All that building work in Croydon town centre? Developers had better factor in setting aside time for proper archaeological surveys – it seems that the town’s ancient and medieval history has left it rich with potential dig sites which could, given half a chance, unleash valuable relics and remains.
A new exhibition at the Museum of Croydon – The Bones of Croydon – includes an almost complete skeleton of an Anglo-Saxon dated as being almost 1,500 years old. This was found during building works beneath the driveway of a family home in Riddlesdown in 2014, together with a single thigh bone thought to be from a teenager or young adult. Carbon dating at a Florida laboratory showed that the person had lived between AD 670-775.
With the very name “Croydon” understood to have derived from the Anglo-Saxon, meaning either crooked valley or vale of the crocus, it indicates that in the period between the end of Roman Britain and the Norman conquest, this part of the country, on an important route between London and the coast, had a thriving community.
By the late 11th Century, the Doomsday Book recorded that Saxon Croydon had a church, 48 villeins – a feudal tenant, much like the rent slaves of today – and 25 small-holders. A pagan burial ground from the Saxon period was found while the A24 was being constructed, while an early Saxon burial ground was discovered near Edridge Road in the 1890s, but which was subject to looting by workmen and has never been available to modern archaeological surveying.
The Medieval Gallery at the British Museum has a silver and bronze strap sheath (of local manufacture) found in an Anglo-Saxon grave discovered in Croydon.
When work began to build on the Lion Green Road car park in Coulsdon two years ago, it was halted in order to conduct a proper archaeological survey to check for medieval remains. Other known historic sites around the town centre include at the former Grants building on the High Street, on Surrey Street, Edridge Road and Park Lane, as well as the area in and around the Whitgift Centre. At Croham Hurst, evidence has been discovered of human habitation in the area going back even further, to possibly 5,000 BC.
The Bones of Croydon exhibition, therefore, provides a sense of what history might lay just below our feet. Evidence of Croydon’s Anglo-Saxon history discovered from several burial sites is also included in this exhibition.
Lion Green Road, Riddlesdown Road and Park Lane and Edridge Road were included in Historic England’s Archaeological Priority Areas in Croydon report.
“Everyone knows Croydon for its 1960s ‘concretopia’ architecture but people are less aware of its rich Anglo-Saxon heritage,” said Timothy Godfrey, the council cabinet member responsible for culture.
“With potential future excavation and research at these sites in our borough more Anglo-Saxon history could still be uncovered.”
The Bones of Croydon exhibition is now on in the Riesco Gallery, Croydon Clocktower, open Tuesday to Saturday, from 10.30am to 5pm (except public holidays). Entry s free.
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