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Croydon Heritage Festival

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by Bastion Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
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Celebrating 400 Years
croydon heritage festival, clock tower, photography 24

Croydon is a large town in South London just bustling with activity. It has not always been that way though; back at the time of the Norman conquest, it was only a small village with a church, mill and a little over three hundred and fifty inhabitants. The name Croydon originated from Anglo-Saxon, and literally means 'crocus valley', suggesting that it was once used for saffron cultivation.

With such a rich history to explore, the borough are now holding their first ever Heritage Festival, celebrating their past, present, and future. The three week even lasts until the 23rd June, and there are tons of things to see. The main festival day is on the 8th June in the town centre, where there will be street entertainers, live music, fancy dress and more. But thee is plenty going on throughout the whole month.

I have never visited Croydon before, but there seemed no better time than when the town is celebrating its heritage. Because it is such a big place, it is easy for first-timers to get lost, so I began my journey at the visitors' centre, where I picked up a map that pinpointed where all the events were going on.

John whitgift, croydon heritage festival, visitor centre
John Whitgift

The centre itself had a number of small exhibits, starting with the founding of the Whitgift Trust. I had always wondered why their shopping centre was called Whitgift, and it turns out it is named after John Whitgift, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury between 1583-1604. Whitgift played a prominent part in aiding Croydon's poor by laying foundations to North End Hospital, and setting up three schools, which are now part of the Whitgift Foundation: Whitgift Grammar School for boys, Old Palace of John Whitcliff for girls, and Trinity School, which was opened as a poor school for boys between seven and fourteen. The three schools are now the home to three thousand students. Throughout the event, you can go and see an exhibition by the children of Trinity School at the visitors' centre, which explains the Indian festival, Onam.

In the Indian state of Kerala, Onam is equivalent to the Christian celebration of Christmas. The festival lasts ten days and is celebrated with vegetarian feasts, folk songs, dancing, and boat races.

Onam begins with the legend of Mahabali, a kind hearted demon king who conquered Kerala. Fearing Mahabali would take over the rest of the world, the other gods asked for Lord Vishnu's help. Disguised as a dwarf, Vishnu asked Mahabali for as much land as he could cover in three steps. Mahabali promised, and so Vishnu grew into a giant, and made two steps that covered the world, and one that crushed Mahabali into the underworld. Mahabali is granted to return once a year to Kerala, which is when Onam is celebrated.

Croydon heritage festival, trinity school, tiger, masks, onam
Tiger masks by the children of Trinity School

On the fourth day of Onam, the people perform the Pulikali dance, which means 'play of the tigers'. The children from Trinity school made masks for the event.

croydon heritage festival, clock tower, photography 24, neal atkinson
by Neal Atkinson

The next place I went to was the clock tower, where there is currently a Photography 24 exhibition by Neal Atkinson, who is a photography teacher.

croydon heritage festival, reeves corner
Reeves Corner

As I continued through town, there was a big timeline display board tracing the the history of Edward Reeves, who established his Ye Olde Curiositie Shoppe on Church Road in 1867. It is now a furniture shop called House of Reeves and the area was given the eponymous name, Reeves Corner.

Croydon Minister, church, croydon heritage festival
Croydon Minister

The final place I visited was Croydon Minister, which is also on Church Road. The church has a close association with the Archbishops of Canterbury, starting with John Whitgift, whose tomb you can see inside. Between the medieval period and the eighteenth century, it was residence to six archbishops during the summer.

There are plenty of other things to see and do over the coming weeks, including heritage trails, tours, cooking workshops, a classic car show, production of Geoffrey Chaucer's A Knight's Tale, and old French film screening.
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Why? Celebrate the town's heritage
When: Until 23rd June
Phone: 02087745966
Where: All around Croydon
Cost: Free-5
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