Croydon lies on a transport corridor between central London and the south coast of England, to the north of two gaps in the North Downs, one followed by the A23 Brighton Road through Purley and Merstham and the main railway line and the other by the A22 from Purley to the M25 Godstone interchange.
Historically a part of Surrey, at the time of the Norman conquest of England, Croydon had a church, a mill, and around 365 inhabitants, as recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. Croydon expanded during the Middle Ages as a market town and a centre for charcoal production, leather tanning and brewing. The Surrey Iron Railway from Croydon to Wandsworth opened in 1803 and was the world's first public railway. Later nineteenth century railway building facilitated Croydon's growth as a commuter town for London (including the City of London). By the early 20th century, Croydon was an important industrial area, known for car manufacture, metal working and its airport. In the mid 20th century these sectors were replaced by retailing and the service economy, brought about by massive redevelopment which saw the rise of office blocks and the Whitgift shopping centre. Croydon was amalgamated into Greater London in 1965. Road traffic is now diverted away from a largely pedestrianised town centre, and its main railway station, East Croydon, is a major hub of the national railway transport system. The town is expected to see changes as part of Croydon Vision 2020, an urban planning initiative.
As the vast majority of place names in the area are of Anglo-Saxon origin, the theory accepted by most philologists is that the name Croydon derives originally from the Anglo-Saxon croh, meaning "crocus", and denu, "valley", indicating that, like Saffron Walden in Essex, it was a centre for the cultivation of saffron. It has been argued that this cultivation is likely to have taken place in the Roman period, when the saffron crocus would have been grown to supply the London market, most probably for medicinal purposes, and particularly for the treatment of granulation of the eyelids.
Alternative, less probable, theories of the name's origin have been proposed. According to John Corbett Anderson, "The earliest mention of Croydon is in the joint will of Beorhtric and Aelfswth, dated about the year 962. In this Anglo-Saxon document the name is spelt (here he uses original script) Crogdaene. Crog was, and still is, the Norse or Danish word for crooked, which is expressed in Anglo-Saxon by crumb, a totally different word. From the Danish came our crook and crooked. This term accurately describes the locality; it is a crooked or winding valley; in reference to the valley that runs in an oblique and serpentine course from Godstone to Croydon." Anderson refuted a claim, originally cited by Andrew Coltee Ducarel, that the name came from the Old French for "chalk hill", because the name was in use at least a century before the French language would have been commonly used following the Norman Invasion. However, there was no long-term Danish occupation (see Danelaw) in Surrey, which was part of Wessex, and Danish-derived nomenclature is also highly unlikely. More recently, David Bird has speculated that the name might derive from a personal name, Crocus: he suggests a family connection with the documented Chrocus, king of the Alemanni, who allegedly played a part in the proclamation of Constantine as emperor at York in AD 306.
The town lies on the line of the Roman road from London to Portslade, and there is some archaeological evidence for small-scale Roman settlement in the area: there may have been a mansio (staging-post) here. Later, in the 5th to 7th centuries, a large Saxon pagan cemetery was situated on what is now Park Lane, although the extent of any associated settlement is unknown.
By the late Saxon period Croydon was the hub of a large estate belonging to the Archbishops of Canterbury. The church and the archbishops' manor house occupied the area still known as Old Town. The archbishops used the manor house as an occasional place of residence: as lords of the manor they dominated the life of the town well into the early modern period, and as local patrons they continue to have an influence. Croydon appears in Domesday Book (1086) as Croindene, held by Archbishop Lanfranc. Its Domesday assets were: 16 hides and 1 virgate; 1 church, 1 mill worth 5s, 38 ploughs, of meadow, woodland worth 200 hogs. It rendered £37 10s 0d.
The church had been established in the middle Saxon period, and was probably a minster church, a base for a group of clergy living a communal life. A charter issued by King Coenwulf of Mercia refers to a council that had taken place close to the monasterium (meaning minster) of Croydon. An Anglo-Saxon will made in about 960 is witnessed by Elfsies, priest of Croydon; and the church is also mentioned in Domesday Book. The will of John de Croydon, fishmonger, dated 6 December 1347, includes a bequest to "the church of S John de Croydon", the earliest clear record of its dedication. The church still bears the arms of Archbishop Courtenay and Archbishop Chichele, believed to have been its benefactors.
