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)

Broadfield House – a short story

The night my father met John Haigh, the acid bath murderer.

Broadfield House is a Georgian mansion built in the early 1800s. It is situated on what was once the main London to Brighton Road (A23) just south of Crawley.  A long drive leads up to the house, crossing Broadfield Brook before curving south. If you followed the drive round to the end you came to Broadfield cottage, my childhood home, nestled in woods and fields.  Sadly, it is no longer there, nor are the fields and woods, all having been replaced with Crawley New Town houses and roads. Broadfield House is still there, although looking less splendid now.

The land around Broadfield House originally consisted of landscaped gardens and lake, orchards, grass tennis court, a walled garden with greenhouses, yards, barns and residences for the workers at the house. The estate, much changed, is a now a public nature park owned by Crawley Borough Council.

I lived in Broadfield Cottage with my parents, Vera (neé Parsons) and Jack Cook, my two sisters, Jean and Cheryl, and my brother David.

My father was caretaker of Broadfield House and the offices, as well as being head gardener on the estate from 1946 to 1979.  We grew up in its shadow: playing on the veranda, exploring its creepy cellars and of course playing in the beautiful grounds.

After work, my father would sit down and tell us stories about his life.

There was the one about how he was nearly caught when scrumping for apples, and another about the time he was a ‘stop boy’ for the local shoot at Tilgate Mansion. He lived at Tilgate walled garden, at this time, with his parents George and Alice Cook.

We also heard about his first job at aged fourteen when he worked in a laundry in Three Bridges. He had to turn a ‘dolly’ all day to clean clothes, and his wages were twelve shillings and six pence for the week.

There were stories of more recent events, such as the time in 1950 that the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, visited the architect’s offices (Broadfield House) where the new town was being planned.

As caretaker, my father had to fit a special lavatory for the royal visit. He spent a long time getting it ready, but she never used it!

In 1958 the Queen visited Crawley again and my father was honoured to be one of those who had lunch with her at The George Hotel in Crawley (I still have the seating plan and menu!)

But the most fascinating story that my father told us was the one about the time he met John Haigh, the famous acid bath murderer.

My parents were asked to move into Broadfield House for a few months to oversee the closing down of the country club.

(From the memoir of Jack Cook, 1918-1999)

‘One night in January 1948 there was a knock on the door. When I opened it there were two men standing there.

“Yes?” I said, “What can I do for you?”  I noticed one man had very grey hair, the other dark.

“My name is Haigh,” said the dark-haired man, “and this is my friend Dr Henderson. I have booked dinner for two here tonight.”

I said, “You can’t have done because the hotel has been closed down for the last three months”

“But I have,” said Haigh. He took a small diary from his pocket.

The doctor looked at him and said, “Haigh you are mad, I always said you were mad.”

Haigh then asked if he could use the phone and I said, “Yes, come in.”

I heard him speaking to someone in Brighton.

Dr Henderson pulled a gold cigarette case from his pocket and took out a cigarette.

When Haigh had finished the call he said, “If anyone calls here and asks for me, tell them to go to the Punch Bowl in Crawley.”

He gave me two shillings for the phone call and they both left. It had all seemed rather odd.’

My father was later interviewed by the police when they were investigating the Haigh murders – he had been one of the last people to see Henderson alive. Henderson was probably murdered in Haigh’s workshop in Leopold Road, Crawley that very night! Shortly afterwards, Haigh also murdered Henderson’s wife and, like the rest of his victims, her body was disposed of in a vat of acid.

I’m glad that I encouraged my father to write a memoir. It’s full of all the stories he told us and is a book I’ll always treasure.

By Shirley Anne Cook. 

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Black and white photograph of the exterior of Broadfield House - large white house with grass in front and trees to the sides and behind.
Broadfield House (with thanks to Shirley Anne Cook for the use of the photograph)

A true story of two schoolboys from Crawley and how the weight of history fell on one of them – A short story

“I do not like thee, Doctor Fell ,
The reason why – I cannot tell ;
But this I know , and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell”.

Sometimes members of a family meet and the talk turns to their memories.
On one such occasion I was told a story by my cousin. The story, though some fifty years old, was scored into his memory, and it included a part for me.
He related that aged about ten he had been set the task of writing a poem for homework and he was not confident about fulfilling his task. Luckily on a visit to me he saw a poem in my handwriting which he thought I was the author of and he memorised it. Later he changed some of the words then handed it in to school as his own work.
The homework received a commendation, even as far as an assembly I thought he said. But then another teacher thought that they recognised the piece and his plagiarism was discovered, he was disgraced.
At another meeting a few months later I asked him to write the verse as he remembered it and he produced the following:
“I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why – I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell”.

