The Norwood Society

Canals to Croydon and Camberwell

Rivers have always been used for transport, but the idea of constructing an artificial waterway using all sorts of devices to ascend and descend hills took root in the late 18th Century and into the 19th when the railway mania began to replace or run alongside the canals. A canal from London to Portsmouth and Southampton was seen as highly desirable during the French Revolutionary Wars, and several schemes were put forward. Croydon occupied an important place on most of the routes surveyed, and a scheme to extend the Surrey Docks - New Cross (the Grand Surrey) canal to Croydon was eventually accepted and built, opening with the usual municipal ceremony in 1809. Unfortunately it did not attract enough traffic to make it profitable and it closed in 1836 on being sold to a railway company which used most of its route.

The route of most interest to readers of the Norwood Review is the stretch beginning where it entered the Croydon Borough boundary at the Goat House Bridge and swept round in an arc to avoid the high ground, thus creating what was known as Frog Island but is now more attractively named Sunnybank. It then went fairly straight crossing Portland Road with a swing bridge, and had to take special measures to avoid taking water from the River Graveney (Norbury Brook) at Selhurst because this spring fed the river Wandle and thereby helped to ensure a good supply for the water-driven mills along the course of the river before it reached the Thames. It then went on to a basin in what is now West Croydon Station, and never progressed further.

So Croydon lost its canal, and its place in the now thriving inland waterways system. This publication sets out, in meticulous detail, the history of the canal, and is illustrated with numerous maps showing the exact route and the wharves and warehouses serving the waterway. The research carried out by Brian Salter into the records of the Croydon Canal Company, and the identification of the route in terms of modern developments, makes this an essential piece of reading for those who have an interest in the Norwood part of the canal. It concludes by asking for more information about the difficult arrangement for the canal to cross the river Graveney, and it is to be hoped that this review will bring it to light for a future revision.

Isaac Pemberton

Canals to Croydon and Camberwell
Living History Publications - Local Guide No. 7. 1986.