SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: A thriving business and shopping district, quick public transport links to the city centre, and established city status for a half a century. DAVID MORGAN has traced the history of Croydon outside Melbourne back to its pioneer beginnings 150 years ago
When Gregory Lacey died in July 1911 in Croydon, it marked the end of an era for the town in Victoria, Australia. He was one of the last links to the pioneering days when people travelled from the other side of the world to make new lives for themselves.
Lacey and his wife, Sarah, had emigrated from England in 1870. More than 40 years later, his obituary in the local paper described him as one of the founders of the town, having selected some land to farm when he arrived. Lacey went on to become one of the major landowners in the new town.
Local historians wrote that it was Lacey’s wife who chose the name for the settlement, Croydon being the name of her home town back in England. This decision was deemed a much better option than naming the settlement after Gregory Lacey’s hometown, Steeple Bumpstead in Essex. Lacey’s obituary declared that he was living in Middlesex before he emigrated.
Croydon, Victoria, is about 18 miles east of Melbourne, which was a flourishing and rapidly growing city in the 19th Century. Judging by some of the names of the towns between Croydon and Melbourne, the broad area was populated by emigrants from many places not so far from where the Laceys had travelled from: Camberwell, Box Hill, Brighton, Hampton…
At the time when the settlers began arriving, the area around Croydon was known as White Flats, because of the coarse silvery white grass which grew there, called white top. Initially, the newcomers used the land for grazing cattle, but before long the land was cleared and some specialised in fruit. Cherries and apples were two of the main crops.
William Smith, who lived in Plymouth Road, was one of Croydon’s first fruit growers. Philip Kitchen planted a large apple orchard on the slopes of Nelson Hill. Kitchen chose to grow the Jonathan variety which was known for its colour and flavour. Cherry trees were planted along the Yarra Road.
As a result of the land being cleared, huge quantities of wood were carted off to the railway station where the branches were chopped up for firewood and sent off to Melbourne. One report noted that as many as 40 truckloads were sent away in a single day.
The railway arrived in Croydon in 1882, with Mr Parry being the first stationmaster. The coming of the railway meant that the time of a journey into Melbourne was reduced to just an hour and a half. The station was built on a patch of land that Gregory Lacey once owned. Initially, the station was named Warrandyte, not changing its name to Croydon until August 1884.
The railway changed Croydon. When the station was constructed, there were no commercial buildings close by, but speculators soon bought up land before beginning to erect buildings and open the first businesses. Many people thought that in buying a plot of land for £50 at the corner of Hewish Street and Main Road, James Hewish had made a bad deal. It proved to be a wise investment.
In 1883, he built a butcher’s shop and a house on the plot. The house became the Temperance Hotel, which was licensed in 1888 and became known as The Wine Hall. He then opened a general store and newsagents, which he ran successfully for many years.
Main Street shopping was expanded to include a bootmaker, a butcher and a saddler.
Hewish’s investments also included starting a blacksmith’s forge, which incorporated a wheelwright’s workshop, opening a land and estate agency as well as offering tours of the area, which were advertised in the 1888 Visitors’ Guide to the Upper Yarra District. He was quite the entrepreneur.
The continued development resulted in Croydon being officially declared a town in 1912. A newspaper article from April 1912 gave an interesting view of the place: “The accommodation houses between Croydon and Mount Dandemong were besieged during the Easter holidays and large numbers of visitors had to be turned away. The district continues to hold an attraction for jaded folk in search of a rural retreat from the turmoil and bustle of city life.”
It wasn’t until 1915 that Main Street, Croydon, got its first brick-built building, when Thomas Brew built a hotel. The earlier wooden shops had verandahs, covering a wooden walkway that protected shoppers from sun and rain, in a typical style of 19th Century pioneer Australia. Wooden steps and small wooden bridges helped people to move from one shop to another or to cross open guttering.
In 1921, Main Street Croydon was declared a “brick zone”, after which timber was removed from the choice of building material.
The expansion of the town’s commercial area included the opening of a Monday Market in the early 1920s. This included the auction of cattle, sheep and other livestock.
The first religious building was the Gospel Hall, erected in 1886. It was also used as a school. Among its first pupils was a lass named Emma Hewish, presumably a relative of James. Sixteen pupils were named but there were no Laceys in the list, although records show that Gregory and Sarah did have a son and a daughter.
The development of a pioneer town was not without its difficulties. In January 1891, a great landslip occurred to the south-east of the town on the side of Mount Dandemong. On Sunday, January 12, after three days of almost continuous rain, hundreds of tons of trees, rocks and soil came crashing down the mountain into the valley below. It swept away the entire contents of Mr Jeeves’ farm although he, himself, was unhurt. It was estimated that about 12 acres of the hillside slipped away.
The first developed road in the area had led to Mount Dandemong and was known as Sawmill Road, probably after the sawmill which was sited nearby. Later the road would see men and equipment being transported to the gold fields further away in Woods Point and the Great Dividing Range.
Another difficulty for settlers was the withdrawal of the assistance grant, offered by the British government to encourage emigration to Australia, which provided financial support. In the 1880s, the “Tucker Village Settlement”, outside Croydon on the Yarra Road, began to spring up. The new buildings were constructed within a square mile plot, but the settlement came to nothing after the assistance was withdrawn and the settlers gave up.
Gregory Lacey, variously described as a farmer, a woodcutter and a property owner, was a revered member of the early town. He was active throughout his life right up to the moment he was taken ill. He was described as a quiet man who enjoyed his home life. His wife Sarah suffered from a long illness before she died and Gregory looked after her with a “natural warm-hearted attention”. In their 40 years of living there, Croydon changed hugely.
If he could see modern-day Croydon, though, Lacey would be amazed. The 2021 census recorded 28,608 inhabitants, and today one of the streets in the town centre has been named after him. Lacey Street runs between Main Street and Windsor Road; one of the businesses in the area is the Miss Lacey Café and Wine Bar.
A little like its English namesake, Croydon in Victoria is no longer a rural town, but is now a suburb of a major city. Unlike Croydon in London, though, the Victorian version has been granted city status of its own, in 1971, and in 1992, when it merged with Ringwood, it became part of the City of Maroondah, a local government area in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
Victoria’s Croydon never forgot how it came to be named and it remembered our Croydon in a most touching way in June 1945.
“Bomb-scarred Croydon, England, has just received its first consignment of blankets and woollens sent by Croydon, Victoria. Dr Thomas Wood, in presenting an inscribed silver gavel to the Mayor, Cllr George Lewin, as a token of adoption, described the gift as a little compliment from daughter to mother!”
Perhaps it is time now for mother to reach out to daughter and say that she has been away for far too long and perhaps we could start doing things together. Where could we begin?
- David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours or illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups
If you would like a group tour of Croydon Minster or want to book a school visit, then ring the Minster Office on 020 688 8104 or go to the website on www.croydonminster.org and use the contact page
Other articles by David Morgan on Croydons around the world:
- Sharpe’s rebellion in Jamaica highlighted the plight of slaves
- The ‘incompetent’ Lebombo scout who helped win Boer War
- Croydon gold rush that saw thousands move to the outback
- Hard lives for the Puritan pioneers of new state New Hampshire
- How Croydon lodged itself forever in a part of Philadelphia
- Hardships and dangers on the Utah trail heading to Croydon
- Inside Croydon – as seen on TV! – has been delivering local community news since 2010. 3million page views per year in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
- If you want real journalism, actually based in the borough, you should consider paying for it. Please sign up today. Click here for more details
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org
- We offer FREE ads to community groups when they have members who are paid subscribers to Inside Croydon
- Our comments section on every report provides all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network