The Past and Present of Croydon's London Road

87 London Road: Croydon Community Centre

5 February 2016

The Croydon Community Centre at 87 London Road is a social club originally aimed at people of Turkish origin. For the past several years, it’s formed part of a small Turkish cluster on this stretch of the road, along with the Turkish Food Centre at numbers 73–77, Mazi restaurant at number 81, and the Beydağı Food Centre at numbers 83–85.

Croydon Community Centre, 87 London Road, January 2016. Photo: author’s own.

Late 1890s–early 1900s: Construction of the building, ironmongery, clothes, and boots

As noted in my article on number 79, numbers 79–87 were built in the late 1890s to replace a recently-demolished pair of semi-detached houses. Number 87 stands on the site of the northernmost of these, the history of which I described in my article on numbers 83–85. Here I take up the story of the newly constructed number 87.

The first occupant was an ironmonger trading under the name of either Frederick Randall or H Randall. Little information survives about this business, and it only remained for a couple of years.[1]

Next to arrive was David Wood, who by early 1901 had moved in not only to the commercial part of the premises, where he ran a men’s outfitters known as the Cash Clothing Company, but also to the residential part, where he lived with his wife Julia, their son Septimus, and their niece Annie.[2] The name of this business suggests two things, both of which are standard practice today but were worthy of note at the time: first, that the clothes David sold were ready-made rather than being cut to order, and second, that they were paid for in full on the spot rather than via an initial deposit followed by weekly payments.[3]

Around 1903, David’s clothes were replaced by the boots and shoes of the Northampton Boot Company, which remained here for four or five years.[4]

Advert headed “Another extraordinary production from the Berkeley Easy Chair Factories.”  Drawings of a sofa and two armchairs are shown in the middle of text describing “a serviceable and comfortable 3-piece Suite which will take up a MINIMUM OF SPACE [...] for houses of moderate size”.  At the bottom is the address: “H. J. Searle & Son, Limited, Showrooms: 61–63, London Road, Croydon” and the note: “Factories: Old Kent Road, S.E.1”.
Advertisement for H J Searle & Son on page 7 of the 9 June 1923 Croydon Advertiser, from the firms files at the Museum of Croydon. Note that 61 and 63 London Road were renumbered to 85 and 87 in 1927.

1900s–1930s: H J Searle & Son

By 1908, furnishing and outfitting firm H J Searle & Son had arrived for what would be several decades’ stay on London Road — though only the first three of them involved number 87.[5] Founded by 1904, the company specialised in the manufacture and upholstery of sofas and armchairs, and also had a tailoring side. Its head office was on the Old Kent Road, and its primary furniture brands were Berkeley Easy Chairs and Berkeley Upholstery.[6]

It also had some connection with its predecessor on London Road, the Northampton Boot Company. A report in the 19 May 1908 Sheffield Independent describes a burglary at the premises involving the theft of items “belonging to Messrs. H. J. Searle and Son, Ltd., and the Northampton Boot Company”, specifically “65 pairs of gentlemen’s boots, 7 gentlemen’s suits, 12 boys’ suits, 3 youths’ suits, 4 pieces of cloth, 6 pairs of socks, 19 shirts, 3 undervests, 4 pairs of pants, 7 yards of serge [a type of fabric], 27 handkerchiefs, 4 pieces of blouse flannel, 3 ladies’ umbrellas, 12 plated spoons [presumably silver-plated], 6 forks, and one set of silver-mounted carvers, the whole valued at £60” (nearly £6500 in 2014 prices).[7]

The company had a fairly wide reach. The November 1934 London phone book lists branches in Croydon, Dagenham, Dartford, the City of London, Victoria, and Watford, on a page topped by a banner advertisement stating that Berkeley was “the easy chair with the largest sale in the world”. There were other branches in cities such as Birmingham and Manchester.[8] As of the mid-1930s, the company’s spend on national advertising was the sixth highest among UK furniture firms — £44,801 in 1933 and £43,171 in 1936 (£2.86 million and £2.73 million respectively in 2014 prices).[9]

Having expanded from number 87 into number 85 around 1919, and again into number 83 around 1930, by the end of the 1930s H J Searle had three full shopfronts on London Road. However, it seems to have decided that this was a little too much space, and by the mid-1940s had retrenched to 83–85 alone.[10]

Advertisement headed “W & H Supplies” and including addresses in Peckham, Croydon, and Gravesend.
Advertisement for W & H Supplies in a 1948 New Cross Empire programme. Image provided by Matthew Lloyd of oldadvertisements.co.uk.

