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)

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

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