Friday, 28 September 2018

A loss to Croydon’s understanding of its history

Amended 23 January 2019 at request of a reader.

The closure of Croydon Citizen is regrettable because the loss of its publishing contributions on aspects of the Borough’s history and events. 

The wide range of short essays, the promotion and discussion of events, and debate on the contemporary threats to Croydon’s heritage, have  helped increase understanding of aspects of Croydon’s development, and what of the past is of value and of relevance today. This has been particularly important in a period of considerable change and with a big annual turnover of population.

First World War

In June 2013 I discussed the inadequacy of the Government’s plans to commemorate the First World War, because they ignored the enormous social and political cost of the conflict in Croydon and elsewhere. In subsequent contributions I examined life in Croydon in 1914 and 1917, Croydon’s wartime Canadian links: the Halifax explosion, December 1917; and the controversy over memorialising the soldiers traumatised by combat who were treated in Cane Hill Hospital.

Robert Ward reflected on his grandfather as a result of visiting the Whitgift School exhibition Remembering 1916. Emily Lansell has written on The Museum of Croydon’s centenary commemorations: First World War hospitals and Wallacefield.

In addition to reporting on the Grade II* listing of the former airport building, Ian Walker of the Croydon Airport Society wrote about how its Heritage Lottery Fund grant  was helping to unveil the secrets of Croydon’s wartime history, leading to the birth of the aviation industry.

The Museum’s placement student Samuel Ali’s has contributed articles on Croydon and the Sinai & Palestine Campaign, Croydon and chemical warfare, and although he has now left the Museum, on the Trinidadian VignalĂ« brothers.

The Second World War

There have also been pieces on experiences in the Second World War: the local Scouts, and some of the war veterans. Paul Dennis reviewed 98 year old resident Eric Sanders’ autobiography Secret Operations.

Histories of Local Areas

It published my three articles on aspects of South Croydon’s history under the title Keen as Mustard, and two on the Selhurst area, my obituary of the life of local resident Alex Elden From the SS Windrush to Croydon, and  The Edwardian library legacy of an Anglo-Pole. Mark Wadsworth wrote a Tribute to Darcus Howe who had lived in Pollards Hill. 

Black & Asian History

The Borough’s Black/African and Asian history have featured in many ways. In 2013 my Does Croydon need its own Martin Luther King? was triggered by the showing of the film Freedom Riders. My Remembering Paul Robeson’s musical activism was contributed because of Tayo Aluko’s Call Mr Robeson, the last show at the Warehouse Theatre. Talks were held in the Heritage Festivals, and in the African History+@Croydon 2014 event organised by Kwaku of Black British Music who published a preview, while I contributed How far have we come? Slavery, civil rights and contemporary racism?  In 2015 I discussed some films on aspects of black history shown at the David Lean Cinema.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

A particular emphasis has been given to Croydon’s  local composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. In addition to pieces by me, Gareth Endean discussed whether Coleridge was a victim of racism, and Samuel Ali his boosting civil rights campaigning.

Croydon’s slavery connections

Nick Draper of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project gave talks during two of the Festivals.  Ann Giles reported on the first one. Other contributions on the history included Ola Kolade on the talk by Paul Crooks on Secrets of the 1817 Slave Registers Uncovered, and Jonny Rose’s How a meeting on a tree stump near Croydon led to the abolition of slavery in Britain, and my contextual review of the film 12 Years a Slave,

Croydon Minster

David Morgan contributed three articles, including about the Minster’s organ and choral music, and whether  Mendelssohn played that organ. Karen Ip wrote about the 150th Anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Minister, while Liz Sheppard-Jones reviewed the Fire’s commemorative concert.  

Importance of Archives

In late 2013 and early 2014 there was a threat to close the Croydon Local Studies Library and Archives Service. James Naylor explained why the Citizen supported keeping it open, and I wrote on The Importance of Archives. In Fortune Favours the Archives Brian Lancaster of Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society, explained  how the Service was saved.

Croydon Museum

Back in 2013 I pointed out that Croydon’s art collection was a forgotten resource. Since the Labour administration came to office in Mya 2014 the re-organised Museum and Archives service research room on the ground floor of the Clocktower has been a hive of activity and initiatives since 2014. Works from the art collection are now regularly displayed. Volunteers have been working on projects including sorting and cataloguing collections. The Fairfield (Halls) Collection project was discussed by  Angela Lord and myself. The many exhibitions at the Museum included one on the artistic and musical family of the Pethericks, about whom I contributed a piece in the Citizen.

The Citizen is itself a historical archive. Its  print archive will be deposited with the Museum, and plans are under way to ensure that the internet site remains as a digital resource.

Threat to Croydon’s Heritage

Many residents and others were outraged by the then Conservative Council’s decision in 2013 to sell items from the Riesco porcelain collection displayed in the Clocktower. The Citizen reviewed the arguments for and against, while David White discussed whether the Council had the legal power to sell.

In September 2014 I explained the Council Planners’ admission that the Borough’s heritage had been significantly compromised over recent decades. The threat to historic assets is always present. The future of SEGAS house was discussed through the Citizen in 2014. My August 2016 Will Croydon Council sell off more of its historic assets? remains an open question.

Other Topics

Contributions have been made on a range of other topics by PhD student Dan Frost, Clare Walker, Holly Bernstein and myself on Croydon and Agincourt, Taras Shevchenko (the Ukrainian poet who fought for the freedom of his country using words), the 1968 Council elections and the student occupation of Croydon College of Art, the life of legendary folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, the 90th anniversary of Croydon Soroptomist International women’s organisation, and events organised in this year’s Women’s History Month. Given this year’s commemoration of Votes for Women the Citizen published my introduction Historical heroines: meeting Croydon’s suffragettes and suffragists.

The Citizen’s demise will make it more difficult to promote new writing and share knowledge about Croydon’s history.


The above text was written and submitted to Croydon Citizen. Unfortunately it was too close to the closure deadline for the team to be able to post it up. James Nayor, the Editor in Chief says on this and the previous  posting on this blog site: 

It's a real pity because these were excellent - thank you for your kind words and serious tackling of the issues the town faces with the losing the Citizen. I am very grateful for you writing this. 

The Citizen was able to post up the latest contribution by Samuel Ali adding to our knowledge of Croydon's slavery links.

It has also managed to publish the last of my articles on the history of peace and anti-war movements in Croydon.

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