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ON THE CROYDON, BRIGHTON AND SOUTH-EASTERN RAILWAYS.
[From the Railway Chronicle.]
This Excursion, going and returning, to Croydon only, requires about four hours from
the time of starting from the station.
THE earliest railway for public traffic in England was one passing from Merstham to Wandsworth, through Croydon; a small single line, on which a miserable team of lean mules or donkeys, some thirty years ago, might be seen crawling at the rate of four miles in the hour, with small trucks of stone and lime behind them. It was commenced in 1801, opened in 1803, and the men of science of that day,we cannot say that the respectable name of Stephenson was not among them-tested its capabilities, and found that one horse could draw some 35 tons at six miles in the hour, and then, with prophetic wisdom, declared that railways could never be worked profitably. The old Croydon Railway is no longer used. The genius loci must look with wonder on the gigantic offspring of the little railway, which has swallowed up its own sire. Lean mules no longer crawl leisurely along the little rails with trucks of stone, through Croydon, once perchance during the day, but the whistle and the rush of the locomotive, and the whirr of the atmospheric, are now heard all day long. Not a few loads of lime, but all London and its contents, by comparison-men, women, children, horses, dogs, oxen, sheep, pigs, carriages, merchandise, food-would seem now-a-days to be passing through Croydon, for day after day more than one hundred journeys Oftentimes in every hour during daylight the Londoner may transport himself to the Chalk Downs, and be freshened by the pure breezes of Duppers Hill, or to the sandy heights of the Addington Hills, and scent the fragrant wild thyme which he crunches at every step.
Croydon has always been a great centre for excursions. It has been rendered still more so by the opening of the Atmospheric: but its own attractions are somewhat insignificant compared with those of its neighbourhood. Still, as a centre, pilgrims after health and pleasure will like to glance at its chief features. It has a pretty clear history of its own, at least since the Conquest, but it does not retain so many visible vestiges of its antiquity as could be wished. Its inhabitants have been too well off, and have dabbled too much in “improvements," which clear away evidences of the past.
Antiquarians carry back the history of this place much more remotely than the days of the Conqueror, making it the ancient Roman station Noviomagus, and they consider it to be situate on the high Roman road from London to Arundel. The evidence of all this, and its subsequent Danish history, is very loose, and we shall not venture upon historical speculation or inquiry, other than those which the chief objects themselves, now manifest in the town, legitimately suggest.
Among noticeable things, first there are the remains of the old Archiepiscopal Palace in the lower part of the town, and adjoining the Church. This palace, even before the Conquest-having been given by King Ethelbert to St. Augustine-until the end of the eighteenth century, had been the residence of the archbishops of Canterbury, when the whole domain was sold, and a new residence built at Addington, a village about three miles south-east of Croydon, on a site which tradition says was one of Harry the Eighth's numerous hunting-seats.
At Croydon Palace Thomas à Becket (ob. A.D. 1170), the earliest of Englishmen enrolled in the calendar of saints, probably sojourned; like
Arch near Croydon Palace. wise the beneficent Robert Winchelsea (ob. A.D. 1313), whose memory was so respected that an unsuccessful attempt was made to obtain even his canonization; and Henry Chichele (ob. A.D. 1443), founder of All Souls College, Oxford, pious, learned and generous; and Thomas Cranmer, burnt in 1555; and Mathew Parker (ob. A.D. 1575), a diligent collector of manuscripts, which he bequeathed to Christ's Church, Cambridge, and a vigorous defender of priests' marriages; and John Whitgift, who, of all the Archbishops of Canterbury, seems to have been the best
most reverend and sacred memory, "and even of the primitive temper;" and George Abbot (ob. A.D. 1633), a great benefactor to Guildford, of whom we have spoken more at large in our Excursion to that very picturesque town; and William Laud, beheaded on Tower Hill, Jan. 10, A.D. 1644-5, sacrificed by his vacillating King, Charles I.; and John Tillotson (ob. A.D. 1694); and Thomas Tenison, names more familiar to present times.
But old as the palace is, none of the apparent remains manifest any higher antiquity than the time of Richard II. Its state indeed has changed; and it requires a stretch of imagination to picture Queen Elizabeth and her court entertained in great pomp in the murky old hall, now choked up in a curious beehive fashion by the countless rafters and drying-poles of washerwomen. The great Lord Burleigh was with her Majesty, and her dancing Chancellor, Christopher Hatton, and Lady Carewe, for whom “no place with a chymeney could be found.” The court was there in 1573, and not only Archbishop Parker, but his successor, Whitgift, on another occasion, received the co virgin ” queen as a guest, in the identical hall now steaming with soapsuds. The whole of the palatial buildings and grounds were in the centre of a park in the days of Richard II.,-William Walworth, of Wat Tyler memory, being keeper,—but now serve the purposes of a great washing and bleaching factory. The proprietor will permit the curious to explore the place, the chief remains of which are the hall and the chapel. The timber roof of the hall seems to be pretty perfect, but it is almost wholly concealed by counterpanes and blankets hung up for drying. By dint of exploring, we have
satisfied ourselves of its character, and stripping it of modern "hangings,” have ventured to restore it somewhat to its ancient look. Its architecture is perpendicular.
