Croydon: where to eat, shop and visit
PUBLISHED: 17:05 18 May 2012 | UPDATED: 19:42 20 February 2013
Whether it's top quality golf, a bit of retail therapy or a stroll around the historic marketplace, Croydon has a surprisingly large amount going for it as a weekend getaway; plus, it's also a great launchpad for the city too...
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine June 2011
A weekend in...
Whether its top quality golf, a bit of retail therapy or a stroll around the historic marketplace, Croydon has a surprisingly large amount going for it as a weekend getaway; plus, its also a great launchpad for the city too...
Croydon Clocktower is home to the Museum of Croydon, which in turn houses a scrapbook featuring music handwritten by the famous Croydon resident, Samuel Coleridge Taylor. All eyes will turn in their direction in 2012, as the 100th anniversary of the composers death is celebrated worldwide. Sadly, the independent David Lean Cinema, named after another of the towns famous sons and based at the clocktower, has recently closed its doors. It has, however, after strong local protest, seemingly received a reprieve and will be opening again in some form at the Fairfield Halls.
Those from further afield may be slightly surprised to learn that the towns South End is now the place to be when it comes to top restaurants in the area. Favourites include the Italian eateries Bagattis (0208 686 9649) and Il Ponte (0208 686 1112); chef Malcolm Johns Fish & Grill (0208 774 4060) and Le Cassoulet (since closed); and the modern British diner Alberts Table (0208 680 2010).
Clubs and late night bars line Croydons streets, but if its culture youre looking for in the evening, then theFairfield Halls entertainment complex is a must. As well as hosting world class orchestras, soloists and conductors, the Concert Hall has seen The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and David Bowie grace its stage. Its Ashcroft Theatre, meanwhile, is named after the legendary actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft and was opened in 1962 by the Queen Mother next year they will be celebrating their 50th anniversary and they now have a Champagne bar upstairs too.
Originally conceived as an art gallery, The Arnhem Gallery, inside Fairfield Halls, was named after the town of Arnhem in Holland. In the foyer is a tribute to the World War Two battle fought there and immortalised in the film A Bridge Too Far. Proving impractical as an art gallery, it was soon converted into a banqueting area. Indeed, Queen Elizabeth II sat down to lunch there on June 21, 1983.
One of the areas best golf courses also happens to be on Croydons doorstep, with the Addington providing a haven for many top players and serious celeb golfers over the years. The nearby Selsdon Park hotel and golf resort, meanwhile, is a stunning retreat, with health facilities available for a spot of post 18-hole pampering. Addington Court goes that bit further though; it has 45 holes!
Hunt for Tudors
In the Tudor era, John Whitgift, a former Archbishop of Canterbury who is buried in Croydon Parish Church with five others who held the title, had a huge impact on the town. His legacy lives on at Whitgift School, the Grade 1 listed almshouses, which are still standing at the corner of North End and George Street and are the most historic buildings in the centre of Croydon, and the Old Palace of John Whitgift School.
Get up early for some great quality, cheap fruit and veg down in the historic Surrey Street Market, which has been trading since 1276 and is still full of characters today. Meanwhile, the town centre has all the best high street names, and with Centrale, the Whitgift Centre and House of Fraser, youll be spoilt for choice.
Flight and fancy
Opened in 1928, the Aerodrome Hotel (now Hallmark Hotel Croydon), on Purley Way, was once an integral part of the Croydon Airport complex, which was Londons first airport. The airport was built in 1915 and several early world record flights set off or flew in to Croydon Airport, including Amy Johnsons solo flight to Australia, and Charles Lindberghs first solo transatlantic voyage. Another nearby venue with a colourful past is Addington Palace, where King Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn and had one of his many hunting lodges.
Okay, so were not suggesting that you pop up to the town and spend the whole day following local transport links but Croydons place at the heart of many transport developments is undeniable. Not only was the airport one of the first, but the Surrey Iron Railway, built from Wandsworth to Croydon by William Jessop and opened in July 1803, is thought to be Britains first public railway. Not to rest on its laurels, today Croydon boasts the UKs number one tramway carrying 28 million passengers a year.
The last few years have seen a real surge in festivities in Croydon and a whole host of major events now attract thousands to the town throughout the year. Fashion and jazz take pride of place in June and the Summer Festival heats things up in August. Croydon Food Festival tantilises tastebuds every October.