1940s: W & H Supplies, builders’ merchants

By 1948, the premises were once again occupied, this time by W & H Supplies, a firm of builders’ merchants specialising in fireplaces. Advertising itself as “Actual manufacturers of everything for the Fireside”, it offered the “largest selection of tile fireplaces in London from 75/- [just over £120 in 2014 prices] complete with Raised Hearth”. Its head office was in Peckham, and it also had a branch in Gravesend.[11]

1950s–1960s: Achille Serre Ltd, cleaners and dyers

Next to arrive, and in place by early 1952, was a branch of Achille Serre. This cleaning and dyeing company was founded in the 1870s as a ribbon-dyeing company, but later became one of the pioneers of modern dry cleaning in the UK.[12]

By the time it arrived at 87 London Road it had over 90 other branches in and around London, including one further up the road at number 1485A, and it opened yet another London Road branch at number 1075 a decade later. It remained at number 87 until around 1966.[13]

Achille Serre sign from a branch in Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, now converted to a house. Photo © David Bourne, used by permission.

1950s–1960s: E Ellis Smith, slate merchant

A couple of years after its arrival at 87 London Road, Achille Serre was joined by a slate merchant under the name of E Ellis Smith. It’s unclear how these two businesses shared the premises, but the latter outlasted the former by only a couple of years, and was gone by 1971.[14]

1970s: Steets, his & hers dress hire

The next occupant was Steets dress hire, previously across the road at number 74. The reason for this move is unclear, but it’s worth noting that while at number 74, Steets advertised itself as providing “Gents Dress Hire” — a good complement to Susan, the “Exclusive Dress Agency” at the same address. When it moved to number 87, however, its phone book listing changed to “His, Hers, Dress Hire”. This could be a coincidence, but it could also imply some sort of professional disagreement between Steets and Susan, leading to the former opening its own women’s department. In any case, Steets arrived at number 87 around 1970 and remained until the end of the decade.[15]

1980s–2000s: Sassi Cafe, The Hamburger Grill, Arays Restaurant, and Cafe 87

In January 1979, Mrs J Hall of Selsdon was granted planning permission for “Change of use of ground floor and basement to sandwich/snack bar”. This was open by 1980 as Sassi Cafe, but by March 1983 had become The Hamburger Grill.

The name changed again a couple of years later to Arays (or possibly Aravs or Orays). By early 1987, Arays was advertising the “Best Kebab in Town”, along with burgers and Southern fried chicken, but by March 1990 it had given way to Cafe 87, which remained until around 2002–2003.[16]

Cafe 87 signs at 87 London Road, September 2013 — still in place a decade after the cafe closed down, though removed/painted over by February 2016. Photo: author’s own.

2000s-present: Croydon-Sosyal Yardimlasma Ve Dayanisma Dernegi / Croydon Community Centre

The next arrival also sold food and drink, but in a more community-oriented environment. Croydon-Sosyal Yardimlasma Ve Dayanisma Dernegi — which according to Google Translate is Turkish for “Croydon Social Charity and Solidarity Association” — was open by 2004 or 2005.[17] When I visited in August 2012 to find out exactly what was going on behind this intriguing shopfront, I discovered a sort of cafe, with a fruit machine, old-fashioned decor, and a food servery at the back. The staff member on duty confirmed that — as the sign on the door said — it was a members-only establishment.

Croydon-Sosyal Yardimlasma Ve Dayanisma Dernegi, 87 London Road, December 2011. Photo: author’s own.

As of early 2016, however, the old shopfront has been transformed as part of the Connected Croydon public realm improvement programme. The shutter has gone, and a new sign reads “Croydon Community Centre”. During the consultation for this programme, the architects designing the revamped frontage were told: “We are a Turkish Community Centre but would like to be open to anyone” — the new name is testament to that.[18]

Thanks to: David Bourne; Matthew Lloyd; the Planning Technical Support Team at Croydon Council; the staff, volunteers, and patrons at the Museum of Croydon; and my beta-readers bob and Kat. Census data and London phone books consulted via Ancestry.co.uk.

