Can you help us improve our museum?

Empty dispaly cabinet, with sign taht says "Is the museum missing items from your community? If you'd like to donate something please ask to speak to the curator."

We are aware of the fact that the content of our museum displays and the demographic of our trustees, staff and volunteers do not fully reflect the experience of people who live in Crawley. For example, most of the people in our photograph collection are white.

We must do better!

If you’d like to talk with us about how we can change things, would like to get involved in the running of the museum, or have anything related to Crawley that you’d like to donate for us to display in our permanent galleries, then please get in touch?

Train spotting in Crawley 1960-1964

By David Stoker

At first sight, Crawley was not a particularly good place to be a train spotter in 1960. The nationalised British Railways (BR) had been in existence since 1948 and five years previously they had published a modernisation plan phasing out steam power in favour of diesel and electric traction. However, the Southern Railway (SR) the predecessor of BR in the area, had rather jumped the gun and electrified the Brighton main line through Three Bridges in 1932 and the Arun Valley Line through Crawley in 1938. Thus, most of the passenger trains in the area were rather boring green electric multiple units, which by 1960 were beginning to show their age.

green and yellow electric train in a station.

SR 2-BIL Electric multiple unit,  Photo © Oxyman (cc-by-3.0).

The stopping trains on these lines consisted of 2-car BIL or HAL units or else 4-car LAV units. The latter were so designated because one of the coaches contained a lavatory which deposited its contents directly on to the track. As naughty boys in the 1950s, when returning from a trip to Horsham swimming baths, my friends and I would attempt to score a direct hit on the High Street level crossing as the train slowed to enter the old Crawley station. However, by 1960 we’d grown out of such childish games.
Even the express trains, passing through Three Bridges station at 60 mph were boring green multiple units, except for the twice daily ‘Brighton Belle’ which did at least have a brown and cream ‘Pullman’ livery.

Brown and cream pullman carriages on track with countryside behind.

The ‘Brighton Belle’ 5-car unit 1964
Photo © Tony Hagon (cc-by-3.0).

The only locomotive hauled express train was the daily Newhaven-Dieppe Boat Train (whose timings varied according to the tides) which was then hauled by one of three Southern Railway electric locomotives of 1940s vintage.

There was, however, one line in the area that had not been electrified and was still operated by steam locomotives. This was the hourly shuttle service from Three Bridges to East Grinstead operated by small tank engines converted to push-pull working, so that the locomotive did not need to run around its train at each end of the journey. Thus, for return journeys the locomotive and fireman would be at the rear of the train with the driver sitting in a compartment in the front coach. As boys we often used this service to go swimming at East Grinstead during the summer holidays since Crawley had no swimming baths until 1964.

Locomotive at railway station. two people are on the platform.

Class ‘H’ tank engine at Three Bridges station in Jan. 1962.
Photo John M. Cramp

The service was hauled by steam locomotives until January 1964 when diesel-electric multiple units, nicknamed ‘Thumpers’ for reasons obvious to their passengers, took over. The service struggled on for three more year but in January 1967 the line through to Tunbridge Wells was closed as part of the cuts to the rail network recommended by Dr. Beeching. He happened to live in East Grinstead and when part of the track bed was later used for the A22 relief road in the town, a local wag suggested they named it ‘Beeching Cut.’

There were a lot more goods and freight services than there are today, which were still operated by steam locomotives. Many everyday products were collected and delivered by rail. As with most market towns and some larger villages, Crawley station had sidings and a goods depot which was visited once or twice a day by a ‘pickup-goods train.’ Deliveries of the merchandise were then made around the town by three-wheeled Scammel Scarab trucks. There was also a goods yard north of Three Bridges on the Gatwick Road industrial estate, where coal and other minerals were brought for re-distribution by road and rail.

Red and cream truck. Writing on side reads 'British Railways'

A BR ‘Scammel Scarab’ truck.
Photo © Infrogmation (cc-by-sa/2.0).

A larger freight yard to the south of Three Bridges station was only partially used. During the First World War, Three Bridges had been chosen by the Rail Operating Department as a nodal hub for the receipt of munitions and their onward transmission to Newhaven and later Littlehampton harbours for shipment to the Western front. This location was presumably chosen as the area (now part of Furnace Green) was sparsely populated. Thus, the existing sidings were rapidly expanded and new ones created so that supply trains could be received from elsewhere in England. In April 1918 one of these ammunition trains ran into the wreckage of a derailed goods train in Redhill tunnel. It was only through a miracle that there was no fire and the unsung heroism of railway workers which averted a major disaster for that town.

