WEST CROYDON walk to ELMERS END
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. Between West Croydon and Addiscombe, the tram tracks are laid on existing roads.
Between Addiscombe and Elmers End, the tram uses a former train line that continued towards Selsdon Road (south of Croydon). The section between Addiscombe and Woodside opened in 1885, that between Woodside and Elmers End in 1871.
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 West Croydon with Victoria train network walk 24, with London Overground walk 19 and with Tramlink walk 2. It connects in East Croydon with Victoria train network walks 15, 17 and 18 and again with Tramlink walk 2. It then connects in Sandilands with Tramlink walk 5 and in Arena with Tramlink walk 4. Finally, it connects in Elmers End with London Bridge networks walk 25.
The tram uses two different routes through central Croydon. This walk describes the more cultural, westbound route while I describe the eastbound route in walk 2.
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”.
Follow the tram tracks southwards, crossing London Road into Tamworth Road
You are actually walking against the direction of the trams as this section of the line is only used by eastbound trams.
At the end of Tamworth Road, there is a tram junction. The tracks to your right are used by trams from and to Wimbledon. See walk 2 for this direction. The tracks to your left are the tracks used by westbound trams across the centre of Croydon. My route does not follow closely the tracks here as there are interesting attractions in the vicinity.
At the end of Tamworth Road, continue ahead between the pebble space on your left and a central reservation with a few trees on your right.
When you reach a conspicuous white commercial building called House of Reeves, walk first L along the shop windows then R into Church Street, still along the shop.
Reeves is a longstanding landmark to such an extent that there is a tram stop named Reeves Corner. The building featuring on my 2010 picture was intriguing because of the elaborate roof. It burned down during riots in 2011 and has been replaced by the present somewhat simpler structure. The riots happened not only in Croydon but also in several other London suburbs and later in the Midlands. They started when a young man was shot by police in Tottenham, inspired copycat riots in other towns partly due to sensationalist media coverage and primarily reflect the dire situation in many working class suburbs after the 2008 financial crisis.
Croydon parish church is located in a surprising place, reasonably far away from the shopping centres and pedestrian streets. This is due to the fact that Croydon developed originally close to the river Wandle around the summer palace of the archbishops of Canterbury and that traders moved uphill later. The church is a Victorian reconstruction after a fire in 1867; it has the title of a Minster, meaning there was a chapter of clerics serving the church in medieval times and not just one priest.
The church is built in a standard neogothic style but is worth entering for several monuments to archbishops. On my picture, you get a glimpse of a late gothic one to the left while the focus is on an imposing Renaissance one.
L along the church into a small green space
My picture shows that this is not a remarkable park, but the picture is worth noticing for the croci blooming in March as the name Croydon is usually said to stem from Saxon words meaning “Crocus” and “Valley” (“dun”). Actually, the croci in the name are probably saffron, grown in Kent and Surrey in Saxon times after Roman colonists had imported it.
The path turns L and exits on
R Church Road
There is a cute timber building at the corner of your path; I think it is mock-Tudor from the 1930s, when this style appealed to the more affluent middle class.
My route continues L into Old Palace Road, but you can go on a short detour R on this road in order to see the remnants of the archbishops’ palace. The complex of buildings was converted into a school with a well gardened courtyard and a tall hall with very large windows. This was the Great Hall of the palace; the structure is mainly from the 1440s, which makes it one of the most venerable buildings in London, but the windows are way too wide for this early period and were indeed modified in the 1750s.
You obviously cannot visit, but you can have a look at the main courtyard as there are several other nice buildings from the old palace still standing. Parliament allowed the archbishop to sell the palace in 1907.
Very soon L Old Palace Road
The stop was created together with the tram tracks across central Croydon in 2000. It is served by westbound services towards Wimbledon and also by services ending at West Croydon.
R Church Street
You are temporarily following the tracks, walking against the direction of the trams as you are going eastwards while this is the westbound tram route.
The street is a good example of what happens when a town allows the construction of huge shopping centres. The nicer shops where you enjoy spending time move to the shopping centre, partly because it is so easy to park there and because you don’t get wet if it rains, while the former shopping streets are left to “one-pound-shops”, betting stands, convenience newsagents, tattoo studios and fast-food eateries. Rents are low, building owners invest little, many shops are abandoned and the street dilapidates slowly.
The more pleasant part of Church Road is towards the end and the best atmosphere in a side street to your right, Surrey Street, because of the food market. Market stalls have a similarly positive impact in many suburbs.
Ahead Crown Hill
There are two possible detours from the crossroads with the pedestrianised area, for a few yards L in order to have a glimpse inside the courtyard of the almshouses, and for a few yards in front of you if you want to check on the tram stop
The almshouses were built in 1596 by the archbishop along with a school that has been demolished since. You recognise easily the Tudor brickwork including a message in black glazed bricks, here W for Whitgift Foundation. The windows with the nice white surroundings appear very small, but this was made on purpose as residents were meant to concentrate on their communal life and on their courtyard. You cannot enter the courtyard but you get a feeling through the iron gate.
