The earliest detailed map of Croydon, drawn by the 18-year-old Jean-Baptiste Say
The early settlement of Old Town, including the parish church
(marked B) lies to the west; while the triangular medieval marketplace, probably associated with Archbishop Kilwardby
's market charter of 1276, is clearly visible further east, although by this date it has been infilled
As the vast majority of place names in the area are of Anglo-Saxon origin, the theory accepted by most philologists is that the name Croydon derives originally from the Anglo-Saxon croh, meaning "crocus", and denu, "valley", indicating that, like Saffron Walden in Essex, it was a centre for the cultivation of saffron. It has been argued that this cultivation is likely to have taken place in the Roman period, when the saffron crocus would have been grown to supply the London market, most probably for medicinal purposes, and particularly for the treatment of granulation of the eyelids.
There is also a plausible Brittonic origin for Croydon in the form "Crai-din" meaning "settlement near fresh water" (Cf "Creuddyn" Ceredigion), the name Crai (variously spelled) being found in Kent at various places even as late as the Domesday Book.
Alternative, although less probable, theories of the name's origin have been proposed. According to John Corbet Anderson: "The earliest mention of Croydon is in the joint will of Beorhtric and Aelfswth, dated about the year 962. In this Anglo-Saxon document the name is spelt [here he uses Old English characters] Crogdaene. Crog was, and still is, the Norse or Danish word for crooked, which is expressed in Anglo-Saxon by crumb, a totally different word. From the Danish came our crook and crooked. This term accurately describes the locality; it is a crooked or winding valley, in reference to the valley that runs in an oblique and serpentine course from Godstone to Croydon." Anderson challenged a claim, originally made by Andrew Coltee Ducarel, that the name came from the Old French for "chalk hill", because it was in use at least a century before the French language would have been commonly used following the Norman conquest. However, there was no long-term Danish occupation (see Danelaw) in Surrey, which was part of Wessex, and Danish-derived nomenclature is also highly unlikely. More recently, David Bird has speculated that the name might derive from a personal name, Crocus: he suggests a family connection with the documented Chrocus, king of the Alemanni, who allegedly played a part in the proclamation of Constantine as emperor at York in AD 306.
The town lies on the line of the Roman road from London to Portslade, and there is some archaeological evidence for small-scale Roman settlement in the area: there may have been a mansio (staging-post) here. Later, in the 5th to 7th centuries, a large pagan Saxon cemetery was situated on what is now Park Lane, although the extent of any associated settlement is unknown.
By the late Saxon period Croydon was the hub of an estate belonging to the Archbishops of Canterbury. The church and the archbishops' manor house occupied the area still known as "Old Town". The archbishops used the manor house as an occasional place of residence: as lords of the manor they dominated the life of the town well into the early modern period, and as local patrons they continue to have an influence. Croydon appears in Domesday Book (1086) as Croindene, held by Archbishop Lanfranc. Its Domesday assets included 16 hides and 1 virgate of land; a church; a mill worth 5s; 38 plough-teams; 8 acres (3.2 ha) of meadow; and woodland worth 200 hogs. It had a recorded population of 73 households (representing roughly 365 individuals); and its value in terms of taxes rendered was £37 10s 0d.
The church had been established in the middle Saxon period, and was probably a minster church, a base for a group of clergy living a communal life. A charter issued by King Coenwulf of Mercia refers to a council that had taken place close to the monasterium (meaning minster) of Croydon. An Anglo-Saxon will made in about 960 is witnessed by Elfsies, priest of Croydon; and the church is also mentioned in Domesday Book. The will of John de Croydon, fishmonger, dated 6 December 1347, includes a bequest to "the church of S John de Croydon", the earliest clear record of its dedication. The church still bears the arms of Archbishop Courtenay and Archbishop Chichele, believed to have been its benefactors.