There were occasional steam ‘specials’ passing through the Crawley stations, especially on summer Bank Holidays when excursions from Birkenhead and Manchester to Brighton and Eastbourne were often run. These might be hauled by a locomotive from another region such as a ‘Black 5’ class. One day, in the spring of 1959 several local junior schools chartered a train from Crawley for a day trip to Southampton Docks. The train was headed by a huge slab-sided locomotive with the curious name ‘Appledore’. I later discovered that it was a member of the ‘West Country Class’ named after Devon villages.

Green locomotive. Front reads: Southern. 21C123

A ‘West Country’ class locomotive
Photo © Richard Hoare (cc-by-sa/2.0).

However, the focal point for serious loco spotting in Crawley was the former London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) depot at Three Bridges, situated in the fork between the lines to Brighton and Crawley. It was a brick built three-lane shed, opened in 1911, replacing an earlier building dating from 1848 which was demolished during the enlargement of the station. The structure included a large water tank above a workshop, a separate coal stage, a hoist for lifting locomotives and a 60ft turntable.

Brick locomotive sheds and tower. Locomotives on tracks in front of this.

Three Bridges Motive Power Depot in May 1962.
Photo: copyright unknown

The Depot was approached by a cinder path which ran from just outside the station, under the line to Crawley. It was a medium sized depot with an allocation of about thirty-five steam locomotives throughout the 1950s reducing to 29 between 1959 and 1962, but also servicing visiting locomotives from other depots. This number rapidly declined during 1963 until its eventual closure to servicing steam locomotives in January 1964. It then became a ‘Mixed Traction Depot’ where steam, diesel and electric locomotives were stabled overnight or else stored awaiting disposal but were no longer serviced. The depot closed altogether in April 1969, although the buildings were occasionally used for rolling stock repairs over the next few years before they were demolished in the mid-1970s. It is now the site of the Siemens Three Bridges Traincare Facility. As youngsters we never experienced any difficulty in gaining access to the shed, whereas we were sometimes prevented from accessing that at Redhill and were thrown out and threatened with the police at Guildford.

Three Bridges depot retained some medium-sized tank locomotives to run the East Grinstead shuttle services. For most of the time three fifty-year-old South Eastern and Chatham Railway (SECR) ‘H’ class locomotives were used which were popular with the local crews. An attempt by managers to replace them with even older London and South Western Railway ‘M7’ class 0-4-4 tanks about 1960, was not popular as they were more difficult to operate in push-pull mode. However, with the electrification of the main lines in Kent during 1961 more examples of the ‘H’ class became available and the last three survivors of the class saw out their days working from Three Bridges during 1963. The last survivor no. 31263 was in traffic until 4 January 1964, when it was withdrawn and stored at the shed until the following November, It was then hauled away to preservation, initially at Robertsbridge, although it eventually found its way to the Bluebell Railway.

Green locomotive. Number on side - 253. Words on side - S E and C R

‘H’ class no.263, as preserved at the Bluebell Railway
Photo © Ben Brooksbank (cc-by-sa/2.0).

The freight locomotives allocated to the depot in the 1950s and early 1960s were principally of LBSCR designs. The ‘C2X’ class 0-6-0 locomotives had once provided the mainstay of freight motive power in the area. There were eight of them at the depot in 1958, all then fifty years old. They were withdrawn during 1960 and 1961 with the last survivor leaving in February 1962. A friend and I were once given an unofficial footplate ride on ‘C2X’ No. 32522 around the shed yard in the Spring of 1961 by a cleaner. These were replaced by newer Southern Railway ‘Q ‘class recently made redundant from elsewhere in the region.

Black and white image of locomotive.

C2X Class 32532 at Three Bridges Depot in 1948.
Photo © Ben Brooksbank (cc-by-sa/2.0).

