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The Brighton road : the classic highway to the south online

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root out printing, or printing will root out us." Already, in the twenty
years of its existence, it had undermined superstition, and was presently
to root out the priests, even as he foresaw.


Unquestionably the sight best worth seeing in Croydon is that next-door
neighbour of the church, the Archbishop's Palace. Comparatively few are
those who see it, because it is just a little way off the road and is
private property and shown only by favour and courtesy. When the
Archbishops deserted the place it was sold under the Act of Parliament of
1780 and became the factory of a calico-printer and a laundry. Some
portions were demolished, the moat was filled up, the "minnows and the
springs of Wandel" of which Ruskin speaks, were moved on, and mean little
streets quartered the ground immediately adjoining. But, although all
those facts are very grim and grey, it remains true that the old palace is
a place very well worth seeing.

It was again sold in 1887, and purchased by the Duke of Newcastle, who
made it over to the so-called "Kilburn Sisters," who maintain it as a
girls' school. I do not know, nor seek to inquire, by what right, or with
what object, the "Sisters" who conduct the school affect the dress of
Roman Catholics, while professing the tenets of the Church of England; but
under their rule the historic building has been well treated, and the
chapel and other portions repaired, with every care for their interesting
antiquities, under the eyes of expert and jealous anti-restorers. The
Great Hall, chief feature of the place, still maintains its fifteenth
century chestnut hammerbeam roof and armorial corbels; the Long Gallery,
where Queen Elizabeth danced, the State bedroom where she slept, the Guard
Room, quarters of the Archbishops' bodyguard, are all existing; and the
Chapel, with oaken bench-ends bearing the sculptured arms of Laud, of
Juxon, and others, and the Archbishops' pew, has lately been brought back
to decent condition. Here, too, is the exquisite oaken gallery at the
western end, known as "Queen Elizabeth's Pew."

That imperious queen and indefatigable tourist paid several visits to
Croydon Palace, and her characteristic insolence and freedom of speech
were let loose upon the unoffending wife of Archbishop Parker when she
took her leave. "Madam," she said, "I may not call you; mistress I am
ashamed to call you; and so I know not what to call you; but, however, I
thank you." It seems evident that the daughter of Henry the Eighth had,
despite her Protestantism, an historic preference for a celibate clergy.


Down amid what remains of the old town is a street oddly named "Pump
Pail." Its strange name causes many a visit of curiosity, but it is a
common-place street, and contains neither pail nor pump, and nothing more
romantic than a tin tabernacle. But this, it appears, is not an instance
of things not being what they seem, for in the good old days before the
modern water-supply, one of the parish pumps stood here, and from it a
woman supplied a house-to-house delivery of water in pails. The
explanation seems too obvious to be true, and sure enough, a variant kicks
the "pail" over, and tells us that it is properly Pump Pale, the Place of
the Pump, "pale" being an ancient word, much used in old law-books to
indicate a district, limit of jurisdiction, and so forth.


The modern side of all these things is best exemplified by the beautiful
Town Hall which Croydon has provided for itself, in place of the ugly old
building, demolished in 1893. It is a noble building, and stands on a site
worthy of it, with broad approaches that permit good views, without which
the best of buildings is designed in vain. It marks the starting point of
the history of modern Croydon, and is a far cry from the old building of
the bygone Local Board days, when the traffic of the High Street was
regulated - or supposed to be regulated - by the Beadle, and the rates were
low, and Croydon was a country town, and everything was dull and humdrum.
It was a little unfortunate that the first Mayor of Croydon and Liberal
Member of Parliament for Tamworth, that highly imaginative financier Jabez
Spencer Balfour, should have been wanted by the police, a fugitive from
justice brought back from the Argentine, and a criminal convicted of fraud
as a company promoter; but accidents will happen, and the Town Council did
its best, by turning his portrait face to the wall, and by subsequently
(as it is reported) losing it. He was sent in 1895, a little belatedly, to
fourteen years' penal servitude, and the victims of his "Liberator" frauds
went into the workhouse for the most part, or died. He ceased to be V 460
on release on licence, and became again Jabez Spencer Balfour, and so
died, obscurely.

