Croydon Heritage Festival 2015 – it’s time to follow in famous footsteps

By - Wednesday 15th April, 2015

This year’s Heritage Festival focuses on famous people with local connections. So  just who was in Croydon and when?

Croydon’s historic Minster.
Photo author’s own.

Each September, thousands of people take part in Open House London  a chance to get inside buildings that aren’t normally open to the public and learn more about the rich history that we go to work and drink our coffee in. Some buildings are famous and central  the alleyways of the city are thronged with guided walkers on Open House weekend  and some more far-flung, including a number in Croydon, with the ancient Whitgift Almshouses, the pioneering airport, Stanley Halls South Norwood and Old Palace among the usual suspects, and (of more recent fame) the architectural-award-winning Number One Croydon also featured in past years.

But you don’t have to wait until September. Open House activities form part of Croydon’s Heritage Festival, now in its third year and bigger and better than ever. This year’s festival focuses on celebrated Croydonians from ancient and more recent history and gives us a chance to take a look inside the buildings where they lived and worked.

Who knew that a youthful Tony Blair featured at a rally in Stanley Halls?

So here’s a tantalising glimpse inside some of the sites to visit and sights to see during the festival, which begins on Croydon Heritage Day, Saturday 20th June.

Stanley Halls

From its earliest days, the halls attracted eminent figures such as composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and conductor WY Hurlston  then by the 1960s stars such as Shirley Bassey, Matt Munro and Johnny Dankworth were performing there. The halls also saw Labour leader John Smith give one of his last addresses before his premature death in 1994  with a young Tony Blair at his side. This impressive building is  like many of Croydon’s gems  under-appreciated; in recent times a campaign by the charity SPI (Stanley People’s Initiative), drawn from the South Norwood community, has been working to bring it back to life and will soon take its management over from Croydon Council.

Croydon Airport

In 1956 Marilyn Monroe came to England on a working honeymoon, bringing her new husband, playwright Arthur Miller, to film The Prince and the Showgirl with Lawrence Olivier. The press conference which took place when they landed was, at the time, unprecedented. Monroe was A-list, Miller very well-known, and together the couple was dynamite. Described on YouTube as an arrival at ‘London Airport’  how many people know where this event really took place?

Old Palace

Unlike Lambeth Palace, the luxurious residence for archbishops of Canterbury by the Thames which was extensively remodelled in the nineteenth century, Old Palace survived intact through many centuries as their country home  a place of retreat away from the unsavoury capital but close enough to be accessible when there was royal advising to be done. Most Cantuars took advantage and stayed there in summer, and monarchs – Elizabeth I for example  came to visit them in the palace, hunting, banqueting and watching the horse races on Duppas Hill. An archbishop in residence was, of course, good news for the local economy as there were numerous servants and courtiers to feed.

Croydon Minster

A surprising number of Croydonians have not visited its minster, a beautiful building straight in front of which an earlier generation of town planners saw fit to run a four-lane ring road. It’s not the original building, which was almost completely gutted in 1864 in dramatic scenes involving two rival fire brigades. Perhaps their focus on competition, not co-operation, explains why neither crew had turned the stopcock to allow water to flow to their hoses, and if you want to learn about this serious disaster with its irresistible slapstick element, there’ll be more at the festival in June.

Heritage can do more than a dozen shopping centres to make us positive and proud

I hope that these vignettes have whetted everyone’s appetites for the Croydon Heritage Festival 2015. It really does have something for everyone, and learning more about our historic buildings and the famous lives which have impacted on Croydon will do more than a dozen shopping centres ever could to help us feel proud and positive about who we are and where we come from.

To help you follow in some famous footsteps, here’s the full list of buildings which will be part of Croydon’s very own Open House this year:

The Whitgift Almshouses
St Andrew’s Church
Croydon Minster
Croydon Town Hall
Croydon Airport Visitor Centre
Stanley Halls
Fairfield Halls
London Tramlink Depot
Old Palace School
St George’s Church
St Mary’s Church, Addington Village
St Peter’s Church
The Adult School Hall

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

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

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