Who should be in Croydon’s Hall of Fame?

By - Friday 10th July, 2015

Fame is the spur, says Sean Creighton

‘Famous Croydonians’ has been the theme of the Croydon Heritage Festival 2015 which ended on Saturday 28th June. But the definition of ‘famous’ is of course a tricky one.

Do people become famous because they make or have made a contribution locally, regionally, nationally or internationally and have been written about? Aren’t famous people of the past usually confined to the rich and powerful, the winners rather than the losers? Is the pool of the famous a small one because so many people who made a contribution have not yet been appreciated, researched and written about?

Composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the ‘African Mahler’, about whom I led a walk on Thursday 25th June around his homes in Selhurst, is certainly a famous person at all levels. So is Alfred Russell Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution, about whom the Croydon Radical History Network organised a talk in last year’s heritage festival. The Friends of Park Hill Park have made artist Cecily Mary Barker better known with their wonderful Flower Fairies events in this year’s festival.

So what constitutes ‘fame’? Here are some definitions: ‘The state of being known by many people’, ‘widespread reputation, especially of a favourable character’: ‘renown’; ‘public eminence’, ‘common estimation or opinion generally held of a person or thing’, ‘reputation’.

In recent decades, famous Croydonians would include Bernard Weatherill, former local MP and Speaker of the House of Commons, parliamentarian Malcolm Wicks, singer Kirsty McColl, Bishop Wilfred Wood, writer and creator Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and comedian Ronnie Corbett.

Then how about BRIT School alumnae Adele, Amy Winehouse and Katie Melua, supermodel Kate Moss; Peggy Ashcroft the actress after whom the Ashcroft Theatre at Fairfield Halls is named; Raymond Chandler, the writer; Ben Haenow because he won the X Factor; writer D. H. Lawrence who lived and taught in Addiscombe; David Lean, the cinema director, whose fame lives on in our celebrated local cinema; writer Ralph McTell; philosopher Malcolm Muggeridge, singer Peter Sarstedt and punk rocker Captain Sensible? How long will their ‘fame’ last?

Shine a light on some new and different famous Croydonians

And which locals would you add down the centuries, regardless of whether you think they made a positive or negative contribution: the local archbishops, especially William Laud (1573–1645), whose policies led to his execution in 1645? Officials and soldiers of the East India Company like Robert Chatfield and Captain John Stables?

As the Heritage Festival concludes for another year, I’d like to shine a spotlight on some new, and different, famous historical Croydonians:

  • John Horne-Tooke, the radical clergyman, who was acquitted of treason in 1794 and had connections with Purley
  • Thomas Frost (1821 – 1908) the radical writer, journalist, printer and Chartist
  • William Pare (1805-1873), a prominent figure in building the co-operative movement in the 19th century
  • Robert Appelgarth (1834-1924), the carpenters and joiners’ trade union leader, who spent many of his final years in Thornton Heath
  • ‘Mattie’ Lawrence Thrift (d. 1907), the American black singer with the Fisk Jubilee Singers who married into the Thrift grocery family
  • Harry Muggeridge, father of Malcolm, prominent Croydon labour activist
  • John Coleman Kenworthy of the Croydon Brotherhood movement
  • Dorinda Neligan (1833-1914), the headmistress of Croydon High School (1874-1901), and suffragette
  • William Heaford, the campaigner for the National Secular Society from the 1870s to at least 1914
  • Marion Holmes (1867-1943), President of the Croydon Women’s Social and Political Union
  • Georgina King Lewis (1847-1924), the temperance campaigner and funder of the first Ruskin House
  • Dr Malcolm Joseph-Mitchell, a Trinidadian, who set up a home for mixed race children in Purley in the late 1940s
  • Ruth Williams, the Croydon Secretary, whose marriage in 1948 to Seretse Khama, heir to the chiefdom of the Bamangwato tribe in southern Africa, caused controversy
So – over to you. Who do you think should join them?
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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  • Terry Coleman

    Frederick G Creed and William Ford Stanley would be my suggestion – two famous inventors and local industrialists of international renown.