The stop was created together with the tram tracks across central Croydon in 2000. It is served by westbound services only.
If you do not go on the two detours, you will turn
R High Street(photo C6)
As Croydon was a significant market town in the 19th century, ambitious businesses of course needed to invest in suitably impressive premises. The most beautiful in my opinion is Grants House at number 13. Like most old department stores, it has been converted into offices, but it still has a lovely, ornate façade with signs advertising i.a. lace and gloves. Lace must have been a very prominent item ! The architecture is typically Edwardian, mixing Tudor-inspired brickwork with Renaissance-style scrolls and a tower in the style of French palaces.
L Katharine Street
The street is strange, with one of the ugliest buildings of Croydon on the north side and some of the most beautiful ones on the south side. At the corner of Katharine Street with High Street, there is a large pub called the Spreadagle with a shining, golden bird. As you might have guessed, it was originally a bank building, sets of neo-classical columns suggesting stability and reliability (see the name of Northern Rock).
The next building in the street is a somewhat disorderly combination of buildings in the French Renaissance style. One of them harboured a theatre while the hall down the stairs was converted into the borough museum. It is one of the most interesting suburban museums in all London and has reasonably convenient opening times. I found the exhibition of everyday life in the past not only intriguing but truly eye-opening.
It is the only museum in London that deals unobtrusively but very honestly with controversial social issues such as homosexuality in the armed forces or racism against Irish immigrants. I also learnt that Croydon had a small film industry and the comic films shown in the museum are absolutely hilarious. Finally, there is an excellent collection of Chinese porcelain including all important styles and periods. You might plan about an hour in order to visit at leisure.
Continuing on Katherine Street, you reach soon the corner of the Town Hall, inaugurated in 1896. As a proof that Croydon was an outstandingly important town at the time, the ceremony was performed by the Prince of Wales. The architecture announces the Edwardian love of two-colour-schemes but manages to keep to the Renaissance style with few of the useless frills you saw on Grants House before.
There is a very imposing clock tower at the corner of the building. This was a logical symbol of market towns as it was particularly useful to merchants at a time when few people had pocket watches. Many London suburbs built clock towers in the 1880s, but most are modest stand-alone structures.
Half R into Queen’s Gardens
The Town Hall overlooks a wide open space that is surprisingly recessed down stairs because it was originally a railway terminal. It has been converted into a very nice urban park. Taking advantage of the microclimate created by the embankments around the park, gardeners are able to grow a remarkable variety of mediterranean and exotic plants. They also plant formal flower beds in the style of Royal parks (geometric shape, plants in three tiers of differing heights, blocks of primary colours). There are few boroughs that can combine an imposing Town Hall with a beautiful park just in front of it.
Exit the gardens using a subway at the eastern end, passing under a major highway
L along the highway
Very soon R Path along College Green
This large paved space is a typical product of the 1960s when plain lines and empty surfaces were seen as more elegant than grass, trees and flowers. The building facing directly the highway, Fairfield Halls, is a leading theatre and concert hall opened in 1962. It is actually one of the less brutal buildings of the period. On the other side of the paved space, the large brick building with a very imposing curved colonnade is the town college. The architecture looks like 1950s, as colonnades were avoided in the 1960s.
Cross Fairfield Gardens between Fairfield Halls and the college to the eastern end and continue L along the college buildings, not crossing the train line
R up along the main road to the train station
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”.
Follow now the tram tracks eastwards for several hundred yards, walking on Addiscombe Road. The road is pleasantly residential and somewhat leafy when you leave central Croydon, with occasionally a side walk separated from the cars by a raised strip of greenery.
The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000.
Continue on Addiscombe Road. The road is now less interesting, but is difficult to avoid in this densely populated suburb.
The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000.
Continue on Addiscombe Road while the tram line veers away from the road
L Outram Road
I noticed an unusually ornate property in this road. Bow windows at the ground level are quite usual, but triple windows upstairs are not and the decoration above what must have been the entrance to a winter garden is really unusual.
R Addiscombe Road
(Note: this is not the Addiscombe Road you followed before, but you have walked into a new borough and both boroughs have roads with this name in confusing vicinity to each other)
A train station was opened here in 1906 on an existing suburban train line under the name Bingham Road Halt. The station was then closed in 1915 due to wartime economy measures. It was reopened in 1935 a few yards further but had very little traffic and was closed in 1983. The tram stop is on the location of the 1906 halt and opened together with the tram line in 2000.
