Croydon’s Road Names

When the tide of development overwhelmed Croydon individual homes had to have a road or street name and later a number. There remained a preference for an attractive house name rather than an impersonal number, but a number (now a postcode) and street name had to be added. House names, some fanciful, are however still displayed. One pair of cottages got together to be named ‘If not & Y not’. Another is ‘Two Hoots’, perhaps to thumb the nose at neighbours. But many old road names like Leatherbottle Lane, Dibden’s Cottages (at the top of Knights Hill), White Lion Lane & Vicars Oak Road reflected history and the character of an area. Some of us regret their loss.

Croydon’s early history is scantily recorded in lonely survivors like Colliers’ Water Lane, Mint Walk & Pump Pail. Its later Airport is however well commemorated in new building on and around the Airport site - Mollison Drive etc. Croydon’s shortlived canal has been marked in recent times by Towpath Way and Canal Walk. Frog Island has not survived. The Archbishops of Canterbury are well recorded. Two roads are called Whitgift, and Laud, Temple, Potter, John, Becket, Pope, Ramsey, Tait. Chichele, Stafford, Kemp, Morton, Dean, Warham, Cranmer, Parker Grindal, Abbot, Sheldon, Tenison, Moore, Sutton, Howley, Sumner, Longley, Benson, Davidson, Fisher are all recorded. Plus of course there is an Abbey and Bishops.

Military and nautical campaigns & victories also appear. Naseby, Magdala & Marston are recorded, and the fight against Napoleon generated Trafalgar (Square), Waterloo, Victory and of course Nelson & Victoria. The Crimean War gave rise to Alma (also as a girls’ name: 30 in London alone), Raglan and Bulganak in Croydon, and Sevastopol and Inkerman elsewhere. Then there was the Boer War with its initial defeats and later victories. Of the three sieges in that War, Kimberley, Ladysmith and Mafeking, only the first is commemorated in a Croydon street name. However Ladysmith as a name has an interesting genesis. During the Peninsular War in Spain a young British officer called Harry Smith rescued a pretty young Spanish woman from the French, fell in love with her (and presumably she with him), married her, and took her with him subsequently to South Africa. He became Sir Harry Smith, and of course she became Lady Smith: hence the name given to one of the new towns in that country. However, to return to the Boers. A building development in Thornton Heath just after the Boer War used the names Kitchener, Buller, Hamilton, Milner & Natal to commemorate that conflict - all prominent figures or places in South Africa at that time. The top military commander was Field-Marshal ‘Bobs’ Roberts and he is recorded elsewhere in Croydon. Perhaps the awful losses in the First World War made it inappropriate to record the major battles: for example nowhere is Gallipoli or Ypres recorded. There is of course the Promenade de Verdun as an exception. The role of Churchill in the Second World War is commemorated in a road name, but little else to do with that conflict, at least not in Croydon.

The names of flowers have always been popular as road names. There are many in Croydon, and the Shirley Oaks development exclusively: Lupin, Primrose, Poppy, Violet, Rose, Myrtle & Mint. There are others. But the leaders in the road-naming stakes are trees, as perhaps one would expect. There are some 19 Oaks (20 if you throw in an Acorn!), 14 Beeches, 4 Willows, 3 Pines, 3 Ash, 3 Yew, 1 Acacia, 1 Alder and, sadly, 1 Elm. The Monarchy is well recorded in Croydon’s road names. George, Queen, Prince, Princess, Regina, Albert, Victoria & Alexandra. Elizabeth is a recent addition. Kings Road in South Norwood was not named after the author’s family, at least as far as is known!

Prime Ministers had a generous share of Croydon’s road names. Addison (3 times), Attlee (unusually), Pitt, Gladstone, Wellington (& Wellesley), Balfour (2), Portland, Liverpool, Canning, Addington, Russell, Derby, Aberdeen, Salisbury, Palmerston, Lansdowne: and of course Churchill. One wonders whether there will ever be a Thatcher Crescent or a Blair Avenue!

As one would expect when the site of the Honourable East India Company’s College at Addiscombe was redeveloped India (and the Mutiny) was well represented in the choice of names. But not just the developments on the site of the College. There is Mayo, Campbell & Lawrence elsewhere, and we should not forget Wellesley, the ‘Sepoy General’ recorded additionally as Wellington, later a Prime Minister. The choice of Cawnpore for a road off Gipsy Hill was perhaps ill-judged.

Then there are the personal names, although some may be flowers or places or even surnames. Michael, Graham, Malcolm, Phillip, Florence, Basil (and, of course, Katharine), Alfred & Alison.

Eric Kings

From a talk given at South Norwood Library. A similar account of Norwood road names is overdue!

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