Twelve things that you might not know about the history of Croydon


By - Wednesday 26th July, 2017

Twelve ways to impress your friends or win a very specific pub quiz


Photo by Croydon Airport Society, used with permission.

From a Saxon cemetery in Park Lane to the oldest railway system in the world, Croydon has a lot of fascinating history that you might not have been aware of. And here it is.

1. An early Saxon cemetery was discovered under Croydon’s Park Lane in the late 19th century, with almost three-quarters of the graves containing jewellery, bronze artefacts and weaponry dating from the 6th century. Croydon Museum houses both Roman and Saxon artefacts from the cemetery and some are also in the British Museum. Other Saxon remains in Croydon include burial mounds and farm sites.

2. The Romans gave Croydon the crocus – planting the blue saffron crocus from the shores of the Mediterranean on the hills around the town – but the Anglo Saxons gave it the name – ‘croh’, meaning crocus and ‘denu’ or ‘dene’ meaning valley. In fact all of the place names in Croydon have Saxon or Old English origins.

3. Croydon is recorded in the Domesday Book, the oldest surviving survey of British land, compiled on the orders of William the Conqueror in 1085 after his successful invasion of the country. William wanted to find out what exactly he had won in the battle. Croydon, it is recorded, had 365 people, 73 households, one church and one mill.

4. Croydon was once the countryside retreat of archbishops and their households, a stop-off on the road from Lambeth Palace in London to Canterbury, the head of the church in England. It has hosted the likes of several Henrys – III, VI and VIII – as well as Elizabeth I in its time.

5. In 1801 the population of Croydon was approximately 5,000. In 1901 it was 135,000.

6. Croydon was home to the world’s first public railway, which linked the town to Wandsworth by a horse-drawn plateway – a type of tramway made from cast iron rails. This line, called the Surrey Iron Railway, opened between 1802 and 1803 and the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Railway was built as an extension in 1805.

7. The UK’s first major international airport was located in Croydon. The first fledging airlines ran flights from here in the 1920s, and Croydon to Paris quickly became the world’s busiest air route. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Croydon was flying up to 1,500 passengers a day from its airport. After the war, the role of London’s international airport passed to Heathrow as Croydon had no further room to expand and the airport closed on 30 September 1959.

 8. Croydon was the first part of the country to provide fresh water to its citizens by setting up a water board with the aim of improving water quality.

 9. Croydon’s first cinema opened in the 1890s and in its heyday boasted a grand total of 20 cinemas operating simultaneously

10. Authors Arthur Conan Doyle (12 Tennison Road, South Norwood, 1891 – 94), DH Lawrence (16 Colworth Road, Addiscombe, 1908 – 11) and Emile Zola (Queen’s Hotel, 122 Church Road, Upper Norwood, 1898 – 99) have all lived in Croydon.

11. The standard international distress call ‘Mayday’ was devised in Croydon.

12. Croydon’s building boom increased the workforce by over 40,000 from the 1960s to the 1970s but its fortunes were reversed when several large employers closed their Croydon operations in the following decades.

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette has been a journalist since the age of 7 when she devised, designed and launched ‘Fallon’s News’ – much to her family’s delight. Brought up in Ireland, she was born in Addiscombe where she now lives, though it took her several decades to find it again. She works as a journalist and broadcaster. Follow her at Twitter.com/bernibee

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  • Anne Giles

    Interesting.

  • Michael Swadling

    Brilliant article..

  • lizsheppardjourno

    Just when you think you’re an expert…. someone else comes along and knows more stuff :)