Croydon is hung out to dry, re-drawn and quartered

By - Monday 8th May, 2017

Croydon’s ‘quarters’ aren’t quite so foursquare

Photo author’s own.

Everyone knows that there is no such thing as North Croydon. There’s East, South and West, and there it ends. Head north and you’ll just find yourself in a weird, noiseless void. That said, some clever person at Croydon Council has quartered Croydon up into four manageable chunks. Confused tourists will be delighted to learn that there is one piece of pie devoted to restaurants, another to culture, a third to arts and the final to my own personal favourite, business! Where’s me briefcase?

First, let us examine the cultural quarter, consisting as it does of one big boarded-up concert hall. That’s all we’ve got, you know. Fairfield Halls. We once had the Warehouse Theatre, and a brilliant theatre space within Croydon town hall which the council itself jeopardised when it closed down the independent David Lean cinema earlier this decade, the projector literally carried across the road to the Fairfield Halls where it sat until it was carried back to its original location, much to the joy of the people who used the cinema and who hadn’t wanted it to go over there in the first place.

The theatre didn’t come back with it. But the plucky neighbouring pub, the Spread Eagle, seized the opportunity to establish itself as a theatre pub, and a stone’s throw from there, just off Surrey Street, Theatre Utopia is pumping new and original theatre into Matthew’s Yard on a regular basis. I don’t think that either of them is invited into the cultural quarter, though. Anyway, if they were, it wouldn’t be a quarter, would it? It’d be more of a ‘stretch’.

The best street art’s down in the subway by Croydon minster

Running parallel to it is the arts quarter – again, more of a ‘stretch’, it being pretty much St George’s Walk, which contains the brilliant RISE Gallery. There is also much ‘street art’ around those parts, most of it pretty good, bringing colour to the boards that hide disused buildings. Local artist Gavin Kinch has his work on display in that sheltered walkway, including one which celebrated the fortieth anniversary of The Damned’s first record.

But what of other places of art? What of Turf Projects, several stones’ throws away in Keeley Road, or artist Hale Man’s project space in the catacombs of the Whitgift Centre? And what of all of the art housed, again, in Matthews Yard? What about un-commissioned street art? The more clued up Croydonian art lover knows that the best piece of ‘street art’ can be found in the subway by Croydon minster. The bigger question really is: why are culture and arts not in the same quarter, freeing up a whole new quarter for something else?

But before we get to that – the restaurant quarter! Once again, it’s more of a stretch, starting down south once you’re under the flyover and ending around Croham. To this writer’s mind, the best eateries in Croydon can actually be found on the road to Addiscombe, or up London Road in deepest West Croydon, where Croydon’s real flavours are cooking, not that people would want to send respectable tourists down there! No – instead to the vaguely greener, slightly leafier South Croydon, with its restaurants including Albert’s Table, Apatura, Boulevard, Little Bay, and the Skylark pub. The proof in the sticky toffee pudding is visible at the annual Croydon Food Festival, during which most of that stretch is closed off to traffic, and food stalls struggle to sell their wares as everybody piles into the cut price pub to sample the nachos and ever expanding range of craft beers. It’s always a brilliant day out, though. Long may it continue!

These quarters – they aren’t really quarters, are they?

Rather strangely, and shadowed by the looming office blocks around East Croydon station, the entirely food-centric Boxpark finds itself firmly in… the business quarter. It’s a bit of a mystery. I think that it exists purely because they’d run out of things to go into quarters. There is no signage heralding your entrance into it, so I assume that it’s where all of those taller buildings are around East Croydon station… not that there aren’t tall office blocks elsewhere, like that bleak, horrible one around the back of Argos. This is just where the most of them seem to be congregated.

Much is made in the press of Croydon being the UK’s Silicon Valley, full as it is, we’re told, of tech start-ups. Yours truly is happily ignorant of such things, but I’ve peeped inside Number One Croydon (which most will know as the ‘50p building’ or ‘the thru’penny bit building’) beside East Croydon station. Inside, there’s a floor where such start-ups can rent as much space they need and tech away to their hearts’ content! And so too at TMRW, opposite Green Dragon House. Seems to me that in the day of the mobile-office-home-office-worker, the square, walled office is a thing of the past, with one man and his laptop conducting his business in Project B, Scrumpchinos and, yay, the Skylark, or anywhere else with free wifi.

So – these quarters. They’re not really quarters, are they? It’s just one big jumble in the ‘nicer’ part of Croydon, the part that Croydon likes to show off, where flats are being built to entice people into them. “Your new flat will be ready in a few years, and hopefully the concert hall next to it will have re-opened by then! We’re hoping to get Grumpy Old Women back!”. This is assuming that the concert hall does re-open and does not become the actual flats.

Ultimately, I think that the quarters exist because someone at the council had to do some quick thinking. Had they thought a little longer, it may have also struck them that the arts and culture ones could combine, as could the business area with the shopping area to create a ‘commerce quarter’ which could include the Whitgift Centre, Centrale, and all the pound, 99p, 98p and so on shops which have engulfed the high street. What’s not to like? And that would solve a problem, because as I look around the town centre and surrounds, it comes to me that a trick has most surely been missed.

I dare someone at the town hall to implement this suggestion

If Croydon’s quarters reflect aspects of life as lived by the real inhabitants of our town, then surely the various Croydonian deities need their very own ‘faith quarter’? This would start down at the very exciting-sounding Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries close to Wandle Park, continue with the the Vine Branch and Croydon Minster, snake round Tamworth Road via the Baptist chapel and up to St. Michael’s, then bend back to include St. Mary’s church, up to the Rhema Church and Siri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, then chuck a left up St James Road for the Church of the Nazarene or a right for the Baitus Sabhan Mosque. And this isn’t to mention all of the pop-up churches in halls, hotels, conference centres…

This process would expand the quarters into what some might term the shabbier parts of Croydon, but it totally works. I dare our friend at the town hall to implement it.

I must stop fantasising about this individual being quartered themselves.

Rob Preston

Rob Preston

Rob was a co-host on Croydon Radio's Encyclopaedia Croydonia, and hosts the popular bi-monthly tribute nights at The Oval Tavern on Oval Road. As a writer / photographer his work has been published in Doctor Who Magazine, Dreamwatch, Auton, Dog's Breakfast, Bulletin Your Head and SoHo Life & Technology Today. His short stories have been read at Tales of Croydonia at The Oval Tavern, and he is currently working on two anthologies of his own short stories, one crime, the other horror. He has written and directed seven plays at various Croydon venues, and survives today as a jobbing actor.

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