The Liberal Party in the Government had, over Jabez Balfour, one of its
several narrow escapes from complete moral ruin; for Balfour was on
extremely friendly terms with the members of Gladstone's ministry,
1892-94, and was within an ace of being given a Cabinet post. Let us pause
to consider the odd affinity between Jabez Balfour and Trebitsch Lincoln
and Liberal politics.

The Town Hall - ahem! Municipal Buildings - stands on the site of the
disused and abolished Central Croydon station, and the neighbourhood of it
is glimpsed afar off by the fine tower, 170 ft. in height. All the
departments of the Corporation are housed under one roof, including the
fine Public Library and its beautiful feature, the Braithwaite Hall. The
Town Council is housed in that municipal splendour without which no civic
body can nowadays deliberate in comfort, and even the vestibule is worthy
of a palace. I take the following "official" description of it.

[Illustration: CROYDON TOWN HALL.]

"On either side of the vestibule are rooms for Porter and telephone.
Beyond are the hall and principal staircase, the shafts of the columns
and the pilasters of which are of a Spanish marble, a sort of jasper,
called Rose d'Andalusia; the bases and skirtings are of grand antique. The
capitals, architrave, cornices, handrails, etc., are of red Verona
marble; the balusters, wall-lining and frieze of the entablature of
alabaster, and the dado of the ground floor is gris-rouge marble. The
flooring is of Roman mosaic of various marbles, purposely kept simple in
design and quiet in colouring. One of the windows has the arms of H.R.H.
the Prince of Wales, and the other the Borough arms, in stained glass.
Above the dado at the first floor level the walls are painted a delicate
green tint, relieved by a powdering of C's and Civic Crowns. The doors and
their surroundings are of walnut wood."


Very beautiful indeed. Now let us see the home of one of Croydon's poorer

On one side of the hall are two rooms, called respectively the parlour and
the kitchen. Beyond is the scullery. The walls of the staircase are
covered with a sort of plaster called stucco, but closely resembling
road-scrapings: the skirtings are of pitch-pine, the balusters of the same
material. The floorings are of deal. The roof lets in the rain. One of the
windows is broken and stuffed with rags, the others are cracked. The walls
are stained a delicate green tint relieved by a film of blue mould, owing
to lack of a damp-course. None of the windows close properly, the flues
smoke into the rooms instead of out of the chimney-pots, the doors jam,
and the surroundings are wretched beyond description.

Electric tramways now conduct along the Brighton Road to the uttermost end
of the great modern borough of Croydon, at Purley Corner. Here the
explorer begins to perceive, despite the densely packed houses, that he is
in that "Croydene," or crooked vale, of Saxon times from which, we are
told, Croydon takes its name; and he can see also that nature, and not
man, ordained in the first instance the position and direction of what is
now the road to Brighton, in the bottom, alongside where the Bourne once
flowed, inside the fence of Haling Park. It is, in fact, the site of a
prehistoric track which led the most easy ways across the bleak downs,
severally through Smitham Bottom and Caterham.

Beside that stream ran from 1805 until about 1840 the rails of that
long-forgotten pioneer of railways in these parts, the "Surrey Iron
Railway." This was a primitive line constructed for the purpose of
affording cheap and quick transport for coals, bricks, and other heavy
goods, originally between Wandsworth and Croydon, but extended in 1805 to
Merstham, where quarries of limestone and beds of Fuller's earth are

This railway was the outcome of a project first mooted in 1799, for a
canal from Wandsworth to Croydon. It was abandoned because of the injury
that might have been caused to the wharves and factories already existing
numerously along the course of the Wandle, and a railway substituted. The
Act of Parliament was obtained in 1800, and the line constructed to
Croydon in the following year, at a cost of about £27,000. It was not a
railway in the modern sense, and the haulage was by horses, who dragged
the clumsy waggons along at the rate of about four miles an hour. The
rails, fixed upon stone blocks, were quite different from those of modern
railways or tramways, being just lengths of angle-iron into which the
wheels of the waggons fitted: |_ _|. Thus, in contradistinction from all
other railway or tramway practice, the flanges were not on the wheels, but
on the rails themselves. The very frugal object of this was to enable the
waggons to travel on ordinary roads, if necessity arose.