My Croydon weekend
Need to know:
Where to eat: Theres a host of great options mentioned in the filling up section of this piece. Where to drink: If you like your music loud (and Croydon has a little history with rock) then the Scream Lounge could be for you. The Green Dragon is another venue that is very strong for its music. If youre looking for something a little quieter, then the Spread Eagle, a former bank, may be your cup of tea (or something stronger). Something to take home: Jimi Hendrix once played at The Star Hotel and Croydon has many music links from the past, so why not pick up a guitar? Theres a few music shops in Croydon, including Rockbottom Music in London Road. Somewhere to stay: Croydon Park Hotel is conveniently situated in the heart of the town, while a short drive away are the Aerodrome Hotel and Selsdon Park Hotel.
Top tip: Croydon boasts the UKs number one tramway carrying 28 million passengers a year. So why not take a ride?
Getting there: Generally, Croydons train and tram links are so good that its much simpler to take public transport here than your own car. However, parking is available around the town and in the shopping centres, but with the usual town centre fees.
Get in touch: ...with what you most love about Croydon and how youd spend your perfect weekend there at www.facebook.com/SurreyLife
For breaking news: get Carter
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2007
If you want to get right to the heart of the issues facing Croydon, there's no better man to speak to than Ian Carter, editor-in-chief at the Croydon Advertiser - last year's Weekly Newspaper of the Year
Describe a typical working day for you...
No two days are the same, which is one of the best things about journalism. The Croydon Advertiser is part of a larger stable of papers, stretching from East Grinstead and Crawley up to South London, and I have to try to keep an eye on all of them as part of my role as editor-in-chief, although it's fair to say Croydon gets most of my attention.
I'm an early riser so a typical day might start in our Reigate office checking on the stories for our sister titles at about 7.30am. An early start also gives me a chance to catch up on paperwork and answer emails before anybody else arrives.
After that, I negotiate the A217 towards Croydon (which is probably the hardest part of the day given the seemingly never-ending roadworks and abundance of speed cameras on that stretch.) Once I'm there, I will normally meet with my news editors to see what stories are developing, followed by meetings with the features and sports teams. Things start coming together on a Tuesday in terms of the paper's running order, and by Wednesday afternoon we should have a good idea of what the front page lead is likely to be - we go to press on a Thursday morning and are in the shops on Friday morning. You really can't predict how each day will go though - problems crop up every day; everything from legal issues and lawsuits to smaller matters.
What aspect of your job do you like the best?
Working in a fascinating news area, which means no two papers are ever the same. Croydon has such a fascinating mix of people from all kinds of backgrounds. There are very affluent areas in the south of the borough, and areas further north where it really does feel much more like south London.
I love news, and Croydon certainly has plenty of that, but I also love being able to make a difference with the paper by campaigning on behalf of our readers. It can be big issues like youth crime, or far smaller stories.
If somebody has a relatively minor problem - say a new television has broken down after a day - I like being able to help them resolve it. It's great to know you really can make a difference to the community. Just as importantly, I like the atmosphere all good newsrooms have. Journalists have a particularly twisted sense of humour! I also get a real buzz from seeing young reporters come in as trainees and eventually go on to make a name for themselves on national papers and magazines.
And which part of it makes you want to switch off the alarm and go back to sleep in the morning?
The paperwork. When I first became an editor, I was stunned by quite how many forms pile up on your desk, and it seems to be getting worse. It seems every aspect of the job now has a form to be filled in. I can sometimes start working through the backlog at noon and suddenly realist it's 6pm.
How do you think your reporters would describe you?!
Hmm, tough question. For the reasons I've given above, they probably wonder what I'm up to in my office a lot of the time! I try to be as approachable as possible, and I've never been a believer in managing through fear - I'm rarely the shouting type. Hopefully, they know that whatever decisions I take, I always do it in the best interests of the paper.
You must meet all sorts of important people in Croydon?
Who was the last person you had lunch with and why?
It was a gentleman called Peter Pledger, who is the new head of an organisation called South London Business. He's got a big role to play in shaping the future of Croydon, and I wanted to meet him as soon as he started. The previous day, I met up with a contact at Croydon Council who fed me lots of juicy - but sadly unprintable - gossip.
It seems like an exciting time in the town centre, what with all the recent regeneration and swanky new shops? Is there generally a sense of optimism in the town?
There is a sense of optimism, but also a realisation that there is still work to be done to attract people to Croydon. Once the various developments go ahead, it will be one of the biggest shopping centres in the whole of Europe, which will be fantastic, and our rail links are second to none.
Croydon does have an image problem though, and there's no sense in denying it. People have a certain perception if they haven't been here, and many people are working hard to change that. Hopefully, the issue of the Gateway site will be resolved soon - that's the huge patch of empty land next to East Croydon station. Two sets of developers are both hoping to build on it, with one plan including a 15,000 seat arena. Once that is settled, Croydon will really start pushing forward.
