Around 1086 part of the area we now call Thornton Heath was known as ‘Benchesham’, the first reference to it in recorded history occurred shortly after the Norman Conquest when the tithes were passed from the See of Canterbury at Croydon to Rochester. Some time after 1264 Benchesham was split into ‘Northborough’, now known as Norbury, and Suthbenchesham. In 1511, we find the first mention of a tract of 36 acres (15 ha) common land forming the southernmost part of Norbury and extended along the Sussex road to the Pond: “Thornton Heathe”.
In the seventeenth century Thornton Heathe was focused around what we now know as Thornton Heath Pond, between Norbury Manor House and Pond was an isolated farmhouse – this site is now where Thornton Heath Station stands. By the eighteenth century this farmhouse had become known as ‘Dick Turpin’s cottage’, as it was believed the famous highwayman stayed there with his aunt – the whole area was known for ‘coal and crime’.
During the late eighteenth century, modern South London began to take shape, as rows of housing swallowed up the villages of Kennington, Brixton, Streatham and Thornton Heath. Despite this boom, the roads in the area were poor – Parchmore and Green Lane were described as “a rural road impassable to vehicles” and the High Street was not tarmacked until the arrival of trams in 1900.
Between 1861 and 1911 housing development exploded, pushed forward by the London to Brighton Railway’s new route which repurposed the now drained Croydon Canal. Planned in 1851 Colliers Water Station, later known as Thornton Heath Station, was one of only two stops between Victoria and Croydon at the time it was built.
Within 10 years Thornton Heath area had overtaken the Pond as a residential development – fuelled by low cost ‘workman’s fares’ made possible by ‘The Cheap Trains Act 1883. By 1898 some of London’s earliest specialised commuter trains ran from Thornton Heath direct to Victoria. In 1900 the tram arrived and rapidly became the fastest and cheapest connection to Croydon.