diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 18, 2009

Random borough (20): Croydon (part 1)

Croydon props up the capital from beneath, and it's also the London borough with the largest population. So big, indeed, that the council have their sights set on reinventing Croydon as London's Third City. Much of the northern part of the borough is suburban sprawl, but down south the land gets hillier, and greener, and (in places) considerably more exclusive. I spent yesterday attempting to explore some of the borough's more interesting locations, which wasn't easy because no matter where I went the transport network kept dragging me back to the centre of town. Definitely town, Croydon's no city yet.

Somewhere to begin: Museum of Croydon
Museum of CroydonBeneath the Town Hall clocktower, in the very centre of Croydon, is the borough's main cultural centre. It's not particularly obvious from outside quite how many different arts-y facilities are crammed within. It's not that obvious inside either, and I got a bit lost trying to work out where to go. Ah, hang on, past the main library, up the stairs and through the door marked 'Then'. 'Then' turned out to be an empty-ish black room with some maps on the wall and a model of the Crystal Palace atmospheric railway on a table and some motley objects shut away in separate illuminated containers. And that's all I saw, because within two minutes of my arrival the building's manager walked in and closed the museum down for the day. Staff absence problems, apparently, so the young bloke supervising the museum had to be relocated to the more-important cafe-bar instead, sorry. And with that I was locked out and never got to explore the place properly. I suspect I didn't miss much. The museum's exhibits aren't labelled in the conventional sense, no printed text alongside, but instead you have to interact by touching a video screen to discover background and emotional statements attached to each. Too much effort for too little reward, I thought. Plus it really didn't help that one of the screens was displaying a Windows Outlook Express error message instead. Plus you can interrogate the entire collection online from home, so why bother turning up? I shan't be rushing back.
by train: East Croydon   by tram: 1, 2, 3

Somewhere retail: Whitgift Centre / Allders
Whitgift CentreOne thing Croydon's great for, and that's shopping. The centre of town is one big shopping island, hemmed in by a ring of dual carriageways and circling trams. Take your pick of the high street stores, they'll have a branch in here somewhere. And at the heart of things are two Croydon classics - Allders department store and the Whitgift Centre. Until recently the Whitgift was London's largest shopping mall, at least before that upstart Westfield came along. It's a revamped 60s complex, unusually airy, with labyrinthine passageways on two levels connecting three individual atria. They've seen better days, to be sure, but they still have more character than any recent artificial hellhole. The main action is downstairs, while the upper floor has slightly more of a backwater feeling. Solid, safe, comfortable, and a bit of a middle-aged family hangout. On a Saturday morning the place to be seen is Cafe Giardino (of which there are three) - the ideal spot to squeeze behind a plastic table and enjoy a frothing beverage with optional pastry while you flick slowly through your mid-market tabloid. Or ride the escalator to buy a personalised pen, somewhere halfway between the tropical fish cavern and the independent sewing shop. Probably nothing more special than where you live, just bigger.

AlldersExit through Allders Square to Croydon's biggest department store. Allders may have retreated from the rest of the southeast, but here it's still trading as a bought-out independent behemoth. Oh my word, the ladies shoe department is enormous. Rack after rack after rack of pointy heeled must-haves, which seemed to have attracted several excitable Croydon footwear devotees. I moved on, slightly more tempted by the basement offering of Vacuum Cleaners, Domestic Appliances, Fitted Kitchens and 'Gift Food'. They do things slightly differently in department stores. In particular here, where there's a thin crescent mall curving within the store, with small concessions devoted to key-cutting, hair-dressing and cake-icing. You can easily imagine that Terry and June might walk down here at any minute. Alas, Allders's future still looks rocky, and the store may not survive repeated attempts by the council to redevelop this prime central site.

And on the corner of George Street, back to Whitgift again. This time it's the Whitgift Almshouses, a row of Elizabethan properties that have somehow survived to the present day, despite sticking out into a major crossroads. They're a rare exception round here, they're not shops. Neither are they under threat, because not even the local council would dare build a skyscraper here. You can see the projected plans in a plastic scale model just up the road in the brand new Croydon Visitor Centre. Shiny towers ahoy, that's the proposed future for the metropolis of 2020 Croydon. Personally I reckon the current handful of classic old 1960s and 1970s designs just outside the town centre are uplifting enough.
by train: West Croydon   by tram: 1, 2, 3   by bus: tons of them

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream