Keen as mustard: South Croydon’s heritage, part 1

By - Friday 21st February, 2014

In a three part series, Sean Creighton ponders the history of South Croydon and what should be showcased in the Heritage Lottery Fund bid

Image by Eugene Reimer and used under a Creative Commons licence.

Have you ever been as ‘keen as mustard’ about anything? As a Croydon citizen you have more right to be, because the phrase comes from the brand of the locally based Keen’s mustard business. Being told about Keen’s caused much amusement on Monday 20th January among the eleven of us working on the South Croydon history project bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

There is no shortage of ideas for all the potential components that could be part of the project. However, given that the maximum sum being applied for is £10,000, there is a tricky balance between what can be achieved and the costs. As a busy suburb, South Croydon has a long and fascinating history. The boundaries of the area are fluid with some suggesting it starts south of the flyover and others suggesting from South End.

The project aims to reveal the rich heritage which helps to define the community through:

  • researching a number of sites to provide the basis for guided and self-guided heritage trails
  • setting up a website
  • creating materials for local use including schools
  • training volunteers in research
  • equipping to help protect our heritage for future generations
  • help generate a sense of identity and community
  • provide local residents with access to and a better appreciation of the diverse and largely forgotten heritage

Initial work on putting together what is already known into a framework has revealed a rich history that needs more detailed research. This contribution to the Citizen discusses some of the information that will be contained in a background framework that volunteers undertaking research will need to become familiar with. Building such a framework is vital in constructing walks and underpins the fifteen or so walks (mainly in Battersea, Wandsworth, Kennington and Vauxhall) that I have led over the past seven years. Elements from the growing framework in this article are by no means comprehensive but will hopefully give you a flavour.

The area lies within the ancient manors of Croham and Haling, and formed part of the estates of the Archbishopric of Canterbury. Most of it was rural, with farming and estates of the wealthy into the second half of the 19th century. It then began to be built up as the town crept south and the London & Brighton Railway line linked the south coast and London through Croydon Town from 1841. It was not until 1865 that South Croydon station was built, and the short lived Spencer Rd halt (1906-1915) helped the beginning of suburban housing development. It includes neighbourhoods with architectural and historical value which have been given a certain amount of protection: Chatsworth, Croham Manor and The Waldrons Conservation areas and the Special Areas of Local Character: Birdhurst Rd/Rise, Campden/Spencer Rds, and South End.

Why is knowing about local history important?

Knowing local history helps people understand how their area developed and changed. The processes involved, the consensus and conflicts over those processes, all the way down to the present day and the further changes being planned for the future. It allows people to decide what they regard as important and needed to be safeguarded. Local history of neighbourhoods also provides windows into wider histories of the local authority area, its sub-region, region, the inter-relationship with national and international history, and shows how changes at these levels are part of the influences locally. What we see around us is the sum total of those with economic and political power, moderated by their own disagreements and conflicts, and on occasion by local people campaigning for improvements and against developments they think will add nothing to the quality of the environment and life.

So a starting point is to go back over the centuries and work out who exercised the economic and political power. The largest landowner was the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Catholic Church in England until Henry VIII’s break with Rome, through the religious repressions before the Anglican Church emerged under Elizabeth I. The church was part of the state, and it levied tithes on farm produce. Non-conformists did not have full civil rights and were fined and imprisoned for refusing to pay tithes. Catholics were not finally given rights until 1829. The manor of Croham was acquired in the late 16th century by Archbishop Whitgift, after whom the powerful Whitgift Foundation charity is named.

Non-conformists did not have full civil rights and were fined and imprisoned for refusing to pay tithes

Major landowners leased out much of their land. From the end of the 15th century the Archbishop rented Haling manor to the Warham family, one of whom became the Archbishop who married Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and who stood up to Henry’s state control of the church measures. The manor was sold to the Crown in 1536. Part of the estate was leased to Sir Nicholas Carew of Beddington who was to be executed for treason. From 1555 it was ‘owned’ by Sir John Gage, who had been an office holder under Henry VIII and as a Roman Catholic was close to Queen Mary.

A later John Gage had his lands forfeited for suspected involvement in one of the plots against Queen Elizabeth I. From 1592 Elizabeth leased the manor to Charles. Lord Howard, later the Earl of Nottingham, with a further 21 year renewal. The Gage family took legal action and regained control of the manor. The new owner John Gage was an amateur chemist and astrologer, and carried out his experiments at Haling House. From 1707 it then passed into the ownership of the Parkers and then William Parker Hamond who died in 1812, followed by his son and grandson of the same name, the last selling off parts of the estate. The Hamonds owned land elsewhere as well. Little appears to be known about them and the degree of their influence. Through all this it is to be wondered what those framing the land, particularly the labourers made of the all these changes in manorial control and the politics involved.

If the Heritage Lottery Fund bid is successful then the South Croydon Community Association will publicise the opportunities to become involved. Meanwhile if you have any information to add to the growing framework please email me at .

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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