Other than a fleeting visit to East Croydon during a recent visit to Wimbledon, I’d not been to Croydon before, so my only awareness of the area has been influenced by media reports and personal accounts of friends and work colleagues. But as with other places I’ve been to, by keeping an open mind and a willingness to talk, it’s surprising what can be seen and learnt. Croydon was no different; in fact there was an unexpected surprise that made this visit so memorable – read on…
West Croydon sits as one of the four terminal stations of services out from HIghbury & Islington and shares its location with Southern rail with onward destinations to Surrey, and adjacent to West Croydon Tramlink.
This is a fairly typical functional commuter station with passengers seen rushing to and from trains eager to look at their mobile phones rather than their surrounds. But a glance up and around will reveal how The Energy Garden project, through its friends at West Croydon are brightening up the station.
It’s fair to say the long hot summer has taken its toll slightly on some of the floral displays, but when I met Helen and Grace, two enthusiastic volunteers just finishing off their watering for the morning, their passion, enjoyment and commitment in what they were doing just shone through as we chatted about their work and how else they could further improve the displays. It was lovely to meet you two ladies, and this meeting helped set my journey into Croydon up with a smile.
Getting into the heart of Croydon, I was struck by the number of, and quality of street art on display. Why do I call it ‘street art’ and not graffiti? The populist understanding and legal distinction is that of ‘permission’ being given for street art, but a quick Google search reveals a multitude of interpretations. Nevertheless, I knew what I liked and I was in awe of the scale of artistry on display. It turns out I arrived in Croydon in the middle of London’s largest urban arts festival and artists could be seen throughout the town. As the festival moves on, the artist’s work is displayed on the festival’s Instagram account
What made this special was that the scale of the art being crafted was no barrier: the size of the murals already painted and outlined ready to be painted were on a massive scale. Artists using spray paints, brushes of all sizes, and even rollers with the artists poised on ladders, scaffolding and even cherry pickers. Once realising what was happening, I became consumed by the colours and creativity and felt compelled to talk to the artists, all of whom were more than happy to share their thoughts and the history of their work. There is a risk I could flood this blog with just this item and pictures, but in the interest of balance here’s a sample of the pictures that caught my eye, and the artists I met:
- Morgan Davy who could be found painting on the entrance doors of a disused 60’s high rise building opposite the Town Hall. Morgan explained this creation was a re-interpretation of an earlier piece painted on the original entrance but now boarded up to prevent rough sleepers from using the sheltered space. Check out his Facebook and Instagram pages
- Saroj Patel who I found painting in Matthews Yard and was just outlining her creation, later entitled ‘Shakti’. I felt her work has a particular uniqueness blending light colours with fine art drawing. See the finished Shakti and more of Saroj’s work on her Instagram page
I also got chatting with Tom, a professional photographer who had been commissioned by the festival to take photos of the various works, as he was taking a time lapse sequence of a work being created alongside the steps leading down from the Arcade into Surrey Street Market…and curiously, he said he had just finished working for a company called the EndoftheLine – how bizarre
Let me indulge you with some of my other collections from the festival I felt compelled to capture.
By contrast, here are some examples of graffiti, and some interesting wall plaques I found in Station Road, tucked away in a quiet corner of West Croydon used to promote social gatherings.
Croydon is sometimes portrayed as a bit of a concrete jungle with high rise towers, and in the northern part I would agree, with modern apartment developments, Government and multinational companies occupying architecturally un-interesting buildings blotting out the skyline and creating wind tunnels. However the deeper into the heart of Croydon I walked, the more I saw of the town’s commercial history, its historic Victorian architecture and its retained facades. The following shots represent an eclectic mix of the town’s delights through its historic facade:
- St Michaels and All Angels
- Town Hall and Clock Tower
- Grants considered the Harrods of its generation before its demise in 1990, and
- The Hospital of the Holy Trinity
…and its more modern facade:
Places to gather
…and finally, the heart of Croydon, it’s people and where they interact, and there’s no better place than to find the best examples in shared spaces. By that I mean shopping spaces and entertainment spaces. The High Street is Croydon’s main artery and at its northern end, you have the Whitgift and Centrale shopping centres. The High Street is awash with market and food stalls with local workers queuing up for a taste of the myriad of flavours on offer.
Continue south through the entertainment centre, and further into Croydon’s self styled Restaurant Quarter where you’re spoilt for choice by the food on offer; a gastronomic delight I’m sure.
My journey’s end was at Boxpark Croydon, adjacent to Croydon East station. This was an unexpected find as the inside, a shared eating/drinking/entertainment space, was full of folk sharing their end of the week stories whilst listening to the DJ mixing his decks. An exciting place to end the week; or start the weekend…
…and so the weary travels meanders homewards…
See all West Croydon pics on Google Photo here – feel free to comment
See a sample of West Croydon pics on Instagram
For more info, look up West Croydon Station on Wikipedia