The Croydon Tours Blog

News, opinions and curiosities from Croydon Tours

New tour dates at the Croydon Heritage Festival

ImageI’m very excited to announce a new run of public tours this Summer – as part of the Croydon Heritage Festival. With so much work going on at the Croydon Citizen, it’s been very hard for me to offer regular tour dates. We’ve been running quite a few private tours in the meantime – not least for the excellent Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign – but this opens things up again to people who might not be able to get a whole group together.

All of the tours are based on our “Historic Old Town” tour. They will take place at the following times:

  • Saturday 21st – 12pm & 3pm
  • Thursday 26th – 7.30pm
  • Friday 27th – 7.30pm
  • Saturday 28th – 12pm & 3pm
  • Thursday 3rd – 7.30pm
  • Friday 4th – 7.30pm

They’re also offered at the exceptionally affordable, special price of £3 per person. You’ll be able to book them on the Croydon Heritage Festival site from the 1st of May.


James Naylor

Open House Weekend: Venues that are still open

“Airport House by the Old Croydon Aerodrome” by Tristan Forward. Use licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0.


Open house weekend ( is a brilliant way to get up close and personal with some national treasures. For one weekend, interesting buildings which would otherwise be mostly closed to the public will throw open their doors.

Sadly, as reported in the news, Croydon Council are not participating in the scheme this year. But while there aren’t any council buildings open this year and there is no official involvement, a couple of venues will be opening their doors regardless. Local arts campaigner, Janet Smith, has kindly researched those that are still taking part. They are:

Croydon Airport

The world’s first purpose-built international airport and London’s main airport until the 1950s.

Open: Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd from 11am with last entry at 3.30pm


Shirley Windmill

An archetypal, beautifully preserved mid-19th century towermill in Shirley.

Open: Sunday 23rd from 12pm with last entry at 4pm


There’s some really interesting history at both of these venues. If you have the chance, they’re definitely worth a look. You won’t regret it.

Touring Croydon’s Public Sector – Civil Service Fun With John Lavabre

This article originally appeared on the Hillcrest PR blog. John, the force behind Hillcrest, is our new guide. He’ll be running a completely new tour for us – “The Amazing Civil Service Adventure Tour!” – a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek exploration of Croydon’s contribution to the public sector. The first tour takes place this weekend. You can book it here.

The Clocktower at Night – epicentre of local government in Croydon. Photo by Sharon Addison.

A few months ago I went on Croydon Tours’ walk of the Historic Old Town. The brilliant guide, James Naylor, bought Croydon’s fascinating history to life.

I learnt a huge amount about my adopted home and its background. Everything from the influence of Archbishop John Whitgift to the effect of post WWII planning policy was covered in this superb tour.

James packed a huge amount in to the hour that he guided my group through the Borough’s back streets. It inspired me to look into an aspect of Croydon that is often overlooked; its contribution to Government and public life. The result is my slightly cheeky Amazing Civil Service Adventure Tour!

You may scoff at the thought of Sir Humphrey doing his grocery shopping at Surrey Street Market but a huge number of civil and public servants work in Croydon, some of them holding a very senior rank and having responsibility for billions of pounds.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Croydon boasts its own Whitehall. Most locals will be aware the UK Border Agency is based on Wellesly Road but just a couple of minutes away is the HQ for the Land Registry of England and Wales. A couple of minutes in the other direction, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has an office.  Combined, these organisations have a huge workforce right in the centre of the Borough.

As I looked further into the history of these and other institutions, I unearthed some amazing facts about Croydon’s public sector. For instance, senior staff from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would visit premises in Croydon from where they would choose the wallpaper for their diplomatic missions overseas.

I also discovered that Croydon was a major strategic hub for the Royal Mail because of its airport. From Croydon, mail was flown out to Europe and across the Empire. Bringing us bang up to date, I also found out that the Pension Protection Fund, a Croydon-based public sector success story that few locals have heard of, has grown in size to the point where it is responsible for billions of pounds worth of assets.

In summary, Croydon has made a huge contribution to Government and this tour will give you an insight into that. Two dates are in the diary so far; 14 July and 25 August. Please come along, I’d be delighted to see you.

To book a place and for more info about Croydon Tours click here.

The Passing of Allders: Last of the Great Croydon Department Stores?

Allders North End Facade by Kake Pugh, used under a creative commons licence by-nc-sa

Allders North End Facade by Kake Pugh

It seems that the Allders may finally be facing its end. Some 300 staff are, very sadly, due to lose their jobs as result. At time of writing this post, no rescue package had been secured and Allders had begun a final closing down sale.

The loss of Allders is not only the end of one business however, but the end of an entire retail tradition in Croydon. Long before the current Westfield – Hammerson debacle and long before the Whitgift centre was even conceived, Croydon was the department store capital of Surrey.

In the late 19th century its three principle engines were three great, independently owned names: Allders, Grants and the now rather less well known Kennards. With their massive combined floor area they offered a wide variety of goods, services and retail experiences not available outside of the West End: From the decidedly upmarket offering of Grants (once said to draw shoppers as far afield as Paris with the legendary quality of its tailoring) to the more populist experience of Kennards; a store which had a private zoo or ‘menagerie’ on site to draw the punters. In the middle of this sat Allders; the epitome of comfortable middle class shopping. A shop which was so successful it expanded to become the country’s third largest department store and a national chain thereafter. Its beautiful ‘Oxford Streetesque’ North End façade (1926) was testament to its massive success.

Today, Croydon still has department stores; M&S and House of Fraser; but they are less important to overall retail mix than their forebears, are part of large chains, and don’t have a local connection. For some then, this latest retail tragedy marks the end of a piece of local heritage and part of general narrative of Croydon’s retail decline.

I must disagree.

Croydon has always had its highs and lows. But, if you know your history you know that’s spent much more of its existence as a successful shopping destination than not. It was famed for its major grain market in the 18th century, its department stores in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the Whitgift centre in the late 20th century.

The interest of shopping giant Hammerson and the even bigger, even more successful giant, Westfield, is not coincidental. They realise that its strategic location will always make it a good place for retail as long as there is retail. Their redevelopment of the town will simply be another chapter in Croydon’s retail history and, I believe, to be welcomed. Personally, I would like to see another department store take over the site. I’d like to see the original façade put back to its intended use; a grand frontage pouring light into high-ceiling rooms; something lost from Allders from the 60’s onwards. I think Minerva’s plan to simply divide the building into shops would be a shame. But provided we preserve the memory, the physical remnants and the name of the once great business of Allders, we protect our heritage while preserving our future.

The Amazing Civil Service Adventure Tour!

We’ve just added a quirky new tour our repertoire; led by our new guide John Lavabre. You can read more about this seemingly mundane, yet fascinating tour here. Book your ticket on the next tour here.

New Summer Dates Announced

We’ve just announced tour dates for the rest of the summer. Click here to see dates and purchase your ticket.