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