Ghosts of Christmas past come to haunt the Whitgift Centre

Were we just imagining it, or was the crackling muzak in the Whitgift Centre really playing a version of Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’? Perhaps it was someone’s idea of a joke. Meanwhile, KEN TOWL has gone all Bob Cratchit on us and checked out Croydon’s venerable shopping mall to see what business there is like on what could prove to be its … last Christmas

Town centre shopping, Croydon, 2018. It could be the location for a zombie movie

It is a truth previously acknowledged that the high street is in a bad way. That appears only too true for the Whitgift Centre, Croydon’s 1960s-built shopping mall which might, just, be trading at Christmas for the final time this year.

I’d got off the tram in George Street and entered the shell of Allders, now a sad and partly desolate “outlet” centre where dresses are marked down to £3, and the mannequins modelling them posed in a way that did not allow for much modesty.

What was once a proud department store on four floors is now reduced to a few traders operating just on the ground level.

Wherever you look, there are empty spaces, and empty space is to the retail sector what dead air is to the radio. You could use this place as a location for a zombie movie.

Allders expired in 2012, a year after the riots that blackened Croydon’s name and put off a lot of shoppers. But the sales go on. It is a ghostly place now, where the rotting floors are patched with masking tape and displays of marked down brightly coloured plastic goods block stairways to the empty floors above and below.

In December 2018, the ghost of Christmas past haunts the Whitgift Centre.

The window displays in the ageing centre don’t do modesty

Now that the council has served notices on landowners with compulsory purchase orders, the Westfield development is due to go ahead, with the demolition work to start in the Whitgift Centre next year. It’s been a long time coming.

The proposals are ambitious – see the Croydon Partnership’s “Vimeo” for a typically airbrushed vision of futuristic development, with crash test dummies wandering around a streamlined mall looking, no doubt, for the sort of aspirational leisure activities that we will all consider our birthright in a future best of all possible worlds.

The ghosts of Christmas yet to come.

More information about the plans is tucked away in a display on the second floor of the Whitgift Centre, at the top of the escalator, just by the toilets. Here we learn, as if we did not know, that the 1960s Whitgift Centre “no longer meets the needs and aspirations of retailers or shoppers”.

The buckets and warning signs are a near-permanent feature of the Centre now

There’s been little money spent on maintenance work over the past six or seven years or so, especially since the Westfield scheme was announced. No one thought that they would keep Croydon waiting for quite this long, though.

The roof over the centre has been leaking for years and buckets and “Caution: Wet Floor” signs have become seemingly permanent features. Bored guards lean over the balconies and stare down at the occasional passerby. The overall impression is one of needs and aspirations unmet.

I cross over North End to have a look at Centrale, the slightly more upmarket (I feel I am damning with faint praise here) sister shopping centre (this owned by Hammerson, the other half of the Croydon Partnership). This is where, according to the display in the Whitgift, “many of the existing shops… can move during the redevelopment”, so I take a look to see if there is room for such a retail migration. There is room.

Even the queuing area for Santa’s Grotto is worryingly empty

There are more eerily empty spaces in Centrale. The two elves employed to shepherd children into Santa’s grotto chat to each other in front of the optimistically long and totally empty queuing area.

The surreal world of the commercial estate agent is exposed in the great empty space that links Debenhams to Centrale’s main stairwell.

“The start of something beautiful”, say the signs. This space appears to have been envisaged as some kind of food hall, offering the variety of exotic fare from around the world that we of the Croydon liberal elite have come to expect. A sort of prequel to Boxpark. It did not work out that way and, instead, every single unit is covered by a board asking “See this as an attractive leisure space?”

It is apparent that for a long time no one has.

Do you see this as an attractive leisure space? No, thought not…

If, however, you do, perhaps you should drop Woody at Bruce Gillingham Pollard a line. I am sure he would be delighted to get a response to his enquiry. You can email him on

On a happier note, I manage to tick another present off my Christmas list in Debenhams. (all I am saying is that the range of socks is excellent).

So, enough of this humbuggery. A merry Christmas to our loyal reader. God bless us every one.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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6 Responses to Ghosts of Christmas past come to haunt the Whitgift Centre

  1. M B says:

    What a miserable post. Would be nice to hear some positive things from your platform but it’s always quite negative.

  2. David Hamilton says:

    This post highlights the massive need for the Westfield development, something the owners of this site have always opposed.
    There are good things happening in Croydon, my only complaint is the slow pace of progress.
    However in five years time we should be in rude health. Hopefully Westfield and the neighbouring Georges Walk developments could be complete. This in addition to the many other developments will bring in much needed vibrancy to Croydon. We will have a lot more people living here, most paying increased amounts of Council tax to allow be local government. These new additions will also create demands for shops, bars and restaurants.
    I only wish I was twenty years younger so I could enjoy the new Croydon to its fullest!!!

    • Wrong as usual, David.

      This website has not “always opposed” the Westfield development. But then, yet again, you have forgotten to state your own commercial vested interest, of owning and developing town centre property, whose market value is affected by the Westfield proposals and similar developments.

      Unlike you, rather than rush out to buy the celebratory bunting and sign up for membership of The Glee Club, when Westfield was announced in 2012 – nearly seven years ago – we opted to hold an objective and critical view of a scheme which has in the meantime caused nothing but development blight in the town centre and which is even now being a drag on other major schemes, such as Ruskin Square.

      Indeed, it could be argued that Westfield – which as now proposed is really only a housing scheme with a bit of retail tacked on – has created the “demand”, as you suggest, for a Westfield to be built in Croydon, because the malign neglect of the Whitgift Centre and North End while waiting for the Australian developers to be as good as their word has seen the area become badly run down, meaning that any change will surely be regarded as an improvement.

      Let’s examine the history of the scheme: back in 2010-2011 everyone, including this website, agreed that after 50 years, the tired old Whitgift Centre needed a significant face lift, if not a complete transplant. Following the global economic downturn, the landowners, the Whitgift Foundation, also needed to do something urgently to improve its office rental performance, since so many of its tenants had moved out of their old, out-dated buildings.

      The leaseholders went out and got Hammerson interested in getting a scheme underway. They might have even started by 2014, 2015 at the latest.

      The Whitgift Foundation, pushed along by Gavin Barwell and his mate, Boris Johnson, thought they knew better, though, and they created a Mexican stand-off between developers that lasted for more than a year by bringing in Westfield.

      Only when Hammerson was forced to partner with Westfield (with Boris holiding up planning permission on Hammerson’s Brent Cross redevelopment as a bargaining chip) could the road block be removed.

      And ever since, Westfield have proved to be a brake on any progress, getting planning permission for one scheme, and getting it CPO’d, then changing their minds and wanting another scheme, with more housing and providing less development public levy money.

      Westfield’s involvement at first drew other developers and speculators to the area. More recently, the development blight they are responsible for has tended to deter them.

      In five years (FIVE YEARS!!), by the time they finally get round to opening their bloody shopping centre, the high street’s share of the retail market will be smaller still, as ever more people conduct their shopping online.

      And no local authority gets any Council Tax or business rates from empty retail units.

      But we’re quite sure that the Croydon Establishment, of the Whitgift Foundation and Lord Barwell of Sanderstead, won’t be any worse off.

  3. Lewis White says:

    It is very clear that unless the Westfield centre is designed to be much more inspiring than the existing Centrale or Whitgift, it isn’t going to pull in the punters en masse.

    Has anyone seen any real recent plans and artist impressions that would show waht Westfield will be like?

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