The verse was written by Tom Brown in 1680 when he was a student at Oxford university. The Dean of his college was Doctor Fell. Brown had taken part in some mischief and faced expulsion. To avoid expulsion he was given an exercise in Latin translation. The result of Browns translation was the verse quoted above.
It became cause celebe and then a nursery rhyme. Even though my cousin’s story, with its echo of ‘school trouble ‘ in the origin of the rhyme our attention now turns to my part in it.
My cousin said that the rhyme was in my handwriting and stuck to my door and yet I have no memory of it and this contrasts with a memory I do have from around the same time and it’s the memory of buying a book from a beach-front kiosk while on holiday. The book was “The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” by Robert Louis Stephenson which contains a reference to Doctor Fell. It is more alluding to the rhyme than a reference but if the copy I had contained footnotes then it is possible that I copied it from there.
Just one question for my cousin, did he recite the nursery rhyme to his children?,
Excerpt from “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde ” by Robert Louis Stevenson
“Mr Utterson regarded him, ‘There must be something else,’ said the perplexed gentleman. ‘There is something more, if I could find a name for it. God bless me, the man seems hardly human! Something troglodytic, shall we say? Or can it be the old story of Dr Fell?”
No footnotes or annotations in this edition.

By Tim Holt

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Charles Kenneth Mitchell

Portrait of a young man

Portrait of Kenneth Mitchell, year unknown. CWSCM:2019/4880.157.13

Charles Kenneth Mitchell was born 1st October 1889 to parents Charles James and Sarah Blanch Mitchell. He had one sister; Blanche Mary who was 4 years older. Charles senior worked as the Postmaster for Crawley while the family lived in locally at 24 High Street and later New Road.

Kenneth or Ken to his friends was a popular lad, a member of the local choir as well as playing football and cricket in Crawley and Three Bridges. In the 1911 census he is a 21-year-old man working as an estate agent while living at the family home, Roxham, Post Office Road, Crawley.

When war broke out there was a need for young men to sign up. The 11th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment was formed on 7th August 1914 in Bexhill. The 11th along with the 12th and 13th regiments were know locally as Lowther’s Lambs because they had been raised by Claud Lowther MP. We do not know when Ken signed up, but it must have been soon after the battalion’s formation.

Shortly after joining, tragedy struck when Ken was admitted to Bexhill Hospital with Spotted Fever which developed into Meningitis and killed him on Friday 5th February 1915. He was 25 years old. During the time spent with the battalion in Cooden Camp, Bexhill he achieved the rank of Lance-Corporal.

Grave stone of Charles Kenneth Mitchell

Kenneth’s grave stone in St John’s churchyard, Crawley.

Ken’s body was transported by motor hearse to Crawley where he was buried in a military grave at St. John the Baptist Church the following Wednesday. His coffin was partially draped in a union flag, carried from the family home by uniformed service men, followed by floral tributes, the Crawley Boy Scouts, The Manchester Regiment which was based in Three Bridges and mourners. At the end of the service three volleys were fired over the grave and the Last Post played on the bugle. Sadly, Charles James was too ill to attend the funeral.

At a local fundraising event for the war effort shortly after Ken’s death, Mr Lehmann is reported to have said “Mr Mitchell had died for his country just as surely as if a bullet from the Germans had brought him down in the trenches. … and when the time came to erect a Roll of Honour for those in the district who had died for the country’s cause, the name Kenneth Mitchell would not be absent.” (Richardson, 2011, p. 75-76).

Bronze plaque inscribed with Charles Kenneth Mitchell

Kenneth’s death penny was donated to the Crawley Museum in 2019. CWSCM:2019/4880.173

The 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions went on to be sacrificial lambs at the Boar’s Head raid to draw German attention away from the battle of the Somme further south. 30th June 1916 subsequently became known as The Day Sussex Died due to the amount of men that were wounded or killed at Boar’s Head and is where Lowther’s Lambs got their name.

Ken is one of two soldiers who died during the First World War to be buried at St. John the Baptist Church Crawley. Gunner Howard Clement Pace died on 5th July 1916 aged 22 and was buried in the plot next to Ken shortly after. Both are remembered on the plaques outside of Memorial Gardens, Crawley and on the war memorial outside the same church.


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Find My Past

Imperial War Museum

Richardson, Renny. (2011). All the Bright Company of Heaven, Menin House, Eastbourne.

Contemporary Collecting and Covid 19

At Crawley Museum we are committed to continued work with our local communities,  including  engagement with the museum’s collections and collecting contemporary items that represent Crawley’s life and diversity.

In this unique time we are keen to capture Crawley’s experiences of Covid 19, the lockdown and any impacts that it may have.  However, at present, we know that you have more  important things to do such as maintaining your health and communicating with family and friends.

