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.