The Past and Present of Croydon's London Road

7 London Road: KFC

18 January 2013

A small narrow shopfront protruding from a terrace. A glass frontage shows seating inside. The sign above the shop shows a stylised smiling white man with a beard.
KFC, 7 London Road, June 2012. Photo: author’s own.

7 London Road is currently a branch of KFC, the fried chicken chain so beloved of Croydon’s own Jonny Rose (founder of Croydon Tech City and doyen of the Purley Breakfast Club). Asked to provide an assessment for this article, Jonny replied: “The London Road KFC is a culinary mecca for those of less discerning tastes — such as myself. To my mind, it is very much the pre-eminent gastronomic experience in the borough.”

While Jonny’s view of KFC is perhaps a little different from my own, there’s no doubt that the London Road branch is quite popular; and it’s certainly very handily located, just opposite West Croydon Station. What isn’t perhaps immediately obvious is that it has a notably long tenure at this spot. Indeed, when I started looking into the history of the building I discovered that Kentucky Fried Chicken has been there about as long as I’ve been alive!

Late 1870s: Construction of the building

The building was constructed along with neighbouring numbers 9 and 11 (currently both occupied by the Ship of Fools pub) some time between 1877 and 1880,[1] filling in a gap between number 5 (then F A Egleton oil and colourman, now Albemarle Bond) and number 13 (then Benjamin Culpeck coach builder, now Cash Converters). The architectural difference is striking. Numbers 3 and 5, built between 1847 and 1859, are square, plain, and boxy; numbers 7–11, built two or three decades later, are a storey taller and much more elaborate, with column-style detailing and decorative moulding.

Then and now: 1–9 London Road in 2010 and 7 London Road in c.1910. Photo © Eleanor McMillan, used by permission. Taken as part of the “Capturing Croydon” project in conjunction with the London Transport Museum, using an archive photograph courtesy of Croydon Local Studies Library and Archives Service.

1880s–1890s: F A Egleton, oil and colour merchants

The first appearance of the premises in street directories[2] comes in 1880; Ward’s directory for that year lists numbers 7–11 as “unoccupied”. However, F A Egleton, the oil and colour merchants at number 5, wasted little time in expanding their premises into the adjoining part of the newly constructed building, and Ward’s directories list F A Egleton at numbers 5–7 from 1882 onwards. After F A Egleton ceased trading around 1901,[3] number 7 remained unoccupied for a couple of years, but the next occupant was to be well worth the wait.

1900s–1920s: Marks & Spencer Ltd

Marks and Spencer Ltd opened their first Croydon store at 7 London Road in December 1906. With a frontage of only 20 feet (6 metres), the shop was narrow and long; the front was open to the street, and a horseshoe-shaped counter ran around the three interior walls. The goods were on display for customers to inspect, rather than being kept behind the counter as was common in other shops at the time.[4]

Marks & Spencer Ltd, 7 London Road, c.1910. Note the “admission free” sign on the frontage. Photo courtesy of the Marks & Spencer Company Archive.

In Talking of Croydon: Shops and Shopping 1920–1992, published by the Croydon Oral History Society, Croydon resident Dorothy shares some memories of the London Road shop, then known as a Penny Bazaar:

We used to go round there with our penny pocket money for the week, taking a long time to spend it. I can remember they sold shoe laces, pencils, pencil sharpeners, ribbons, buttons, all for a penny each. I can recall buying a rubber and some laces.

By 1925 the items on offer included “reliable clocks” (2/6), dental cream (3d), shaving cream (6d), razors (1/-), hairbrushes (6d), “dainty rings” (3d), pearl necklets (5/-), and hat ornaments (1/-).[5]

Marks and Spencer Ltd remained at 7 London Road for nearly two decades before moving just down the road to larger premises — on 27 November 1925, they opened their new store at 118 North End. This is still there today, though it’s expanded over the years and now occupies both floors of numbers 114–126.[6]

1930s–1960s: Boots the Chemists

Following a brief occupancy by a tailor’s shop (Mortimer’s Ltd), another familiar name appeared in November 1931 — Boots the Chemists. Boots was already a large chain at this point, with around 1000 branches.[7]

A model of the Boots branch at 7 London Road, part of the “West Croydon” tram layout built by John Clarke on the basis of photographs provided by Croydon Local Studies Library. This photograph taken by the author at the 2014 Croydon Model Railway Society exhibition in Warlingham.

