Book Review – “The Tree” by Nadine Hygate

book cover image of house on yellow background. Writing reads 'The Tree, 103 High Street, Crawley, West Sussex

This book by well-known Crawley historian Nadine Hygate, provides a fascinating look at ‘… the oldest known survivor of the houses from the original settlement of Crawley.’ Known by a variety of names, including Crawley Place and Elm Tree Cottage, the building is today simply ‘The Tree’.

Hygate provides a detailed narrative history of the building and its occupants, from its possible origins in the fourteenth century to 2016, when work had begun on converting it into the present Crawley Museum.

The prologue contains fascinating facts about the Elm tree after which the cottage is named and this tree’s various uses in its long history.

The book then looks at the building’s varied uses: the farm for a landed estate, through being a cottage residence of various families, owners or tenants, from the fifteenth to the seventeen centuries including the family of ironmaster Leonard Gale, to the association of the building with the medical profession. Crawley doctors included the Dungate and Chatfield families in the eighteen century and, from about 1795, Dr. Robert Smith and then his son Dr. Thomas Smith. This section of the book includes an interesting vignette of the cartoonist John Leech, who was apprenticed to Thomas Smith before pursuing a career in London, most famously in the pages of ‘Punch’ magazine.

The lives of Smith’s children at The Tree are discussed, up to the death of Eleanor Smith in 1935. The house continued as a residence, for the Streatfeild family, and subsequent tenants, until 1954 when it was acquired by the Crawley Development Corporation.
Its uses during the years of the New Town have been largely administrative, with occupation by Crawley Borough Council and the Citizens Advice Bureau, but including periods when the building was left empty. Renovation work starting in 2015 has now resulted in the new Crawley Museum as an outstanding facility to showcase the town’s history and culture.

The book does not neglect the physical construction of The Tree and the various changes that have taken place to that construction. There is also material on the barn or ‘Moot Hall’ that stood next to the cottage (now reconstructed at Singleton).

Nadine Hygate has written a thorough and well-illustrated account of an overlooked landmark of Crawley, that deserves to be widely read, especially by anyone interested in local architecture or family history, or the development of Crawley society.

(Graham Crozier)

Crawley Coat of Arms

Wooden coat of arms, depicting lion with hammer on top of a crowned helmet. Shield below shows 9 martlets and 4 acorns. Motto reads 'I grow and I rejoice'

This hand carved coat of arms was donated by the Borough Council to Crawley Museum in 1992.

This version of the coat of arms was officially granted on February 8th 1957 and thus the carving dates back to the late 1950s.

The cross represents the position of the town geographically at the intersection of the main London to Brighton road and the Horsham to East Grinstead road.

The birds on the cross are the traditional Sussex Martlets which appear in coats of arms throughout the county of Sussex as they have done since the South Saxons first settled in this area. The fact that there are nine of them refers to the original nine neighbour hoods planned for the New Town, namely Gossops Green, Ifield, Langley Green, Northgate, Pound Hill, Southgate, Three Bridges, Tilgate and West Green.

The acorns symbolise the oak forests that once covered most of North Sussex whilst also representing steady growth.

The royal lion at the top of the coat of arms represents Manor Royal whilst the hammer it holds represents the industry situated there. The palisaded crown out of which the lion is rising comes from the crest of the now defunct Crawley Development Corporation and signifies a planned environment.

The coat of arms was modified in 1974 because of boundary changes which saw the transfer of Gatwick Airport from Surrey to West Sussex. The shield is now supported by two winged creatures, one an eagle representing the Airport and the other a winged lion because it is a British airport. The fret work on their wings and the thunderbolts they are holding represent the growing electrical and electronics industry in the town.

Underneath the shield is the Borough motto “I grow and I rejoice” which is a translation taken from Seneca’s Epistulae to Lucilius. Seneca was a Roman philosopher, statesman, dramatist and humourist who wrote a series of moral guidance letters to his friend Lucilius who was the procurator of Sicily during the reign of Nero as Roman emperor. Seneca lived from 4BC to 65 AD. The motto was chosen to signify the building of a happy and expanding community.

The Coat of Arms is on permanent display in the Modern Crawley Gallery at Crawley Museum.