In 1276 Archbishop Robert Kilwardby acquired a charter for a weekly market, and this probably marks the foundation of Croydon as an urban centre. Croydon developed into one of the main market towns of north east Surrey. The market place was laid out on the higher ground to the east of the manor house in the triangle now bounded by High Street, Surrey Street and Crown Hill. By the 16th century the manor house had become a substantial palace, used as the main summer home of the archbishops and visited by monarchs and other dignitaries. However, the palace gradually became dilapidated and surrounded by slums and stagnant ponds, and in 1781 the archbishops sold it, and in its place purchased a new residence at nearby Addington. Nevertheless, many of the buildings of the original Croydon Palace survive, and are in use today as Old Palace School.
The Parish Church (now Croydon Minster) is a Perpendicular-style church, which was remodelled in 1849 but destroyed in a great fire in 1867, following which only the tower, south porch, and outer walls remained. A new church was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, one of the greatest architects of the Victorian age, and opened in 1870. His design loosely followed the previous layout, with knapped flint facing and many of the original features, including several important tombs. Croydon Parish Church is the burial place of six Archbishops of Canterbury: John Whitgift, Edmund Grindal, Gilbert Sheldon, William Wake, John Potter and Thomas Herring. Historically part of the Diocese of Canterbury, Croydon is now in the Diocese of Southwark. In addition to the suffragan Bishop of Croydon, the Vicar of Croydon is an important preferment.
The Grade II listed West Croydon Baptist Church
The Grade I listed Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels, West Croydon
Addington Palace is a Palladian-style mansion between Addington Village and Shirley, in the London Borough of Croydon. Six archbishops lived there between 1807 and 1898, when it was sold. Between 1953 and 1996 it was the home of the Royal School of Church Music. It is now a conference and banqueting venue.
Croydon was a leisure destination in the mid 19th century. In 1831, one of England's most prominent architects, Decimus Burton, designed a spa and pleasure gardens below Beulah Hill and off what is now Spa Hill in a bowl of land on the south-facing side of the hill around a spring of chalybeate water. Burton was responsible for the Beulah Spa Hotel (demolished around 1935) and the layout of the grounds. Its official title was The Royal Beulah Spa and Gardens. It became a popular society venue attracting crowds to its fêtes. One widely publicised event was a "Grand Scottish Fete" on 16 September 1834 "with a tightrope performance by Pablo Fanque, the black circus performer who would later dominate the Victorian circus and achieve immortality in The Beatles song, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" The spa closed in 1856 soon after the opening nearby of The Crystal Palace which had been rebuilt on Sydenham Hill in 1854, following its success at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. It was destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1936.
Horse racing in the area took place occasionally, notably during visits of Queen Elizabeth I to the archbishop. Regular meetings became established first on a course at Park Hill in 1860 and from 1866 at Woodside, where particularly good prizes were offered for the races run under National Hunt rules. In that sphere its prestige was second only to that of Aintree, home of the Grand National. Increasing local opposition to the presence of allegedly unruly racegoers coupled with the need to obtain a licence from the local authority led to it being closed down in 1890.
The Elizabethan Whitgift Almshouses, the "Hospital of the Holy Trinity", in the centre of Croydon at the corner of North End and George Street, were erected by Archbishop John Whitgift. He petitioned for and received permission from Queen Elizabeth I to establish a hospital and school in Croydon for the "poor, needy and impotent people" from the parishes of Croydon and Lambeth. The foundation stone was laid in 1596 and the building was completed in 1599.
The premises included the Hospital or Almshouses, providing accommodation for between 28 and 40 people, and a nearby schoolhouse and schoolmaster's house. There was a Warden in charge of the well-being of the almoners. The building takes the form of a courtyard surrounded by the chambers of the almoners and various offices.
Threatened by various reconstruction plans and road-widening schemes, the Almshouses were saved in 1923 by intervention of the House of Lords. On 21 June 1983 Queen Elizabeth II visited the Almshouses and unveiled a plaque celebrating the recently completed reconstruction of the building. On 22 March each year the laying of the foundation stone is commemorated as Founder's Day.
The Grade II listed West Croydon Baptist Church was built in 1873 by J. Theodore Barker. It is a red brick building with stone dressings. Its three bays are divided by paired Doric pilasters supporting a triglyph frieze and panelled parapet.
The Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels by John Loughborough Pearson in West Croydon was built between 1880 and 1885, and is Grade I listed.
Industrial Revolution and the railway
The Grade II listed Surrey Street Pumping Station, Croydon
The development of Brighton as a fashionable resort in the 1780s increased the significance of Croydon's role as a halt for stage coaches on the road south of London. At the beginning of the 19th century, Croydon became the terminus of two pioneering commercial transport links with London. The first, opened in 1803, was the horse-drawn Surrey Iron Railway from Wandsworth, which in 1805 was extended to Merstham, as the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Railway. The second, opened in 1809, was the Croydon Canal, which branched off the Grand Surrey Canal at Deptford. The London and Croydon Railway (an atmospheric and steam-powered railway) opened between London Bridge and West Croydon in 1839, using much of the route of the canal (which had closed in 1836). Other connections to London and the south followed.
The arrival of the railways and other communications advances in the 19th century led to a 23-fold increase in Croydon's population between 1801 and 1901. This rapid expansion of the town led to considerable health problems, especially in the damp and overcrowded working class district of Old Town. In response to this, in 1849 Croydon became one of the first towns in the country to acquire a Local board of health. The Board constructed public health infrastructure including a reservoir, water supply network, sewers, a pumping station and sewage disposal works.
The Surrey Street Pumping Station is Grade II listed; it was built in four phases. starting with the engine house in 1851, with a further engine house in 1862, a further extension in 1876-7 to house a compound horizontal engine and a further extension in 1912.
A growing town
The Allders building in 1983
Shopping parade in North End, Croydon
In 1883 Croydon was incorporated as a borough. In 1889 it became a county borough, with a greater degree of autonomy. The new county borough council implemented the Croydon Improvement scheme in the early 1890s, which widened the High Street and cleared much of the "Middle Row" slum area. The remaining slums were cleared shortly after Second World War, with much of the population relocated to the isolated new settlement of New Addington. New stores opened and expanded in central Croydon, including Allders, Kennards and Grade II listed Grants, as well as the first Sainsbury's self-service shop in the country. There was a market on Surrey Street.
Croydon was the location of London's main airport until the Second World War. During the war, much of central Croydon was devastated by German V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets, and for many years the town bore the scars of the destruction. After the war, Heathrow Airport superseded Croydon Airport as London's main airport, and Croydon Airport quickly went into a decline, finally closing in 1959.
By the 1950s, with its continuing growth, the town was becoming congested, and the Council decided on another major redevelopment scheme. The Croydon Corporation Act was passed in 1956. This, coupled with national government incentives for office relocation out of Central London, led to the building of new offices and accompanying road schemes through the late 1950s and 1960s, and the town boomed as a business centre in the 1960s, with many multi-storey office blocks, an underpass, a flyover and multi-storey car parks.
In 1960 Croydon celebrated its millennium with a pageant held at Lloyd Park and an exhibition held at the old Croydon Aerodrome.
The growing town attracted many new buildings. The Fairfield Halls arts centre and event venue opened in 1962. Croydon developed as an important centre for shopping, with the construction of the Whitgift Centre in 1969. No. 1 Croydon (formerly the NLA Tower) designed by Richard Seifert & Partners was completed in 1970. The Warehouse Theatre opened in 1977.
The 1990s saw further changes intended to give the town a more attractive image. These included the closure of North End to vehicles in 1989 and the opening of the Croydon Clocktower arts centre in 1994. An early success of the Centre was the "Picasso's Croydon Period" exhibition of March–May 1995.
The Croydon Tramlink began operation in May 2000 (see Transport section below).
The Prospect West office development was built in 1991 to 1992, and its remodelling planned in 2012 has now been completed. Renamed Interchange Croydon when it was reopened in 2014, the 180,000 square foot office development was the first new grade A office development of its size to open in Croydon for more than 20 years.
