Few places represent Britain's transition from manufacturing superpower to retail heaven than Croydon. The world’s first commercial rail, the horse-drawn Surrey Iron Railway, opened here in 1803, but it was the passenger line, which opened in 1839, that really altered Croydon’s modern-day fortunes. By the early 1900s, the population of the town had increased fourteen-fold, as London’s middle classes fled the capital, and Croydon became the commuter town of choice.
The Croydon Corporation Act of 1956 led to further enhancement, the local council using their new powers of development to forge an urban initiative based on commerce rather than industry. Much of the Brutalist architecture of the time can be found between Wellesley Road and East Croydon station. A few minutes from the station are the old brick warehouses, a reminder of the town's car-manufacturing and metal-working past, which stand in the shadow of Whitgift Centre, the biggest shopping mall in London until 2008 and very much a staple of Croydon’s future.