The 50th anniversary of Croydon’s first eleven

By - Friday 13th May, 2016

Andrew Dickinson celebrates some neglected Croydon gems, and unveils plans to bring them back into use

Photo author’s own.

The year is 1966. There they are, proudly lined up, one to eleven. A team put together with great thought and purpose. Each one an impressive performer individually, but as a collective, the outcomes will be even greater.

The sun is shining brightly as the VIPs make their rounds, make a bit of small talk, then hasten to move away. In a different part of the borough, an as yet unremarkable dog named Pickles was going to find the Jules Rimet Trophy in a front garden. Many of us Croydonians know what happened next.

Yes, the eleven glasshouses in Conduit Lane Nursery went on to serve the borough for many years, growing the plants and shrubs that were used in all of the parks and public spaces. The double height palm and fern houses were used to raise the plants to meet the demand for the reception areas of the numerous civic buildings that had been built and were still being built.

Now, they are consigned to Croydon’s overloaded past of unsung, innovative greatness

At 3:30pm on 14th May 1966, the glasshouses were officially opened by the mayor, councillor P.A. Saunders JP. What fantastically spec’d buildings they were.

Yes, they are fifty years old this weekend, and they sit empty, unused, unappreciated, unloved, awaiting a fate that will probably involve demolition and then oblivion. Consigned to Croydon’s overloaded past of unsung, innovative greatness.

The entire following details were taken from the official programme for that opening event, and for a keen horticulturist like me it has triggered a lot of drooling. On the launch date there were only nine houses and two were added later (for the benefit of the opening of this article, let’s imagine there were eleven).

The glasshouse range

House No 1. 100 ft. x 21ft Fern House
House No 2. 50 ft. x 39 ft. Palm House
House No 3. 100 ft. x 21 ft. Warm Growing House
House No 4. 100 ft. x 14 ft. Propogating House (In three sections, each of which can be separately controlled, also contains the Mist Propogation Unit.)
House No 5. 100 ft. x 21 ft.) Warm Growing House
House No 6. 100 ft. x 21 ft.) Warm Growing House
House No 7. 100 ft. x 18 ft.) Cool growing houses
House No 8. 100ft x 21 ft.) Cool growing houses
House No 9. 100 ft. x 21 ft.) Cool growing house

The features

  1. The houses are stove enamelled aluminium requiring no maintenance.
  2. Dutch light glass (28” x 56”) ensures that the maximum amount of light enters the greenhouse.
  3. PVC glazing grooves to absorb any expansion or contraction of the metal framework. No putty to deteriorate.
  4. Braced support construction obviates the need for purlin posts.
  5. Wide sliding doors give easy access and egress. There are access roads at either end of the houses for loading and unloading.
  6. Aluminium staging with asbestos sheet covering eliminate corrosion. ‘Lytag’ aggregate is sterile when new – holds water and nutrients.
  7. Ventilation on either side is operated by single lever at each end of each house. Automatic ventilation is under consideration.
  8. Watering by trigger-operated lances connected to a hosepipe saves the constant refilling of watering cans.
  9. Interior lighting allows work to continue after dark in winter when necessary.
  10. There is continuous pest control; electrically activated units at high level in each house.

I could go on to excite and delight you with details of the heating system (with diesel-powered backup generator!), but I can see that you’re getting a little flustered already.

A small group of us has asked if we can bring some of the glasshouses back into use

Photo author’s own.

Looking back on my younger days, I can remember the nurseries having an annual open day in which you had the opportunity to walk through the houses and join in on a workshop of different aspects of gardening. I can remember two quite vividly. One was how to graft trees and the other was how to make a hanging basket. In these days of videos on YouTube you can find this information in seconds, but here was an experienced gardener, tobacco pipe in hand, explaining it to you and letting you have a go, an interactiveness that online videos just cannot capture.

Anyway, a small group of us have asked if we can bring some of the glasshouses back into use as a community food-growing project, in order to meet one of the outcomes of the Food Flagship programme which the borough is part of. That outcome is ‘more food grown locally’.

Raise a cup or glass and say cheers to the glasshouses, loyal servants to Croydon for many years

We were also aware of the 50 years’ anniversary and asked that we could go on site to have an anniversary celebration. The supplier of the houses at the time, V and N Hartley Ltd, is still in business and is now known as Hartley Botanic. I contacted them at the start of the year to make them aware of the anniversary and ask would they like to be involved or send a representative. A month or so passed and then I got a call from a PR person for Hartley’s to say that they thought that it was a lovely idea, they were delighted to hear that the houses were still intact and it was great publicity to coincide with Chelsea Flower Show week and that the PR could come to an event and bring the media. Alas, we got a knock back on this plan and no celebration will now happen.

I do ask you, dear reader, that at some stage this coming Saturday you raise a cup or glass and say cheers to the glasshouses, loyal servants to Croydon for many years. And you never know, their service may come back for many more.

Happy anniversary, Central Nursery Glasshouses!

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

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  • Charles B.Wordsmith

    Will definitely raise a glass and I wish you lots of luck with the project. Hope one day I’ll be able to buy a Croydon home grown aubergine or melon.