Judging by the astounded expressions on the faces of children visiting Museum of Croydon this week, the museum’s latest exhibition ‘Moving to London’, is something that definitely catches the attention of even the most easily distracted.
The exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of the London Borough of Croydon and aspires to make its history known amongst the local community, placing a particular emphasis on how the borough has changed from a small market town to the second most inhabited area in London.
Although the subject in question – Croydon’s urban development throughout the years– may not sound engrossing to most people, the exhibition manages to achieve something seemingly impossible: It tells Croydon’s fascinating story in such a viewer-friendly way, by focusing on human interest stories, objects and personal photographs, rather than dry historical facts.
The exhibition introduces us to a vast array of ordinary people who have done either grand and remarkable – or even small and insignificant – things for the local community. Hidden inside the Croydon Clocktower and located on the ground floor in a dimly-lit room, a large number of displays are set to show Croydon’s story from as early as the year 1800.
One of the most emotional parts of the exhibit comes through the story of Sislin Fay Allen, the first black woman to work for the Metropolitan Police. She recollects that on the selection day, the hall was filled with men and there were around ten women gathered inside, she being the only black woman. When her friend told her that they would never accept a Jamaican woman working for the police, Fay Allen proudly showed her letter of acceptance. She completed her training while raising a daughter and had received many letters—ranging from complimentary to abusive, causing her to stay indoors for a period of time due to all the publicity she was the subjected to.
Then there is the story of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who was of Creole descent. He graduated from the Royal College of Music and later on became renowned as a musician and composer. Coleridge-Taylor was faced with an intense racism throughout the duration of his remarkable career. However, the composer himself was truly inspired by his heritage and would often explore its themes in his music. As you’re reading about his story, the display allows you to listen to some of his compositions, such as Hiawatha’s Wedding, turning the experience into a truly interactive one.
The success of the exhibition comes from not leaving anyone out— it even mentions people who belong to the everyday, invisible heroes category, such as Derek Martlin, who has been cleaning the streets of Croydon for 42 years, and Roger Fisher, who took a road trip around America.
Upon entering the gallery, you can choose what you’d like to see first, although if you go there for a proper history lesson, the best way would be to enter through the ‘Then’ door and travel all the way through separate stations, starting from as early as the 19th century to find yourself in a present-day, final instalment which changes every four months.
‘Moving to London’ is a great example of how even the most mundane things can seem interesting, if presented in the right way. The focus on human interest stories is what makes this exhibition so truly down-to-earth and manages to present history in such an appealing fashion.
‘Moving to London’ exhibition is completely free of charge and open to the public until October 31st.