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South Croydon Allotments are a thriving community with more than 190 plots

tended by over 150 plotholders.

The allotments occupy about 10 acres within a roughly triangular piece of land bordered by the two railway lines going to Sanderstead and South Croydon.

This is how they came into being and developed……


Can We Have Allotments Please?


The allotments were set up in 1894.

An act of Parliament in 1887 said that local authorities had to provide land for allotments if there was a demand.

A number of applications were made in the borough including in October 1891

a “memorial” or petition to provide allotments in South Croydon.

It took a while to find a suitable piece of land, but in June 1893 the Council started buying 10 acres of land between Sanderstead and Selsdon roads.

The Borough Engineer had inspected the land and decreed that it was suitable.

The Council authorised an application to the Local Government Board for a loan not to exceed £2600 including the cost of a fence on the south boundary

This purchase price was to be recouped from rents.


In the 1843 Tithe Map the land which is now the allotments formed part of two big fields called Mancocks and Wellfield, but these names do not appear to have been in use when the land was sold.

The vendors were Herbert Robert Arkwright and Essex Edward William Douglas Reade as Trustees of Esme Francis Wigsell Arkwright who was then a minor of 12 years old.

The Wigsell family had for many years owned Sanderstead Court (now demolished but near the White House in Sanderstead village) and about 85% of the parish of Sanderstead.

Esme was the last Lord of the Manor and the sale was part of the final breakup of the estate in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


The final sale price was £2250 plus associated taxes.

Although we cannot be sure without a map it would appear that the area sold was the current allotment plus the roadway from the Carlton Road end of the site to Selsdon Road.

It also seems that that the London Brighton and South Coast Railway had the option to buy a strip of land along the current allotment roadway, should they need it, but in the event, they managed to widen their track in 1899 within their own boundaries.


The deed of sale allows the Corporation or their assignees to “use the land by day or night with or without horses, carts, carriages, laden and unladen and to drive cattle sheep and other animals along over and upon the said pieces of land”

We have not seen many Council sheep and cows at night recently.



Early Days


The purchase of the land was delayed because of the absence from England of one of the vendors but by February 1894 the site was in use and 67 10 rod plots had been let.

Rents were initially one shilling (5p) per rod and the rent for a 10-rod plot of 10/- (50p) a year was quite an outlay for some families.

In those days a pint of beer cost 3 1/2d (under 2p), a loaf of bread was about 3d

(about 1.5p) and a tram driver (among the best paid workers) earned between 28/6 and 37/6 (£1.42 to £1.87) for a 60-hour week.

In March 1906 rents rose to 1/6 per rod.


The site was set up with two water tanks but in June 1895 the plotholders asked for two additional tanks.

In October 1898 it was agreed to provide two iron gates `one at each end`, two more tanks and better security against trespass.

There was a fear in 1899 that the site would be needed for a new railway line running from Selsdon Station (now closed) to the Brighton line, but in the event the line was not built.


An Extra 10 Acres?


South Croydon allotment holders appear to have been a law abiding lot, as apart from a couple of small changes to the Sanderstead Road gates to improve visibility and cut off what the Council minutes call an awkward corner there is little mention of South Croydon until November 1929.Then it was recorded that `a piece of land near Carlton Road containing an area of 10 acres or thereabouts be acquired on a lease for 14 years from Christmas next at a rental of £5 per acre….` a further half acre was added in January 1930.

Together they were intended as an extension of the allotment site.


However, unlike when the original site was set up, the Council does not seem to have considered the quality of the land, and less than a year later plotholders had given up because `the land is of uneven surface and the plotholders working the better portion of it gave up their plots owing to the soil being unsuitable and at the present time no portion is under cultivation` The lease on this additional land was surrendered in September 1931.

Given that at least some of this land (now the business centre) would have been worked out brickworks and gravel and dumped chalk, this is hardly surprising.



Digging for Victory


In both world wars the Government had schemes to promote self-sufficiency in food. Open spaces and unused gardens were brought into production and `grow your own` was both encouraged and necessary.

South Croydon plotholders no doubt dug as vigorously as the rest.


A considerable additional amount of land was brought into use in Croydon; in March 1917 there were 1695 Corporation allotments and a further 2967 `acquired in consequence of the war`.


In the 1930s allotment holders in Croydon were concerned that their land would be taken for building, but the tide turned with the Second World War.

