A series celebrating the unsung quarters of London. This time: the town of Croydon.
A great town with a whacking great ego
Don't be fooled by the snipes; Croydon has a whacking great ego. It's applied to be a city in its own right three times: in 1965, 2000 and 2002. It failed all three times, but it DID beat Birmingham in the vital race to build the most car parks, winning 7-6 (getinmyson). Croydon is mutton dressed as mutton, but everyone forgets mutton is tasty. Its 1960s/70s grim-glam won it a starring role in the opening credits to the sitcom Terry and June. There is conjecture that this scene led directly to the invention of the mobile phone (there wasn't), so Croydon essentially invented the mobile phone (it didn't).
Ride all the transport
Croydon is better connected than a fibre optic Malcolm Tucker. It's on the Overground and National Rail. It'll get you to Gatwick Airport in 15 minutes sharp. It's part of London's tram network (which, according to TfL's latest map, now exists). The same tram network is voiced by newsreader Nicholas Owen. Owen once won over £130,000 on ITV game show The Mint.
Historically, Croydon has been at the forefront of the country's, and the world's, aviation. Its airport — now open to the public once a month — was where aviatrix Amy Johnson began and ended her solo Britain-to-Australia flight. It was where names like John F Kennedy and Rita Hayworth stepped off the plane and said "So THIS is London..." Beneath ground, Croydon pioneered the atmospheric railway, a train powered by pressurised air. You can play with a wind-up model of it in the marvelously hands-on Museum of Croydon. The idea never caught on, but at least Croydon's never been afraid of taking a leap of faith.
When the National Trust decided to mix grit into their guided walking tours, they didn't choose Barbican or the Southbank Centre — they went with Croydon. They were right to do so. During the 1960s, the town became a theme park for architects to play with, committing their slightly mad ideas to concrete and glass. Slowly, people are coming to appreciate Richard Seifert's No. 1 Croydon (nicknamed the 50p Building, even though the number of sides isn't the same). The possibly insane Harry Hyams decided to mark the moon landings by building Apollo and Lunar House, even though he had no tenants. The acoustic engineer of Fairfield Halls (currently closed, back in 2018) ironed out all the mistakes he'd made at the Royal Festival Hall, to give Croydon some of the best-sounding four walls in the country. One of the famed seven car parks was an early rooftop cinema, and is still going now (within season).
If you can't stomach 1960s blocks and brutalism all day long, you can always bathe your eyes in the redbrick Victoriana of Croydon Town Hall (where you'll find the museum), the Whitgift School almshouses and Croydon Minster, where you can pray for the heavenly salvation of Richard Seifert.
Ancient markets and bespoke umbrellas
Surrey Street Market is apparently Britain's oldest. It's been trading by Royal Charter since 1276, yet the fruit and veg is somehow still fresh. Croydon's High Street and Whitgift Centre aren't what you'd call bucolic, but do offer an attractive alternative to Oxford Street with their glut of big name brands. Otherwise you can order an independent umbrella from one of London's few remaining manufacturers, then snigger at everyone else, as the brollies they bought from the Whitgift Centre disintegrate in the wind.
A new era of shopping in Croydon is nigh. The Whitgift will soon give way to London's third Westfield. Whatever your feelings on Westfield, you'll still find yourself there at least two or three times a year. They're useful. A Boxpark, meanwhile, has landed outside East Croydon station — hawking frozen yoghurt, cronuts and locally brewed beer.
Hurry up, it's getting hip
As the Boxpark suggests, Croydon is changing apace. The average house price rose by 16.1% over 2015. They're building pink skyscrapers. The place is flooded in craft beer, from the heaving shelves at hip hangout Matthew's Yard, to the Cronx and Volden breweries. Pluck the cherry that is Croydon before it gets overripe. Tuck into the slew of places offering great food and drink. Get a stitch in its swimming pools. Play Agricola and Manhattan Project with the Croydon Board Gamers. If anything, this place runs the risk of becoming too sexy for its I ❤ Croydon t shirt.
Which unsung part of London would you like us to sing about? Tell us in the comments.