MITCHAM JUNCTION walk to EAST CROYDON
The Croydon Tramlink is a tram built in the 1990s because the borough of Croydon complained about having no convenient access to the Underground network. A tram was chosen rather than a train because tram rails could be set on existing roads across the city centre of Croydon, offering a very valuable link of both train stations with the new line. On most of this specific walk, the tram uses the route of a former train line opened in 1855 and closed in 1997. The train line ended at West Croydon station and the route between the two Croydon train stations was created for the tram line.
The tram started as a private company that kept the ticket proceeds, but changes in the overall London fare system made it ever more complicated to calculate the appropriate compensation payments and the public authorities (TfL) purchased the system in 2008. It is one of several nationalisations that happened in these years in London, several private operators being quite happy to get out of contracts at the time of a financial crisis. The annual compensation payment alone had already risen to about 4% of the final purchase price, more than TfL would need to pay for the debt incurred in purchasing the system.
Nearly all stations on the Croydon Tramlink use standardised platform furniture. There is no office or building, just a glass awning and vending machines, and I therefore don’t need to comment on architecture. Please note that the Croydon Tramlink normally uses ticket readers like on a bus, but that a special, highly confusing regulation applies in Wimbledon, potentially causing overcharging.
Routing note: This walk connects in Mitcham Junction with Blackfriars/Thameslink walk 9 and with Tramlink walk 1. It connects in West Croydon with Victoria train network walk 24, with London Overground walk 19 and with Tramlink walk 3. Finally, it connects in East Croydon with Victoria train network walks 15, 17 and 18 and again with Tramlink walk 3.
The tram uses two different routes through central Croydon. This walk describes the less cultural, eastbound route while I describe the westbound route in walk 3.
The station opened as a train station in 1868 when a new train line linking Sutton with Streatham was built, crossing here the older line from Wimbledon to Croydon. As no one lived nearby at the time, it was only built for interchange purposes. The tram platforms are located on part of the old station, but they are completely separate from the train network and there is no station building for tram travellers.
Exit the tram stop on the main road
L along the road for a few yards
Very soon L across a gate into Mitcham Common
Follow the inofficial path parallel to a train line. It turns slowly R until it reaches a fence.
Mitcham Common goes back to medieval grazing commons but went through rather more changes than most. In the 19th century, it was used extensively for gravel digging as this was material that could be sold very profitably to construction businesses. Like in most London commons, the legal right of residents to sell this gravel prevented protection. In the case of Mitcham, a law was passed in 1891 to stop the abuse.
The commissionners in charge with managing the common had a very small budget and were forced to rent out most of the common for a series of purposes. The section you are now in was taken over by the Ministry of Defence during World War II and used for a very large anti-aircraft gun battery. The derelict facilities were finally demolished in 1964.
Unfortunately, dishonest persons invented a new way to generate personal profit at the cost of commons in the 1980s. They would pretend to be “travellers”, occupy the land and allow all sorts of unscrupulous businesses to dump rubbish for a fee. When local authorities finally came to throw out the squatters, they also had to deal with the rubbish. This happened in this corner of the common.
All this past probably explains why no mature wood has been able to grow yet. I suspect the ground is bad quality and possibly polluted. What you get is a mix of hawthorn, gorse and pioneer trees, which is actually not ugly.
L over the footbridge
Ahead on the public footpath until you reach the tram line
The footpath runs along the edge of the common. On the right side, you saw from the footbridge a huge expanse of empty landscape. Part of it was used for industrial purposes and may be polluted, so that I have no idea what will turn out of it. Most of the area is part of a huge refuse handling complex and is obviously outside the common, but is becoming wooded as the filter beds have been abandoned for décades.
On the left side of your path, you walk along a public golf course. It was originally larger as per the 1891 act, but was too expensive to maintain and was reduced to the present size in 1931. The wooden fence is not very forbidding and I even saw the one or other stile, but I don’t think there is any public footpath crossing the golf course. It is easily accessible but obviously a bit dangerous as you might get hit by a straying ball.
R along the tram line
The tram stop uses the location of the former train station. The train station was called Beddington from 1855 until 1887 and Beddington Lane from 1887 until 1919. It was then renamed somewhat uselessly Beddington Lane Halt and reverted to Beddington Lane in 1969. There are no remnants of the train station.
Cross the tram tracks and then the main road into Brookmead Road
You can follow the public footpath ahead and this will merge into Red House Road. As this implies walking along ugly industrial premises, I recommend you walk rather into Mitcham Common to your left and climb the hill for the views. It is easy to go down afterwards to Red House Road.