Footnotes and references

  1. Ward’s directories list Frederick Randall, ironmonger, in 1899; H Randall, ironmonger, in 1900; and D Wood thereafter.
  2. Ward’s directories list the Cash Clothing Company and D Wood (resident) in 1901 and 1902, and D Wood, clothier, in 1903. The 1901 census lists David Wood, gents’ outfitter, along with his wife, son, and niece.
  3. These statements on the nature of David’s business are somewhat speculative. However, contemporary newspaper adverts and articles are fairly consistent in describing businesses using the term “cash clothing company” as selling ready-made clothing at fixed single-payment prices, with the clothing often being acquired in bulk from other businesses. This is in contrast to the tailor or draper who would measure up customers and then cut cloth and sew their clothes to fit. See, for example (all links require a British Newspaper Archive subscription): an advert for Soulsbys’ of Morpeth on page 8 of the 23 April 1892 Morpeth Herald, which describes the company as “The only REAL CASH CLOTHING COMPANY”, states that “For 17 Years Soulsbys have served the Men and Boys of Morpeth and Neighbourhood with READY-MADE CLOTHING”, and lists single-payment prices for various items; an advert for the Newmarket Cash Clothing Company on page 9 of the 23 August 1884 Bury Free Press, which states that the company’s “system of business” is “all Ready Money, no bad debts” and involves “obtaining Goods direct from Makers”; and an advert for the South Shields Cash Clothing Company on page 5 of the 29 October 1904 Shields Daily Gazette, which states that the company has “BOUGHT the whole of THOMPSON’S GREEN STREET MERCERY STOCK, and it will be DISPOSED OF at their well know [sic] premises”.
  4. Ward’s directories list the Northampton Boot Company from 1904 to 1907 inclusive; note that the data for these directories was generally finalised late the previous year.
  5. Ward’s directories list H J Searle & Son at number 63 (modern 87) from 1908 onwards, at 61–63 (modern 85–87) from 1920 onwards, and 83–87 (the modern numbering having been adopted in 1927) from 1932 onwards. Its business is variously given as “Outfitters” (1908–1919, 1923, 1926–1930), “Household Drapers, Tailors & Ladies' Outfitters” (1925), “Berkeley Easy Chairs (1920–1924)”, and “Berkeley Upholstery” (1932–1939). The final edition of Ward’s directories was published in 1939, at which point the company still had all three shopfronts. An advertisement on page 6 of the 15 December 1944 Croydon Advertiser gives the address of 83–85 London Road, suggesting that the company had departed number 87 by then.
  6. London phone books list H J Searle & Son as “house furnishers” at 70 & 78 Old Kent Road from 1904 onwards, and as “tailors” at 82 Cheapside from 1905 onwards. As noted in the previous footnote, Ward’s directories imply that the company continued in the field of clothing throughout its time at number 87; moreover, the 1944 advertisement cited there is specifically for “serviceable school wear”. Note that the company may well have been in existence before the date of its first phone book listing; indeed, an advertisement on page 4583 of the January 1950 London phone book states that Berkeley chairs have been “renowned for over 50 years”.
  7. Sheffield Independent, 19 May 1908, page 7, column 7, viewed online at the British Newspaper Archive (requires subecription).
  8. The 1934 London phone book advert is on page 1538. The 5 January 1939 Manchester Evening News has an advert on page 11 for H J Searle and Son at 71 Deansgate, Manchester (viewed online at the British Newspaper Archive; requires subscription), and the 17 April 1942 Birmingham Daily Post has a job advertisement for a “girl” aged 14–17 for the H J Searle and Son branch at 10–16 Piccadilly Arcade, New Street (also viewed at the British Newspaper Archive).
  9. Advertising figures taken from Peter Scott (2009) “Mr Drage, Mr Everyman, and the creation of a mass market for domestic furniture in interwar Britain”, Economic History Review 62(4), 802–827 (viewed via JSTOR, which requires an account, but also available online as a PDF pre-print with only minor differences in wording). Scott states that the information was compiled from various issues of the Statistical Review of Press Advertising. Price conversions made by me using the Bank of England inflation calculator.
  10. In July 1939, H J Searle and Son was granted planning permission to separate number 87 off from the other two again, with an application for “Reinstatement of Shopfront [...] & filling in openings between No 85–87 shops London Road Croydon” (planning records viewed at Croydon Council offices; ref 39/541). Although this is marked as “lapsed”, suggesting that the separation was not implemented in the form described this particular application, by 1944 the company was advertising its address as 83–85 London Road alone (see previous references to 1944 advertisement). Moreover, a late-1940s photograph in the collection at the Museum of Croydon (ref PH/96 2599) shows number 87 as vacant, with a shutter over the window and a blank space where the frontage sign would go; this also shows a frontage sign on 83–85 reading “Searle’s” in a cursive font, and a projecting sign on the first floor above this reading “Berkeley Upholstery Showrooms”.
  11. Quotations taken from an advert in a 1948 New Cross Empire programme (reproduced here), with monetary conversions made using the Bank of England inflation calculator (£1 in 1948 is equivalent to £32.47 in 2014, and 75/- is 75 shillings, i.e. £3.75). This advert is the earliest mention I’ve found of the company’s being at 87 London Road; it lists branches at 73 Queens Road, Peckham; 216 Rye Lane, Peckham; 87 London Road, Croydon; and 15 Gravesend High Street. The company also appears at 87 London Road in the January 1950 London phone book. I don’t have access to the 1948 and 1949 phone books for names beginning S-Z, and the only address for W & H Supplies in the March 1947 phone book is 73 Queens Road.
  12. Information about the history of Achille Serre is taken from Janet Taylor’s review of The Achille Serre Story by Roy Brazier. I haven’t been able to get hold of the book itself — it’s not in the British Library, nor in the Bodleian, no second-hand copies seem to be available online, and Janet tells me that although the book was available through the Laundry and Cleaning News website when she published her review, they have no further copies and the author of the book is deceased.