Which shop is your favourite in Croydon and why?
I'm not a great shopper! However, one thing I have always said about Croydon is that it needs to be careful to keep its own identity with all the new shops coming in - what I mean by that is look after the smaller traders as well as the big chains. For that reason, I've got a soft spot for Beanos record store (which is about to transform itself into an artisans' market). I suppose I should mention Ikea as well - I avoid it at the weekends, because it really is incredibly popular.
It's Saturday night and you've just been to see Crystal Palace play at home? Where would you be most likely to go for some grub?
The honest answer is I'd probably have a cheese roll in the Selhurst Arms, but I'll pretend I'd be most likely to go to Tinkers - it's a very intimate new restaurant in South End. Go there now before the crowds discover it.
What would be your top tip for The Eagles?
For one, don't be so sensitive about things we write in the Advertiser! If they play badly, we have to say so unfortunately. Other than that, keep faith with Peter Taylor even if they don't make the play offs. Chopping and changing managers every season is no good for anyone.
Where do you think they'll finish at the end of the season?
The heart says in the final play off place, the head says 11th.
Croydon often comes in for a bit of a hard time in the press, which many local people feel is unfair what's your view on the matter?
Croydon does have its problems, and there is no point in trying to hide from that, but no more so than any other town of this size. You are right that it gets a hard time in the press, and it is usually through comments from people who know nothing about the place. It tends to get roped in with places like Milton Keynes and talked about in faintly dismissive tones, but I honestly think people are used to the jibes now and don't really listen to them.
The truth is Croydon is in a fantastic location. You can be in central London in no time at all, it's got a huge shopping centre in its own right and the transport links are fantastic. You've also got some wonderful countryside just a few minutes away, Brighton just down the road for when the sun comes out, a fantastic mix of people, a famous football team - and property prices people still stand a chance of being able to afford. How many other places can say that?
What would you say is the biggest single issue facing the town at the moment?
Crime, and the fear of crime. It does put people off coming into the town sometimes, and as a newspaper we have a duty not to sensationalise things. Croydon is part of Surrey, but it's also a big London suburb in its own right so of course there will be occasional problems. But the truth is, the crime rate here is lower than in any other comparable borough.
Many people were sad to see the demise of The Cartoon Club, which over the years saw many a great band take to the stage? Do you have any memories of the legendary venue?
It was a real shame when it went; Croydon desperately needs some more small live music venue. My favourite memory of The Cartoon is when The Fall played three nights in a row there last year. Nobody could quite work out why they were doing it - it wasn't part of a nationwide tour and they didn't have anything new to promote, but that just made it all the more enjoyable.
Happily, though, it looks as though an important part of the town's heritage has been saved with the news that Beanos, the world famous record store in Middle Street, is to remain open after all?
Yes. As I said earlier, shops like Beanos are vital for Croydon - nobody would want a town centre without any independent traders. I think Beanos is one of only three independently-owned stores in Croydon employing more than five people, so it's a bit of an endangered species. Rather than remaining as just a music shop, they are planning to turn the three-storey building into a marketplace, with lots of independent stallholders. I think it's a great idea, and could be a real attraction.
Plus, of course, we also have the Fairfield Halls, which seems to be thriving? Is it right that even part of The Da Vinci Code was filmed there last year?
That's right, it was the opening scenes when Tom Hanks was giving a lecture. I think it was doubling as a French university. We had a tip-off when they were filming, and although they were very secretive we managed to get some great pictures of Tom leaving the venue.
Which is your favourite building in Croydon?
The 50p Building, which is properly known as the NLA Tower. It got its nickname because of its unusual shape, which looks like a stack of coins. Some people hate it, and there was even a campaign to have it knocked down, but I like it. Only in Croydon!
If you had to name the town's greatest unsung hero, who would it be?
There are a lot of people doing some wonderful things. A lady called Toni Letts has helped a tremendous amount of people, including the homeless and battered wives. And a gentleman called Nelson King is currently putting a lot of energy into ensuring teenagers stay away from crime and focus their energies on something more creative.
Croydon has produced its fair share of famous people - Kate Moss, Nigel Harman, er, Rick Parfitt from Status Quo... Which of the town's celebs do you most admire and why?
Tough question - most of the people I really admire aren't famous. I guess I would have to say Ian Wright, who had a fantastic career but has chosen to stay close to his roots and always has a good word to say about Croydon.
Tell us, in your view, the best thing about Croydon?
The sheer diversity of the people and the energy.