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Croydon is a town in South London, England, located within the London Borough of Croydon to which it gives its name. It is situated 9.5 miles (15.3 km) south of Charing Cross. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 11 metropolitan centres in Greater London.[1]

Croydon is located on the natural transport corridor between London and England’s south coast, just to the north of two gaps in the North Downs, one followed by the route of the A23 Brighton Road from Purley to Merstham and the other followed by the A22 from Purley to the M25 Godstone interchange.

Historically a part of Surrey, at the time of the Norman conquest of England Croydon had a church, a mill and around 365 inhabitants (as recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086). Croydon expanded during the Middle Ages as a market town and a centre for charcoal production, leather tanning and brewing. The Surrey Iron Railway from Croydon to Wandsworth opened in 1803 and was the world’s first public horse-drawn railway, which later developed into an important means of transport – facilitating Croydon’s growth as a commuter town for the City of London and beyond. By the early 20th century, Croydon was an important industrial area, known for car manufacture, metal working and its airport. In the mid 20th century these sectors were replaced by retailing and service economy, brought about by massive redevelopment which saw the rise of office blocks and the Whitgift shopping centre. Croydon was amalgamated into Greater London in 1965. Road traffic is now diverted away from a largely pedestrianised town centre, but its main railway station, East Croydon, is still a major hub within the national railway transport system. The town is expected to have its urban planning changed as part of Croydon Vision 2020.

As the vast majority of place-names in the area are of Anglo-Saxon origin, the most likely theory is that the name Croydon derives originally from the Anglo-Saxon croh, meaning “crocus” and denu ‘valley’, indicating that, like Saffron Walden in Essex, it was a centre for the collection of saffron.

There is an alternative if less probable theory of the origin of the name. According to John Corbett Anderson, “The earliest mention of Croydon is in the joint will of Beorhtric and Aelfswth, dated about the year 962. In this Anglo-Saxon document the name is spelt (here he uses original script) Crogdaene. Crog was, and still is, the Norse or Danish word for crooked, which is expressed in Anglo-Saxon by crumb, a totally different word. From the Danish came our crook and crooked. This term accurately describes the locality; it is a crooked or winding valley; in reference to the valley that runs in an oblique and serpentine course from Godstone to Croydon.” Anderson refuted a claim, originally cited by Andrew Coltee Ducarel, that the name came from the Old French for ‘chalk hill’, because the name was in use at least a century before the French language would have been commonly used following the Norman Invasion. However, there was no long-term Danish occupation (see Danelaw) in Surrey, which was part of Wessex, and Danish derived nomenclature is highly unlikely.

There is a plate recording a Bronze Age settlement on Croham Hurst. In addition there is evidence of a Roman settlement in the area on the London to Brighton Way Roman road, and a 5th to 6th century pagan Saxon cemetery.

In the late Saxon period it was the centre of a large estate belonging to the Archbishops of Canterbury. The church and the archbishops’ manor house occupied the area still known as the Old Town. The archbishops used the manor house as an occasional place of residence and continued to have important links as Lords of the manor, a title originally bestowed on Archbishop Lanfranc by William the Conqueror, and then as local patrons right up to the present day. Croydon appears in Domesday Book as Croindene. It was held by Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury. Its domesday assets were: 16 hides and 1 virgate; 1 church, 1 mill worth 5s, 38 ploughs, 8 acres (32,000 m2) of meadow, woodland worth 200 hogs. It rendered £37 10s 0d.

In 1276 the archbishop acquired a charter for a weekly market, and this probably marks the foundation of Croydon as an urban centre. Croydon developed into one of the main market towns of northeast Surrey. The market place was laid out on the higher ground to the east of the manor house in the triangle now bounded by High Street, Surrey Street and Crown Hill. By the 16th century the manor house had become a substantial palace used as the main summer home of the archbishops, visited by monarchs and other dignitaries. The original palace was sold in 1781, by then dilapidated and surrounded by slums and stagnant ponds, and a new residence, nearby at Addington, purchased in its place. Many of the buildings of the original Croydon Palace survive, and are in use today as Old Palace School.

The earliest record of Christian leaders in Croydon is in an Anglo-Saxon will made in about 960, witnessed by Elfsies, priest of Croydon. The Domesday Book contains the earliest written record of Croydon Church. The earliest recording of the name of the church is 6 December 1347, when it was recorded in the will of John de Croydon, fishmonger, containing a bequest to “the church of S John de Croydon”. The church still bears the arms of Archbishop Courtenay and Archbishop Chicheley, presumed to be its benefactors.

Croydon Parish Church is a Perpendicular-style church, which was remodelled in 1849 but destroyed in a great fire in 1867, following which only the tower, south porch, and outer walls remained. A new church was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, one of the greatest architects of the Victorian age, and opened in 1870. His design loosely followed the previous layout, with knapped flint facing and many of the original features, including several important tombs. Croydon Parish Church is the burial place of six Archbishops of Canterbury including John Whitgift, Edmund Grindal, Gilbert Sheldon, William Wake, John Potter and Thomas Herring. Previously part of the Diocese of Canterbury, Croydon is now in the Diocese of Southwark. The Vicar of Croydon is an important post, in addition to the suffragan Bishop of Croydon.

