site unseen Braithwaite Hall, Croydon Clocktower, London

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The Independent Culture
The very name "Croydon" makes most hearts sink. Somehow it epitomises "Commuterland" in all its ineffable awfulness, dominated by unlovely office blocks and hideous DIY warehouses. A quick vox pop is not promising - the majority associate Croydon with the name of supermodel Kate Moss.

Worse still is the prospect as the train enters the station. The skyline is dominated by office blocks which cry out for instant demolition. In the best of all possible worlds, an architecturally omniscient giant would surely hurl these buildings into the North Sea.

But the motto is: be patient. Because Croydon, like everywhere else in Britain, has its neglected gems. For a start, East Croydon Station is an impressive hi-tech marvel of masts, glass and an absence of columns that the great Victorian engineers could only dream about.

For another thing, Croydon boasts several superb Victorian churches by architects SS Teulon, JL Pearson, EB Lamb and Sir George Gilbert Scott - all of whom, if Britain was not so visually illiterate, would be household names. After all, they have shaped our world in more telling and permanent ways than any number of dull poets and politicians.

For yet another, Croydon has an energetic council prepared to chance its arm and support, among other recent projects, the "Picasso Bestiary" devoted to the great artist's obsession with animals. Other venues celebrate the borough's associations with actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft and film director Sir David Lean, born at 38 Blenheim Crescent, South Croydon in 1908.

But time and again one's eye is drawn to the Victorian remnants, particularly the Clocktower which still dominates the centre of Croydon. There is something deeply satisfying about a clock whose bells give forth a throaty and full roar rather than some feeble and apologetic tin-tin. Inside is a brand new and thoroughly efficient modern library and art gallery. Highly admirable, no doubt, but to my mind the real "jewel" is the old reference library of Braithwaite Hall, named after a much-loved Victorian Vicar of Croydon who died at the age of just 44.

Suitably oak-panelled and boasting a tall ceiling complete with a timber hammer-beam roof, Braithwaite Hall also possesses row upon row of leather- bound books which line the walls. Look more closely, however, and the sharp-eyed will spot that these are in fact dummy volumes. The kind of detail which, no doubt, a Sherlock Holmes would have spotted. And on the subject of Sherlock Holmes, most of the Holmes short stories were written by Arthur Conan Doyle when he resided at 12 Tennison Rd, South Norwood in the borough of what is now... Croydon.

Move over Kate Moss, here comes Dr Watson.

Braithwaite Hall is inside Croydon Clocktower, Katharine

Street, Croydon

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