Rambling around Croydon and Morden

Today we started with a visit to Croydon. Why? Well, why not? If Croydon is not the first name that springs to mind when you are thinking of a day out, it should not necessarily be the last either. The observant eye will find points of interest in most parts of Greater London and Croydon is not an exception.

The Monstrous Shard
The Monstrous Shard
The blemish on the face of London

We travelled from London Bridge station which is now over­shadowed by the abominable Shard, a nightmare creation of glass, steel and concrete which will pollute the skyline of London for generations to come, thanks to corporate greed and the insensitivity of those who are supposed to care for London and its future.

Tram stop, East Croydon
Tram stop, East Croydon
Trams are an important part of life in Croydon

We arrived at East Croydon train station and just outside it is a major tram stop. The trams are one of my favourite features of Croydon and I always take a ride on one if we have time. For now, however, we set off on foot down George Street towards the town centre.

Bursting through the hedge
Bursting through the hedge
Sculptor so far unknown (but see Update)

A little way down the road is St Matthews House and beside it one finds this lively sculpture of a horse and rider jumping over a hedge or, rather, jumping through it. I have not been able to find out who made it or when, or for what purpose, but I have made enquiries and if these bear fruit I will add an update. Such a piece and its author deserve to be rescued from their anonymity. (See Update below.)

A once fine building
A once fine building
The carriage entrance suggests a grand house

Just opposite is this once fine building. There is no date on it that I could see but the carriage entrance suggests (to me) that it is Victorian. Was it once an imposing house or a company headquarters? If we ignore the shops on the ground floor, the design possesses a certain grandeur.

The listed buildings index for Croydon is pretty sparse. Does this mean that there are few buildings of interest here? I suspect not and that the paucity of the list is more likely to be the result of lack of investigation and interest. We certainly saw a number that seemed to us worthy of notice.

Starling exploring
Starling exploring
With his companions busily searching for food

In the meantime, we met this engaging little fellow when a flock of starlings landed nearby and scuttled around looking for food. He looked at us expectantly but unfortunately we had nothing for him.

Hospital of the Holy Trinity
Hospital of the Holy Trinity
Almshouses built 1596

Where George Street meets High Street, the corner is occupied by a fine set of Elizabethan almshouses. They were built in 1596, as the plaque tells us, to be “an hospitall and abiding-place for the finding, sustenation and relief of certain maymed, poore, needie or impotent people, to have continuence for ever.” The plan succeeded marvellously and the almshouses still serve as dwellings today.

Front façade and entrance
Front façade and entrance
The gateway permits a glimpse of the courtyard

The elaborate entrance, with its studded blue door and handsome wrought-iron gate (this one erected to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the almshouses) allows an intriguing glimpse of the courtyard within. This is a traditional design for almshouses: a courtyard with dwellings on three or four sides and perhaps an included chapel. Over the door is the Latin motto QVI DAT PAVPERI NON INDIGEBIT (“He who gives to the poor shall not lack”).

Window donated by the founder
Window donated by the founder
Also a way of perpetuating his memory

The handsome window on a prominent corner gives a clue to the identity of the founder of this charitable institution. Though he is not named directly, the hint is strong enough to leave no doubts.

P1480137
Dedicatory plaque
By “a man of York”

The dedicatory plaque reads EBORA CENSIS HANC FENESTRAM FIERI FECIT 1597 (“A man of York commissioned this window in 1597”). Contemporaries, and no doubt later generations too, would have known that the “man of York” was John Whitgift (c.1530-1604). He became chaplain to Queen Elizabeth I in 1563 and thus gained power and influence, being appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1583, a post he occupied until his death. The founding of the almshouses, which he could well afford, was no doubt both an act of charity and an attempt to acquire merit in the eyes of men and God.

Grant Brothers Store
Grant Brothers Store
A late Victorian success story

An amusing incident occurred in front of this building. I was looking at it carefully prior to taking photos when a woman walking by stopped and asked abruptly “What’s wrong with the building?” She must have thought I was staring at something amiss. Grant Brothers, who previously owned a tailoring business, had their store built in 1894. By all accounts it was a great success, being characterized as the local version of Harrods. Typical items of merchandise, such as lace or gloves, are listed on the front of the building which is richly ornamented.

