Photo-essay: The last day of trading for Surrey Street’s stalls

After 741 years of trading, Surrey Street Market closed after business hours on Saturday, we are told temporarily until, according to Croydon Council, “early June”, to allow for carriageway works as part of a £1million improvement scheme.

LEE TOWNSEND paid a visit to record a day at the market in pictures

A market may have existed in Croydon as early as the Anglo-Saxon period, but the earliest certain evidence is from 1236.

A market charter was granted to the town by Robert Kilwardby, when he was Archbishop of Canterbury in 1276, and further charters were granted in 1314 by Archbishop Walter Reynolds, and in 1343 by Archbishop John de Stratford.

The medieval marketplace, perhaps laid out in 1276, occupied the triangle of land now defined by the High Street, Surrey Street and Crown Hill.

To take advantage of the slope of the ground, it seems that the higher and well-drained east side came to be used for corn-trading, and the lower-lying west side for trading in livestock, meat and hides. Hence for centuries it was called Butcher Row, or what we know now as Surrey Street.

It is not only Surrey Street which is changing. Milletts Corner, at the High Street end of the market, as it has been known for nearly 100 years, is soon to lose its branch of Millets

By the later Middle Ages the open marketplace was becoming infilled with buildings.

A building on the east side was bought for use as a market house, mainly for corn-trading, in 1566, and was succeeded by another corn market nearby in 1609.

The older market house was probably taken over as a general provisions market, and was rebuilt for that purpose in 1708: it continued to be used until 1874.

The charter of 1276 had authorised a weekly market to be held on Wednesdays. That of 1314 a weekly market on Thursdays and that of 1343 a weekly market on Saturdays.

The earliest certain evidence for markets being held on Saturday dates from 1595, and market day remained Saturday until the middle of the 19th century.

In 1861, the corn market was moved to Thursday, and was held on that day until corn-trading ended in 1907.

A minority of traders, mistrusting the change, continued to hold a rival Saturday corn market until 1892.

In 2017, some traders are hoping to continue trading during the market’s closure on North End. How well that experiment works may determine the long-term future of the ancient street market.

Some residents and traders fear that the £1m plans for Surrey Street will see fruit and veg stalls, offering “pound a bowl” will be replaced by gentrified pop up bars and “pound a croissant”

Back in the Victorian era, the general provisions market continued to be held officially on Saturdays until 1874, when the Butter Market building closed.

Although much of the old marketplace triangle was built up by the 19th century, a small open space remained in Market Street (immediately behind the Butter Market building), and this was the main focus of street trading.

However, in 1893 the entire triangle (by this date known as Middle Row) was comprehensively cleared and redeveloped by what was then known as Croydon Corporation.

This event pushed all street trading activities into Surrey Street.

So change is something that Surrey Street traders have embraced for centuries.

But there remains suspicion, uncertainty and concern about the immediate future for the market.

There are many who question whether the market, which has suffered declining footfall and seen many stall-holders leave the market in the past 20 years, can survive the turmoil imposed on it.

Can it withstand the upheaval of a two-month-plus closure, or the arrival – eventually – of a Westfield supermall just up the hill at North End?

Could these be some of the last carrier bags full of pound-a-bowl fruit and veg to be carried home from Surrey Street?

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4 Responses to Photo-essay: The last day of trading for Surrey Street’s stalls

  1. sed30 says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog.

  2. Went into Central Croydon today, the first time for a while. What a transformation! Most of the Surrey Steet stalls seem to be there plus a few extra ones, some French. The move has transformed the pedestrian precinct from a dull, mooching, shopping expedition place to a vibrant, living centre of commerce. The stallholders, every one I talked to, love it. The customers love it. It mirrors Bromley in its range and prices but with more space around the stalls. The atmosphere is more cheerful and outgoing than it was in the narrow and gloomy chasm of Surrey Street. It now feels like the cheerful centre of an optimistic town: keep it there forever. Close Surrey Steet forever. Do it soon and it may save us a fortune. It was dying anyhow.

  3. croydonres says:

    I must go to look at the new North End market area. If it works, both for the market traders and the public, why not keep it? . I agree with Arno that pedestrianised streets are often very boring and lifeless. The colour and activity of the market should add some buzz– that surely is what towns and high streets should be about. People watching , bustle, sound, commerce . A feel good factor.

  4. Stephen Andrews says:

    Does anyone remember Alf Bastin. He was always at the top end under milletts. He was a bare knuckle fighter. He trained boys at sir Phillip games boys boxing club. He mostly trained cable brothers.

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