The chapel, which is entered from the churchyard, is outwardly a Tudor brick structure, the windows being left pretty perfect; the woodwork inside is partly coeval with the outside, and partly of a Laud and Juxon. The pulpit and some stalls and panelling are left; their workmanship is not very remarkable. The chapel is now used as the school of industry, and may therefore be easily visited any day.
We hardly marvel that the archbishops should have removed from this spot, for in its present state, at least, it seems one especial generative of ague and malaria. In 1575 Archbishop Grindall complained that “ Croydon House was no wholesome house;"—and when Archbishop Abbot cut down the timber which environed it, Lord Bacon is reported to have said, “By my troth he has done very judiciously, for before, methoughts it was a very obscure and darke place, but now he has expounded and cleared it wonderfully well.” The river Wandle rises near the palace grounds, and the spot, being the lowest in Croydon, serves as the reservoir for the drainings of the surrounding hills:
Croydon cloth'd in blacke,
Which from their tops still in abundance trills making a great black stagnant cesspool, garnished with dead dogs and decomposing vegetables, which the town authorities seem to hold in perfect indifference. It is a model spot for malaria and fever. This part of the town and all that part called Scarbrook is, as might be expected, particularly unhealthy, and we caution visitors from taking up their residence in it, for ever so short a time. The people and their houses seem to retain something of the look of their ancient collieries. This spot was the site of the Croydon charcoal burners, who, before the days of Newcastle coal, and as late as 1760, were notorious for their factories. "Grim, the Collier of Croydon,' is the title of an old comedy, and he seems to have left lots of descendants, at least in appearance. “Marry, quoth hee that lookt like Lucifer, though I am black I am not the devill, but indeed a collyer of Croydon."
Croydon Church is a very spacious and well-proportioned building, with nave and chancel, and aisles to both, a square tower, and porches at north and south. What “ beautifying" churchwardens have suffered to remain of its ancient architecture is perpendicular, most probably of the days of Archbishops Courteney and Chichele (A.D. 1396-1413), whose arms remain on the north and west doors. No remains of the have been kept, they have been sadly spoiled and demeaned with odious plastering and patchings. The old timber roof has been replaced by a flat plaster ceiling, put up in 1760. The date will call to mind to our architectural readers the thing exactly. The clerestory windows are of a nondescript sort. Pews, of course, have been inserted—high dozing boxes—and the whole place rendered hideously “respectable and incongruous. The windows are large and fine, where the original mullions have been kept intact. Above the south porch, inside the church, a large mural painting of St. Christopher has been recently found behind the whitewash. It is a gigantic figure, about 15 feet high, with figures kneeling at either side. It is in a ruinous state, and the art is very rude. The painting is on plaster, whether fresco or secco difficult to say; yet rude as it is, it is far more interesting than whitewashed walls, and we would fain hope that it will be preserved, not so much for its own sake, but as a memento that our barbarous ancestors preferred such decoration for the walls of the house of the Most High as they were able to give. Croydon Church in the rude ages was famous for its painted windows, until Cromwell's puritanic men of taste set one Master Blesse to break them for half-a-crown a day, and to substitute plain white “ crown" glass-a proceeding to which the churchmen of Croydon seem to have continued to yield a ready acquiescence. No doubt Blesse was a servant of Sir William Brereton, who leased the palace at this period, and was “ a notable man at a thanksgiving dinner, having terrible long teeth and a prodigious stomach to turn the archbishops' chapel into a kitchen, and to swallow up that palace and lands at a morsel.'
The tombs in Croydon Church are not very many or very ancient: the oldest now visible being an altar tomb in the north aisle of the chancel, of Elias Davy (A.D. 1455), founder of some almshouses in the town. In the same place is the monument of Nicholas Heron (A.D. 1568) and his children. The font, an octagon of perpendicular style, too, is inappropriately placed here. One of the most picturesque monuments is that of Archbishop Whitgift, in the south aisle of the chancel. It is of a cinque-cento character with a recumbent effigy of the Bishop (A.D. 1610), and near it is a perpendicular altar tomb recessed-an upright brass (an unusual position) with three niches. This group is worth the artist's notice. Archbishop Sheldon's monument is here—a recumbent figure of white marble with decorative sculls, &c. just like those lumps of truly mundane art which abound in Westminster Abbey. Its date is 1683, and topographical writers expatiate with unction upon its beauty, and express a national pride that its artist was an Englishman. Let us mention that the keys of the church are kept by the sexton, who lives in Scarbrook at the present time. Perhaps the most notable person buried in the churchyard is the author of the old satire, The Ship of Fools, Alexander Barclay, who died in 1552, for a long time resident in Croydon-saying in one of his Eclogues
While I in youth in Croidon towne did dwell.
On the whole, therefore, we cannot say that Croydon Church in its present state is a very glorious monument of art—but we can recommend it as well worth an hour's visit, and its exterior will be found, from