Croydon Town Hall
Croydon Town Hall
Designed to impress

Thus we arrived at Croydon Town Hall. It is likely that the first feature you notice is the massive clock tower but the whole building is elaborate and intended to impress – and it succeeds.

Richly decorated
Richly decorated
Decorative panels and tall windows

It was built in 1895 and while the exterior remains in the original form (it is a listed building) the interior has been modernized. As well as the usual functions of a town hall, we find a large public library and the Museum of Croydon.

We visited the museum and found it quite interesting. We were told we could take photos as long as we did not use flash. Unfortunately, we were later told we could not take photos at all. I therefore cannot show you anything of the museum so I will say no more about it except to refer you to its Web page here: Museum of Croydon.

Study
Study
One of the sculpted panels

There is a fine set of sculpted panels on the outside of the building. Above you see Study, which is appropriate considering that the public library is within.

John Whitgift
John Whitgift
Pride of place on the façade of the town hall

Here we meet John Whitgift again (by J. Wenlock Rollins) and, of course, the queen during whose reign the town hall was built.

Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria
By F.J. Williamson

It was only to be expected that a public building erected during the Victorian era would display a statue of the Queen. This bronze, entitled Victoria Regina et Imperatrix 1837-1901, was sculpted by F.J. Williamson, reputedly the Queen’s favourite sculptor, who produced many representations of her. This one is slightly unusual in that it was put in place only in 1903, two years after the death of the Queen.

Back at the station tram stop
Back at the station tram stop
The shadows lengthen

There were other things to see but we now made our way to the bus stop as we wanted to catch a tram to Morden. By the time we reached the tram stop outside the station, the shadows had begun to lengthen though there was still plenty of daylight. (Spot our shadows in the crowd!)

A Wimbledon tram
A Wimbledon tram
This would take us to Morden Road

On enquiring, we learnt that we needed to take the Wimbledon tram and alight at Morden Road. The trams are frequent and we didn’t have to wait long. A tram ride is a good way to see the area too.

Wandle Park
Wandle Park
Not quite where we wanted to be

Tigger spotted some parkland and thought we should get off. We did so but it turned out to be Wandle Park, not quite where we wanted to be. We waited for another tram and continued our journey.

Sunset at Modern Hall Park
Sunset at Modern Hall Park
Note the airliner contrails lit by the sun

By the time we arrived at the stop and entered Morden Hall Park, the sun was setting. The sky was streaked with the contrails of airliners. Here, as in many parts, there are wild parakeets and at this time of an evening they are very active, flying around and screeching to one another. You recognize them by their green colour and long tails. I tried to get a photo but they are too shy of humans to come close enough.

Tree-lined avenues
Tree-lined avenues
A pleasant place for a stroll

The pleasant park, which has open grassy areas, tree-lined avenues and gardens, belongs to Morden Hall which was built in the 1770s. We did not visit it today, though we have done so in the past in one of its incarnations as a hotel with a pleasant cafe bar. Hall and park now belong to the National Trust and are being refurbished.

The River Wandle
The River Wandle
It adds beauty but also once ran the snuff mills

The River Wandle runs through the park. It is beautiful in its own right and attracts water fowl. In the past, it supplied the motive power for two mills.

One of the mill wheels
One of the mill wheels
The mills ground tobacco to make snuff

The mills once produced snuff but no longer do so. They add interestingly to the park and may be open to visit at some future date.

Snuff grinding machine
Snuff grinding machine
There would have been several of these in operation

As it grew darker, we were attracted by the welcome sight of a sign pointing to the Morden Hall Park Cafe. We took a rest there and had a cup of tea and then started the journey back.

This time we took the tube. Morden is the southern terminus of the Northern Line. The train went via the Bank branch so we could sit and relax until it reached Angel, our stop.

Despite the relatively short hours of daylight, we had had a good day out and renewed our acquaintance with Croydon and Morden, both places that hold interest for the inquisitive explorer.

Update December 8th 2011

Having unsuccessfully searched on the Web for information on the equestrian statue, I emailed a query to Croydon Council and eventually received a very helpful and friendly response from Croydon’s Borough Archivist to whom I express my thanks.

The sculpture is by John W. Mills (see also here). It was commissioned by the Wates Group, a building company, who owned the property when the work was unveiled in 1982.

The man on the horse represents Jorrocks, a character from the hunting stories of Robert S. Surtees (1805-64), Croydon being a popular area for hunting in the pre-railway age.