Addington Palace is a Palladian-style mansion between Addington Village and Shirley, in the London Borough of Croydon. Six archbishops lived there between 1807 and 1898, when it was sold. Between 1953 and 1996 it was the home of the Royal School of Church Music. It is now a conference and banqueting venue.
Croydon was a major leisure destination in the mid 19th century. In 1831, one of England's most prominent architects, Decimus Burton, designed a spa and pleasure gardens below Beulah Hill and off what is now Spa Hill in a bowl of land on the south-facing side of the hill around a spring of chalybeate water. Burton was responsible for the Beulah Spa Hotel (demolished around 1935) and the layout of the grounds. Its official title was The Royal Beulah Spa and Gardens. It became a popular society venue attracting large crowds to its fêtes. One widely publicised event was a "Grand Scottish Fete" on 16 September 1834 "with a tightrope performance by Pablo Fanque, the black circus performer who would later dominate the Victorian circus and achieve immortality in The Beatles song, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! The spa closed in 1856 soon after the opening nearby of The Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace was rebuilt nearby on Sydenham Hill in 1854, following its success at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. It was destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1936.
Horse racing in the area took place occasionally, notably during visits of Queen Elizabeth I to the archbishop. Regular meetings became established first on a course at Park Hill in 1860 and from 1866 at Woodside, where particularly good prizes were offered for the races run under National Hunt rules. In that sphere its prestige was second only to that of Aintree, home of the Grand National. Increasing local opposition to the presence of allegedly unruly racegoers coupled with the need to obtain a licence from the local authority led to it being closed down in 1890.
The premises included the Hospital or Almshouses, providing accommodation for between 28 and 40 people, and a nearby schoolhouse and schoolmaster's house. There was a Warden in charge of the well-being of the almoners. The building takes the form of a courtyard surrounded by the chambers of the almoners and various offices.
Threatened by various reconstruction plans and road-widening schemes, the Almshouses were saved in 1923 by intervention of the House of Lords. On 21 June 1983 Queen Elizabeth II visited the Almshouses and unveiled a plaque celebrating the recently completed reconstruction of the building. On 22 March each year the laying of the foundation stone is commemorated as Founder's Day.
Industrial Revolution and the railway
The development of Brighton as a fashionable resort in the 1780s increased the significance of Croydon's role as a halt for stage coaches on the road south of London. At the beginning of the 19th century, Croydon became the terminus of two pioneering commercial transport links with London. The first, opened in 1803, was the horse-drawn Surrey Iron Railway from Wandsworth, which in 1805 was extended to Merstham, as the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Railway. The second, opened in 1809, was the Croydon Canal, which branched off the Grand Surrey Canal at Deptford. The London and Croydon Railway (an atmospheric and steam-powered railway) opened between London Bridge and West Croydon in 1839, using much of the route of the canal (which had closed in 1836), and other connections to London and the south followed.
The arrival of the railways and other communications advances in the 19th century led to a 23-fold increase in Croydon's population between 1801 and 1901. This rapid expansion of the town led to considerable health problems, especially in the damp and overcrowded working class district of Old Town. In response to this, in 1849 Croydon became one of the first towns in the country to acquire a Local Board of Health. The Board constructed public health infrastructure including a reservoir, water supply network, sewers, a pumping station and sewage disposal works.
A growing town
As the town continued to grow, it became popular as a pleasant leafy residential suburb for members of the Victorian middle classes, who could commute to the City of London by fast train in 15 minutes. In 1883 Croydon was incorporated as a borough. In 1889 it became a county borough, with a greater degree of autonomy. The new county borough council implemented the Croydon Improvement scheme in the early 1890s, which widened the High Street and cleared much of the 'Middle Row' slum area. The remaining slums were cleared shortly after World War II, with much of the population relocated to the isolated new settlement of New Addington. New stores opened and expanded in central Croydon, including Allders, Kennards and Grants, and the first Sainsbury's self-service shop in the country. There was also a bustling market on Surrey Street.
