The Past and Present of Croydon's London Road

61 London Road

12 December 2014

At the time of writing, 61 London Road is in the process of changing from a unisex hair salon to an African grocery shop.

61 London Road, December 2014. Photo: author’s own.

1840s–1870s: Construction of the building, and use as a private residence

The building was constructed some time between 1844 and 1851 as a semi-detached house, with the other half of the pair being its neighbour at number 59.[1] It remained a residential property for the first three decades of its life.

The first occupant was probably Henry Roxby, who by 1851 was a widower in his 60s living on a private pension with his son and one servant.[2] By 1853, however, the Roxbys had been replaced by Edward and Harriet Hennell, a brother and sister in their 50s. Edward was employed as a manufacturer of paper hangings, and like his sister was unmarried. He remained at 61 London Road until his death on 4 November 1864.[3]

Harriet moved out after her brother died,[4] and was replaced by John Fergusson, a “surveyor of taxes”. By 1871, he in turn had been replaced by Caroline Lovell, a widow in her 60s. On the night of the 1871 census, Caroline had quite a full house — her sister Sophia, her son William (a “physician not practising”), and two visitors, Francis and Charles, listed as an art student and a “B. A. of Cambridge” respectively.[5]

Mid-1870s: the Australian Emigration Office

A somewhat mysterious interlude in the history of number 61 arrived in the mid-1870s, with the brief appearance of an “Australian Emigration Office”. Listed in Ward’s 1876 street directory with no further details, this may well have been simply a somewhat grand name for a one-person business run from home.

1870s–1900s: Dr Walter Hugh Montgomery Smith and Dr Thomas Arthur Richardson

By 1878, the Australian Emigration Office was no more, and new arrival Dr Walter Hugh Montgomery Smith had settled in for what was to be a quarter-century of association with 61 London Road. Initially practising alone, a couple of years later he was joined by Dr Thomas Arthur Richardson in a partnership known as Smith & Richardson. The ordering of their names here was likely due to Walter’s seniority; in his mid-thirties at the time, he was a decade older than Thomas and had eight years’ more experience as a surgeon.[6]

Thomas Arthur Richardson’s entry in the 1885 Medical Directory, courtesy of the Wellcome Library. 26 London Road here corresponds to modern 67–71.[7] Note the mention of the Smith & Richardson partnership — his partner, Walter Hugh Montgomery Smith, didn’t bother including this detail in his own entry!

While Walter’s surgery was here at number 61, for most of his time on London Road he had his private residence a few doors further north, in a large semi-detached house on the land now occupied by numbers 7981. This was likely because he wanted more space for his household, which at the time of the 1881 census consisted of his wife Margaret, their sons Walter, Harold, and Ernest, and three live-in servants.[8] His business partner Thomas was at this point unmarried and living at the surgery at number 61, but a couple of years later Thomas too moved into more spacious quarters — another semidetached house a couple of doors down from Walter, corresponding to the modern address of 67–71 London Road.[9]

The partnership was dissolved in the mid-1880s, and Thomas switched to practising from his home, while Walter continued at number 61.[10] Thomas moved again around 1890, to a house on the corner of London Road and Montague Road. Around 1903 he left Croydon completely, and moved to Combe Martin in Devon. He retained some ties with Croydon, however; the 1904 Medical Directory lists him as a consulting surgeon at Croydon General Hospital.[11]

Walter also moved his private residence in the late 1890s — perhaps a forcible move, as his house was about to be demolished.[12] He took up residence at the surgery at number 61[13] and remained there until around 1903, when he moved into a house just to the north of the block that had been built on his now-demolished old house. (This house was also later demolished; its site is currently occupied by Lidl.)[14] He remained there until around 1922.[15]

1900s: W H Rogers, photographic dealer; B Messer & Co, ladies’ tailors; Duck & Wood, electrical engineers; and W R Nichols, coal & coke merchants

Walter Smith’s early-1900s move marked the end of his association with 61 London Road, as he moved his practice along with his residence. Number 61 remained vacant for a couple of years,[16] and even once reoccupied it saw a period of significant instability.