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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14 Responses to Rambling around Croydon and Morden

  1. WOL says:

    Interesting circular building by the tram stop — residential, by the look of it. The fellow on the horse looks to be chasing steeples. I hadn’t realized snuff had to be ground, but now that I think of it. I would think the workers in the mill would have had to wear masks else risk nicotine poisoning.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Yes it is an interesting building and not as ugly as are so many modern builds. It is residential, I think, and I imagine that you pay more for the apartments that stand forward than for those that are overshadowed.

      I hope to be able to say more about the horse and rider when I have an answer to my query.

      What surprised me about the snuff mill was the size of the grinding machines. I would have expected them to be much smaller. Snuff was apparently made here in “industrial” quantities. I don’t know whether the workers wore masks, as health and safety was taken a lot less seriously in the past than it is today – think of how workers in hat factories became ill from mercury poisoning. There would have been plenty of dust in the air as ther machine tenders used paddles to push the tobacco under the grinding wheels. Shovels and paddles in the mill were made of wood to avoid sparks as these could cause the dust to explode!

  2. TheMightyQuin says:

    Hi, the building by East Croydon Tram stop is currently used as offices. Depending on your vintage, it is also known as the threepenny bit building, or the 50p building. It has now been re – marketed as Nr. 1 Croydon. I think (but stand to be corrected) by the same architect as CentrePoint, at the junction of Tottenham Court Road / Oxford Street. There is a Café in the ground floor of the building, and I understand everyone can access it, even if they do not work in the building.

    • SilverTiger says:

      You are right about the architect. I didn’t check it at the time of writing but Richard Seifert is indeed responsible for your “50p building.

      Thanks for drawing that to my attention.

  3. ylva cullerne-bown says:

    This a wonderful article on the place I have called ‘home’ for more than 40 years, so many points of beauty and interest. I bought my first pair of black leather gloves from Grants, I was 17 and had just started working in Ravel in Top Shop in the Whitgift Centre. I would love to see this in print and made available to the residents in the mentioned areas. Thank you so much for your time and effort collecting this wonderful history of my home town.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Thank for your kind words. We have been to Croydon a number of times but I think that as yet we have still only scratched the surface. I hope you continue to enjoy your home town.

  4. Thanks for visiting Croydon and highlighting the oft overlooked points of interest. I’m glad you and your family had a good day. Wandle Park is worth a visit again as it has a list of events through the summer and several heritage walks around town planned. Thanks once again.

  5. behemothuk says:

    Thank you for this intriguing article. I have now shared the link to it on the Historic Croydon Group, Facebook page and it has created quite a lot of interest. It takes an outsider view such as your own to remind us that the river Wardle also goes through Morden Hall Park and to link the two towns. Lindsay Ould the Archivist in Croydon gave us a talk the other day too. Excellent. Thanks

    • SilverTiger says:

      I am happy to know that my post has received a positive response from the people of Croydon. I write as an outsider, as you note, and it’s good to know that I have nevertheless managed to strike a chord with those who know the place far better than I do.

  6. Marc Fresko says:

    The building is indeed today called “No 1 Croydon. It is office space, not residential. Its original name was NLA Tower (for ‘NLA’ stood for ‘Noble Lowndes Annuities’). The architect, Richard Siefert, designed other notable buildings including Centre Point (London) and Corinthian House (Croydon).
    Its common names include “threepenny bit building” (a threepenny bit is a pre-decimal coin with 12 sides); “50p coin building” (a 50p coin has 7 sides); and, arguably less helpfully, the “wedding cake building” (too crunchy for me). But in fact each floor is octagonal, so none of the nicknames are accurate. Some describe the octagons as squares with flared corners. but I know not why.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Thank for your historical background to Seifert’s famous building. Nicknames are often inaccurate as in this case.

      I will make a mental note that the building is an office block, not residential.

      I would quite like to have a look at the interior and see what sort of view you have from the upper floors.

  7. Paul Eva says:

    I noticed the statue of the Hunter just recently and was quite struck by it. I wonder which came first the statue or the hedge? I wondered why it was there. Thank you for your enlightenment.
    Paul Eva.

    • SilverTiger says:

      I imagine that the hedge is part and parcel of the work which represents Jorrocks riding in pursuit of the fox, taking fences and hedges in his – or rather his horse’s – stride.

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