    Achille Serre himself brought the process of dry cleaning to England from Paris, where it had been in use since the 1850s. It should however be noted that this development was substantially pre-dated by an American patent granted in 1821 to Thomas Jennings, a New York clothier and tailor. Thomas was not only an innovator in the field of dry cleaning (which he called “dry scouring”); he was also a civil rights activist and the earliest known African-American to be granted a US patent. (Information about Thomas Jennings taken from The Inventive Spirit of African Americans, Patricia Carter Sluby, Praeger Publishers, 2004, pp15–16; but for online sources see “Thomas Jennings perfected dry cleaning as he pushed for abolition” by Dan Bobkoff or Thomas Jennings’ entry in the Black Inventor Online Museum).

  13. The April 1952 London phone book lists 93 branches of Achille Serre, including the ones at 87 and 1485A London Road. Note that this includes not just the Greater London branches, but also those in surrounding towns such as Reigate, Staines, and Watford. It is of course also possible that there were additional branches without their own telephones. The branch at number 1075 appears in Croydon phone books from April 1962 onwards. The final phone book appearance of the branch at number 87 is in the June 1966 Croydon edition; it is absent from the December 1966 North-East Surrey edition and the August 1967 Croydon edition.
  14. E Ellis Smith, “Slate Mchts [Merchants]”, is listed in phone books from the January 1954 Outer London: Surrey edition to the August 1970 edition inclusive. Oddly, the 1970 edition lists both E Ellis Smith and Steets at number 87 — likely a mistake. Before 1954 the only listing under the name E Ellis Smith is for a residential address (2 Oakwood Avenue) in Purley, and after 1970 the only listing is for another residential address (“High Birches”, Bishops Walk) in Addington.

    The mid-1960s also saw planning applications made for use of the premises as a “fully licensed cafe bar” (ref 66-96-20-75; made in January 1966), for signage reading “Fire : Theft : Accident : Motor / Epic / Insurance” (ref 66-543-20-380, granted to the Northern Star Insurance Co in March 1966), and for signage reading “Floral Artists” (ref A4552, granted in March 1967). However, none of these seem to have come to anything; the cafe/bar application was withdrawn by the applicant, the only appearance of Northern Star Insurance in contemporary phone books is at Suffolk House on George Street (this being the address from which the application was made), there is no relevant “Epic” in said phone books, and the phone books also imply that Floral Artists ended up opening at number 144 instead.

