Discovering Selhurst’s history: a minor appendage?

By - Thursday 13th August, 2015

Sean Creighton led tours of the area during the Croydon Heritage Festival 2015 and wanted to know more

Holy Trinity Church Selhurst’s First World War Memorial Cross.
Photo author’s own.

Selhurst is usually regarded as a minor southern appendage to South Norwood. Croydon Local Studies group has played a part in this, adding only a small section on the area to an information pack about South Norwood produced many years ago. Whilst researching for the Croydon Heritage Festival, I began to feel that this is unfair.

While I was preparing my walk around the homes of Croydon’s famous composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who lived at several addresses in the Selhurst area between 1894 and 1907, including 30 Dagnall Park where there is a Greater London Council plaque in his honour, I was able to put together some information. But clearly there is much scope for further detailed research.

Croydon was about to become a suburb

Like so much of Croydon until the mid-nineteenth century, Selhurst was rural and agricultural with large privately owned tracts of estate land, with owners including the Archbishop of Canterbury. The area on Selhurst Road opposite where the railway station is included Selhurst Woods and Farm. From 1809 until 1830, Croydon’s historic canal ran right through it (hard to imagine now) with its basin being used to build the railway. The canal cut through the farm and a swing bridge was provided so that the farmer could cross it. The farm had later names including Heavers, which is the name of the present day Heavers Meadow open space. Then, like so much of rural England, it was transformed by the coming of the railway. Croydon was about to become a suburb.

The arrival of the railway through the area from Victoria to Croydon helped to slowly change it from a rural to a suburban area, with many of its residents commuting to work in London. The railway line on which Selhurst station stands was built as a short-cut on the Brighton main line to Victoria, avoiding Crystal Palace and Norwood Junction stations. The line was opened on December 1st 1862, and the station on May 1st 1865.

The enormous lettering spelling out ‘Selhurst Depot’ is a local feature to this day

Over the decades that followed, the number of lines through the area was expanded. In 1912 Selhurst was chosen as the site for the carriage sheds and repair depot for the scheme to electrify the lines, and the enormous lettering spelling out the words ‘Selhurst Depot’ is a feature for everyone who commutes up from Croydon to the city to this day.

Steeplechasing was also a feature of Selhurst life: from 1858 Selhurst Farm’s tenant farmer hosted races before they moved elsewhere in Croydon. Then from 1908 to 1924 part of the area was the site of the Croydon Common Athletic Ground, the stadium of the Croydon Common Football Club’s stadium until 1917. Then it became the home ground of no less a team than Crystal Palace Football Club, but only from 1918 to 1924.

The manager found two intruders smashing the place up, so he locked them in and called the police

The land was owned by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England and leased to the railway, which subleased it to Croydon Common Football and Athletic Company Ltd and then Crystal Palace Football and Athletic Club. It was used for soccer and athletics and also for flower shows and school treats. When Crystal Palace FC moved to its present day site, it sub-let the ground to Tramways FC, a railway workers’ football club. In 1935 Croydon Corporation purchased some of the land for use as an open space or recreation ground and allotments or allotment gardens, and this was Heavers Meadow.

Railways contined to be important in the area and part of their legacy is the Selhurst Railway Club, hidden in the alley between Dagnall Park and the back of the station. Now a member of the National Association of Recreational Clubs, it was originally in the British Rail Social Clubs Association. Whilst the majority of member clubs are those formed under British Rail prior to 1990, it now has members from all sectors of transport and sports. The club provides social, sporting and cultural activities. One night in October 2010 the manager found two people inside smashing the club building up. He locked them in until the police arrived.

Greater London Council blue plaque for Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
Photo by Spudgun 67, used under Creative Commons licence.

The many different sects of Christanity are reflected in the denominational churches built in Selhurst, including the Anglican Holy Trinity and the Selhurst Congregational churches. Holy Trinity was consecrated in 1867 and demolished in 1985, leaving only the memorial on Selhurst Road to remind of of its location. Its vicar between 1888 and 1894 was Robert Patterson, author of Seven Words and Seven Sins: practical meditations on the Seven Words from the Cross, published in 1889, and in 1900 published Richard Elwyn, Master of Charterhouse, 1885-1897: A Brief Record of His Life. It was in this church that Samuel Coleridge-Taylor married Jessie Walmisley, although Patterson was not the officiating vicar.

Several notable public houses were also built in the area; such buildings often have interesting features and some remain, although others have been converted into accommodation including the former Selhurst Arms Pub, nowadays a retail store and flats on the corner of Northcote Road and Selhurst New Road. Like many Victorian and early twentieth century pubs, it was a meeting place for local organisations including the North Croydon Mutual Benefit Society and the Selhurst Mutual Benefit Loan.

The Duke of Cambridge at the Whitehorse Road end of Holmesdale Road was built in 1869 and is currently boarded up. In Clifton Road was the London Tavern, referred to in 1878 as ‘ale stores’, then as a pub by 1884 until at least 1899, and an off licence store after 1902. There’s also the Clifton Arms, in Clifton Road. The changes of use of such buildings reflect changes in the patterns of life in this most interesting part of Croydon.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Anne Giles

    I used to live in Selhurst with my first husband. Moved out in 1981.