First to reoccupy the premises were W H Rogers, photographic dealer, and B Messer & Co, ladies' tailors. The fact of there being two businesses where there had previously only been one suggests that part of the period of vacancy might have been employed in building the extension which took the ground floor of the property — previously set back from the road — right up to the modern building line.[17]

Both W H Rogers and B Messer were gone by 1909, and replaced by Duck & Wood, electrical engineers, and W R Nichols, coal and coke merchants. These, too, remained only a short while, and were gone by 1911.[18]

Advertisement for Duck & Wood on page 2 of the 25 January 1909 Surrey Echo. Note that 47 London Road was renumbered to 61 in 1927.
A black-and-white text-only advertisement reading:
“SHOP AT THE MEN’S WEAR DEPÔT FOR Hosiery, Hats and High-Class
Tailoring.  Here can be found a choice selection of ‘‘MEN’S WEAR’’ in
good reliable quality at very moderate prices.  SPORTS COATS. Tailor
made (all wool) 21/- to 55/-.  FLANNEL TROUSERS.  Three Leg lengths to
every waist measure (all wool) 12/6 to 25/6.  TENNIS SHIRTS, Cotton,
Taffeta and Flannel 5/11 to 16/6.  Also a wide range of the necessary
little extras for ‘‘SPORTS WEAR’’ such as SOCKS, BELTS, SWEATERS,
always in stock.  TUNIC SHIRTS in Zephyrs, Oxfords, Prints and
Taffetas.  A variety of Patterns to suit all tastes, guaranteed to
keep their colour. 5/6 to 12/6.  HATS.  Leading Styles and Shades, in
Velours, also Soft and Hard Felts.  7/6 to 35/-.  STRAW HATS AND CAPS.
Newest Shapes and Latest Designs 2/6 to 10/6.  RAINCOATS.  Guaranteed
Waterproof.  29/6 to 95/-.  TAILORING DEPARTMENT For Men and
Juveniles.  S. SUTTON, 47, LONDON ROAD, WEST CROYDON.  (Next Door to
Labour Bureau.)”
Advertisement for S Sutton in The Croydon Shopping and Entertainment News, No 1, May 1922. Note that 47 London Road was renumbered to 61 in 1927. Reproduced courtesy of the Croydon Local Studies and Archives Service.
A creased brown paper bag with text reading: “T Walton (London) Ltd / Fruit & Vegetable Distributors / 27–29 Long Acre, Covent Garden W.C.2.”
Paper bag from T Walton. Image © Monika Roleff, used by permission.

1910s: Estate agents, cash registers, and dresses

The premises continued to house more than one business at a time during the 1910s. By 1911, Frederick Joseph Richards, estate agent, was sharing space with the National Cash Register Company. The latter was likely an American company, founded in 1884 and expanded to England the next year.[19]

Frederick, who started on London Road as a draper at number 57, lived on the premises with his wife Agnes. By 1913 he was in partnership with someone called Page, but by 1915 Richards & Page had been replaced by H C Reynard, surveyor and estate agent. H C Reynard was also gone by 1917, leaving the National Cash Register Co in sole occupation.[20]

The National Cash Register Co had also departed by 1919, and was replaced by M A Shrubsole’s “dress agency”. It’s not clear exactly what sort of establishment this was, but in any case it was only on London Road for a year or so, and was gone by 1921.[21]

1920s: S Sutton, hosier

The theme of clothing continued into the 1920s, with S Sutton’s shop offering “Hosiery, Hats and High-class Tailoring”. Much of the stock was focused on leisure wear, including sports coats and tennis shirts. This remained on London Road until the end of the decade.[22]

1930s–1940s: T Walton, fruiterers

S Sutton’s hats and coats were followed by T Walton (London) Ltd, fruiterers. Founded by Lambeth-born Thomas Walton, this company was incorporated in the early 1920s.[23] By the time it arrived on London Road around 1930, it already had at least 47 other branches in London and the surrounding area.

