From 1809 to 1836 the site was the terminal basin of the Croydon Canal. The canal was drained and became part of the route of the London & Croydon Railway, opening on 5 June 1839. In 1845 the L&C inaugurated the atmospheric system of propulsion; it worked for about a year but was not successful. The station was originally named Croydon; in April 1851 it became West Croydon.
The canal basin was served by a short private branch from the terminus of the Surrey Iron Railway (SIR) at Pitlake. From 1855 the station was the terminus of the West Croydon to Wimbledon Line, which followed much of the route of the SIR. This line closed on 31 May 1997, to be replaced by Tramlink. Platform 2, the terminal bay for the Wimbledon line, was trackless until 2008. Very little remains of this platform apart from a little section at the western end, as most of it was filled in to extend platform 3 to allow trains to stop closer to the stairs.
A sad event occurred here in 1912 when the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912), resident of Croydon, collapsed from overwork and pneumonia, dying a few days later.
During the 1930s the station saw major alterations and reconstruction. A new ticket office was built on London Road. The original station buildings, ticket office and entrance in Station Road were closed and are still standing, converted to a shop.
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