Human habitation at Croham Hurst goes back to the Late Mesolithic, around 5000-3000 years B.C. There is a Bronze Age barrow, perhaps 3000 years old, at the top of the Hurst (the troubled history of this site is described here).
Whitgift and Elizabeth
Croham Hurst was part of the sprawling territory once owned by the Whitgift Foundation
. This vast religious charity was founded in the 16th century by John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury and grew vastly in the succeeding centuries. Croham Hurst was seemingly already part of the Bishop's empire in 1600, when Queen Elizabeth the Great paid him a visit at his Croydon palace; like her father Henry VIII, she frequently expected presents of land from the Church, but court records indicate that she directly refused the offer of the Hurst. Her adviser, Dr. Dee, used the top of the Hurst (which at that time was not overshadowed by trees growing up from below) for astronomical observation, and indeed observations made from the Hurst may have influence his General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation
, a book in which he set out not only a method of navigating by the stars, but a plan to colonize the New World.
It could be argued, then, that Croham Hurst was influential in the founding of Britain's Thirteen Colonies and the shaping of the modern day USA!
By late Victorian times, panic was spreading in the suburbs as the 'red brick' crept ever closer, and many communities attempted to buy their own green belt. Around the turn of the century, with building already rampant on Whitgift lands, a movement was begun to buy Croham Hurst woods, and in 1901 ownership of the Woods passed to the Croydon Corporation. This process was not without conflict; at one point, developers tried to reduce the plot to just the tiny flat part at the top of the hill, leaving all the rest to be built on. In the end, except for the 'Lost Corner' (see here) most of what was generally known and loved as Croham Hurst was preserved.
Croham Hurst at War
In World War 2, Croham Hursts status as a hill on the flight path from occupied Europe to London and Croydon made it a center for Britain's defence. The 1st Anti-Aircraft Division placed a battery of guns on top of the Hurst, and these were used to test new mechanical computing devices for predicting the position of incoming bombers. Read more here.
In 1969, the Croham Free Festival was held on Croham Hurst, and went down (in a small way) in history as one of the least successful music festivals of the entire era. Other interesting postwar events include the hunt for the Croydon Ripper (thought to have died in hiding somewhere on the Hurst, but never found) and the Great Gale of 1987, which took down a large number of beech trees and may account for the holly infestation we are now experiencing.