This part of Mitcham Common did not suffer the same fate as the two sections I already commented on. As the commissioners were desperate for money, they split the common north of the golf course in two sections, one which remained a flat expanse of grass mainly used for informal sports and the other one that was rented to public authorities to dump rubbish.
After several decades of this, very serious problems started to appear such as leakage of polluted liquids and a plague of mosquitoes. The rubbish tips were covered and left to develop slowly a natural cover, which will ultimately be oak wood. An other part of the common was then rented out for dumping construction rubble, a deal called in typically “British governement” manner “landscaping”. Local residents objected strongly and only one hill of rubble came to fruition, the one I suggest climbing.
From the hill, you see one of two sizeable ponds on the common. They stem from gravel digging as in most London commons. Being on a common, fishing was free for a long period but this caused problems as fishermen overfed the fish, causing algae to grow too much, and left tackle and rubbish along the waterside. Fishing is now licensed and the commissioners also make it less attractive by removing regularly any too large fish. I found all this information in an interesting brochure on Internet: look under http://mitchamcommon.org/wp-content/uploads/Mitcham-Common-A-Short-History.pdf
R along the main road (A236 Mitcham Road)
R Rochford Way, soon turns L
R Therapia Lane
L Alfriston Avenue ending at
This busy tram stop was built for the new line in 2000.
Cross the tram line at the stop
L Ampere Way all the way to
This is also a busy tram stop built for the new line in 2000. Between October 2006 and March 2008, it was called Ikea Ampere Way because the Ikea company managed to convince TfL to change the name in order to advertise for a new shop. I would be curious to hear how much Ikea paid for this. TfL must have been disappointed as this remained a one-off occasion – or TfL was possibly unable to find other takers to give other stations temporary names after the 2008 financial crisis. I am sure “Northern Rock Merton Park” or “Enron Beddington Lane” would have been lovely.
Follow the footpath directly along the tram line all the way to the next stop. The path crosses the tracks twice and passes also underneath a highway viaduct.
There was a Waddon Marsh train station in the close vicinity. It opened in 1930 as Waddon Marsh Halt, changed to plainer Waddon Marsh in 1969 and closed with the train line in 1997. There are just minor details reminding of the station. The tram stop was opened in 2000.
You can see the steel skeleton of an old gas tank overlooking the area. Waddon Marsh had very busy railway sidings delivering coal to a large power station built here in 1896. Fortunately, the footpaths along the tram line enable you to ignore the somewhat sad view of the derelict industrial premises.
Cross the tram line again and follow the tracks for a few yards along Drury Crescent.
When Drury Crescent turns R, continue along the tram tracks in Turners Way
Continue along the tracks on a new footpath across a brook all the way to the next tram stop
Note: The footpath did not exist when I walked through the area as there was construction going on, but recent maps show it clearly
The stop was created for the tram line in 2000.
Cross the tracks and enter Wandle Park
The park is primarily a circular patch of lawn with an alley of trees around most of it. It did not strike me as very impressive but this a bit unfair because this is an outdated impression from 2010. There is a small brook running through the middle of the park and the borough website mentions a rose garden and an ornamental garden.
The park was originally a meadow along the river Wandle and was landscaped into a small urban park in 1890. It was actually a very popular attraction because the river was used to feed a sizeable boating lake. As usual at the time, there were also a bandstand, a bowling green and tennis courts. The lake was filled in and the river was diverted into a concrete culvert in 1967 because the borough considered the water flow to be unreliable and prone to flooding.
R parallel to the tracks until you reach the access to a footbridge over a train line. Cross the tracks and turn
L Waddon New Road
Ahead along the tracks into Cairo New Road
The road passes underneath a motorway viaduct and turns sharply R
The ugly motorway underpass is typical of Croydon. In the 1960s, enthusiastic city planners decided to completely remodel and modernise the town in order to make it an attractive, successful city with all conveniences for car drivers such as a circular motorway. As usual in Britain, the plan petered out due to costs, delays and opposition by landowners.
The stop was created for the tram line in 2000. Only eastbound services stop here.
The name of the stop is peculiar because it refers to commercial premises destroyed during a riot in 2011. The “house” was rebuilt and stands on the opposite side of a large empty site so that you don’t really notice it. My picture shows the old building, which had a rather attractive, unusual roof scape.
The building behind the tram stop on my picture had a sign mentioning “house of favour”. I checked and this is the name of an evangelical church led by a gentleman originally from Nigeria. It is now called more impressively “Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries International”, which sounds a bit like a successful business.
L Tamworth Road. From now on, you follow exactly the eastbound tram tracks all the way to the end of the walk.
