Croydon from Above

John Gent and Tom Sansom. Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society (CNHSS) 1999. (£6.75).

John Gent has done it again, this time with the highly original idea of a local history book giving almost entirely birds-eye views. It’s been done nationally, but as far as is known, never locally. Yet Croydon is the natural area for this, with planes from Croydon Airport producing several of the most vintage and intriguing shots. Other views were taken from church towers, including a fascinating sequence of four pictures giving the identical view, but spanning 130 years, taken from the top of Croydon Parish Church. John is careful to try to ensure that as many photos as possible are taken from exactly the same viewpoint, or a very similar one, making comparisons far easier.

A sensible article towards the end points out how many former panoramic views have now been obscured by the growth of trees. Trees are fine in their place, but surely there are places where the trees could at least be thinned, or the crowns reduced, to restore the view? John cites Addington Hills and Croham Hurst: outside Croydon the worst example is probably One Tree Hill at Honor Oak, now so covered with trees that all the magnificent views visible 100 years ago, have been obscured. Norwood residents and enthusiasts will take particular interest in photos 27 to 33 in the book, including several of the Crystal Palace, but also one of the Fidelis Convent, and another fascinating one said to be of Upper Norwood, although it looks along Church Road from the south. Nothing, then, of the Crystal Palace Triangle, or the many interesting other parts. No doubt John wanted to keep to his specialist area. However, Brian Green, having produced a Dulwich book, then produced ‘Around Dulwich’ covering a far wider area. Perhaps John could be persuaded to do the same and this time go north of South Norwood? There would be a real Norwood book to treasure!

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