Once a small market town linked with the archbishopric of Canterbury, Croydon has developed into a thriving commercial centre of skyscrapers and office blocks. Now a borough of South Greater London, this large residential and commercial centre includes the suburbs of Purley and Coulsdon. The town was severely bombed during World War II and subsequently the centre was redeveloped with new housing and a large town centre and shopping area. Despite its extensive redevelopment the town still encompasses several areas of green open space with attractive parks and nature reserves.
Croydon was granted a formal market charter in 1276, developing into an important trading hub for the surrounding agricultural regions. It developed into a London commuter town from the 17th century onwards, evolving further with the coming of the West Croydon railway in 1839. Despite an estimated population of 382,000 Croydon has never achieved city status.
The original Saxon manor of Croydon was gifted by William I to Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury (circa 1070) and subsequent archbishops held their Palace there right up until 1758. A modest manor built by Archbishop Lanfranc in the 11th-c was considerably altered and added to over the centuries, developing into quite a grand structure. Later to be known as 'Croydon Palace', it was a frequently visited by Royalty during the Tudor period. However, by the end of the 18th-c the property became so run down and dilapidated it had to be sold off and the more modern Palladian mansion 'Addington Palace', to the south of the town was acquired in 1807. This newer palace was used as the bishop's summer residence for the rest of the 19th-c. It became the headquarters of the Royal School of Church Music from 1954 to 1996. Today most of the grounds are occupied by golf courses and the property is used as a wedding and events venue.
The Norman undercroft, guardroom, great banqueting hall, Tudor chapel and Queen Elizabeth's bedroom from the original 'Old Palace' are still standing, and are currently in use by the Old Palace School - an independent girls' school founded by Archbishop Whitgift in 1599. The buildings are open to the public on set days, and managed by The Friends of The Old Palace. Whitgift, quite the benefactor, also founded a hospital and almshouse in the centre of town. Croydon's modern Shopping Centre, which also bears his name, is a well-designed pedestrianised precinct with a wide range of modern stores and outlets.
The glass fronted Fairfield Halls, a cultural hub which opened in 1962, comprises a large concert hall, a small theatre and an art gallery. It is one of several modern buildings forming a pleasant square around Queen's Gardens. On the far side is the city's modern town hall, which houses the Municipal Library and Information Office.
Several medieval churches in the city include All Saints, Sanderstead and St John the Evangelist. The Church of St John the Evangelist, the largest parish church in Surrey, was destroyed by fire in 1867 and rebuilt in the 1880s, by George Gilbert Scott. Parts of the tower still date from the 15th-c. Located within are the tombs of six archbishops of Canterbury.
To the south of Croydon, near Addington Palace, lie Addington Hills; a haven of meadows, grassland and woodland. On a clear day you can see London to the north, Chilterns to the west and Epping Forest to the east. Just below these hills sits Lloyd Park and Combe Park a lovely tree filled landscape and gardens. Other accessible countryside includes Farthings Down, Coulsdon Common, Selsdon Woods and Happy Valley Park in Coulsdon. To the east is Littleheath Woods and Bramley Bank Nature Reserve, run by the London Wildlife Trust.
It is believed that the name Croydon derives from the old English word croh, meaning "crocus", and denu, "valley", suggesting that it was originally a centre for the cultivation of saffron, which most probably occurred during the Roman occupation. The city actually lies along the route of an old Roman road from London to Portslade, and there is archaeological evidence for Roman remains in the area. Several settlements in the vicinity are also known to date back to the Stone Age and prehistoric times, especially at Sanderstead, Coulsdon and Purley. The full history and heritage of the city can be traced in The Museum of Croydon, located in Croydon Clocktower on Katherine Street.