At the very start of this road, I noticed nice glazed tiles over the entrance corner of what was originally a pub. They combine to a spread eagle seen from behind. Eagles are common heraldic devices, but usually seen from the front. The premises now house a community centre catering to young people and their parents. The charity running the centre (Lighthouse Educational Society) follows the teachings of Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, the pet enemy of autocratic Turkish president Erdogan.
A little further on, you pass a Baptist chapel from 1866. As usual for this denomination at the time, the building is in an impeccably clean neo-classical style with modest proportions.
The stop was created for the tram line in 2000. Only eastbound services stop here.
The name of the stop is actually that of a nearby shopping centre, the developers of which paid a contribution to have the stop built. It is a very large complex opened in 2004 in direct competition with a somewhat faded but similarly huge shopping centre, the Whitgift Centre. As the competition forces the two owners to compete for the same large anchor tenants, they announced in 2013 that they would like to combine the two centres in order to have a stronger bargaining position against the big retailers. There would be no disadvantage to shoppers as big retailers anyway have the same prices throughout London.
Continue on Tamworth Road
Ahead Station Road passing
The tram stop is independent of the train station but obviously located close enough to enable easy interchange. Only eastbound services stop here.
The train station was first opened as a terminal for the line from London Bridge in 1839. An extension of the line towards Waddon and Sutton opened in 1847. Finally, a junction linking the line with Selhurst and London Victoria opened some time after 1862. Between 1855 and 1997, the station was also the terminal for a railway to Wimbledon, now replaced by the Tramlink.
By now, the station is used by through trains between London Victoria and Sutton, but is also a terminal for trains from the old London Bridge line, now run by London Overground to New Cross Gate and Shoreditch
The station was originalled called plain “Croydon”, but this caused confusion when an other Croydon station was opened on a new train line towards the South coast, so that “Croydon” was changed to “West Croydon”.
The road and the tram tracks soon turn R away from the train line
At the main crossroads R on Wellesley Road
This whole section of the walk is overshadowed by huge concrete towers. They were built in the 1960s as part of the plan to make Croydon a successful, busy city with easy access for cars. Compared to old Victorian houses, flats in towers actually were much more comfortable in terms of plumbing, lifts, parking space, views etc. Some were built as council estates, but not in central locations, and prices in well located towers were not low.
Urban planners were wrong about two issues. First, they did not expect car traffic to become so heavy that most commuters prefer using trains, so that the space devoted to cars was actually overestimated and would have looked much nicer if it had been devoted to greenery. I will admit that maintenance of sterile concrete spaces is cheaper and easier than maintenance of parks… The second issue is that living in flats did not really catch – as soon as people have children, they look for a house with a small garden. Only people who cannot afford a house remain in towers, and segregation according to income and joblessness is a recipe for trouble.
In terms of architecture, the Croydon towers are among the most boring in London. It seems that architects of the period paid very little attention to the outside appearance of these buildings, being more interested in the technical aspect of lifts and in the layout of flats. In towers owned by local councils, there is slowly more interest into at least painting large frescoes on the huge concrete surfaces. In towers built over the last twenty years, architects have also started to be more inventive with the shape, materials and colours of balconies.
You will be passing on the way Whitgift Centre. What you see from the road is the upper level of the shopping centre due to the lay of the land. It is interesting to compare the older Whitgift Centre with the newer Centrale: the second one includes a number of smaller estates with flats integrated into the shopping centre while the first one has a flat roof with nothing above. Obviously, the Centrale model is more profitable for the developers but is also more conducive to a mix of residents as young people can be quite happy about the easy access to shops. The Centrale version is also better in ecological terms as there is less loss of heating energy when you have a building above.
The stop was created for the tram line in 2000. Only eastbound services stop here.
Just before the road tunnel under the crossroads, you can have a look at older towers on the west side of Wellesley Road. The one on my picture is definitely Art Déco with the protrusion on the façade reminding of an ocean liner. The bands of windows enable much light into the offices, a typical feature of the hygienic thinking of architects around 1930.
L George Street
The tram stop is located on the road viaduct just in front of East Croydon train station.
The train station opened in 1841 on a new main line and was originally called Croydon. When the train company merged with an other operator who also had a station named Croydon, it became necessary to change the name and this turned into Croydon East.
A new train line from Selhurst opened through the station in 1860, but the two operators insisted on keeping separate stations called respectively East Croydon and New Croydon from 1862 on. The two stations were finally amalgamated to a single East Croydon in 1898.
Between 1909 and 1924, the station was called officially East Croydon Main Line in order to make a distinction with “East Croydon Local”.