The East London Line opened its south-east section on 23rd May, inducting a whole new swathe of London into the world of roundels. Given that, for a lot of people, south-east London might as well be populated by dragons, we asked some locals to give you a tour round their gaffs. Unfortunately no bona-fide local stepped forward for Croydon so Rachel H, Lewisham resident and Londonist regular, ventured forth instead.
Croydon is subjected to a fair amount of sneering from more central and fashionable parts of London, but there are precious few other areas that can boast Croydon's history: settled by Saxons with evidence of Roman and even Bronze Age activity, by 1276 it was big enough and important enough to be granted a charter for a weekly market (though Edward I probably didn't have the KFC in mind: see photo). Centuries of urban development later, and it's now got Boris's backing to become London's third City (after 'Westminster' and 'of London').
Most people probably conjure up Ikea or one of the major shopping centres when they think of Croydon but, while the department stores and Swedish furniture shop out on Ampere Way are one of the main draws for out-of-towners, there's more character than these anodyne retail boxes hint at. Turn right out of West Croydon station and you'll find yourself amongst the independent, multi-ethnic food shops of London Road. It's not the most scrubbed streets in the world but amid the takeaway joints we found mountains of baklava and other yummy comestibles at rock bottom prices - and Rockbilly's musical instrument shop to boot.
Even in the main shopping centre (turn left out of the station) there are interesting things to see. At the bottom of the pedestriansed North End, stop sniffing the mix of fried food and Lush bath ballistics carried on the air and gaze awhile at the Tudor Hospital of the Holy Trinity. Built in 1596 as an Almshouse and schoolhouse, it's now a Grade I listed building and still used as sheltered housing for the elderly, which we think is brilliant.
Further up the road there's the last Allders department store left in the country, and also ten coats of arms embedded into the window structure above WHSmith. If anyone knows why, please leave a comment...
The impressive Croydon Clocktower complex is the town's main arts venue, hosting the museum (not open Sundays and bank holidays, which was quite inconvenient yesterday), music, theatre, dance, comedy and an independent cinema, named after local-born David Lean, showing a mixture of blockbusters and arthouse films. Though if you fancy seeing the biggest films immediately on release, there's a Vue round the corner. For new writing try the Warehouse Theatre on Dingwall Road.
If it's green spaces you want, Wandle Park blocks out the sound of traffic pelting along adjacent A236 elevated dual carriageway by niftily surrounding itself with trees to create a serene space. We imagine it's lovely when the clouds aren't sending down spit-spots of rain. The park will be getting a major facelift in the near future, having secured at least £1.4m from various funds to put in sports facilities and toilets.
We were quietly impressed by Croydon but we know we'll have missed out some local gems - where should we go on our next visit?
All images by the author.