Addington Palace is a Palladian-style mansion between Addington Village and Shirley, surrounded by park landscapes and golf courses, within the boundaries of Croydon. After an Act of Parliament enabled the mansion to be purchased for the Archbishops of Canterbury in 1807, it became the official residence of six Archbishops until it was sold in 1898. In 1953 it was leased to the Royal School of Church Music until 1996, when it was leased to a private company that developed it as a conference and banqueting venue, with plans for a health farm and country club. The grounds were landscaped by Capability Brown and are mainly a golf course and public park. A famous very large cedar tree stands next to the Palace.

The Elizabethan Whitgift Almshouses, named the “Hospital of the Holy Trinity”, have stood in the centre of Croydon (at the corner of North End and George Street) since they were erected by Archbishop John Whitgift. He had petitioned for and had received permission from Queen Elizabeth I to establish a hospital and school in Croydon for the “poor, needy and impotent people” from the parishes of Croydon and Lambeth. The foundation stone was laid in 1596 and the building was completed in 1599.

The premises included the actual Hospital or Almshouses, providing accommodation for between 28 and 40 people, and a nearby schoolhouse and schoolmaster’s house. There was a Warden in charge for the well-being of the almoners. The building is constructed with the chambers of the almoners and various offices surrounding an inner courtyard.

Threatened by various reconstruction plans and road-widening schemes, the Almshouses were saved in 1923 by intervention of the House of Lords. On 21 June 1983 Queen Elizabeth II visited the almshouses and unveiled a plaque celebrating the recently completed reconstruction of the building. On 22 March each year the laying of the foundation stone is commemorated as Founder’s Day.

The development of Brighton as a fashionable resort in the 1780s increased Croydon’s role as a significant halt for stage coaches on the road south of London. At the beginning of the 19th century, Croydon became the terminus of two pioneering commercial transport links with London. The first, opened in 1803, was the horse-drawn Surrey Iron Railway from Wandsworth, which in 1805 was extended to Merstham, as the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Railway. The second, opened in 1809, was the Croydon Canal, which branched off the Grand Surrey Canal at Deptford. The London and Croydon Railway (an atmospheric and steam-powered railway), opened between London Bridge and West Croydon in 1839, using much of the route of the canal (which had closed in 1836), and other connections to London and the south followed.

The arrival of the railways and other communications advances in the 19th century led to a 23-fold increase in Croydon’s population between 1801 and 1901.[2] This rapid expansion of the town led to considerable health problems, especially in the damp and overcrowded working class district of the Old Town. In response to this, in 1849 Croydon became one of the first towns in the country to acquire a Local Board of Health. The Board constructed public health infrastructure including a reservoir, and water supply network, and sewers, a pumping station, and sewage disposal works.

As the town continued to grow it became especially popular as a pleasant leafy residential suburb for members of the Victorian middle classes, who could commute to the City of London by fast train in 15 minutes. In 1883 Croydon was incorporated as a borough. In 1889 it became a county borough, with a still greater degree of autonomy. The new county borough council implemented the Croydon Improvement scheme in the early 1890s, which resulted in the widening of the High Street and the clearance of much of the ‘Middle Row’ slum area. The remaining slums were cleared shortly after World War II, with much of the population relocated to the isolated new community at New Addington. New stores opened and expanded in central Croydon, including Allders, Kennards and Grants, and the first Sainsbury’s self-service shop in the country. There was also a bustling market on Surrey Street.

Croydon became the location of London’s main airport until the second world war. During the war, much of central Croydon was destroyed by German strategic bombing and attacks by V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets, and for many years the town bore the scars of the destruction. After the war, Heathrow Airport superseded Croydon Airport as London’s main airport.

By the 1950s, with its continuing growth, the town was becoming congested, and the Council decided to introduce another major redevelopment scheme. The Croydon Corporation Act was passed in 1956. This, coupled with government incentives for office relocation out of London, led to the building of new offices and accompanying road schemes through the late 1950s and 1960s, and the town boomed as an important business centre in the 1960s, with the building of a large number of multi-storey office blocks, an underpass, a flyover and multi-storey car parks. In 1960 Croydon celebrated its millennium with an exhibition held at Croydon Aerodrome.

In more modern times Croydon has developed an important centre for shopping, with the construction of the Whitgift Centre, which opened in 1969. The Fairfield Halls arts centre and event venue opened in 1962. The Warehouse Theatre opened in 1977. The 1990s saw further changes intended to give the town a more attractive image. These include the closure of North End to vehicles in 1989 and the opening of the Croydon Clocktower arts centre in 1994. Tramlink began operation in May 2000. A new equally large shopping centre, Centrale, opened in 2004 opposite the Whitgift Centre, straddling the site of the smaller Drummond Centre and what was once a large branch of C&A. There are plans for a large new shopping centre, Park Place, which will replace most of the eastern edge of the shopping district including St George’s Walk; the redevelopment of the Croydon Gateway site; and extensions of Tramlink to Purley Way, Streatham, Lewisham and Crystal Palace. Croydon has become the second-largest place to shop in the south east, after central London, offering a wide range of shops and department stores. Notable independent traders include House of Reeves, a two-outlet furniture store established in 1867. One of their stores was razed to the ground by an arson attack during a civil disturbance on 8 August 2011 (the store was built in the aftermath of the fire which nearly destroyed the parish church in 1867). It is home to many high density buildings such as the Nestlé Tower, being London’s third main CBD, after the Square Mile and the Docklands and South London’s main business centre. The Croydon area is served by various hospitals of which the main one is Croydon University Hospital in London Road. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said he would support Croydon becoming an official city and announced £23m of additional funding to help redevelop the town at the Develop Croydon Conference on 22 November 2011

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