(Written by Steve Leake)

Book Review – “John George Haigh. The Acid Bath Murderer” by Jonathan Oates

Book Review of
John George Haigh. The Acid Bath Murderer
by Jonathan Oates

Published by Pen and Sword, 214pps

Book cover - photo of man's face with the text 'John George Haigh the Acid-Bath Murderer: A Portrait of a serial killer and his victims' Jonathan Oates

In February 1948 a man and woman were lured to a basement property in Leopold Road, Crawley, and there were murdered and their bodies dissolved in an oil drum filled with acid. The couple were Dr. Archibald Henderson and his wife Rosalie. The murderer was John George Haigh, known to posterity as the Acid Bath Murderer. The Hendersons were just two of the six people killed by Haigh between 1944 and 1949. Haigh claimed to be a vampire, but his crimes were actually motivated by money or the lack of it.
In this meticulous account of Haigh’s life and crimes, Jonathan Oates seeks to correct the myths surrounding the case and to give due attention to the lives of his victims. He looks in detail at the police investigation, Haigh’s trial and execution, and gives thorough consideration to the range of theories about his character and motivations.
Haigh came from a loving but very conservative and austere Plymouth Brethren background, which he attempted to partly blame for his actions. Although not anti-social, he was nevertheless described as distant, with a sense of superiority that came from the certainties of his parent’s beliefs. From childhood, he was neat and clean in his manner; ingratiating with ‘a strain of narcissism’, seeking ‘a lifestyle he felt he was entitled to.’ He cultivated an ‘aura of disreputable glamour’, sporting a moustache that he believed made him look like the film star Ronald Colman. His short marriage and total disregard for a baby daughter, showed an ‘emotionally shallow and callous personality.’
Haigh spent much of the war years in and out of prison, with convictions for fraud, theft and receiving stolen goods. He seems to have eluded military service by either being locked up or just not being where he was supposed to be!
In 1944, Donald McSwan, was also attempting to avoid military service when Haigh murdered him and dissolved his body, before defrauding and killing McSwan’s parents. Then, in 1948, Haigh killed the Hendersons at his ‘factory’ in Giles Yard, Leopold Road, Crawley. Again, the motive appears to have been financial as he used forged documents to empty their bank accounts, as well as selling their jewellery, car and property. Finally, Olive Durand-Deacon was lured to Crawley and murdered in 1949; it was the undissolved remains of Mrs Durand-Deacon that finally set the police on Haigh’s trail.
All these events, along with the trial and execution, are covered at length in the book. Crawley takes centre stage in many sections of the account, and it would still be possible to follow Haigh’s career around the town, if you were so inclined!
Oates is at pains to present as balanced a view of Haigh as possible. Was he mad or simply very bad? Did his claims that he drank his victims blood seem plausible? The evidence is weighed with great care here, but ultimately it is still up to the reader to come to conclusions as to the motivations for these grizzly crimes.

(Graham Crozier)

You can buy this book in our online shop

Characters of Crawley

Display board with images and text about 'Characters of Crawley'. These are: Ron Shaw, Romesh Ranganathan, Gareth Southgate, Stuart Harold, John George Haigh, Alfred Morris Jackaman, The Cure.

In our Modern Crawley gallery there is a board called ‘Characters of Crawley’. It gives the details of famous people associated with Crawley. These are: Ron Shaw, Romesh Ranganathan, Gareth Southgate, Stuart Harold, John George Haigh, Alfred Morris Jackaman, The Cure.

We’ve been thinking about who else should be on those boards. Who is missing?

At the museum we have our own thoughts and ideas, but we’d also like to know what you think.

Let us know in the comments!

Eunice Clement

Eunice Clement - grey haired woman sitting in garden, wearing pink cardigan and brown skirt.

We are sad to report that Eunice Clement died on 1st May 2020 aged 91. She leaves three daughters, Catherine, Sorrell and Louise.
The cause of death was Covid-19 pneumonia and she died in hospital. The funeral was led by Roger Baker of Ifield Quaker Meeting on 26th May. (If you wish to make a donation in Eunice’s memory, you can do so at

Eunice and her husband Ken were staunch members and volunteers at Ifield Mill and Goff’s Park Museum. Eunice lived to visit the new museum at the Tree in Crawley High Street. The visit was the culmination of forty five years of her service towards the development of a museum for Crawley.

Eunice’s husband Kenneth was a member of the team that Ted Henbery gathered to restore Ifield Watermill from 1974 onwards. Ken died a few years ago. His engineering skills were invaluable in the rebuilding of machinery for the workings of the mill. Ken’s hobby was in making musical stringed instruments, especially violins.

Eunice joined the museum committee soon after it was formed in the late 1970s and continued serving for many years, at one time as the museum society secretary. Her knowledge of history and recent local history was invaluable. She wrote and contributed to several booklets, to be sold at the mill and museum. Her leadership in running courses held at Goffs Park on various historical subjects were well attended and very much appreciated.

Eunice was a valued volunteer at Ifield Watermill and Goff’s Park Museum, helping as a guide and serving in the visitors’ shop.

Eunice and her husband Ken’s contributions in the restoration and development of Crawley’s Museum have been invaluable and should never be forgotten. Long may their services and dedication to the museums over 45 years be forever remembered.

(by Nick Sexton)

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?

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The Tree

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