Befriending Church Alley


By - Wednesday 27th August, 2014

Cathy Aitchison, co-founder of the Friends of Church Alley, explains why this pathway in a too-often-unloved part of Croydon is well worth cherishing


Cleaning up Church Alley – the Friends get to work.
Photo author’s own.

After several hours of hard work we stood admiring the results of our efforts: Church Alley was clear of rubbish along its whole length. We had been taking part in the latest Friends of Church Alley Action Day (Saturday 16th August 2014) to clean up the alley. “Shame it won’t last”, said one of the team.

Unfortunately, the cynicism is justified. Like any secluded byway, Church Alley regularly suffers from littering and fly-tipping; indeed, by late afternoon some foul-smelling bags and a few broken toys had appeared.

It’s not the most picturesque of alleyways, but it has a certain charm

Church Alley is a historic public footpath in Broad Green, West Croydon, running from Handcroft Road down to Mitcham Road. It’s not the most picturesque of alleyways, although it does have its own small charms: in places, the rich colours of old brickwork stand out in the sunshine; elsewhere, rambling plants – including roses, camellias, jasmine, blackberries and even grapes – hang over the garden fences and walls.

The unexpected beauty of Church Alley in Broad Green, Croydon.
Photo author’s own.

Not to be confused with Church Path (between North End and Tamworth Road), Church Alley’s route follows the gardens of Dennett Road on one side and Addington Road and Bishops Road on the other.

However, “follows’ is something of a misnomer, as Church Alley was there first. It has existed since at least the 1840s (as yet unnamed), before the land was divided up and the streets laid out: it is shown on the 1847 Roberts’ map of Croydon as a public footpath running between fields and open land.

Building began in the 1850s on the land south of Church Alley, one of the first parts of Broad Green to be developed. A new church – Christ Church, on Sumner Road – was built in 1851 and consecrated in 1852. The streets immediately around the church were built over the next ten years or so and given names associated with the Church of England (for example, Longley Road and Sumner Road were named after nineteenth century archbishops). The houses north of Church Alley (in Dennett Road) were not built until later, during the 1880s.

We hope to foster a sense of local pride

We set up the Friends of Church Alley as a charitable organisation in May 2011 – before the riots but after a serious fire in January 2011 which destroyed the printing works in Dennett Road. Our aims are to improve the environment, especially by organising clean-up sessions, and to find out and share information about the history of Church Alley and the surrounding area. We hope that a wider knowledge of the local history and heritage will foster a greater sense of local pride.

As part of our recent local history project we documented people’s memories of the area. We talked to people who grew up near Church Alley in the 1960s: some remembered playing there and others remembered the back gates onto the alley still being in use, for example for putting out the dustbins.

During 2013 we exhibited results from the project at various locations around Broad Green; this summer we were pleased to be among the contributors to the Croydon Heritage Festival Exhibition at Fairfield Halls.

We urgently need to celebrate the area’s rich history

Our organisation is small, and likely to remain so, given the hyper-local nature of Church Alley. We work closely with the larger Broad Green Residents Association, which has been active in the area since 1974. Friends of Church Alley is not the only group around which is campaigning for its small area: see the Pemdevon Road Clean-up Campaign, for example.

For its future wellbeing, an area like Broad Green – where local landmarks are fast disappearing under faceless modern developments – urgently needs organisations and campaigns which celebrate and raise awareness of the rich history and heritage of every small corner.

“We saw the leaflet – we really appreciate what you’re doing,” said one householder who lives near Church Alley, after Saturday’s clean-up. If even one person feels a greater sense of pride in the area, if even a few think twice before dumping rubbish there, it is worth the effort.

Cathy Aitchison

Cathy Aitchison

A relative newcomer to Croydon, Cathy has lived in Broad Green since early 2008. She has a background in teaching, research and media, which has led to some interesting memories and a mountain of paperwork. Currently, she focuses much of her energy on personal projects such as local history and photography, gardening and downsizing (especially the paperwork).

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