The road from Woking

By - Monday 20th April, 2015

Croydon incomer Charles B. Wordsmith on a urban journey and the discoveries he’s made on the way

Photo author’s own.

When I tell people that I’ve recently moved from Woking to Croydon, the usual reaction is “Why?!”. Why would someone to choose to leave a tranquil town in well-heeled Surrey for the stressful, noisy, urban jungle that is Croydon? Yet although I have lived here for barely a month at the time of writing, I immediately want to spring to Croydon’s defence.

Yes, I could sometimes live without the constant rumble of traffic and the regular police and ambulance sirens along St. James Road. Yes, I do sometimes miss the suburban gardens and the abundance of trees in the most wooded county in England. On the other hand, in Croydon I have come to appreciate things that I took far less notice of in Woking.

Croydon is London – only those who wish to live in the past can dispute this

It’s easy when you have lived somewhere for some time to begin to take things for granted. You stop looking, stop being curious and forget that everyone on this planet is a playground for our imaginations. For me, naïve newcomer that I am, Croydon is an exciting new world of adventure. The fact that I can walk ten minutes down the road and catch a bus to the centre of one of the most beautiful and famous cities in the world still seems nothing less than remarkable.

Yet Croydon is also a troubled town with a bit of an identity crisis. The first morning after my arrival I walked to my local Co-op store. Friends had told me that Croydon was part of Surrey, though I was convinced it’s part of Greater London. I asked the lad at the shop whether I was in Surrey or London and he was adamant that for him at least, Croydon was still in Surrey. I’d have thought that for a youngster, it would have been cooler to be part of one of the greatest cities in the world, but for this guy at least, the promise of some bygone leafy county town was more attractive.

Yet Croydon has actually been a part of London since 1965, and as someone who has lived in two dormitory towns it took me less than a week not only to know but also to feel I was living in the city. The aforementioned 468 bus to Elephant and Castle passes through various parts of Croydon, particularly Norwood, and then crosses into Lambeth. There’s no leafy rural gap, no fields with cows or crops, not even much, if any, sign of the Great North Wood that gave Norwood its name. London enveloped Croydon more than fifty years ago, and only those who wish to live in the past can possibly dispute this.

Woking’s plans are small fry compared to what’s happening – and what’s going to happen – here

Photo author’s own.

I come from a town whose ambitious council Chief Executive allegedly wishes to turn pleasant little Woking into ‘the next Singapore’. There are plans afoot to rebuild the town centre and a proposal to demolish a housing estate considered an iconic garden suburb. Yet it all seems small fry compared to what is happening and going to happen in Croydon.

I have always had a childlike fascination with cranes, and I can feed that fascination for years to come. Development and new buildings can generate optimism and excitement, but Croydon’s challenge is to retain the best of the old, and make sure new developments benefit all its people.

It’s the beauty and variety of the old buildings of Croydon that have been an almost constant source of pleasure in my first month. I’ve explored a small fraction of this varied conurbation and it’s they that create a pleasing and indelible impression. Many of the new ones are also very impressive, soaring up into the sky like enormous coloured digits, and I feel that this desire to be different, maybe even a bit wacky, springs from a past in which people often did wish to put a bit more of their characters into their buildings. Walking back from Shirley I was delighted to discover a veterinary practice with gargoyles on its roof, not something you’re likely to come across, I suspect, in more sedate, conventional Surrey.

Croydon keeps its light under a very big bushel

A nice lady at the visitor centre gave good directions for the library, but its lack of signage still made it a bit of a challenge to find. I was still surprised there was no sign on the street to indicate the veritable treasure trove that I found inside. Croydon keeps its many and varied lights under a big bushel. And I’d go further – either foolhardy or brave as I’ve been here less than five weeks – but Croydon itself has an inferiority complex.

I’m also upset there are no plans to replace one victim of redevelopment – its visitor centre, which has already been so helpful to this particular newcomer. Surely, if Croydon wants to appear more than just a huge building site in the next few years, a spanking new visitor centre is just what it needs.

It may not have a Tower of London or St Paul’s, but there’s enough of interest and beauty in and around Croydon to lure in visitors. I hope – once I’ve done enough research – to take people on historic pub crawls around the town centre, not merely to enjoy the taverns but to appreciate the streets in between. For the moment, this new Croydonian is very much intoxicated with the sights and sounds of Croydon.

Charles B. Wordsmith

Charles B. Wordsmith

A newcomer to Croydon, currently trying to publish a book and find gainful employment within the Croydonian urban jungle.

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  • Jonny Rose

    Charles – this an encouraging and enjoyable read. WELCOME, sir – I hope you find our community to be welcoming and stimulating in equal measure :)

    • Charles Barber

      Thank you kindly Jonny for the welcome. I certainly have no complaints so far.

  • Andrew Kennedy

    You can sign the petition to find a solution to the Visitor centre closure problem here. Please sign.

    • Charles Barber

      Thank you for reminding me. I have signed and hopefully many more will do so before May 7th. Have you thought about asking the signataries to share news about it on Facebook?

  • Bernadette Fallon

    Thanks for this article – great to have another positive voice to add to the mix and celebrate all that is great about Croydon

  • Anne Giles

    I must admit, on the only occasion I visited Woking, I thought it rather boring!

  • NeilB

    Nice article – I moved here just as the tramlink was opening. Though that was a false dawn in some ways, so hoping that the new developments (and optimism) are more real. If not I certainly would never consider moving to Woking.