Outer borough of south Greater London; it is a residential area and commercial centre, and includes the suburbs of Purley and Coulsdon; population (2001) 330,600. Local industries include financial and insurance services, pharmaceuticals, electronics, engineering, and foodstuffs.
Settlement in the area dates back to the Stone Age; traces of prehistoric occupation have been found at Sanderstead, Coulsdon, and Purley.
Croydon had a market from 1276, becoming the trading centre of the surrounding agricultural area. Industries in the medieval period included tanning and brewing. From the late 17th century the town became a popular residential area for London commuters, and its growth accelerated with the opening of the London to West Croydon railway in 1839. Other small villages in the area rapidly became commuter suburbs, among them Upper and South Norwood, Thornton Heath, Addiscombe, and Purley. By 1900 Croydon was the largest town in Surrey. In 1965 it amalgamated with Purley and Coulsdon to become a borough of Greater London.
The borough has an 11th-century palace, the former residence of archbishops of Canterbury and now a school; Whitgift School, originally founded in 1599 for 20 poor boys and girls by John Whitgift, a resident of the borough; Whitgift's 16th-century almshouses; Surrey Street market (dating from the 13th century); Fairfield Halls (1962), including Ashcroft Theatre, Fairfield concert hall, and Arnhem Gallery; it is the largest office centre in the south of England (outside central London).
The manor of Croydon was given by William (I) the Conqueror to Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury, and he and subsequent archbishops had their palace here until 1758. Remains of the medieval palace include the 12th-century undercroft, the great hall and Arundel's Hall, the library and chapel dating from the 15th century, and the 14th-century entrance porch. From 1808 to 1896 the archbishops lived at Addington Palace, built between 1773 and 1779.
Churches with medieval foundations include All Saints, Sanderstead; St John the Evangelist, Old Coulsdon; and St Mary, Addington. Croydon parish church was rebuilt in 1867 by George Gilbert Scott on the original 15th-century plan; six archbishops are buried here.
Croydon suffered severe bomb damage during World War II, and was subsequently redeveloped with many new houses, a large town centre, and a greatly extended shopping area. Recreational facilities include over 1,200 ha/2,965 acres of parks and woodland, including Farthing Down, Coulsdon Common, Selsdon Woods, and Happy Valley Park.
Croydon Aerodrome, built in 1915, was a major civil airport from 1928 until World War II. It declined following the opening of London's Heathrow Airport in 1946 and closed in 1959.
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