We made our departure from the small holding in Croydon
Lane just over 50 years ago. My father had started off as a
poultry farmer, a profession chosen to give him the
opportunity to be outside in the fresh air, as a reaction to
his family's traditional indoor occupations in the
Wandsworth area of London.
He also sought freedom to be able to pursue his greatest
interest - that of an artist. While serving in India in WW I
he had done a lot of sketching and painting, even entering
his works in exhibitions. Back in England after the war, he
attended Art School for a while, however his future as a
commercial artist did not look hopeful at that time. He made
the wise decision to compromise - learning the trade of
poultry farming while continuing with painting.
Thus, when WW II broke out and conditions for poultry
farming became more and more difficult, he reluctantly had
to allow the land to be used for growing crops. But he was
not a farmer by birth or by training and finally had to give
For one thing, the soil was poor; modern fertilizers and
weed controllers were not so readily available in the
Since that time, I have wondered what Croydon Lane was like
before the small holdings were built in 1921 and what the
land had been used for. It was an ancient roadway,
certainly, but it is doubtful if it was ever first-rate for
A few clues to the answer can be found in various sources on
the history of Banstead. For example in his "Three Lectures
on the History of Banstead", Sir Henry Lambert mentioned the
lane leading to Croydon as being of "greater antiquity" than
for example the High Street through the centre of Banstead
village. To quote Lambert again:
"The Croydon Lane referred to on the Court Roll of 1533
as `a certain way in the common field called the Croydon
Wey` beyond which no tenant was to pasture his sheep."
John Sweetman, editor of the Banstead History Research
Group's "The History of Banstead, Volumes I & II"
observes from the Ordnance map of 1868 and index that the
land on both sides of Croydon Lane was part of farm fields
and described as arable except for one small piece on the
My parents came to live in Croydon Lane in 1922 and many
years later, my mother wrote a description of how she
"In 1922 Croydon Lane was narrow and winding, between high
banks and hedges. At its junction with Sutton Lane two rows
of high elm trees met overhead. A fearsome place on dark
winter nights. The Lane became a water course after heavy
rain, the surface being scoured by deep gullies which flowed
from side to side.
Across the meadows which are now filled by Longcroft and
Fiddicroft Avenues one could see the House called Longcroft
with its three different styles of architecture. In 1925 the
whole aspect and nature of the Lane was changed into a
modern motor road and provision made for a footpath. It now
has the appearance of an urban highway and has completely
lost its rural charm which had lasted for hundreds of years
as the principal link betweeen Banstead and Croydon."
The bungalows built in the Lane in 1921 were allocated to
those who had served in the Armed Forces in WW I. Four to
twelve acres of land went with each holding; the larger
areas for cows, the smaller for market gardening or poultry
The homesteads themselves could have been better built.
There was, for example no damp course. The floors were
draughty and cold and damp was evident; all clothes brought
out from a wardrobe or chest of drawers had to be aired
before wearing. It was idyllic in summertime but miserable
A lot of thought had obviously gone into the planning of the
area immediately round our bungalow. My father planted
valerian plants along the south side - they were supposed to
keep earwigs away.
He also planted two pear trees outside the west wall and a
row of apple trees as a border between the "garden" and the
"farm". A sizeable lawn was laid out where we all joined in
games of tennis, deck tennis and French cricket. In his
spare time he made a trellis for rambler roses, there were
flower beds for wallflowers and bulbs. The drive in from the
roadway was lined with two rows of privet hedge, all of
which he trimmed by hand with old-fashioned shears.
The poultry farm was in the process of being wound up at the
end of the 1930s and the land was used for crop-growing
instead. A neighbour took over part of the land, and my
father and my brother struggled for a while to run the rest.
I only heard that the soil was not good for growing things
and gradually, as in some science-fiction scenario the
dreaded weed "fat hen" crept over the acres and throttled
everything in its path.
When WW II began in 1939, it was popular amongst house-owners
to keep a few hens in back gardens to help eke out war-time
food rationing. In this way, some of the hen houses were
sold off when the poultry farm was closed.
The remaining sheds and
incubator house had to be dismantled in 1953 before the new
tenant took over as he was not interested in keeping them.
They were put on a bonfire which lasted for days.
It was a traumatic leave-taking of the home my parents had
created some 30 years earlier with so much enthusiasm and