  15. Steets is listed at number 74 in Croydon phone books from March 1964 to August 1969 inclusive (as “Gents Dress Hire”), and at number 87 from August 1970 to January 1979 inclusive (first as “His, Hers, Dress Hire” and then as “His & Hers Dress Hire”). It also appears on the 1974 Goad plan. Mr Steets was however granted planning permission in February 1968 for an illuminated projecting sign at number 74, so the move could have happened earlier (ref A4862; the applicant was a Mr Steets and the records include a note saying it was for “Gentlemen’s dress hire”).
  16. Mrs Hall’s planning application was deposited on 1 December 1978 and granted on 16 January 1979 (ref 78/20/2300). Sassi Cafe is listed in Brian Gittings’ 1980 survey of central Croydon retail, but I haven’t found mention of this name anywhere else. The October 1980 Bromley/Orpington phone book and the February 1981 Croydon phone book both simply list J Hall at 87 London Road. A planning application relating to number 89 (ref 80/20/2033), deposited on 24 September 1980 and refused on 26 June 1981, includes a report from a council officer stating that at that time number 87 was a cafe with offices above.

    Goad plans list The Hamburger Grill “fast fds rest” [fast-food restaurant] in March 1983, March 1984, and March 1985; Arays or Aravs “fast fd rest” in April 1986 and April 1987; and Cafe 87 from March 1990 to May 2002 inclusive. Cafe 87 also appears in Croydon phone books from 1996 to 2002 inclusive. I haven’t been able to find Aravs, Arays, or The Hamburger Grill in phone books at all. Information about Arays’ signs is taken from Mrs Hall’s application as noted below.

    Regarding the confusion over the name of Arays, the lettering on the 1986 and 1987 Goad plans is in all-caps, and is sufficiently indistinct that I can’t work out for sure whether the fourth letter is “Y” or “V”, though “Y” looks more likely. The records for Mrs Hall’s application include a complaint several years later regarding “Use of premises for take away hot food (only permission for sandwiches)”, and the Council officer who made a site visit on 19 February 1987 reports “SIGNS:- I/ Best Kebab in Town, Southern Fried Chicken, Kebab & Burger House II/ Orays [sic] Restaurant Take Away Service”. (The complaint was not upheld as the original permission granted in 1979 in fact did include hot snacks.) Finally, a planning application relating to number 74 (ref 86/3031/P) includes a letter from the applicant’s solicitors, dated 6 November 1986, listing nearby food-related places including Arays [sic] Kebab at number 87.

  17. Goad plans list “community centre” in May 2004; “com cen & Cafe 87” in June 2005; “vacant outlet” in May 2006; “com cen” in July 2007, August 2008, and August 2009; and “vacant” in May 2011. A photograph dated 29 September 2005, included in a planning application relating to numbers 73–77 (ref 05/674/P), shows the frontage of number 87 pretty much as it looks in the December 2011 photo reproduced here, with the “Croydon-Sosyal Yardimlasma Ve Dayanisma Dernegi” sign in place and the shutter over the main window, and Google Street View shows the same frontage from July 2008 up to June 2015. I’ve walked past often since I moved to West Croydon in August 2011, and have never seen the shutter up (until it was removed recently). However, I went inside in August 2012 and confirmed that it was in fact open; the staff member on duty told me that it was a members-only establishment. I suspect that the years when Goad plans list “vacant” are due to a mistake on the part of the surveyor — understandable, since it’s always looked closed even when it wasn’t.
  18. Quotation taken from a design document (PDF) produced by Jan Kattein Architects and submitted as part of the planning application for the shopfront changes (ref 14/01589/A).
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« 83–85 London Road: Beydağı Food Centre
Currently a Turkish, Greek, and Polish supermarket, the double property at 83–85 London Road has previously housed a couple of Friendly Societies as well as a furniture shop offering “the secret of happy home comfort”. Built in the late 1890s, it replaced a semi-detached house whose occupants included Henry Lowman Taylor, a wholesale ironmonger who clashed with Charles Dickens over the matter of Smithfield Market.
89 London Road: Croydon Islamic Community Trust »
89 London Road, also known as Premier House, is currently owned and occupied by Croydon Islamic Community Trust. Built in the late 1950s, the building replaced the older West Croydon Methodist Church and over the years has been home to Ketts, K J Leisuresound, Black & Decker, and most recently the Broad Green Sure Start Centre.