From the point where the Wandle flows into the Thames, at Wandsworth,
along the levels past Earlsfield and Garratt, the railway went in double
track; continuing by Merton Abbey, Mitcham (where the present lane called
"Tramway Path" marks its course) and across Mitcham Common into Croydon by
way of what is now called Church Street, but was then known as "Iron
Road." Thence along Southbridge Lane and the course of the Bourne, it was
continued to Purley, whence it climbed Smitham Bottom and ran along the
left-hand side of the Brighton Road in a cutting now partly obliterated by
the deeper cutting of the South Eastern line. The ideas of those old
projectors were magnificent, for they cherished a scheme of extending to
Portsmouth; but the enterprise was never a financial success, and that
dream was not realised. Nearly all traces of the old railway are

The marvel-mongers who derive the name of Waddon from "Woden" find that
Haling comes from the Anglo-Saxon "halig," or holy; and therefrom have
built up an imaginary picture of ancient heathen rites celebrated here.
The best we can say for those theories is that they _may_ be correct or
they may not. Of evidence there is, of course, none whatever; and
certainly it is to be feared that the inhabitants of Croydon care not one
rap about it; nor even know - or knowing, are not impressed - that here, in
1624, died that great Lord High Admiral of England, Howard of Effingham.
It is much more real to them that the tramcars are twopence all the way.

At the beginning of Haling Park, immediately beyond the "Swan and
Sugarloaf," the Croydon toll-gate barred the road until 1865. Beyond it,
all was open country. It is a very different tale to-day, now the stark
chalk downs of Haling and Smitham are being covered with houses, and the
once-familiar great white scar of Haling Chalk Pit is being screened
behind newly raised roofs and chimney-pots.

The beginning of Purley is marked by a number of prominent public-houses,
testifying to the magnificent thirst of the new suburb. You come past the
"Swan and Sugarloaf" to the "Windsor Castle," the "Purley Arms," the "Red
Deer," and the "Royal Oak"; and just beyond, round the corner, is the "Red
Lion." At the "Royal Oak" a very disreputable and stony road goes off to
the left. It looks like, and is, a derelict highway: once the main road to
Godstone and East Grinstead, but now ending obscurely in a miserable
modern settlement near the newly built station of Purley Oaks, so called
by the Brighton Railway Company to distinguish it from the older Purley
station - ex "Caterham Junction" - of the South Eastern line.

It was here, at Purley House, or Purley Bury as it is properly styled,
close by the few poor scrubby and battered remains of the once noble
woodland of Purley Oaks, that John Horne Tooke, contentious partisan and
stolid begetter of seditious tracts, lived - when, indeed, he was not
detained within the four walls of some prison for political offences.

[Sidenote: HORNE TOOKE]

Tooke, whose real name was Horne, was born in 1736, the son of a
poulterer. At twenty-four years of age he became a clergyman, and was
appointed to the living of New Brentford, which he held until 1773, when,
clearly seeing how grievously he had missed his vocation, he studied for
the Bar. Thereafter his life was one long series of battles, hotly
contested in Parliament, in newspapers, books and pamphlets, and on
platforms. He was in general a wrong-headed, as well as a hot-headed,
politician; but he was sane enough to oppose the American War when King
and Government were so mad as to provoke and continue it. Describing the
Americans killed and wounded by the troops at Lexington and Concord as
"murdered," he was the victim of a Government prosecution for libel, and
was imprisoned for twelve months and fined £200. He took - no! that will
not do - he "assumed" the name of Tooke in 1782, in compliment to his
friend William Tooke, who then resided here in this delightful old country
house of Purley. The idea seems to have been for them to live together in
amity, and that William Tooke, the elder of the two, should leave his
property to his friend. But quarrels arose long before that, and Horne at
his friend's death received only £500, while other disputed points arose,
leading to bitter law-suits.

In 1801 he was Member of Parliament for Old Sarum; but how he reconciled
the representation of that rottenest of rotten boroughs with his
profession of reforming Whig does not appear.

He was a many-sided man, of fierce energies and strong prejudices, but a
scholar. While his political pamphlets are forgotten, his "[Greek: EPEA
PTEROENTA]; or, the Diversions of Purley," which is not really a book of
sports, is still remembered for its philological learning. It is a
disquisition on the affinities of prepositions, the relationships of
conjunctions, and the intimacies of other parts of speech. His other
diversions appear to have been less reputable, for he was the father of
one illegitimate son and two daughters.