T Walton appears to have specialised in railway station fruitery, as 25 of these branches were in stations including both busy central stations such as King's Cross and London Bridge, and further-flung ones such as Tooting Broadway and Willesden Green.[24] The London Road branch would have fit in pretty well with this, being not too far from West Croydon Station. It remained in place until at least 1950.[25]

1950s: Gordons, menswear

A menswear shop called Gordons appeared briefly around 1953–1954, but little documentation of this survives other than a few mentions in street directories and phone books.[26] It may have been related to the Gordons that was at 137 Brighton Road, Coulsdon, in the 1960s, but this is only speculation. The Coulsdon one advertised itself as “Men’s wear specialists” and also acted as agent for Hector Powe Tailoring and Moss Bros Hire.[27]

1950s–1980s: Fininley Ltd, surgical appliance makers

By late 1955, Gordons had given way to Fininley Ltd, manufacturers and retailers of surgical appliances such as spinal supports, surgical footwear, artificial limbs, and lumbar traction units.[28] This remained on London Road until the late 1980s.[29]

Advertisement for Fininley Ltd, 61 London Road. This comes from the firms files at Croydon Local Studies Library; there’s no information about the original source, but it has “1959” handwritten on it.

1990s–2000s: Swinton, insurance brokers

Following the departure of Fininley, Swinton Insurance took over the premises, moving its West Croydon branch here from its previous location down the road at number 29. This involved a change of use from Class A1 (shops) to Class A2 (financial and professional services), and hence Swinton had to apply to Croydon Council for planning permission.

There seems to have been some controversy here, as the relevant planning application includes a long letter from Swinton to the council explaining why the business belonged in a retail shopping parade:[30]

“It is not an office use whereby the principal activity is people sitting behind desks. The employees at each shop are never any more than 2 or 3, and each is there to sell insurance to the public. [...] [H]ouse insurance will be contained in one pamphlet, car insurance in another. The retail public then help themselves to the particular policies in which they are interested, for either reading at leisure, or signing up there and then. It is therefore immediately apparent that the shop is wholly dependent upon being in a retail street. It requires passing trade. [...]

“The insurance shops themselves fall into the traditional retail category. They are standard size or smaller, and have shop windows and counters. A window display is always maintained. The interior is designed to provide a friendly atmosphere in which the customer can relax. [...]

“The Company was established 27 years ago, and our success is wholly due to what was initially a revolutionary concept of bringing the selling of insurance to the High Street. [...] It is [...] logical that town centres should provide not only goods, not only the finance to buy those goods, but also the facilities with which to insure them”. [underlining in original]

Swinton’s application was successful, and the company traded at 61 London Road from around 1990 to around 2010. It then moved to 1 Norfolk House, Wellesley Road, where it remains today.[31]

Swinton, Wellesley Road, July 2012. Photo: author’s own.

2012–2014: Nash Unisex Salon

In early 2012, Nash Unisex Salon moved from its previous premises across the road at number 74 to a new home at number 61.[32] It continued to trade as a hairdressers until late 2014, at which point the owners decided to take their business in a new direction.

As of early December 2014, the hairdressing stations have been cleared away, and plans are in progress to open by Christmas as an African grocery shop called Kaakyire African Market, specialising in Ghanaian and Nigerian groceries.[33] As a fan of West African food, I’m looking forward to seeing what they have in stock!

Nash Unisex Salon, 61 London Road, March 2012. Photo: author’s own.