My favourite class were the larger mixed-traffic ‘K’ class, introduced just before the First World War. These had done prodigious work hauling both munitions and troop trains and had also later come into their own during the lead up to D-Day landings. They were robust locomotives, popular with the crews and capable of doing the work of much larger classes. Nine of the seventeen of them were allocated to Three Bridges and by 1961 they were the last pre-World War I class in the country still extant. Then, in December 1962, the entire class was withdrawn en-bloc. The decision to do so was due to a wish to keep up with the Southern Region’s withdrawal programme rather than any consideration of their usefulness or condition. This upset many local crews as most of them were in good working order and the replacement ‘N’ class, although newer, were thought to be inferior locomotives. The withdrawn ‘K’ class locos were stored at Hove Goods Yard for many months before they were cut up. No. 32345, was stabled at Three Bridges until September of 1963 in the hope that it might be purchased by the Bluebell Railway, but they needed rather to concentrate on buying the freehold of their track.

black and white image of locomotive on tracks.

K Class 2-6-0 No. 32342 at Brighton.
Photo © Ben Brooksbank (cc-by-sa/2.0).

The ‘K’ class duties were partly taken over by the ‘N’ class and the powerful ‘Q1’ class of 0-6-0, built by the Southern Railway in the early years of the Second World War. Four of these unusual looking locomotives were transferred to the depot in September 1962, followed by four more in September 1963 when the depot lost its locomotive allocation.

dark green locomotive on tracks. Yellow writing on side reads 'Southern'.

Q1 Class 0-6-0, C1 at the Bluebell Railway 1992
Photo © Ben Brooksbank (cc-by-sa/2.0).

Three sixty-five-year-old veteran tank loco-motives were allocated to the depot in the early 1960s. These were members of the ‘E4’ class, originally built for London suburban passenger trains but were still being used for shunting and short distance freight trains in the area until 1961. One of them even lasted until June 1962. Another survivor, no. 32473, formerly working at Nine Elms depot in London, was sold to the Bluebell Railway on 16th October 1962, where it was restored to its original livery and given the name ‘Birch Grove’.

Brown locomotive. writing on side reads: 473. Birch Grove.

E4 ‘’Birch Grove’ at Sheffield Park, Bluebell Railway Photo © Ben Brooksbank (cc-by-sa/2.0).

The two largest tender locomotives at the Three Bridges depot in the early 1960s were of the British Railways standard class ‘4’ mixed-traffic locomotives. The first of these, no. 75075 was transferred to the depot in May 1959 and the second, no. 75070 followed soon afterwards. Both were still relatively new having been built at Swindon Works in 1955. One or other of these was often to be found at the depot but I never did discover what duties they were used for.

Black locomative in steam, pulling red and cream carriages.

A British Railways Standard Class ‘4’ 4-6-0.
Photo © David P Howard (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The depot also retained four large modern class ‘4’ tank locomotives which were used on the morning and evening passenger services over the East Grinstead and Tunbridge Wells lines and also on steam services over the unelectrified lines between London, Brighton and Eastbourne via Oxted or Tunbridge Wells. These locomotives had been designed and more than one hundred built at Brighton Railway Works which was a significant builder of steam locomotives throughout the 1940s and 1950s until its closure in 1958.

Dark green locomotive with number 80151 on front.

BR Standard 4 Tank Engine No. 80151
© Helmut Zozmann (cc-by-sa/2.0).

The late fifties and early sixties therefore saw the rapid replacement of steam locomotives with their diesel equivalents. This began with the appearance of BR/English Electric (EE) diesel electric shunters of the standard 0-6-0 type (later BR ‘class 08’) which started to appear in the Three Bridges goods yards from the mid-1950s, although they were never allocated to, or serviced at, the depot, which concentrated on servicing steam locomotives. They were sent down from Norwood Junction depots, which housed and serviced numbers of them, to work for a week at a time before returning to their homes. The only regular mainline diesel sightings in the area were the BR/Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company (BRCW) ‘type 3’ Bo-Bo class, known as ‘Cromptons’ (later British Rail ‘class 33’). These were introduced in 1960 and were gradually spreading throughout the Southern Region as new examples were being delivered. By the summer of 1963 they were beginning to be stabled overnight at Three Bridges Depot although they were all allocated to Hither Green Diesel Depot in east London.

We were also lucky in Crawley living only twelve miles from the Bluebell railway at Horstead Keynes, which could easily be visited by bicycle. In the spring of 1961, when I first visited, they only had two tiny
0-6-0 tank engines operating. These were a Wainwright ‘P’ class of the SECR named ‘Bluebell’ and an ‘A1X’ class of the LBSCR, named ‘Stepney’. The ‘A1X’ class built between 1872 and 1880, were nicknamed ‘Terriers’ and were the oldest steam locomotives still at work.

