Croydon’s ambitious spire

By - Monday 29th April, 2013

West Croydon devotee Terry Coleman shares his thoughts on the symbolic West Croydon Church, and its history in a multi-faith, riot-torn area

On 22nd August 2011 I was called to a meeting at the Oshwal Centre, at No. 1 Campbell Road in Croydon. The meeting had been arranged by our then MP Malcolm Wicks and its purpose was to discuss the riot that had occurred in our town earlier that month. It was a tense meeting and Mr Wicks conducted matters with firmness and fairness so that everyone could have their say. There were angry feelings expressed and many strong words spoken.

As the evening progressed things did calm down and some positive ideas were mooted – I believe that this was partly due to Mr Wicks’ handling and good sense of the situation. I felt that the calming influence of our hosts, people of the Jain faith, contributed greatly also.

The main factor for me was the ambiance of the fine old church which had been beautifully restored and was in excellent condition. Who could sustain anger in a place like that for any length of time?

I left the Oshwal Centre in reflective mood and made a mental note to find out a little more about the history of the church and something about the Oshwal people too.

‘Croydon’s most ambitious spire’

The West Croydon Congregational Church was built in 1886 to accommodate a congregation of 1,000, next to the earlier West Croydon Chapel. It served the community for almost a hundred years, and during that time it was renamed as the United Reformed Church.Its spire has been described as ‘arguably the finest in Croydon’ . The church is grade 2 listed:  ‘Built 1886 by Mr Church, Gothic, in C13, C14 style. Kentish Rag. Nave, aisles, transepts and fine tower with broad spire on corner of road. Slate roof with wooden fleche over crossing. Listed partly for townscape value.’ It is, as Pevsner wrote, ‘Croydon’s most ambitious spire’.

In 1982, when the church found it could not afford to repair the roof, it sold the building to the Oshwal Association for use as a Jain temple and community centre.

The Oshwal Mahajanwadi is a Temple and Community Centre that practices Jainism which is one of the oldest surviving religions practiced today. It is a religion that originated in India and prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings.

I would not presume to describe anything further about the faith, but I will say that the people I have met at the community centre are welcoming, friendly, and open hearted, and I know that they do much good work within the community.

I have written this modest piece because it seems to me that the West Croydon and Broad Green area of the town is surely due for some positive recognition of its many strengths. I hope this serves as just one example of how multi-faith and multicultural co-operation can play its part, not only on the landscape of our town but also within the spirit of the community.

Terry Coleman

Terry Coleman

Retired bloke having a lot of fun doing what he wants after 51 years doing what the bosses wanted. Croydon born & bred. Politics-Blairite, Faith-Agnostic, Interests-Music (mostly Ellington), Reading, Pilates, Gym.

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  • Liz Sheppard-Jones

    Thanks so much for this, Terry, it’s really interesting and thought-provoking. I walk past this building often without paying it much attention. There is lovely and interesting architecture in West Croydon and knowing the history of things is most helpful and enriching.

  • Teddy Ramus

    Thanks for the info Terry,
    but I wanted to know other than the church couldn’t afford to repair the building,
    what happen to the congregation ? did it dwindle down ? someone run off with the money why they couldn’t afford it ? where did the congregation go ? how come a developers didn’t buy it ?
    the reason i ask these questions is so many of our churches are being sold of but all i hear is they cant afford to pay for the building in which you have so many organisations that seem they can…!! I played in this church for the first time last week and was so moved by the stain glass windows and cathedral like architecture only to see other faith ornaments in certain rooms and offices ….. sad to see its not being use as it was built for…

    • Terry Coleman

      All valid and interesting questions Teddy.
      I only needed a scant history to satisfy my curiosity about the place and that was easily looked up using google. It gave me just what I wanted for the purpose of my little article.

      I think you raise some much deeper issues about how we value and look after our fine churches.But for me; I’m pleased that the church is still in good hands and is being looked after for future generations to enjoy.

  • Simon Went

    Hi Terry, very interesting. Such historic buildings as this are truly inspirational and powerful! I’m researching into the history of this building and wondered if you knew anymore? Regards, Simon Went

    • Terry Coleman

      Hi Simon
      I have no further info I’m afraid.
      The stuff I had gathered, mostly via google, was sufficient for the purposes of my article.


      • Simon Went

        Hi Terry, thanks for that I’ll contact the library tomorrow and see if I can find out more from them. I was interested in the immediate area aswell so see what they’ve got. Simon