To increase food production areas such as Lloyd Park and South Croydon Recreation Ground were ploughed up for growing food and cooperative growing was encouraged.

Sanderstead Horticultural Society, founded in 1942, owes its genesis to this movement.

There was an organised barter market where growers could exchange surplus produce for coupons to obtain clothes and other necessities.


Site working party removing a wartime Anderson shelter in March 2012

Croydon was heavily bombed in the Second World War, both by planes heading to or returning from the centre of London and because Croydon, Biggin Hill and Kenley aerodromes were targets.The allotment site itself was not hit but two raids impacted the areas around the site.

On 19th October 1940 a bomb landed on the East Grinstead line railway and on the night of 7th November 1940 a bomb destroyed the workshop for Croydon Autodrome (roughly where the business park is now) and made a large crater in open ground nearby.

South Croydon plotholders and their neighbours sheltered on the site and a war time Anderson shelter was dug out and removed as recently as 2012.



The Mystery of the Missing Pavillion


In January 1947 the council approved a scheme for modernising its allotment sites. This included, where necessary, improving the roads to be 9ft wide, graded and prepared with rounded corners at the intersections and concrete precast kerbs, overhauling the water systems, providing permanent fences, improving public frontages and where possible the provision of cold frames and incinerators.

For South Croydon the most noticeable improvement would have been a permanent pavilion, with storage facilities, a meeting or rest room, a kitchen and lavatories for both sexes.

The cost over all the borough allotments was estimated to be £84,000 or £600 per acre.


The work was to be done over five years with South Croydon in year three.

Later it was decided to proceed one year at a time and the scheme appears to have been a victim of post war austerity.

The roads may have been tarmacked at that time but South Croydon never got its pavilion.


Can’t Pay Won’t Pay


The allotments became a leased, rather than direct let, site in 1974 following a policy change by the Council.

South Croydon Allotments Society was formed as a result.


The early years of the new relationship were marked by a long running dispute about the rent to be paid for the site.


At the 1976 AGM members were told that the Council proposed an increase of 200% in the lease rental. They overwhelmingly considered the increase to be unacceptable. The Society argued that the proposed rent was a proportion of Parks Department expenditure, rather than the actual cost to the Council of running the allotments and that allotment rents were subsidising the local rates.

The Society also argued that that despite this the Council had refused to repair the water supply on the grounds of lack of funds.


The matter was referred to the District Auditor and the Secretary and other members spent long hours at Taberner House putting the Society’s case.

The Borough Valuer had proposed a new lower rent in August 1978 but this was still unacceptable.

By January 1979 the society had been threatened with Court action and a fighting fund was established.


By April 1979 the District Auditor had rejected the Society’s complaint.

The case had also been referred to the Local Government Ombudsman in March 1979 as one of maladministration but by September 1979 the Ombudsman had ruled that the actions of the Council were not against the law.


The dispute was finally settled in February 1980.

A new rent was agreed and the Council provided £2500 for the Society to arrange for work on the water system which included switching supply from Thames to East Surrey.’


That the issue was pursued and settled was to a large part due to the persistence and hard work of the then President, Mr Allardyce and the committee.


We May Not Have a Pavillion But...


The trading hut and stores have been a key feature of the site.

In the allotment tradition of ‘make do and mend’ the current hut and stores have come from several sources. After a few attempts to acquire unused concrete garages, which turned out to be elusive or incomplete, a concrete hut was purchased and erected in May 1984 and is now used for storage.

In 1994 it was joined by the Portakabin which is now the shop.

The secretary at the time wrote “We look forward to holding our meetings indoors and in the warm rather than round a brazier in winter”



We Shall Not Be Moved


Allotments go in and out of fashion and the demand for plots goes up and down.

In past times the site has not been fully let and the condition of the site has been a cause for concern.


In 1994 the Council sought to reduce the size of the site by releasing some plots at the north end of the site which they said would be designated as some sort of ‘conservation area’.

The Council would assist in clearing unlet plots in the remaining area.

The Society’s alternative proposal to run plots 115 to 136 as its own conservation area was accepted although the Council asked that the remaining plots at the north end of the site (137-146) should be left vacant if anyone left pending the 1995 lease renegotiation.


In 1998 a similar dispute became more strident after a Council inspection found the site to be ‘a mess with a large number of vacant plots and they proposed reducing the size of the site.

It asked the society not to let plots in the two rows nearest Broomhall Road (1-72) except for those immediately beside the road.