Locomotive with word 'Bluebell' on side. Brown passenger carriages.

‘P’ class tank ‘Bluebell’ on Bluebell Railway at Sheffield Park.
Photo © Ben Brooksbank (cc-by-sa/2.0).

During the next three years the railway would acquire further interesting locomotive types from British Railways, including another A1X named Fenchurch. Other interesting acquisitions included the Adams radial 4-4-2 tank No. 488 from the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) or the former North London Railway (NLR) ‘goods’ locomotive No. 58850. Ultimately the Bluebell Railway would save about fifty steam locomotives and become the largest collection outside the National Railway Museum at York as well as relaying a substantial section of the original track as far as East Grinstead.

Green locomotive. Number on front is 488.

Adams radial tank 488 on Bluebell Railway
Photo © Ben Brooksbank (cc-by-sa/2.0).

As young teenagers our trainspotting activities were by no means restricted to Crawley, My friends and I made several visits to the Motive Power Depots at Brighton, Horsham (officially closed but still used for storing locomotives), and Redhill (usually accessible on Sundays when the offices were not manned). We travelled on non-electrified routes where steam still operated, such as Horsham to Brighton, Three Bridges to Tunbridge Wells, and Redhill to Guildford and Tonbridge, all funded by our earnings from our paper rounds. There were also opportunities for day trips to London the great centre for loco enthusiasts where there were a dozen or more large depots. My brother and I likewise used family holidays as opportunities to go trainspotting further afield.

By March 1964, when I was sixteen, trainspotting had begun to be depressing as so many locomotives that we loved were being scrapped. Also, I acquired a secondhand motor scooter and so my interests moved on. However, I have never regretted the five years that I spent as a keen train spotter and in the process I learned a great deal about economic history, political geography, mechanical engineering and many other subjects without being aware that I was doing so.

(David Stoker, May 2020)

West Green Primary School

There has been a primary school in West Green since 1824. When the New Town was built, so was a new primary school. A temporary building was built in 1950, and the permanent buildings followed soon after. Here are some photographs from our archives of the New Town school. For memories of the old school in the 1940s see

West Green Primary School - brick built 1950s school building, with three cars parked outside.
October 1951
West green Primary School - brick built 1950s school building with large windows
October 1951
Group of young children weeding a flower bed outside a school classroom.
West Green Primary school with children gardening, c1953. From Crawley Museum’s Collection.
Group photograph of 5 men and 6 women. Five of them are on chairs, 6 are standing behind. The men are wearing suits and the women are in summer dresses.
Group photo of teachers, 1959 or 1960

In the photograph of the teachers, we know that the man at the back on the left is Derek Slack, and the woman second from the right at the back is Sheila Parr. Molly Richards is front left. The man in the middle of the front row is the headmaster Mr Dennis. If you know who anyone else is, or would like to share your memories of the school please get in touch!

Crawley in the 1950s – one large adventure playground

By David Stoker

My family and I arrived in Crawley when I was three and a half years old. Our previous home had been a cramped second floor garret at 208 East Lane, Walworth, just off the Old Kent Road. It was the period leading up to the great London smogs and my elder brother was suffering badly from asthma. My parents had been advised by the doctors at the Evelina Children’s Hospital to move him away from the city as quickly as possible. Their first plan was to emigrate to Canada, but then my father, who was a carpenter, discovered that if he worked for the New Towns Commission for a year, his family would be allocated a brand new three-bedroomed house. Thus, we moved to 19 Blackdog Walk, Northgate, on 1 November 1951 which was then in the centre of one huge unenclosed building site. Within a few weeks there were two or three other children living in the street of roughly the same age as me.

When we arrived, the houses and flats in Oak Way, Five Acres and Willow Close were all still under construction, and our weekends and summer evenings were spent exploring the local building sites, climbing ladders, running along scaffoldings in a way that would horrify modern parents. My brother was then five and had to go to school, but I and a young friend were free to roam around and even ‘offer to help’ the builders. No-one seemed to object to our presence. At one time there was a large stack of bricks on some waste land between Oak Way and Willow Close which was later used to build a run of garages. Myself and several older friends burrowed into this stack and then covered it with wooden planks to create a den for ourselves. Inevitably there were the occasional accidents and I still have the scar on my left knee gained from falling over whilst playing on the site of the bungalow at the Oak Way end of Blackdog Walk.

