Croydon Lane

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 it up.
For one thing, the soil was poor; modern fertilizers and weed controllers were not so readily available in the 1940s.
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 growing crops.

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 northern side.
My parents came to live in Croydon Lane in 1922 and many years later, my mother wrote a description of how she remembered it:
"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 farming.
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 in winter.
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 hope.