Thanks to: Julie at Swinton; Lesley Hall, for advice on researching medical professionals; London Remembers, for putting me in touch with Monika; Monika Roleff; Nash; the Planning Technical Support Team at Croydon Council; all at the Croydon Local Studies Library; and my beta-readers Flash and Henry. Census data and London phone books consulted via Medical Directory consulted at the Wellcome Library.

Footnotes and references

  1. The 1844 Tithe Map shows the land on which numbers 59–65 were later built as “Building ground” belonging to a Mr Inkpen. Gray’s 1851 directory lists an occupant (Mr Roxby) at 24 London Road (later renumbered to 47 and then to 61) so it must have been built by then. See the aerial view in my article on 59 London Road for evidence that 59 and 61 were built together as a semi-detached house.
  2. Gray’s 1851 directory lists a Mr Roxby at this address, and the 1851 census reveals that he was a widower and an annuitant (i.e. pensioner) in his 60s. The handwriting on the census scan provided by is very faint, but Ancestry’s own index of this page states that his first name was Henry, and this looks plausible to me. It also states that his son’s name was Francis, which looks less plausible but still possible. I haven’t been able to locate either father or son in the 1841 or 1861 censuses.
  3. Edward Hennell is listed in Gray’s 1853; Gray and Warren’s 1855, 1859, and 1861–62; and Simpson’s 1864 street directories, in most cases with the notation “private resident” next to his name. He also appears in the October 1858, November 1862, June 1864, and December 1864 Poor Rate Books; the July 1865 Poor Rate Book has his name crossed out and J Fergusson inserted instead. He and Harriet are listed in the 1861 census, from which their ages, marital status, and occupation are taken. Edward’s date of death and the fact that he was still living at the premises when he died are taken from the GOV.UK “Find a will” search; this also confirms that Harriet was living with her brother rather than just visiting on census night, as it gives her address as his “sole Executrix”.
  4. The 1871 census shows the 74-year-old Harriet living in Matlock Villa, Waddon New Road. According to a death notice in the Morning Post of 17 December 1887 (viewed online at the British Newspaper Archive — requires subscription), she lived there until her own death at the age of 92, on 10 December 1887.
  5. John Fergusson appears in the November 1865 and October 1866 Poor Rate Books (as J Fergusson) and Warren’s 1865–66 street directory (which gives his profession as a surveyor of taxes). Caroline Lovell appears in the 1871 census, and as Mrs Lovell in Wilkins’ 1872–3 directory, the December 1873 Poor Rate Book, and Ward’s 1874 directory.
  6. Ward’s directories list W H M Smith, M.D., surgeon, in 1878; Smith & Richardson, surgeons, from 1880 to 1886; and W H Smith’s surgery thereafter. The 1881 census gives Thomas’s age as 26 and Walter’s as 37. According to the 1881 Medical Directory, Walter became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) in 1868, while Thomas gained his MRCS in 1876. Their full names are also taken from the Medical Directory.
  7. The property numbered as 26 London Road in 1885 was renumbered to 51 in 1890, and split into 49a and 51 around 1895. Number 51 was split again into 51 and 51a around 1910, and 49a, 51, and 51a were renumbered again to 67, 69, and 71 in 1927. Numbers 69 and 71 were reunited into a single shopfront by the mid-1980s, and at some point between then and the present day this single shopfront was converted into a double shop with number 67.
  8. Walter’s house was demolished in the late 1890s, along with its semi-detached partner, and numbers 7987 were built on the site. Ward’s directories list him at that address from 1878 to 1896 inclusive. The 1868 Town Plans show his house as being somewhat larger than number 61, with significantly more garden space too.
  9. Details of Thomas’s living situation in 1881 are also taken from the 1881 census. Ward’s directories list him at the address with modern numbering of 67–71 from 1884 to 1890 inclusive. According to the 1868 Town Plans, his new house was around the same size as Walter’s. It’s possible that Thomas moved because he’d got married and wanted more space for his future children; I haven’t managed to locate details of his marriage, but by the time of the 1891 census he had a four-year-old son.