In March 1953 I went to school. The Northgate Infants and Junior School were then under construction but not ready to accept children and so for the first term I attended the Prefab school situated on the corner of Oak Way and Barnfield Road. We still used slates and chalk to learn our letters and numbers, and I clearly remember the outdoor party we had to celebrate the Queen’s Coronation when we were all presented with a mug. My mother had a job as a secretary at ‘The Beehive’ at Gatwick Airport, and we were looked after by our granny. On one occasion during the school holidays, when there was nobody else available to keep an eye on me my mother took me with her to her work.  and I spent an afternoon amusing myself on the derelict stands of the Gatwick Racecourse, shortly before its demolition to make way for the new airport terminal, or else watching trains at the old Gatwick Airport station.

Gradually the building work in Northgate came to an end and the builders moved on to Langley Green, so we had to find other forms and places of entertainment. There were lots of green spaces in Northgate and trees, bicycle sheds and other unoccupied buildings to climb on. Also, we built dams on the stream that separated Northgate from Three Bridges. Once, when I was about nine, I knocked myself unconscious and slid into the water as a result of a poorly secured rope swing over this stream, but fortunately my friends were able to drag me out. There was the wide strip of unused land between Northgate and Manor Royal which is now the route of Crawley Avenue and where we used to collect frogspawn and look out for newts. We would build soap box carts to race down the hill from the roundabout (now called the Tushmore Gyratory) down past the flats. The traffic was so light that it did not matter if we carried on into Five Acres.

One of my friends at Primary School told me where one could find a pile of rusty hand grenades at Gatwick Airport and so I accompanied him there to explore. The majority of these grenades had been drilled out and made safe, but every so often we would come across one that had been missed and contained a pin, now very corroded. These we causally tossed to one side whilst I selected one of the safe ones to take home with me as a souvenir. My father went berserk when he got home from work as he had recently been working on the Gatwick Airport site and knew that unexploded ordnance was found there from time to time. In fact, he had once witnessed the results when a reckless building worker threw an unused bomb that he had found onto a bonfire. My father insisted on burying my souvenir in our back garden. I never told him about the unsafe ones that we had found.

My brother had been to the school in West Green and he told me about the famous workshop at No. 2 Leopold Road where John Haigh, ‘the acid bath murderer’ had committed his nefarious crimes, so inevitably we had to go and explore. Another long-distance adventure during my childhood was a trip to ‘the Hawth’ which was then a large and rather mysterious wood pitted with what appeared to be bomb craters. In April each year it would be a sea of bluebells and we would return home with arms full of them.

The year seemed to be divided up into various seasons that were unconsciously recognised by children. Thus, hopscotch and marbles, were always played in the spring, whereas conkers could only be played in September when the fruit was freely available. (Nobody would dream about using protective glasses!) However, the highlight of our communal street activities for the year was Bonfire Night, on 5th of November. At the beginning of October each year the local shops began to stock fireworks. Strictly speaking they were not supposed to be sold to children under the age of fourteen but this law was largely ignored by local shopkeepers, and even where it was enforced, there was never any difficulty in persuading an adult or older child to act as our proxy. (In the same way, my granny always sent me to the local parade of shops in Northgate to buy her cigarettes: ten ‘Weights’ at one shilling and four pence (approx. £0.07 today) with me being allowed to keep the two pence change from one shilling and six pence (£0.075) ‘for going’.) In the lead up to Bonfire Night I would use this change to buy two penny bangers. A group of us would also dress up a guy in old clothes and drag it around town on one of our soap box carts begging for ‘a penny for the guy’ from passers-by which we would subsequently use to buy fireworks.

Setting off fireworks in the street, in advance of the formal Bonfire Night, was not at all unusual. We quickly learned the advantages of placing bangers in confined spaces to enhance their impact, for example by putting them into milk bottles or metal pipes, which could be quite impressive, although we had enough sense to stand well back. Likewise, I once put a lighted banger in a little round access hole in the ground which was covered by a cast iron lid chained to the rim. The subsequent ‘dull thud’ could be felt in the ground several feet away and the lid was sent flying 10-12 feet into the air despite the metal chain. I am not aware of any serious injuries to humans or animals caused by my friends and I at this time but there were certainly several ‘near misses’. It wasn’t only the children’s activities with fireworks that could go wrong. The planned back garden display supervised by my uncle Fred, who lived in Furzefield, West Green, was once over in less than five minutes, when a ‘Jumping Jack’, one of the first to be ignited, landed in his open box of fireworks.