Croydon was the location of London's main airport until the Second World War. During the war, much of central Croydon was devastated by German V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets, and for many years the town bore the scars of the destruction. After the war, Heathrow Airport superseded Croydon Airport as London's main airport.
By the 1950s, with its continuing growth, the town was becoming congested, and the Council decided on another major redevelopment scheme. The Croydon Corporation Act was passed in 1956. This, coupled with national government incentives for office relocation out of London, led to the building of new offices and accompanying road schemes through the late 1950s and 1960s, and the town boomed as a business centre in the 1960s, with many multi-storey office blocks, an underpass, a flyover and multi-storey car parks.
In 1960 Croydon celebrated its millennium with a pageant held at Lloyd Park.
Croydon has developed as an important centre for shopping, with the construction of the Whitgift Centre, which opened in 1969. The Fairfield Halls arts centre and event venue opened in 1962. The Warehouse Theatre opened in 1977. The 1990s saw further changes intended to give the town a more attractive image. These included the closure of North End to vehicles in 1989 and the opening of the Croydon Clocktower arts centre in 1994. A notable early success of the Centre was the "Picasso's Croydon Period" exhibition of March–May 1995.
London Tramlink began operation in May 2000 (see Transport section below).
Another large shopping centre, Centrale, opened in 2004 opposite the Whitgift Centre, straddling the sites of the smaller Drummond Centre and a former branch of C&A. House of Fraser and Debenhams are the anchor stores in this centre. In addition, there are plans for a large, new one billion pound shopping centre, in the form of a new Westfield shopping mall to add to the two which the company currently has in London; Westfield plans to work jointly with Hammersons and to incorporate the best aspects of the two companies' designs. There are several other major plans for the town including the redevelopment of the Croydon Gateway site; and extensions of Tramlink to Purley Way, Streatham, Lewisham and Crystal Palace.
Croydon has become the second-largest place to shop in the south east, after central London, offering a wide range of shops, department stores and catering establishments, including some upmarket chains not generally seen outside the West End and City. Independent traders include House of Reeves, a two-outlet furniture store established in 1867. Its main site was razed to the ground by an arson attack during a riot on 8 August 2011. Apart from its very large central shopping district, Croydon has a number of smaller shopping areas, especially towards the southern end of the town, where many of its best restaurants are located. Two of Croydon's restaurants are listed in The Good Food Guide.
Croydon has many high-density buildings such as the Nestlé Tower (St George's House), and is considered to be London's third main central business district, after the Square Mile and the Docklands, and South London's main business centre. The London Borough of Croydon’s strategic planning committee in February 2013 gave the go-ahead to property fund manager Legal and General Property’s plans to convert the empty 24-storey St George’s House office building, occupied by Nestlé until September 2012, into 288 flats.
The Croydon area has several hospitals: the main one is Croydon University Hospital in London Road.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has said he would support Croydon being granted city status and announced £23m of additional funding to help redevelop the town at the Develop Croydon Conference on 22 November 2011. Several luxury Docklands-style apartment developments have been built in recent years, and several more are being built or planned. Saffron Square, which will include an iconic 45-storey tower, is under construction, and other developments with towers over 50 floors high have been given planning approval. These include the 54-storey "Menta Tower" in Cherry Orchard Road near East Croydon station, and a 55-storey tower at One Lansdowne Road, on which construction was set to begin in early 2013. The latter is set to be Britain's tallest block of flats, including office space, a four-star hotel and a health club.
In May 2012 it was announced that Croydon had been successful in its bid to become one of twelve "Portas Pilot" towns, and would receive a share of £1.2m funding to help rejuvenate its central shopping areas.
In November 2013, Central Croydon MP Gavin Barwell gave a presentation at a public meeting on the Croydon regeneration project, detailing various developments underway due to be completed in coming years. 
On November 26th 2013, the Croydon Council approved a redevelopment of the Town Centre by The Croydon Partnership,  a joint venture by The Westfield Group and Hammerson. London Mayor Boris Johnson approved the plan the following day. The Croydon Advertiser listed the approval as an 'Historic Night for Croydon.'