Another large shopping centre, Centrale, opened in 2004 opposite the Whitgift Centre, and adjoining the smaller Drummond Centre. House of Fraser and Debenhams are the anchor stores in the combined centre. In addition, there are plans for a large, new one billion pound shopping centre, in the form of a new Westfield shopping mall to add to the two which the company currently has in Greater London; Westfield plans to work jointly with Hammersons and to incorporate the best aspects of the two companies' designs. In November 2017, Croydon Council gave permission for the new Westfield shopping centre to be built and in January 2018, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, approved the regeneration scheme. Work to demolish the existing Whitgift Centre will begin in 2018 and Westfield Croydon is currently expected to open by 2022. There are several other major plans for the town including the redevelopment of the Croydon Gateway site; and extensions of Tramlink to Purley Way, Streatham, Lewisham and Crystal Palace.
Apart from its very large central shopping district, Croydon has a number of smaller shopping areas, especially towards the southern end of the town in which are many restaurants. Two of Croydon's restaurants are listed in The Good Food Guide.
luxury apartment development
Croydon has many tall buildings such as the former Nestlé Tower (St George's House). The London Borough of Croydon's strategic planning committee in February 2013 gave the go-ahead to property fund manager Legal and General Property's plans to convert the empty 24-storey St George's House office building, occupied by Nestlé until September 2012, into 288 flats.
The Croydon area has several hospitals: the main one is Croydon University Hospital in London Road.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has said he would support Croydon being granted city status and announced £23m of additional funding to help redevelop the town at the Develop Croydon Conference on 22 November 2011.
Several apartment developments, for instance Altitude 25 (completed 2010), have been built in recent years, and several more are being built or planned. The construction of Saffron Square, which includes a 43-storey tower, began on Wellesley Road in 2011 and was completed in 2016. Other developments with towers over 50 floors high have been given planning approval. These include the 54-storey "Menta Tower" in Cherry Orchard Road near East Croydon station, and a 55-storey tower at One Lansdowne Road, on which construction was set to begin in early 2013. The latter is set to be Britain's tallest block of flats, including office space, a four-star hotel and a health club.
In May 2012 it was announced that Croydon had been successful in its bid to become one of twelve "Portas Pilot" towns, and would receive a share of £1.2m funding to help rejuvenate its central shopping areas.
In November 2013, Central Croydon MP Gavin Barwell gave a presentation at a public meeting on the Croydon regeneration project, detailing various developments underway due to be completed in coming years.
On 26 November 2013, Croydon Council approved a redevelopment of the Town Centre by The Croydon Partnership, a joint venture by The Westfield Group and Hammerson. London Mayor Boris Johnson approved the plan the following day. The Croydon Advertiser listed the approval as an "Historic Night for Croydon".
At Ruskin Square, a Boxpark made of sea containers opened in 2016 as a temporary measure until new buildings are constructed for shops, offices and housing.
 The London Evening Standard said that this and other developments were reviving the town which was in the process of gentrification.
The Zotefoams company is headquartered in Croydon.
Further developments are planned as part of the Croydon Vision 2020 plan, which was drawn up by the Borough after a 1999 study by town planning consultants EDAW. The plan includes new office blocks, apartment buildings, shopping centres and other developments, some of which have already been built. More than 2,000 new homes are planned.
Public transport is set to improve, with Tramlink getting more tracks, platforms and trams. The East Croydon train station is to have more tracks and ticket barriers, with nearby bus stops getting better lights and paving. However, a footbridge built at the station in 2013 had fewer openings than planned, leading it to be dubbed the "bridge to nowhere" by some locals. In West Croydon, track extensions in 2010 met the London Overground rail network.
Fairfield Halls is to become the linchpin of a cultural quarter encompassing nearby College Green. Plans include an art gallery, a new college, shops and offices, with a multi-storey car park set for demolition to make space for 218 homes. The John Laing Group is involved in the College Green development with the Croydon Council as part of a joint project called the Croydon Urban Regeneration Vehicle.
In 2007, events were held under the label of Croydon Exp07 to promote billions of pounds of promised projects, including swimming pools and a library. However, plans for a new shopping centre, to be called Park Place, had already been abandoned amid a scandal about cash for peerages. Also abandoned were plans for an arena near the East Croydon station, after a compulsory purchase order was rejected in 2008 at Cabinet level.