It’s been a while since I last posted on here; and that’s because I have somehow finally managed to enter the world of work. Round of applause please.
I’m working as a call handler for an insurance company in Croydon, and have been promoted from a temp worker to full, contracted employee.
Office work seems, to me, to consist mostly of being shouted at by angry clients, smelling of fish all day after spilling my packed lunch on myself, and trying not to stare at the old desktop screen too much to avoid a headache. But hey, today is payday!
Taking a random, let’s be honest boring job while you wait for the next opportunity to come along is something all archaeologists will be familiar with. The reality of archaeology can often be significantly less glam and adventurous than most people think, thanks mostly to this waiting game so many of us are forced to play.
When I first moved to London, I thought I would quite easily be able to get a good job for a year; but I’ve learnt that having a BA and Masters in Egyptology freaks potential employers out rather than making them want to hire you. Temporarily, it ended up damaging my job prospects rather than helping them- NOT something that is exactly advertised!
I’ve also learnt that, while I can happily research in the library all day, downing coffee to keep my brain buzzing, I get bored after about an hour in the office, can’t even drink coffee because I get so dehydrated (the horror for an addict like me!) and collapse in front of the TV as soon as I get home.
However, as everywhere in the UK, history has left its mark even on industrial Croydon, and I can’t help but become intrigued by it. Croydon is certainly not the most romantic of places; everyone who learns I work there pulls a bit of a face at its reputation, while my Dad refers to it as Stockport on Steroids.
My unpeeling of Croydon’s historical layers began with Park Hill recreation park, which I discovered when, in my lunchtime attempts to escape the stale office air, I spotted through the high rise buildings what looked like a castle – the lure of which I was obviously powerless against. This ‘castle’ (actually a Victorian water tower but it was still historical, so half a point awarded) was nestled in the middle of a large park, choc-a-bloc with spring flowers and blossom trees. Judging by the mature trees, I thought the park was about 100 years old.
HOWEVER, a little digging later and it turns out this male park is a tally the last remains of a deer park, which stretched across Central Croydon to a palace owned and inhabited by the Archbishops of Canterbury for over 500 years. Yes, Croydon has a palace. A palace in which the likes of Henry III and Elizabeth I stayed in.
The Palace still stands, and is now a girls’ school, so I went to have a nosy at that too. There’s only so much you can see behind the high walls but there is a society that open the palace for guided tours a few times a year, and I am dying to go on one.
Now, whenever I’m dodging the 4 lanes of traffic and skipping across the tramlines as I have to to get home, I stop and try to imagine how quiet Croydon must have been 500 years ago, with deer grazing and Elizabeth I (my favourite monarch of course) galloping across toward the palace. I tend to avoid the underpass now; the last time I used it I ended up in the middle of a turf war with a bag of rubbish soaring quite spectacularly over my head- so now I risk the traffic and imagine!
Croydon also, amazingly, has a Minster (like York!). This one is made of chipped flint and has a fascinating collection of tombstones, the reliefs carved representing the deceased’s career in life. The Minster is locked except for services, but the outside was still beautiful, if slightly neglected.
What Croydon has a lot of is late Victorian architecture, with a lot of Victorian shop buildings still in use today. Dating from probably only a little earlier is a distance marker, which has been placed in the park although probably was originally from elsewhere. The only side not eroded is the one marking Whitechapel. I love this.
It also marks the entrance to a little memorial garden, split into herb patches, in honour of Cicely Mary Barker. I had never heard of her; but I had seen examples of her artwork for most of my childhood- she was the designer behind flower fairies! She had no formal art training but her artwork is now instantly recognisable by people all over the world, and she lived her entire life in Croydon. That’s certainly someone to be proud of!
Thus ends my Croydon eulogy. But it just goes to show that history and stories are all around you, even in the most unlikely of places!
Now on to spend my weekend prepping for the CRE conference….
Few interesting gravestones from the Minster