Once the museum is back up and running, which we hope to be soon, we will be putting the official call out for your memories, archives, pictures, and objects that represent coronavirus and the lockdown to you and Crawley. In the meantime, please hold on to the things that you would like to donate and we will start collecting them from you once it is safe to do so.

Please stay safe and we will see you soon.

Crabbet Park Memories

My memories of growing up on a private estate, Crabbet Park, in the village of Worth.

As children, my brother, sister and I, had the most wonderful life. Freedom to play, in woodland, streams, forest and fields of the lands owned by Lady Wentworth.

Our lives at Crabbet Park were regulated by the needs of the Arab horses and the farming calendar, and we were most fortunate to be included in these activities.

My father, Burges Stace was head stallion man up at Caxtons Stables, and we lived in a pair of cottages built in the Sussex style in 1938, later demolished for the M23 motorway.

My first memories of the horses are being held up to stroke Oran, a quiet stallion and breathe in the lovely, nutty smell of a clean horse! My father took me to work with him most days before I started school, and then in the school holidays.

The quiet of the barn, where the young colts spent their first year, was a wonderful playground, this stood next to Caxtons Farm House, a very old house, lived in by a lovely lady, Peggy Leppard and her husband, Harry. Peggy was a firm favourite of mine and my sisters, as she would call for us on her way home from the Big House where she was Lady Wentworth`s housekeeper, over to the delights of Caxtons House, sweets in the old syrup tin, mystery doors and huge fireplaces, we loved to stay there with her, and `help` her with the `house` sewing.

My father, Burges Stace, was a stallion man for Lady Wentworth, and worked from 15 years of age to when Cecil Covey gave up the Arab Horses Stud, which was in 1973, when my dad was 63, a total of 48 years man and boy.

In the afternoons on the estate, the men carried out maintenance work along side the farm workers, but my dad also had other tasks. To me the most enjoyable, was mole catching. Whole afternoons spent in my dad’s company, wandering round the fields of Crabbet and Frogshole, rain or shine. Spotting which traps had been sprung,I would feel so very sorry for the moles, who were after all only doing what moles do.

Men leading stallions through brick archway

Coronation Stables Parade Ground – Fred Branch, Fred Rice, Peter Hardwood. (photograph from Stella Berrisford)

In the autumn we spent many hours hedging and ditching, laying new hedges, replacing fences, this was an added bonus as the men on the estate always received a wagon load of wood for their fires, and fence rails to me and my sister were so easily stackable when sawn.

Dad’s other duties were chaff cutting, a horrible, dusty job, which contributes to `farmers lung’ caused by heavy dust particles., which eventually in his retirement caused his death. Another chore down at the `bottom` feed house, was the boiling of the linseed, and then dad had to carry two heavy steaming buckets on a neck yoke, up Caxtons Hill to the stallion stables, as a child, I disliked this so much, I thought that my dear dad was used without consideration when I knew there were tractors available.

Harvesting at Crabbet, Wakemans Green and Frogshole took up a great deal of the men’s working hours, working until dusk, arriving home filthy dirty, and no running hot water! Our hot water was heated in a copper outside, my mother was a hero, backwards and forwards with the buckets to wash and bathe in. In those days , all the men took to the harvest fields were bottles of cold tea to keep up their fluids.

Lady Wentworth was very much against cutting down any trees, so any emergency limbing or cutting had to be done when she was not around, my dad and Peter Harwood did most of the estates tree work, and subsequent bonfires, another children’s joy, smelly hair and clothes but lots of fun.

All the maintenance work on the buildings at Crabbet were carried out by Mannings & Co from Crawley Down, including the interiors of the cottages, they also creosoted the fences around the stables, still an aroma to bring back memories of hot sunny days.

Mares, foals and grooms in stable yard

Coronation Stables yard – mares and foals – Fred Branch, Rod Stace, Cecil Covey. Photograph from Stella Berrisford.

On afternoons in spring when the mares and foals were being brought in, my sister, Daphne and I would like to go down the hill to The Coronation Stables yard to watch our Uncle Rod and the other men, round up the foals and sort them into the right stables, our parents were told that it was really too dangerous for us, so we had to forego the excitement of watching the men shout and the whole place like a wild west show, and console ourselves with feeding our favourite stallions with as much grass as we could carry in our outstretched skirts.

Village life centred around the church, and Sunday School. We attended both, my brother and I achieving 100% attendance most years. We had wonderful Christmas parties, sports days and an outing to the seaside every year. The Worth Horticultural Society had their annual show at the Worth School, we always went along in the hope that our dad would win the pig, the nearest we got to this, was our next door neighbour won a goose, named by us as Gracie, and she lived for 15years. She was a wonderful guard goose, in her dislike of men and boys she would honk, hiss and flap her wings, much to our delight.

