Croydon Parish Church

Resting Place Of Six Archbishops Of Canterbury


Croydon Parish Church
Croydon Parish Church has a long and very interesting history, and together with the manor house nearby, which is now Old Palace School, it is the oldest foundation in the town. Six former Archbishops of Canterbury lie buried within it. Some of the country's most famous monarchs, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, visited and stayed here. Its story stretches back over 1,000 years.

The earliest Charter of Croydon tells us that in AD 871 "Duke Aelfred grants to Archbishop Aethelred and Christ Church Canterbury, land at Chartham, Co.Kent, in exchange for land at Crogdene, Co. Surrey". This shows that the Archbishops held land in Croydon (Crogdene) from Saxon Times, and indications are that there was probably a church on the present site as early as the ninth century.

The actual date of the foundation is not known, but an Anglo-Saxon will made in about AD 960 was witnessed by someone who signed himself Elfsies, priest of Croydon. The Doomsday Book has the earliest written record of Croydon Church, when the survey of England for taxation purposes was published in 1086. Then the manor house was held by Norman Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc. But the earliest date of the name of the church is December 6, 1347, when it was recorded in the will of John de Croydon, fishmonger, containing a bequest to "the church of S John de Croydon"

The church used to be surrounded by water from springs in the immediate vicinity, and from an underground river which flowed from Caterham, and was known as the Croydon Bourne. These waters met at the west end of the church and formed the head of the River Wandle.

Among those responsible for the church's construction were probably Archbishop Courtney (1381- 96) and Archbishop Chicheley (1414-43); their arms were on the north door and west door door respectively. But the building which was erected in the Early Perpendicular style in 1849 was almost completely destroyed by the great fire of 1867, and in building the present church, foundations of an earlier edefice were uncovered.
These showed fragments of Norman, Early English and Decorated periods. The Early English style was characterised by pointed arches and lancet windows, and there is plenty of evidence that the church was altered from one of the Decorate styles to a Perpendicular style in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The following is an extract from the Croydon Advertiser report of the devastating fire in 1867:

" the excitement and hurry of getting first to the scene of the fire, everyone had forgotten to call the turncock, and 35 minutes elapsed between the call (to the volunteer fire brigade at the top of Crown Hill) and the first flow of water, the sequel being with the exception of the tower and the north and south walls, the entire fabric fell a prey to the flames, and a victim to brigade mismanagement.

"At half past eleven o'clock the roof fell in - an awful sight. Nor were the stained glass windows ever seen to such advandage as when lighted up by the fitful gleams from within.

"Half an hour later only the carcase of the west tower and two walls remained to mark what had , an hour before, been the pride of the town, and the product of a hundred generations".


Croydon's Parish Church may have been destroyed by the fire of 1867, but echoes of its long and proud history can still be found in the present building. The restoration of the church was the task of Sir Gilbert Scott RA, whose design left room and scope for stained glass artists to display their craftmanship.

The result is a place of worship which affords an oasis of peace and contemplation in the midst of a busy and thriving modern town, elegant and imposing, attractive and welcoming. Its links with the past are prominent: tombs and plaques recall connections with some of the country's great churchmen who are buried there. Among them is a man whose name has been perpetuated in the town through its leading educational establishment, its distinctive almshouses, and its modern complex - Archbishop John Whitgift, perhaps Croydon's greatest benefactor, who died in 1604. He was favoured by Queen Elizabeth I, and came to regard the town, then nesting in the countryside, as a welcome retreat from the demands of high office in the capital.
The other Archbishops of Canterbury who have made the church their final resting place are Edmund Grindal, Gilbert Sheldon, William Wake, John Potter and Thomas Herring.

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