His intention was to have been buried in the grounds of Purley House, but
when he died, in 1812, at Wimbledon, his mortal coil was laid to rest at
Ealing; and so it chanced that the vault he had constructed in his garden
remained, after all, untenanted, with the unfinished epitaph:

Late Proprietor and now Occupier
of this spot,
was born in June 1736,
Died in
Aged years,
Contented and Grateful.

Purley House is still standing, though considerably altered, and presents
few features reminiscent of the eighteenth-century politician, and fewer
still of the Puritan Bradshaw, the regicide, who once resided here. It
stands in the midst of tall elms, and looks as far removed from political
dissensions as may well be imagined, its trim lawn and trellised walls
overgrown in summer by a tangle of greenery.

But suburban expansion has at last reached Tooke's rural retreat from
political strife, and the estate is now "developed," with roads driven
through and streets of villas planned, leaving only the old house and some
few acres of gardens around it.


Returning to the main road, we come, just before reaching Godstone Corner,
to the site of the now-forgotten Foxley Hatch, a turnpike-gate, which
stood at this point until 1865. Paying toll here "cleared," or made the
traveller free of, the gates and bars to Merstham, on the main road, and
as far as Wray Common, on the Reigate route, as the following copy of a
contemporary turnpike-ticket, shows:

. Foxley Hatch Gate .
. R .
.clears Wray common, Gatton,.
. Merstham and Hooley lane .
. gates and bars .

"To Riddlesdown, the prettiest spot in Surrey," says a sign-post on the
left hand. It is not true that it is the prettiest place, but, of course
(as the proverb truly says), "every eye forms its own beauty," and
Riddlesdown is a Beanfeasters' Paradise, where tea-gardens, swings, and I
know not what temerarious delights await the tripper who accepts the
invitation, boldly displayed, "Up the Steps for Home Comforts."

[Sidenote: MILESTONES]

Here an aged milestone, in addition, proclaims it to be "XIII Miles from
the Standard in Cornhill, London, 1743," and "XII Miles From Westminster
Bridge." This is, doubtless, one of the stones referred to in the _London
Evening Post_ of September 10th, 1743, which says: "On Wednesday they
began to measure the Croydon Road from the Standard in Cornhill and stake
the places for erecting milestones, the inhabitants of Croydon having
subscribed for 13, which 'tis thought will be carried on by the Gentlemen
of Sussex."

I know nothing of what those Sussex gentlemen did, but that the milestones
_were_ carried on is evident enough to all who care to explore the old
Brighton Road through Godstone, up Tilburstow Hill, and so on to East
Grinstead, Uckfield, and Lewes, where this fine bold series, dated 1744,
is continued. What, however, has become of the series so liberally
provided in 1743 by the "inhabitants of Croydon"? What indeed? Only this
one, the thirteenth, remains; the other twelve, marking the distance from
the "Standard" in Cornhill, in addition to Westminster Bridge, have been
spirited away, and their places have been taken by others, themselves old,
but chiefly marking the mileage from Whitehall and the Royal Exchange.

We all know that the Brighton Road is nowadays measured from the south
side of Westminster Bridge, but it is not generally known - nor possibly
known to one person in every ten thousand of those who consider they have
worn the Brighton Road threadbare - that it was measured from "Westminster
Bridge" before ever there was a bridge. No bridge existed across the
Thames anywhere between London Bridge and Putney until November 10th,
1750, when Westminster Bridge, after being for many years under
construction, was opened, superseding the ancient ferry which from time
immemorial had plied between Horseferry Stairs, Westminster, and Stangate
on the Surrey side, the site of the present Lambeth Bridge. The way to
Brighton (and to all southern roads) lay across London Bridge.

The old stones dated 1743 and 1744, and giving the mileage from the
bridge, were thus displaying that "intelligent anticipation of events"
which is, perhaps, even more laudable in statesmen than in
milestones - and as rarely found.

To this day no man knoweth the distance between London and Brighton.
Convention fixes the distance as 51-1/2 miles from the south side of
Westminster Bridge to the Aquarium, by the classic route; but where is he
who has chained it in proper surveyorly manner? The milestones themselves
are a curious miscellany, and form an interesting study. They might
profitably have been made a subject for the learned deliberations of the
Pickwick Club, but the opportunity was unfortunately missed, and the world
is doubtless the loser of much curious lore.