Crabbet Park and the way of life changed dramatically after Lady Wentworth died in 1957. Cecil Covey inherited Caxtons Stables and Frogshole Farm, the stallions stayed at Caxtons, and the brood mares went down to newly built stables at Frogshole Farm where Cecil Covey lived. The estate at Crabbet Park changed forever with a wood merchant buying and taking down all the commercially viable trees. The land changed hands many times, before the intervention of the M23 motorway.

A Racing Yard was run from the Coronation Stables and the threshing barn was renovated into a dwelling house. After this it was a nationally acclaimed riding school, it changed hands again and is still to this day a riding school.

When the M23 motorway was planned, a parcel of Caxtons land was required and my family’s home was demolished to make way for the motorway. Then Cecil Covey decided to give up his Arab Horses altogether, so new homes were built for my parents and their neighbours further along the Turners Hill Road.

Frogshole Farm was also wanted by the Crawley Town planners, so that was also sold and became Maidenbower a new neighbourhood of Crawley.

four men leading horses along a country lane

Caxtons Drive – 4 horses with Fred Rice, Rod Stace, unknown, Cecil Covey – photograph from Stella Berrisford

To find out more about Crabbet Park, read Liz Archer”s articles

And more memories from Stella Berrisford

Memories of Crabbet Park

My brother, sister and I were the third generation of my family to live at Crabbet Park.
We lived in a Sussex style cottage at Caxtons on the estate, where my father was Stallion Man for Lady Wentworth.

House, with horses in the field in front

Caxtons Cottages

Our lives were ordered by the changing seasons and the care of the Arab stallions. In spring we would pick snowdrops which flowered in Caxtons House garden. In the woods and paddocks we would pick bunches of lent lilies, primroses, bluebells and cowslips, always taking bunches for our granny and great aunts.
In autumn we would pick blackberries, hazelnuts and chestnuts from the woods, always accompanied in the paddocks by curious mares and foals as to what we were doing, we had no fear of them or them of us.

I can remember one early morning, going to see the yearling colts in a meadow near our cottage, they looked to me so comfortably asleep on the ground, I could not resist climbing the fence and walking over to them and laying down amongst them with my arms around a colts neck. This very pleasant time was interrupted by the Stud Manager shouting at me, to come out of the field and I had brisk telling off about the dangers of frisky colts. My parents were duly warned that I was forbidden to enter the colts’ paddocks.

Another time when my parents were not at home my sister and I were called urgently by our Uncle Rodney that a gate had been left open in the paddocks and Indian Magic was on his way into the next paddock where Indian Gold was already becoming agitated and would fight, we must catch Indian Magic and lead him away and shut the offending gate.

I was aged nine years and my sister was six at the time, I had up to then, never put a head collar on a stallion on my own, luckily for us Indian Magic was a quiet and steady horse and knew me and my sister very well. He stopped when I called him and stood for me to pull his head down far enough to slip on the head collar and buckle it up. In the meantime the other stallion who was very excitable and fiery was racing up and down his side of the fence roaring challenges. My uncle waited away from the paddocks as he feared that the horses would take against him as he was a stranger to them both but he could still see us.
We led Indian Magic away to safety, shut the gate and left him to munch grass. I shook like a leaf afterwards when telling my mum and dad.

We went with my dad and mum to all the major Horse Shows, where our Crabbet Arabian horses won first prizes and the breed championships, very proud we were too of them and our dad`s hard work in preparing the horses for the shows and the appreciation of Lady Wentworth.

(Stella Berrisford, nee Stace)

Find out more about Crabbet Park in Liz Archer’s articles

four men leading horses along a country lane
Caxtons Drive – 4 horses with Fred Rice, Rod Stace, unknown, Cecil Covey – photograph from Stella Berrisford
White stallion
Silver Vanity with Burge Stace
Grey stallion
Chestnut stallion

Thanks to Stella Berrisford for the use of the photographs.

A Crawley Parody – a poem

A Crawley Parody

Free time free land free love
Everything was free

It was the season for bicycles
And we wanted to race
On a track with lots of features
Tough, very little grace

Someone thought to ask Don
Because he had the tools
Implements borrowed from
The councils unused pools

Donald a real skivvy
Ready within two days
Hump jump corners skiddy
We had nothing but praise

Poems are happy at core
But then comes a sad bit
Police at Donald’s door
Cops with a big transit

Took two hundred or more
Tackle of the menders
They said it’s quite a haul
We said they were lenders

Our track Complete success
Played on every day
With free public access
A winner all the way

How to build a new town
Vision plans and Labour
Borrowed tools, surplus pound
Careful of the vapour

By Tim Holt

Inspired by Crawley History? Share your writings online.

West Green Adventure playground, with child coming down a ramp on a go cart.
West Green Adventure playground, date unknown. From Crawley Museum’s Collection.

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