All the local children in Northgate would collect wood and rubbish during the lead up to the 5th November for a large communal bonfire on the then unused land between Willow Close and Green Lane. There were always plenty of adults around for these occasions so this was a time for letting off the ‘pretty fireworks’: the Catherine wheels, roman candles, rockets, sparklers etc rather than the penny bangers and Jumping Jacks that were normally a part of our street games.

In the mid-1950s the Crawley Urban District Council provided an ‘adventure playground’ for local children on some land next to Ifield Avenue between the Town Meadow football ground and the public playing fields. This area was equipped with picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, carpentry tools and loads of scrap wood for the kids to do what they liked, largely unsupervised. It was a great place for the children but today would represent a Health and Safety Officer’s nightmare. The attached photograph, taken in the summer of 1957 shows a group of us next to an oak tree that we had unsuccessfully attempted to burn down the previous week. (I think this was one occasion when the adults did step in.)

Group of nine boys. 5 standing in front of a large tree, three climbing up it and one on a rope swing.

The boys in the picture are mostly from Northgate Primary School, I am second from the top, my friend Keith Holt is above me, and his brother, David, is standing on the rope swing. The boy in the check shirt holding him is Robert Thompson, but I cannot name the others. By this time my brother had moved on to Hazlewick School and begun to take an interest in girls.

During the summer of 1959 I transferred from Northgate Primary School to The Thomas Bennett School, in Tilgate and a new chapter in my childhood began, involving other more civilised interests and pre-occupations. Crawley was a wonderful place for young children to grow up in the 1950s, even if at times it could be a little bit risky for them. I feel sorry for modern children who now have so much less freedom than we were allowed.

(David Stoker, 2019)

John Barrett-Lennard – Victorian Rector of Crawley

(By Graham Crozier)

Photo of St Johns Church

Photograph of St John’s Church from Crawley Museum’s collection.

John Barrett-Lennard served as Rector of St. John the Baptist, Crawley, for twenty-two years in the late Victorian period.

Born in 1839, he was the fifth and youngest son of Sir Thomas Barrett-Lennard and Mary Shedden, his father being ‘an advanced and independent Whig’ who was MP for Ipswich and then Maldon in Essex on three occasions between 1829 and 1852. The family often spent time in Brighton in the period when it was first becoming fashionable; Barrett-Lennard would retain his connections with the town throughout his life.

He married Isabella Loraine, daughter of Sir John Lambton Loraine, in 1861. They had three children: Constance, Emily Isabella (‘Tottie’), and Herbert Loraine Barrett-Lennard.

Barrett-Lennard followed what might be seen as a typical career route for a younger son of the gentry, initially becoming a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, a vocation which seems not to have suited him, as he held junior posts in the Anglican Church in London and Shropshire before arriving in Crawley in 1876.

Despite his fathers’ political leanings, John Barrett-Lennard was a staunch Conservative. As Rector of the parish, he would have traditionally been entitled to income from tithe payments, but since the Whig reforms of the 1830s the rights of the parish to such monies had been curtailed. The privileges of the Anglican Church had also been under threat from Gladstonian Liberalism since the start of the 1870s, especially from policies on Church disestablishment, and land and local government reform. The latter progressively weakened the formal role of the parish in local decision-making, with the vestry meeting gradually being superceded by elected parish councils in the 1890s.

Barrett-Lennard followed the path of the ‘Low’ or Evangelical Church in his approach the Anglicanism. Since the 1830s, the Church had been torn between those who wished to see a return to a more ritualistic, Anglo-Catholic approach to worship, typified by the Tractarian or Oxford Movement, and those who wished to retain the principles of a Reformed Church, that minimized emphasis on priesthood, sacraments and ceremonial in worship. This was at a time when the number of people regularly attending church was falling, with the proportion going to their local parish church well under half the total. Indeed, the controversy over forms of worship led to anti-ritualist riots in many places, including Lewes in 1857 and in Brighton in 1860s.