At an Extraordinary General Meeting in August 1999 the Society agreed to oppose this vigorously and after an intensive campaign of work and leafleting the site was considered sufficiently improved for the threat to be removed.

Much credit is due to Richard Franklin and the committee at the time.


The site is now fully let with a long waiting list.


Flora and Fauna


Local geology maps show that the site is on an area of river gravel.

The river is actually the Bourne Stream which runs under the Brighton Road.

The hills and hummocks in the business centre may be remnants of the spoil from digging railway tunnels.

The site has been improved by over 100 years of cultivation and some plotholders say that the area was also used for dumping manure from the cattle market (in Drovers Road and then briefly near Purley Oaks Station) and from the horses used by Ebbutts funeral parlour.


There were gravel pits on the brickfields area and on what is now the allotment site. One was about where the toilets and car park now are and another was at the Broomhall Road end of the site.

The 1913 Ordnance Survey map shows the first road on the site at the Broomhall Road end as bending round a gravel pit to the Broomhall Road boundary – it is now straight.

One plotholder in this area has dug up a number of old bottles – possibly rubbish used to fill the pit.


Allotments in general provide a haven for wildlife, particularly as the use of pesticides has decreased.

We do not have a complete list of the wildlife on site, but among bird sightings are whitethroat, black cap, wren, long tailed tit, goldfinch, greenfinch, coal tit, blue and great tits, redwings, robins, nuthatch, green and greater spotted woodpeckers, yellow wagtails, blackbirds, sparrows, song thrushes, kestrels, green parakeets and pheasant.

The wildlife pond is a focus for many varieties of dragonfly and damsel fly and painted lady, brimstone and peacock butterflies are seen frequently.

Frogs, toads and newts use the many small ponds on the plots and there is a large colony of lizards. Foxes mice and rats are also often seen.


Around the Site: Site Boundaries


The two railways form much of the boundary of our site.

Both were in place before the site was established.

The section of the Brighton line which goes past our site was opened in July 1841 and was one of the earliest lines in the country.


The East Grinstead line had a more complex history.

Parliamentary approval to build the line from Croydon to Oxted was received by the Surrey and Sussex Junction Railway in 1865 and work started.

However, it ground to a halt in the late 1860s when one of its financiers went bankrupt.

The Surrey and Sussex Junction Railway was amalgamated by Act of Parliament   with the London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR).

Some embankments, including that beside our site, and tunnels along the line had been built and a 400-yard section of track south of Selsdon Station (where Buildbase is now) had been laid, but the unfinished line lay abandoned for about 20 years. Work was restarted by LBSCR in 1878 and the line was finally opened on the 10th March 1884.There was a siding on the upside (going towards London) in use until about 1960 opposite Nos 1 and 2 Carlton Road.

It is not clear whether the bridge under the railway at the Carlton Road end of the site was built in the 1860s or 1880s.

A map showing the plot boundaries in the 1940s

The eastern boundary of the site, by the business park, coincides with the boundary between the old Sanderstead and Croydon Parishes.


Carlton Road was built up in the early 1900s and Mayfield Road in about 1907 probably by a local building firm, Webster and Hawkes.

Bynes Road, on the other side of the Brighton line, was built up in around the 1880s partly to house workers from a nearby boot factory.

It was known as ‘Snobs Island’, not because the residents were snooty but after the old English name for a bootmaker.

Some houses were occupied by the same family from when they were built until they were sold in the 1970s.

The 1901 census shows that several houses in Glossop and Broomhall Roads were vacant suggesting that the road was just being completed.

The writer and satirist Malcolm Muggeridge was born in Broomhall Road in 1903.

One of the first garages in the area was opened in 1921 just beside the Sanderstead Road entrance to the site.

‘Sanderstead Motor Works’ was owned by G.S.Vellacot. The site remained a garage until quite recently when it was demolished to make way for a block of flats.


Potters Brickfield


Potters brickfield occupied the land adjacent to the allotment site (roughly where the business parks are now) before the allotments were thought of.

It is not clear exactly when it was founded but a brickfield is recorded on the Tithe Map in 1843 and it would appear it was a development of an earlier brickfield on the other side of Selsdon Road.

In 1865 the brickfield was owned by one Frederick Potter who for some years lived in No 236 Selsdon Road on the corner of Carlton Road.

Mr Potter was also involved in a business at 51 George Street Croydon variously described as gravel merchants and coal and building material merchants.


