhere in London and in Australia, now receives unpublished photos from respondents who have had them sitting in albums for 50 years and more. He loves playing his unexpected part in the uncovering of Croydon’s secret history.

A time to remember

Different times regard past and future differently. The last war, for example, was a time of intense present-mindedness, as people coped with a crisis almost too vast for us to imagine. Whatever their fears and uncertainties, there was a task to be accomplished together. Falls in suicide rates have been shown to occur during war as shared purpose creates solidarity and optimism. In such an emergency, belief in a bright future is vital for survival.

1960s space age fashion

The last generation of real optimists experienced young adulthood in the Sixties. Jobs were plentiful, inflation was low, house prices were affordable and the pill was opening up choice and freedom for women as never before. There was a sense of opportunity for everyone as new universities were founded at the rate of almost one a year and young people challenged the rules of previous generations and sought new ways of ordering the world. Above all, belief in the possibilities of technology and the excitement of the space age and the race to the moon captured the public imagination. This created trends for futuristic clothing, art and design and above all, for futuristic buildings.

In such a heady time as this, it was easy to set aside the past and embrace change. Cities and townscapes regarded as retrograde were bulldozed and confidently replaced with in-yer-face modernity. Like any other fashion, these buildings would come to look dated – but a skyscraper is even higher than a beehive and not so easy to trim.

Croydon, as an area which had suffered some wartime bombing, was extensively and notoriously rebuilt during this period. The centre of the borough, largely undamaged by the Luftwaffe, was now rendered unrecognisable by new planning policy. Our architectural style was celebrated back then and is admired in some quarters to this day, but right now is generally regarded as unfashionable. The power of fashion to influence how we see things should never be underestimated and buildings we nowadays consider both valuable and beautiful have been panned in the past, before a new trend came and they were loved once more. However, it’s important even for devotees to acknowledge that not all Croydon’s ’60s architecture is successful. The Wellesley Road area, in particular, is a bleak wind-tunnel, magnifying the roar of traffic and slicing insensitively through the town centre.

But what must be remembered (and ought be celebrated) about the period is its spirit of optimism. ‘The new Croydon’ rose in an age which believed in the future. It was good to be forward-looking, and planners and architects had the confidence – arguably, the brashness – to sweep away what had gone before. A sincere belief that things would be new and better created the heart of modern Croydon.

Next week, Liz will be looking at the neurological reasons for Croydonians’ attraction to nostalgia – with a little help from Proust.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

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

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  • Kake

    The Francis Frith website is another good online source of old photos and personal memories.

    • CNHSS

      That is a brilliant website


    Check out the Facebook page for the Croydon Natural History & Scientific Society, for more things Croydon related. We publish books on Croydon’s History which are full of photos of croydon from all eras. We arrange talks, often on the subject of Croydon’s Local History and other themes.