Barrett-Lennard would have been very aware of these problems in the Church when he arrived in Crawley in 1876, and the stagnating conditions he faced at St. John the Baptist would have confirmed the need for speedy action.

Peter Gwynne says of Barrett-Lennard that he ‘… was a strong but unorthodox parson. He was a good advertisement for what was elsewhere called ‘muscular Christianity’. Sometimes he walked to Brighton, then along the Downs, before walking home. During the week he dressed in grey tweeds and only wore his clerical collar on Sundays.’

The Anglican Church in the parish faced a number of problems. It is often written that the 1880s where a turning-point for Crawley, and in terms of improvements in lighting, drainage and sewage, road surfacing, and general social and economic improvement, this was the case. However, despite the arrival of the railway, the population of the parish throughout this period remained under 500 (unlike in Ifield where in steadily grew). There was also healthy competition for the souls of people living in the area, with improving facilities for Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers and Roman Catholics during the 1850s and 1860s. Ifield Anglicans were catered for with a new chapel of ease in West Green, in 1880.

But the most serious challenge facing Barrett-Lennard was the physical condition of St. John’s itself.  Despite some earlier attempts at restoration in the 1840s, by 1876 the interior of the church was damp and the woodwork rotting. The churchyard was overgrown with weeds and inhabited by sheep and chickens. People had encroached on church land to built mean houses and huts. In 1881, the churchyard was closed by the Home Office due to lack of space.

Barrett-Lennard set about restoring the fabric of the existing church and extending it’s use. Raising money through public subscription, in 1879-80 a north aisle and seating was added, the altar raised, and the gallery taken down and reused as choir stalls. The chancel was enlarged, with an organ chamber and vestry. A keen campanologist, he installed a new peel of bells and formed a band of ringers. He used his woodworking skills to carve new ornamentation to the stalls.

In the last years of his life, Barrett-Lennard raised more money, through a High Street Improvement Fund, to open access to the church from the High Street, demolishing two cottages and making a wider entrance. He had plans to do more, but died before they could be put into effect.

Apart from this and his duties as parish priest, Barrett-Lennard was an active member of the local community. He was a popular speaker, especially when such duties were attached to a public dinner; he attended all the dinners laid on by local clubs and societies! In 1882, he helped found the Crawley Debating Society, along with other local luminaries such as Dr.TH Martin and businessman George Simmins. As part of his educational work, he promoted football and boxing as improving sports for young men, very much in spirit of ‘muscular Christianity’.

He was a member of the ‘Loyal Deerswood’ Lodge of Odd Fellows, dedicated to the improvement of the working man’s moral character, through ‘thrift, forethought and prudence.’ This would have paralleled the work of a thriving temperance movement in the town in the latter years of the century.

He was not always in accord with the leisure pursuits of the local community, in particular attacking rabbit coursing and sparrow shooting as having an ‘… evil and brutalising effect … upon many of the uneducated spectators.’ When questioned on why he condemned these pursuits and not fox hunting, he declared: ‘I have no more sympathy for the cruelties of the rich than I have for the cruelties of the poor – much less, in fact, for the better educated man ought to be more humane.’

Other stories about Barrett-Lennard are equally illustrative of his character, such as his berating of a gypsy woman for putting her washing out on a Sunday, or his facing-down of a quarrelsome workman who invited people to fight him when the pubs closed on Sundays.

He died in December 1898, aged just 59. His memorial tablet near the pulpit in St John’s reads: ‘through his energy this ancient church was restored, enlarged and beautified.’ He was succeeded by his son Herbert, who remained Rector until 1928.

John Barrett-Lennard stands as an example of the sturdy, upright Victorian gentlemen who oversaw the growth of the Crawley-Ifield-Three Bridges area in a period of rapid change and improvement, creating a relatively prosperous commercial-agricultural community, equal to any town in the north of Sussex.


Elleray DR (1981) The Victorian Churches of Sussex. Phillimore.

Gwynne P. (1990) A History of Crawley. Phillimore.

Hygate N. (1993) Wayfarer Denman’s Crawley Revisited. Performance Publications.

Lowerson J (ed), (1980) Crawley. Victorian New Town. University of Sussex.

No author (1981) The Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Crawley, Sussex.

Visit Us

01293 539088

The Tree

103 High Street


West Sussex

RH10 1DD

© 2020 Crawley Museum  All Rights Reserved

Website created by Creative Pod