The site was small compared to some brickfields in the north of the borough; there is no record of a kiln, only a wash mill, or tank for cleaning the raw materials, so it probably made bricks in clamps.

There were a number of sheds a small ‘L’ shaped cottage and a number of clay and pug (mixing) mills and chalk pits.


The access road to the brickfield started at the junction of Carlton Road and Selsdon Road. Maps of 1868 and 1877 show a straight road crossing the present line of the railway after a few yards. The plans drawn up before the East Grinstead line was built show the line of the railway cutting across this road and the 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows that the line of the road had moved to what it is now.


The site was eroded by the building of the East Grinstead railway line.

The Surrey and Sussex Junction Railway paid Mr Potter £1075 for about an acre of land ‘containing house, road and largest sheds as part of the 1860s attempt to build a railway .After the LBSCR took over in 1869 an indenture between it and Mr Potter stated that ‘the lands so required by the Company formed part of his brickworks and manufactory wherein he carried on his trade as a brickmaker and that he had required said company to take the whole thereof containing ten acres, two roods twenty nine perches or thereabouts being hereditaments and premises’

Mr Potter was clearly not happy with the offer made as the case went to Court where a jury determined he should receive £4650.


It is not clear exactly when the brickfield finally ceased production although it does not appear on the 1894/96 Ordnance Survey map.


Other Neighbours


The area occupied by the brickfield and the business park – and briefly by allotments - has had a number of other occupiers.

Southern Railway (successor to the LBSCR) applied to the Council in 1933 for a 60-year lease for occupiers to use the section of road running under the bridge.

The notional rent of 5/- (25p) a year was dutifully recorded in the Council ledgers.


A miniature rifle range occupied an area immediately to the right under the bridge at the Carlton Road end of the site in the early years of the last century.

This was certainly active in the First World War when the local newspaper noted it was ‘important for every man to learn to shoot’ given conscription.


Messrs Blackwells a roofing firm occupied part of the site and were active in the 1930s.


Croydon Autodrome


One occupant of the area beside the site was Croydon Autodrome.

This was opened in 1937 by Herbert Dees of the well-known car dealership as an off-road driving school. It was an idea in advance of its time.

There was a network of private roads complete with 1:5 hills, roundabouts, hair pin bends, one-way roads, a skid pan and a reversing practice ground.

There was also a workshop where as the Croydon Advertiser put it, learners ‘can be initiated into the mysteries of the car’s interior workings and join the happy band of those whom one sees by the roadside diving headfirst into – well whatever is in the front when the lid lifts up’.


Autocar magazine in 1927 also waxed lyrical about the Autodrome saying ‘The Autocar has made the suggestion that this circuit be ideal for a small car or motor cycle club venue. Special tests could be held of any sort without restriction. Even speed trials might be staged there for the ‘railway straight’ is as long as Fleet Street. There are fascinating possibilities of gymkhanas or other sporting events on good firm concrete roads within 30 miles of the centre of London’

It was in fact used by the Vintage Sports Car Club and others for speed trials- photos exist of speed trials on site

An image from a 1937 event at Croydon Autodrome

The Autodrome was bombed in 1940 and the speed trials and driving school presumably fell into abeyance with war time petrol rationing.

It does not appear to have reopened after the war as advertisements for off road driving lessons no longer appeared in the local press.

Some plotholders recall that tanks were repaired on the site during WWII.

Dees finally moved out in in the early 2000s when the Capital Business Park was built.


Please Can We Have Our Door Back


The Society’s minutes and the Council records inevitably record when things go wrong. There is recurring mention of untended plots, the need for more helpers in the hut, encroaching Japanese knotweed from the railways and bad parking.

They do not record friendships made, help freely given and the pleasure of working a plot on a fine day……but what was the background to the anguished minute in 1988 ‘would the person who removed the new door from the toilet please replace it’?




This material has been drawn from a number of sources and publications, including Council Minutes, maps, directories, back copies of local newspapers and other publications housed in Croydon’s excellent local history archive; The Bourne Society’s ‘Village History’ of Sanderstead;’ The Spade as Mighty as the Sword by Daniel Smith (Aurum Press) a history of digging for victory; Living Local History Guide No 6 to Selsdon and Croham (1983);The Oxted Line by R W Kidner (oakwood Press Locomotion Papers 58 1972) and South Croydon’s  Allotment Society’s own records.


We’d love to hear from you if you have any further memories pictures or information.

Please contact

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