Tag Archives: Croydon

Croydon Till I Die: the flyover of life

I’ve written a piece about the concrete conundrum that is Croydon for the Guardian.

I have a peculiar relationship with Croydon, which seems appropriate as Croydon is a curious place. Growing up just outside Sutton, Croydon was Sutton’s scary big brother. The scary big brother everybody laughed at. Croydon had a reputation. It was ridiculous and people mocked it in a way you never seemed top get with nearby towns like Epsom, Sutton, Kingston or Bromley.

Perhaps as a result, I rarely went there, preferring to spend Saturday afternoons in the tedious safety of Sutton and then later in the West End.  It was only in my late teens that I really discovered Croydon.

By then, I could drive, and that seems relevant as Croydon was a town built for cars. In the sixth form I’d drive into Croydon with schoolfriends during breaks in the timetable to shop at Beano’s and have lunch – with girls! – at McDonald’s. And at weekends, I’d meet friends in the goth-metal Ship or in the Firkin beer garden.

That drive was thrilling. I’d soundtrack it to Aladdin Sane, which is ironic given David Bowie’s later comments about Croydon. I always entered Croydon from the south, via the flyover and that flyover was extraordinary and intoxicating. It was like nothing else around, certainly not in the dull suburbs of south London.

As I approached Croydon from this elevated position, the 1920s terraces spread out below, I always had a lingering desire to drive straight over the side into oblivion. It wasn’t a suicidal or maudlin, it was more like Butch Cassidy or Thelma And Louise, to exit in triumph.

When I left home, I came to increasingly dislike Sutton for the atmosphere of violence, racism, desperation and small-mindedness that I noticed every time I returned, seemingly growing worse each time. But with the benefit of distance, Croydon seemed far more interesting, an adventure in creating a new kind of suburban living that hadn’t quite worked but still left behind a town centre that was unique.

If only Beano’s was still around.

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This Charming Man: Edward Lovett at the Wellcome Collection

I have a small piece in the Independent about the fascinating  Edward Lovett, whose collection of lucky charms, collated around 100 years ago, has just gone on display at the Wellcome Collection.

Lovett, who lived in Croydon, was a banker and self-taught folklorist who was interested in those items that everyday Londoners kept about their person in aid of good fortune or to ward off bad luck. He would travel to the East End and docks to purchase samples of these lucky charms, which could be anything from a dead mole in a bag to a copy of the Lord’s Prayer written in careful handwriting in a spiral on a tiny scrap of paper dated 1872.

Many of the owners would claim not be superstitious, but then explain in hushed tones how a certain coin or nut or shoe had saved them from disaster; numerous items were from soldiers who had taken them to the Western Front in the First World War.

It is an extraordinary and humble collection, but one that grew so vast that Lovett’s wife eventually left him in despair in 1925. At around this time he wrote a marvellous book – Magic In Modern Love – in which he chronicled some of the items from his collection, but in a delightfully haphazard way, rarely bothering to say exactly where he bought them or when or from whom.

Felicity Powell, the artist who is curating the exhibition for the Wellcome, says, ‘He was not the most diligent of reporters. The labelling is often non-existent, which gives the items real mystery. Sometimes you can’t even be sure what they were for so you have this open space in which to speculate.’

Because Lovett was mainly collecting from the docks around east London, the collection gives a real perspective on London as a trading city that used the river to connect with the wider world. ‘There are objects from all over the world,’ says Powell, ‘There’s even an Inuit paddle.  It all came through London and into the hands of dockers and hawkers. We don’t know if these originally belonged to immigrants or natives. We don’t even know if he was collecting authentic objects. Did the people selling them see him coming?’

Lovett died in 1933 and much of his curious collection was absorbed by the Wellcome and the Pitt-Rivers Museum. It is rarely seen by the public. The exhibition at the Wellcome Collection runs until February 26, 2012.