The rush for development in Croydon today is modest compared to late 19th Century, when whole new residential areas were built out of what had been Surrey countryside and the town expanded with the coming of the railways. The Norwood Society’s ERIC KINGS explains how some of our streets got their names
When the tide of development overwhelmed Croydon, individual homes had to have a road or street name and later a number. There remained a preference for an attractive house name rather than an impersonal number, but a number (now a postcode) and street name had to be added. House names, some fanciful, are however still displayed. One pair of cottages got together to be named “If not & Y not”.Another is “Two Hoots”, perhaps to thumb the nose at neighbours. But many old road names like Leatherbottle Lane, Dibden’s Cottages (at the top of Knights Hill), White Lion Lane and Vicars Oak Road reflected history and the character of an area. Some of us regret their loss.
Croydon’s early history is scantily recorded in lonely survivors like Colliers’ Water Lane, Mint Walk and Pump Pail. Its later airport is however well commemorated in new building on and around the airport site. Croydon’s shortlived canal has been marked in recent times by Towpath Way and Canal Walk. Frog Island has not survived.
The Archbishops of Canterbury are well recorded. Two roads are called Whitgift, and Laud, Temple, Potter, John, Becket, Pope, Ramsey, Tait are all named after archbishops. Chichele, Stafford, Kemp, Morton, Dean, Warham, Cranmer, Parker Grindal, Abbot, Sheldon, Tenison, Moore, Sutton, Howley, Sumner, Longley, Benson, Davidson, Fisher are also all recorded. Plus of course there is an Abbey and Bishops.
Military and nautical campaigns and victories also appear. Wellesley Road likely takes its name from Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington and hero of the Peninsular War and the Battle of Waterloo which defeated Napoleon.Naseby, Magdala and Marston are also recorded in street names. The Crimean War gave rise to Alma, Raglan and Bulganak in Croydon. Then there was the Boer War with its initial defeats and later victories.The siege of Kimberley is commemorated in a Croydon street name.
A building development in Thornton Heath just after the Boer War used the names Kitchener, Buller, Hamilton, Milner and Natal to commemorate that conflict – all prominent figures or places in South Africa at that time. The top military commander was Field-Marshal “Bobs” Roberts and he is recorded elsewhere in Croydon. Perhaps the awful losses in the First World War made it inappropriate to record the major battles. There is of course the Promenade de Verdun as an exception. The role of Churchill in the Second World War is commemorated in a road name, but little else to do with that conflict, at least not in Croydon.
The names of flowers have always been popular as road names. There are many in Croydon, and the Shirley Oaks development exclusively: Lupin, Primrose, Poppy, Violet, Rose, Myrtle and Mint. There are others.
But the leaders in the road-naming stakes are trees. There are some 19 Oaks (20 if you throw in an Acorn), 14 Beeches, 4 Willows, 3 Pines, 3 Ash, 3 Yew, 1 Acacia, 1 Alder and 1 Elm. The Monarchy is well recorded in Croydon’s road names. George, Queen, Prince, Princess, Regina, Albert, Victoria and Alexandra. Elizabeth is a recent addition. Kings Road in South Norwood was not named after my family, at least as far as I know.
Prime Ministers had a generous share of Croydon’s road names. Addison (3 times), Attlee (unusually), Pitt, Gladstone, Wellington (and the previously mentioned Wellesley), Balfour (2), Portland, Liverpool, Canning, Addington, Russell, Derby, Aberdeen, Salisbury, Palmerston, Lansdowne.As one would expect when the site of the Honourable East India Company’s College at Addiscombe was redeveloped India (and the Mutiny) was well represented in the choice of street names. But not just the developments on the site of the college. There is Mayo, Campbell and Lawrence elsewhere; Wellesley was known as the “Sepoy General” for his time in India, and it is this connection which probably prompted that road naming. The choice of Cawnpore for a road off Gipsy Hill was perhaps ill-judged.
For some roads, the link to the immediate history of the area before it was built upon is in the name. In South Croydon, Drovers Road refers to the farmers who will have brought their livestock to market at what was once Butcher Row – now better known as Surrey Street. And Tanfield Road is derived from the use of an area of land after the animals had met their fate, from the tanning field.
Then there are the personal names, which many Victorian developers will have used from their families: Michael, Graham, Malcolm, Phillip, Florence, Basil (and, of course, Katharine), Alfred and Alison.
- This is an edited version of a talk given by Eric Kings to the Norwood Society in 2012 and reproduced here with the Society’s permission. The Norwood Society meets each month for talks on local history at Upper Norwood Library, which are listed on the Inside Croydon Events page
- Further details about the Norwood Society’s activities can be found on its website here
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