  10. I haven’t been able to find any direct evidence that the Smith & Richardson partnership was formally dissolved — a search of the London Gazette and the British Newspaper Archive revealed nothing relevant — but Ward’s directories only list “Smith & Richardson” up to 1886, and then switch to “Smith’s (W.H.) Surgery”. Similarly, the Medical Directory listings for Thomas include the phrase “(Smith and Richardson)” up to and including 1887, but it’s absent thereafter. The address given for Thomas’s practice is 24 London Road (modern 61) up to and including 1884, and 26 London Road (modern 67–71) from 1885 onwards.
  11. From 1891 to 1903 inclusive, Ward’s directories list Thomas at 87 London Road, which was renumbered to 145 in 1927. This address is just past Montague Road, and is currently occupied by Praise House (a modern building) with a car lot in front; see my article on 145–151 London Road for more. The Medical Directory lists Thomas at 87 London Road up to and including 1903, and thereafter at Park House, Combe Martin, Devon.
  12. Ward’s directories list Walter Smith at his original London Road home address up to and including 1896. The 1897 edition lists this house as unoccupied, and the 1898 edition lists “five shops building” on the old site of Walter’s house and its semi-detached neighbour; these shops still stand today, and are numbered 7987. I’ll discuss this further in my article on number 79.
  13. The 1901 census shows Walter living at 61 London Road (47 London Road in the numbering of the time), alone aside from one servant. His children were all likely adults with their own households by this time — the previous census in 1891 showed him with only one child at home, a nine-year-old daughter — but I don’t know what happened to his wife Margaret. He’s listed as married rather than widowed, so it’s possible she was just away that night. On the other hand, she’s also absent from his household in the 1911 census, when again he’s listed as married rather than widowed, so perhaps they’d separated.
  14. In contemporary numbering, Walter Smith is listed at 47 London Road (now 61) in Ward’s directories up to and including 1903, and at 73 from 1904 onwards. This latter address was subsumed into that of the South Suburban Co-operative Society when it expanded its store in 1923 (in contemporary numbering, it was previously at numbers 69–71 and expanded to 69–75). The Co-op site is now occupied by Lidl and easyGym, with the modern address of 99–101 London Road. Measuring distances on the 1896 Town Plans and comparing them to distances measured on a modern Google Map, it appears Walter’s house was roughly where the covered walkway down the side of Lidl is today.
  15. Walter is listed at his final London Road address in Ward’s directories from 1904 to 1922 inclusive; he also appears there in the 1911 census. According to the London Gazette of 22 April 1938 (page 2681), he died on 30 January 1938, at which point he was living in South Norwood (though, oddly, the 1939 Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Croydon states that on 31 December 1939 he was employed as a public vaccinator, which would be a bit of a tricky job for someone who died the previous year).
  16. Ward’s 1904, 1905, and 1906 directories list the property as unoccupied.
  17. The extension definitely took place some time between 1896 and 1913, judging by the difference between the 1896 Town Plans and the 1913 OS map. An excerpt of the former is shown in my article on 59 London Road, as is an aerial photo clearly showing the extensions of numbers 59 and 61.
  18. Ward’s directories list W H Rogers, photographic dealer, and B Messer & Co, ladies' tailors, in 1907; B Messer alone in 1908; Duck & Wood, electrical engineers, and W R Nichols, coal and coke merchants, in 1909; and W R Nichols alone in 1910. Some of these companies had the address 47 London Road (later renumbered to 61) and some had the address 47a London Road. It’s possible that 47a was actually a split of number 49 (modern 63) next door (or even 45 (modern 59), rather than 47 itself, but I think this unlikely. According to Ward’s directories, B Messer began with the 47a address but became 47 when W H Rogers left, suggesting they were in the same building.