Before crossing the tracks L into Everton Road
R Addiscombe Avenue
At the end L Dalmally Road
Very soon R on a clearly marked passage
R on the footpath along a former railway line, passing at the end under a road. The footpath ends at
The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000.
Climb to the road you passed under before and cross over the former railway cutting
R Elmers Road
R on a footbridge across the tram tracks
Enter Ashburton Park
This large green space corresponds to the grounds of a mansion that was built in 1788. It had been converted into a convent in 1878 but was sold to the borough in 1924. The council demolished the mansion, filled in the ornamental lake and also demolished the convent cloister in 1975 because of concerns about vandalism. The rest of the convent was converted into a local library. This history explains the somewhat surprising appearance of the building with a row of arcades opening towards nothing in particular.
There is no particular attraction in the park beyond the library and a small pavilion with a thin colonnade that reminds a bit of a plantation house.
Keep parallel to the tram tracks for
A train station opened here in 1871 because of a nearby racecourse. It was renamed Woodside & South Norwood in 1908, the name reverting to simple Woodside in 1944. The station remained open until 1997, when works for the tram started, and the tram stop opened on the same location in 2000.
The original station building was sold to commercial premises and is still straddling the tracks. It is a typical example of the stations in this part of London with yellow brick walls and rounded windows. It is actually quite substantial because there was a train junction here with trains going to either Selsdon Road (south of Croydon) or to a nearby suburban terminal called Addiscombe.
R within Ashburton Park keeping parallel to the main road called Spring Lane
At the end of Spring Lane, cross Long Lane onto a path ahead past the fire station
The fire station is a substantial, elegant building with mock tudor eaves and small sculptures above the main garage gates. The sunray design above the lateral garage gates clearly points to construction in the 1930s as it was a typical Art Déco design.
Ahead along the path until you reach a much larger open space, Ashburton Playing Fields
The playing fields took over from Addiscombe racecourse. It was a very popular venue but the mayor of Croydon decided that it attracted all sorts of undesirable people from London in this genteel suburb and had the racecourse closed. The property was divided later into a golf course, residential developments and the present playing fields, as part of the low-lying area flooded every winter and was not suitable for development. It is actually one of the largest open spaces in the southern suburbs (nearly 50 acres, equaling 20 hectares), but it has few amenities.
L across the playing fields to the northernmost corner
L Bywood Avenue
The avenue passes on the right side a patch of woodland called rather ambitiously the “Bywood Avenue Bird Sanctuary”. It was a property bought by the borough in 1924 together with Ashburton Park, but was not developed into a park. The word sanctuary refers to the fact that part of the wood is fenced off, although this does not prevent stray cats and dogs from disturbing the birds.
Cross Long Lane and continue ahead on a footpath
The green space on your right is a private driving range used for golf lessons.
The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000. It is a tram junction with some services continuing towards Elmers End on a former train line and others continuing towards Beckenham Junction (my walk 4).
R along the tram tracks
You are walking here along the edge of South Norwood Country Park. It is well worth walking a bit into the park. As you also get to see parts of it on my London Bridge walk 25 and on my Tramlink walk 4, you could for example walk this time towards the brook and follow it to the edge of the lake. You should be able to see the train station from there.
The park contains a large variety of ecological zones from plain grass meadows to fully grown wood over several types of brushy areas. This variety results from mixed uses in the past: fields, pastures, quarries and brick kilns. From the 1860s on, the Borough of Croydon decided to buy increasing parts of the location in order to spread sewage.
At the time, it was considered efficient to flood meadows with the effluents as the resulting brine could trickle into the soil and hopefully be filtered enough that nearby rivers were not too polluted. Of course, anyone who could afford it would flee the vicinity of such smelly activities. I remember living as a child 5 miles from a sewage area and this was indeed obnoxious when wind came from the wrong direction. About as bad as living near a sugar beet drying factory.
Sewage contains many dangerous bacteria and chemicals nowadays and has to be treated much more scientifically. In addition, the present country park was inappropriate for the purpose as the ground is heavy clay that prevented water from trickling into the soil and being filtered. The council closed the sewage works in 1967 and nature reclaimed most of the area.
The lake corresponds to the flooded quarry and is very attractive to birds. For this reason, it has not been landscaped and you can only reach the waterside on a number of viewing platforms.
The station opened in 1864 on the new train line between New Beckenham and Addiscombe. It became a junction when a branch line was opened between Elmers End and Hayes in 1882. The original train line to Addiscombe was closed in 1997 and replaced by the spur of the Croydon Tramlink in 2000, so that Elmers End is now a train-Tramlink junction instead of a pure train junction.
Although I have no documents on this, I am pretty sure that the boxy glass-and-steel station building was built in 2000 and replaced the old building. The upper level of the building is airy enough but the main level is made of plain metal sheets and looks hardly better than a container shed.