In the 1960s, as the superpowers sought to play out their great game in space, one unfashionable borough on the southern fringes of London raised its eyes, looked to the heavens and dared to dream...
Did you know that Croydon was once home to a spaceport? Well it wasn't but there's a screwball zine — published by an outfit named Colossive Press — which will have you believe otherwise.
Ad Astra Per Croydon: The Lost History of London’s Forgotten Spaceport imagines an alternative reality in which the borough of Croydon was part of a space race with neighbouring Bromley, between 1965 and 1973. This involved a the ambitious Councillor Bobby 'BB' Bibby, a rocket named Poppet 1, 'Croydonaut' Norman 'Nails' McAvity, and for some reason, a local group of nuns.
The zany idea had been brewing in creator Tom Murphy's head for a while. He tells Londonist: "I moved to south London after university in the 1990s and found something very evocative about the faded sci-fi, 'lost future' feel of Croydon.
"It definitely felt like somewhere that still had one foot stuck in the Space Age."
Murphy was also inspired by some guerrilla graffiti underneath Blackfriars Bridge, alluding to an alternative design for the crossing taken from an ancient Argos catalogue ("I love that mix of a ridiculous story being told in a very straight-faced, official-looking way"); as well as discovering a bunch of copyright-free images from NASA and the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
Says Murphy: "I soon found plenty of historical pics that lent themselves to gags or unlikely developments, and I started to come up with a more detailed timeline and cast list for the brief shining moment of Croydon's municipal space programme."
Taking centre stage in this fantastical plot is the very real No. 1 Croydon building (which also had a starring role in Black Mirror's Bandersnatch episode) — a shoo-in for the Spaceport's headquarters. Says Murphy: " I was a huge Gerry Anderson fan when I was a kid, so anything that looks like it might have come out of Thunderbirds or Stingray is right up my street."
The zine packs plenty of cosmic nonsense into 26 pages; following a space race with Bromley to put the first Londoner on the moon, an Intergalactic Transit Point is opened in Elmers End, overseen by a brainy trust of nuns poached from Coloma Convent Girls' School, and the launch of Croydon's first space rocket, Poppet 1. (Spoiler alert: calamity strikes when the rocket hits a seagull, and it winds up disintegrating across the bowling green at Penge Conservative Club.)
What makes Ad Astra Per Croydon so endearing is the way it fuses cosmically insane notions with real, and very domestic, places around south London.
Which begs the question: has anyone ever thought Croydon Spaceport was real?
Says Murphy: "I tried to make it vaguely plausible, with the acknowledgments, etc. People often have a bit of a baffled expression after thumbing through it at fairs and events and say 'This isn’t real… is it?' I don’t think anyone has ever fallen for it entirely, but you never know…"
Importantly, there is merch. Alongside the zine itself, Croydon Spaceport totes, prints, postcards, etc are available to buy online. These include 'We've seen the nuns at Croydon Spaceport' mugs.
Colossive Press, which is run by Tom Murphy and Jane Gibbens Murphy, publishes a range of kooky, comical bits and pieces, including the wonderful How Graffiti Saved My Dad's Life (At Least For A While).
You can say hello to them on 10 July at the South London Comic and Zine Fair.