  19. The National Cash Register Co, Ltd, is listed at 47a London Road in Ward’s directories from 1911 to 1918 inclusive. More information on the American company I suspect this of being can be found at the Internet Archive’s copy of a history page from the NCR website.
  20. For 47 London Road (as opposed to 47a), Ward’s directories list F J Richards, auctioneer and estate agents, in 1911 and 1912; Richards & Page, auctioneers and estate agents, in 1913 and 1914; H C Reynard, surveyor and estate agents, in 1915 and 1916; and “Unoccupied” in 1917, 1918, and 1919. The 1911 census lists Frederick Joseph Richards, aged 55, and his wife Agnes Selina Richards, aged 48.
  21. Ward’s 1919 directory lists an anonymous “dress agency”, while the 1920 edition again lists a dress agency, but with the name M A Shrubsole. From 1921 onwards it instead lists S Sutton, hosier.
  22. Ward’s directories list S Sutton, hosier, from 1921 to 1929 inclusive. For details of stock, see advertisement reproduced above.
  23. Information on the origins of Thomas Walton and his fruiterers comes from research by Deborah Hart Stock, presented on the London Remembers website.
  24. The March 1930 London phone book (L–Z) lists 48 branches of T Walton (London) Ltd, including the one at 61 London Road and another Croydon one at 9A George Street. See also a photo of one of the station branches (possibly Baker Street) and a photo of a branch in Brighton. Croydon Local Studies has a photo including the London Road branch (ref PH/96 2416), which looks fairly similar to the Brighton one except for window detailing and the fact that the subtitle of the Croydon sign reads “London’s Leading Fruiterers” rather than “Fruit & Vegetable Distributors”.
  25. T Walton is listed at 61 London Road in Ward’s directories from 1930 to 1939 inclusive (1939 being the final edition published), and in the 1950 and 1951 Croydon phone books. It’s absent from Croydon phone books thereafter.
  26. Gordons is listed in the September 1953 London and January 1954 Surrey phone books (as “Gordon’s Mens Wear”) and in Kent’s 1955 and 1956 directories (as “Gordons (prop R Gordon) — Gents Outfitters”.
  27. Information on the Coulsdon Gordons is taken from an advertisement cutting in the firms folders at Croydon Local Studies Library; no information is given on which publication this comes from, but an unknown hand has written “1963” on it.
  28. Examples of things sold by Fininley are taken from the advert reproduced above and another advert on p354 of Ward’s 1917 directory (at which point the company was still located on Poplar Walk). Confirmation that the company was still making artifical limbs when it arrived on London Road comes from a 1989 planning application (ref 89/0249/P, viewed on microfiche at Croydon Council offices) which states that the use previous to the one being applied for was “manufacture and sale of artificial limbs”.
  29. Fininley Ltd, surgical appliance makers, appears in phone books from the October 1955 Outer London (Kent/Surrey) edition to the 1988 Croydon edition inclusive, Goad plans from August 1974 to April 1987 inclusive (I don’t currently have access to Goad plans earlier than 1974), Brian Gittings’ 1980 survey of central Croydon retail, and the London Shop Surveys of 1984–85, 1986–87, and 1988–89 (the latter source misspells it as “Finnley”).
  30. Planning application ref 89/0249/P, viewed on microfiche at Croydon Council offices.
  31. Swinton is listed at 61 London Road in Croydon phone books from 1990 to 2009–10 inclusive, and Goad plans from March 1990 to August 2009 inclusive. It’s also shown in Google Street View imagery from July 2008. In October 2014 I spoke to Julie, one of the staff at Swinton on Wellesley Road, who said she remembered the move from London Road, and explained that it was because Wellesley Road was considered to be a more central location (conversation with the author, 24 October 2014).
  32. Move of Nash from number 74 to number 61 comes from personal observation. It had a shopfront at number 61 by March 2012, and had vacated number 74 by May of that year (see photo showing stripped-out interior).
  33. Information about future plans provided by Nash (conversation with the author, 28 November 2014).
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