The principal settlement in the London Borough of Croydon, it is one of the largest commercial districts outside Central London, with an extensive shopping district and night-time economy. The entire town had a population of 192,064 as of 2011, whilst the wider borough had a population of 384,837.
Historically part of the hundred of Wallington in the county 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 in 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. By the early 20th century, Croydon was an important industrial area, known for car manufacture, metal working and Croydon 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 Centre, the largest shopping centre in Greater London until 2008. Croydon was amalgamated into Greater London in 1965.
Croydon lies on a transport corridor between central London and the south coast of England, to the north of two high gaps in the North Downs, one taken by the A23 Brighton Road and the main railway line through Purley and Merstham and the other by the A22 from Purley to the M25 Godstone interchange. Road traffic is diverted away from a largely pedestrianised town centre, mostly consisting of North End. East Croydon is a major hub of the national railway transport system, with frequent fast services to central London, Brighton and the south coast. The town is unique in Greater London for its Tramlink light rail transport system.