Around this time, evidence also begins to emerge of an impressive array of businesses operating from the upper floors of the building. Ward’s 1932, 1934, and 1937 street directories list (in addition to Boots): Boylan & James, Transfer Agents; Alliance Typewriter Co.; Tresise & Co, Merchant Shippers; National Employers Mutual General Insurance Offices; and a Christian Science Reading Room. A photo held in the Croydon Local Studies Library[8] suggests that the National Employers Mutual survived until at least the late 1940s; it shows Boots (“dispensing chemists”) on the ground floor, with signs on the first floor advertising a “careful drivers motor policy — 33 1/3 % no claim bonus” from the NEM (along with a couple of curious insurance office workers peering out of the windows at the photographer).

Alliance Typewriter Co advertisement from Ward's Croydon Directory 1934, courtesy of Croydon Local Studies Library and Archives Service.

Boots remained at the premises for a good three or four decades, until around the end of the 1960s.[9] This marked the end — for now — of the building’s use as retail premises. Having housed an oil and colour merchant, a penny bazaar, a tailor, and a chemist, 7 London Road moved into the 1970s as a purveyor of takeaway food.

1970s–present: Kentucky Fried Chicken

In February 1973, Kentucky Fried Chicken were granted planning permission to open a takeaway-only branch at 7 London Road. The business appears to have done well, as in July 1977 they were granted additional permission to convert the existing takeaway premises into a combined takeaway/sit-down restaurant.[10]

After two decades of untroubled chicken-related transactions, disaster struck as a severe fire forced the premises to close for several years. Mike Rice of Evans Cycles, which at the time occupied 5 London Road next door, recalls that number 7 was gutted from top to bottom. I haven’t been able to pin down the exact date of this, though a planning application dated 22 April 1994 calls for “fire reinstatement and alterations”.[11]

Undeterred, KFC moved back into the building after refurbishment, and they remain there today, offering fried chicken, chips, sweetcorn, coleslaw, and other such items late into the night.

A KFC dinner from the branch at 7 London Road, January 2013. Fried chicken, sweetcorn, coleslaw. Photo (and plate): author's own.

Thanks to: the Marks & Spencer Company Archive; the Planning Technical Support Team at Croydon Council; Eleanor McMillan; Mike Rice; John Clarke; Colin Withey; all at the Croydon Local Studies Library; and my beta-readers bob, Flash, Helen, Kat, Nuala, and Steve.