Where is he who can, offhand, describe the first milestone on the Brighton
Road, and tell where it stands? It ought to be no difficult matter, for
miles are not - or should not be - elastic.

It stands, in fact, on the kerb at the right-hand side of Kennington Road,
between Nos. 230 and 232, just short of Lower Kennington Lane, and is a
poor old battered relic, set anglewise and with the top broken away,
bearing the legend, in what was once bold lettering:

. . . . . . . MILE

That is the first milestone on the Brighton Road. Sterne, were he here
to-day, would shed salt tears of sentiment upon it, we may be sure. It
says nothing whatever about Brighton, and is probably the one and only
stone that takes the Horseguards as a datum.

About forty yards beyond this initial landmark is another "first"
milestone: a tall, upstanding affair, certainly a century old, with three
blank sides, and a fourth inscribed:


This is followed by a long series of stones of one pattern, probably
dating from 1800, marking every _half_ mile. The series starts with the
stone on the kerb close by the tramway office at the triangle, where the
Brixton Road begins. It records on two sides "Royal Exchange 2-1/2 miles,"
and on a third "Whitehall 2 miles," and is followed, opposite No. 158,
Brixton Road, by a stone carrying on the tale by another half a mile.
These silent witnesses may be traced nearly into Croydon, with sundry gaps
where they have been removed. Those recording the 4th, 6th, 8-1/2th,
9-1/2th, and 10th miles from Whitehall are missing, the last of the series
now extant being that at the corner of Broad Green Avenue, making
"Whitehall 9 miles, Royal Exchange 9-1/2 miles." The 10th from Whitehall,
ending the series, stood at the corner of the Whitgift Hospital.

These were succeeded by one of the old eighteenth-century series, marking
eleven miles from Westminster Bridge and twelve from the "Standard," but
neither new nor old stone is there now, and the only one of the thirteen
mentioned by the _London Evening Post_ of 1743 is this near Purley Corner.

This, marking the 13th mile from the "Standard" and the 12th from
Westminster Bridge is common to both routes, but is followed by the first
of a new series some way along Smitham Bottom, on which Brighton is for
the first time mentioned:


The character of the lettering and the general style of this series would
lead to the supposition that they are dated about 1820. There are three
stones in all of this kind, the third marking 15 miles from Westminster
Bridge and 36-1/2 to Brighton, followed by a series of triangular
cast-iron marks, continued through Redhill, of which the first bears the
legend, "Parish of Merstham." On the north side is "16 from Westminster
Bridge, 35 to Brighton," and on the south "35 from Brighton, 16 to
Westminster Bridge." It will be observed that in this first one of a new
series half a mile is dropped, and henceforward the mileage to Brighton
becomes by authority 51 miles. Like the confectioner who "didn't make
ha'porths," the turnpike trust which erected these mile-"stones" refused
to deal in half miles.


The tramway terminus at Purley Corner is now a busy place. Those are only
the "old crocks" who can remember the South Eastern railway-station of
Caterham Junction and the surrounding lonely downs; and to them the change
to "Purley" and the appearance in the wilderness of a mushroom town, with
its parade of brilliantly lighted shops, its Queen Victoria memorial, its
public garden and penny-squirt fountain, and - not least - its hideous
waterworks, are things for wonderment. "How strange it seems, and new," as
Browning - not writing of Purley - remarks. Even the ghastly loneliness of
the long straight road ascending the pass of Smitham Bottom is no more,
for little villas, with dank little dungeons of gardens, line the way, and
tradesmen's carts calling for orders compete with the motorists who shall
kill and maim most travellers along the highway.

The numerous railway-bridges, embankments, cuttings, and retaining-walls
that disfigure the crest of Smitham Bottom are chiefly the results of
latter-day activities. The first bridge is that of the Chipstead Valley
Railway - now merged in the South Eastern and Chatham - from South Croydon
to Chipstead and Epsom, 1897-1900, with its wayside station of "Smitham."
This is immediately followed by the London, Brighton, and South Coast's
station of Stoat's Nest, a transformed and transported version of the old
station of the same name some distance off, and beyond it are the bridges
and embankments of the same company's works of 1896-8; themselves almost
inextricably confused, to the non-technical mind, with the adjoining South
Eastern roadside station of Coulsdon.

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Online LibraryCharles G. (Charles George) HarperThe Brighton road : the classic highway to the south → online text (page 9 of 18)