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Archaeologia Cantiana - Vol. 126   2006 page 421 - Book Reviews - continued

The Archbishops’ Town. The Making of Medieval Croydon. By Oliver Harris. 58 pp., 2 maps and 6 b/w illustrations (cover illustration colour). Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society Ltd, Proceedings vol. 18 (9). Softback £3.75 incl. p+p from Brian Lancaster, 68 Woodcote Grove Road, Coulsdon CR5 2AD. ISBN 0 906047 20 4.

Working in Croydon in the early 1970s, much was new and an abiding memory is of a windy central area. Seen from the train from London to Gatwick or Brighton, Croydon gives the impression of a contemporary suburb with high-rise office blocks rather than of a medieval town. Indeed, the only physical survivals of war and Reformation are the great hall and chapel of the Archbishop’s Palace and the tower of the parish church. The author has sought to show that Croydon was an important medieval town and that the presence of a palace for the archbishops of Canterbury contributed to its development by exploring the social and economic context in which the town developed in the later middle ages.
   The evidence is both scant and scattered and required considerable and, no doubt, painstaking detective work to uncover. Harris found that the best way to start was to collect the information for the Croydon of around 1500 and then to try to piece together how that point was reached. Starting from the topography of modern Croydon and adding information from what medieval records exist, especially relating to the archbishop of Canterbury’s holdings. Croydon was at the heart of a great estate of the archbishops extending from the Thames to the Sussex border held since the seventh or eighth centuries and was well-placed to serve as an administrative centre as well as a resting place for the archbishop when he was on his travels. This then is the basis on which medieval Croydon was built and Harris constructs a delightful picture of life in the town and in the archbishop’s household in the later middle ages. Comparisons are made with similar towns to show that Croydon was an important centre. Indeed, it was the third largest in Surrey after Southwark and Kingston. In particular there are parallels with Maidstone and other towns under the control of the archbishops of Canterbury. Finally, there is a thoughtful analysis of the archbishops’ legacy in the formation of the post-medieval town.
   The paper is very well researched, as the 316 endnotes making up almost half the total text testify. The result is an important contribution to the history of Croydon and also provides an example of an approach to problems of urban identity where there is little obvious evidence.


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