Footnotes and references

  1. Sales particulars consulted at the Croydon Local Studies Library (Lot 2, number 28, Harold Williams 1876–7) describe a lot advertised for auction in April 1877: “Two Houses with Shops, Nos. 1 and 2, London Road, adjoining Lot 1 […]; a vacant Building Site adjoining, having a Frontage to the London Road of about 60-ft., well adapted for the erection of Three large Shops”. I think there’s a small mistake in this advertisement, since 1 London Road is the Fox & Hounds pub (up for auction as Lot 1 of the same batch). Hence, this should really refer to numbers 2 and 3, i.e. modern numbers 3 and 5. So the “vacant Building Site adjoining” must be the location of the modern numbers 7–11 (which do indeed stretch across about 60 feet). Ward’s 1880 street directory lists these addresses as “unoccupied”, implying that the “Three large Shops” had been erected by then.
  2. Ward’s lists a G A Nichols, photographer, at number 4 (modern number 7) in 1874, and a J Holloway, photographer, in 1876; Wilkins’ 1876-7, Worth’s 1878, and Atwood’s 1878 also list J Holloway at this address. However, given the evidence of the 1877 sales particulars and the fact that 5–6 (modern 9–11) are omitted from all of these directories, I suspect these photographers actually conducted their business in part of number 3 (modern number 5) and were simply numbered as 4 for convenience.
  3. As previously discussed, I'm not entirely sure when F A Egleton actually stopped trading. Ward’s street directories list it up to and including 1903, but the London Gazette of 5 November 1901 (PDF) carries a winding-up order for F A Egleton Limited at 5 London Road. This discrepancy seems too large to be accounted for by publishing deadlines, since surely the 1903 directory didn’t go to press as early as 1901. I’ve since noticed that one of the vintage photos in the stairwell at the Ship of Fools pub shows numbers 5 and 7 for let, and is dated “c.1902”, though I’m not sure what evidence this dating is based on. Other information I’ve uncovered since publishing my F A Egleton article comes from the London Gazette of 29 July 1902 (PDF), which advertises a September 1902 auction of the leasehold, goodwill, and equipment of F A Egleton.
  4. Date of opening provided by the Marks & Spencer Company Archive (personal communication, 2012). Ward’s directories don’t list Marks and Spencer Ltd at this address until 1908, probably because the 1907 volume had already gone to press when the new shop opened in December 1906. Size, shape, and configuration of shop determined using information from the Marks & Spencer Company Archive (personal communication as above), the photo shown in the article, and knowing what the interior looks like today. Information on goods being kept out on display (and the fact that this was unusual) comes from the Marks & Spencer Company Archive website (1900–1920 section).
  5. Information on items and prices as of 1925 comes from two photos of the interior, held at Croydon Local Studies Library (PH/96 2696, PH/96 2697).
  6. Information on opening date of North End store provided by the Marks & Spencer Company Archive (personal communication as above). I don’t know if there was overlap between the London Road and North End stores, or if this was a straight relocation. Current configuration of the North End store comes from personal observation.
  7. Ward’s directories list the address as unoccupied in 1927; Mortimer’s Ltd in 1928, 1929, and 1930; and Boots from 1932 onwards. According to the Register of Stores Opened 1917–1968 held by Boots UK Records Centre (personal communication, 2013), “Boots Store 1007” opened at 7 London Road on 13 November 1931. This store numbering is slightly contradicted by the online Boots Visitors Exhibition, which states that the 1000th Boots store opened in Galashiels, Scotland, in 1933. For comparison, the Visitors Exhibition also states that as of the 2010s Boots had “nearly 2,500 stores”. More information on the history of Boots can be found on the Boots company website.
  8. I have neglected to note down the ID number of this photo, but it’s filed under shelfmark 141.4.
  9. The last record of the store held by the Boots UK Records Centre (personal communication as above) is from the late 1960s, but they have no documentation of its actual closing date. Planning records for 7 London Road, consulted at Croydon Council offices, include an illuminated Boots sign application (ref A5038) received in July 1968. The next application on record (ref 72/20/3083), received in October 1972 and granted in February 1973, comes from Kentucky Fried Chicken for “proposed use as takeaway”; this includes Land Use information stating that the previous occupant was Boots and that as of 1971 the property was vacant on all floors.
  10. February 1973 planning permission as noted above in footnote [9]. Planning application to add eat-in seating also consulted at Croydon Council offices (ref 77/20/758).
  11. Information from Mike Rice comes from personal communication (2012). The planning application for fire reinstatement is mentioned on an index card at Croydon Council offices (ref 94/296/B), though the application itself is classified under “buildings” and hence not in the public domain.
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« 2–8 London Road, part 3: West Croydon Station in the 1900s
One of the more important developments of the 1900s in relation to West Croydon Station — like other UK railway stations — was electrification. Another was the rebuilding of the station in the early 1930s.
2–8 London Road, part 4: West Croydon Station today »
As explained earlier in this series, numbers 2, 4, 6, and 8 London Road no longer exist — so instead of writing about 8 London Road, here I present the final instalment of my research into West Croydon Station, covering developments in the 2000s and looking at the role of the station within the area today.