By David Morgan
Discovery has very close links with curiosity. One of the accusations against many of us in this day and age is that we are too busy in our daily routines to be curious. The Croydon Heritage Festival Week with the theme, “Undiscovered Croydon,” gives us some time to be curious about the place where we live or where we work, where we go to school or simply a place we pass through on the way to somewhere else.
For those people who glance at the church building by the side of Roman Way as they pass in the car or for those folk on the tram who hear that they have reached the stop for Croydon Minster, the Festival Week gives them opportunities to be curious and discover something they never knew before. The church building that can be seen today is one that goes back to Victorian times. On an icy cold January night in 1867, the roof of the old church caught light and the building was burned down, leaving just the tower and part of the outside walls standing. From that burned out shell the new church structure rose, designed and built by Sir Gilbert Scott and rededicated in just a couple of years.
The church building which was destroyed in the fire was a magnificent one. Because of its connections with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Palace next door, it maintained a particular importance far and wide.
Unknown to many people today, Croydon had significant links with North America back in the second half of the eighteenth century. In the late 1700’s when overland journeys were on horseback or by horse-drawn carriages and when crossing the Atlantic Ocean by ship was dependent upon the wind and the tides, it seems surprising that such strong links existed. The Minster Church helps us to understand these ties further, as buried here are two significant Americans. One is the leading portrait painter of colonial America and the other is the last crown-appointed Governor of Massachusetts. Add into the mix the Croydon vicar born in Boston, the wife of a rich and influential colonial family living in South Carolina who died on a visit to London, together with the story of a future Lord Mayor of London whose near fatal accident was the subject of a painting by the artist buried here and you can begin to realise the depth and range of our American connections in this historical period. All the characters mentioned here lived through the difficult times leading up to, during, or just after the War of Independence. What made them come to Croydon?
Curious? What to find out more?
Fun Fact: Arguably the greatest Colonial American portrait painter of pre-War of Independence days, John Singleton Copley is buried in Croydon Minster Church. He died in 1815. His son, later to become Lord Lyndhurst, was a successful British politician becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer three times.