Crawley 1955-60

By Sandra Lowton

Our family
Our parents were George (1913-1994) and Beatrice (1918-2008) Layzell, originally from Bermondsey and Rotherhithe respectively. They married during the war in 1941 at St James, Hatcham, and lived with his parents in New Cross, London. It was there that Brenda was born in 1942 and George junior in 1946. The family moved to a new council estate at St Paul’s Cray, Orpington, just before Sandra was born in 1949. This was a three bedroom, semi-detached property. Father commuted daily to the Stone Platt Deptford factory where he was a dispatch clerk. Edna was born in 1951 and Stephen in 1954. In 1955 the factory relocated to Crawley and it was a good opportunity to move to the New Town and into a four bedroomed house.

The following are my (Sandra’s) recollections:
I was 6 years old and we moved in October 1955. I was sorry to say goodbye to my class at Leesons Hill School. We did not have a car so we travelled in the back of the removal van with half the back down so we could see out. I remember passing an airfield, the first I had seen, and think it must have been Biggin Hill.

The new house was at 93 Climping Road, Ifield. Mum and Dad had one room, Eddie and I another, Brenda had her own single room. At first Steve was in a cot in our parents’ room and then he slept with George. Steve was only 16 months old and we had not been in the house long when he knocked a cup or a pot of hot tea over his legs and had to be taken to the cottage hospital in West Green (before Crawley Hospital was built).

It was good to have four bedrooms but the downstairs was never to Mum’s liking. We had had a trip to Crawley by coach to choose a house and the one we ended up at was not what Mum had chosen. She was so disappointed on arrival that the removal men tried to reassure her that all would be fine once she had put up curtains and unpacked. We had a very large green pram that was kept in the ‘front room’, in front of the window, as there was nowhere else for it to go. It was so large that three of us could fit in it. This room had a two bar electric fire on the wall that was too expensive to use. We used the room at Christmas and there we had our Christmas tree with small presents that we gave out after tea. There was an upright piano with lots of sheet music stored in the seat but only Dad could play. We occasionally had a singsong with old tunes such as ‘Run Rabbit Run’. The room was used for Sunday lunch and for homework as we got older and the table was good for table tennis and table football.

The main living room was at the back joined to the kitchen by an arch that Mum called an alcove. She put up thick curtains at the arch to stop draughts when we were watching TV on winter evenings. However we didn’t have our first TV for a couple of years. George and I in particular would go to friends’ houses after school to watch theirs. There was a coal fire in the back room and the only time we had toast was when it was lit and we used a toasting fork on the hot coals – it was many years before we got a gas cooker with a working grill and I don’t think electric toasters were in common use. There never seemed to be enough space or chairs for all seven of us to sit at one time except at the table in the cold front room. The children either sat on the floor or on a kitchen chair. The kitchen table took up most of that room and wasn’t big enough to sit us all. Not a well-designed house despite its newness. There was no other heating in the house and the windows were single glazed metal framed. In the winter we had an assortment of heaters including paraffin and electric with many blankets and eiderdowns on our beds. In Winter Mum would often wake us with “Jack Frost at the window this morning” and we would know that the frost was in fact inside!

When we arrived at our new house the roads and pavements were barely made up and the gardens were just clay. That first winter we couldn’t venture into the garden without getting stuck in our wellies. Neighbours in St Paul’s Cray had doubted that Dad would move as he had such a wonderful garden. But move he did and in no time set about transforming the morass into a well laid out garden with lawns, flowerbeds, trellis, vegetable garden and an area for us children to dig. The council had planted a lavender hedge in our front garden and in late summer the ‘lavender ladies’ would collect the flowers.

Not long after arriving, Mum asked George and me if we knew where there was a post box and having been out exploring on our bikes we knew just where to go – we had seen one in Stagelands, Langley Green, which was just as unmade as our street in Ifield.

One thing the planners ensured was that there were two toilets in the four bedroomed houses. Ours was off the hallway just inside the street door. This was very handy except if you were playing outside and had to come in. Other four bedroomed houses had the downstairs toilet outside the back door, accessible even if the mother had popped out but with the drawback that it was always very cold. Outside our back door under the porch were the very important coal bunker and a large store room where we could store our bikes and Dad could keep his gardening tools and lawn mower.

Shops:
We lived in Ifield but it was as close for us to go to Langley Green shops as Ifield. Both were newly built shopping parades with typically a baker’s, a greengrocer’s, a chemist, a newsagent’s, a butcher’s, a fishmonger’s, and so on.

Ifield Parade
Parade of shops
Langley Parade

In the early days there was also a mobile grocer – an old coach with no seats that you entered and collected what you wanted and paid the man at the front. Mum called him ‘the van man’ and we often had to run in to tell her when he was round the corner, though she always complained that he was expensive. A rag and bone man would also come. He gave gold fish in a polythene bag or a colouring book in exchange for old clothes but I can’t remember ever getting these. Of course the icecream van would also come. We didn’t have a fridge or freezer so if it was Sunday lunchtime we might be lucky to have a ‘family brick’ of plain or neopolitan icecream between the seven of us. Dad always favoured Walls over Mr Whippy and we sometimes managed to wangle a tuppenny cornet out of him.

Crawley town centre consisted of the High Street where the George Hotel is. The main shop that I remember was Woolworths, a really old fashioned one with wooden floors and counters with shop assistants behind each one. Towards the level crossing was Penfolds, a traditional shop that had sacks of animal feed (?) and an unforgettable smell of the countryside like new mown hay. What we bought from there, I do not know.

Street corner, with clothing shop and people passing by

The Broadwalk was the first of the new shopping areas to be built and I remember standing at the far end and looking at a huge building site that was to become Queens Square. John Perring furniture store took the main shop in the Broadwalk unusually spanning the pedestrian walkway.

Woolworths moved to a new store (now the Pound Shop) there but it was some time before the counters were replaced with self-service. Next to Woolworths was Littlewoods where you could buy loose biscuits including broken ones. The main, four storey store opposite these was called Queensway Store (recently Next, now a sports shop). The exciting feature was an escalator, the only one in town. One Christmas they put on an amazing trip to see Father Christmas – by space rocket! You sat in the rocket and the night sky went whizzing past the windows with a suitable engine noise. When you stepped out, there was Father Christmas.

Queens Square. People sitting on benches. Bandstand in the background.
Queens Square

The other large store was the Co-op where Wilko is today. This had a lift and an interesting sculpture on the outside wall of, I think, a family.

There was a road through Queens Square that was later closed and then pedestrianised. In the square were a bandstand and a fountain of a boy with a dolphin.

Buses:
Ifield Road was the main route into town from Ifield before it was blocked off at the A23 Crawley bypass. The fare, if I remember correctly, was 3d for an adult and 2d for a child. Later, the Ifield bus travelled along Warren Drive and Ifield Avenue and stopped closer to our house, through the blocks of garages. This bus went to Three Bridges and Pound Hill via the town centre. We could also catch a bus from Langley Green shops which went to Tilgate via the town.

Trains:
Our nearest station was Ifield which took about 40 mins to walk to. Not having a family holiday until I was eleven, we would go instead for ‘days out’. This always entailed either a long walk to Ifield Woods or Goffs Park or more excitingly a train journey to Littlehampton or to Horsham Park with its open air swimming pool with pushchair, picnic, swimsuits, towels, buckets and spades, wet weather gear, etc. The downside was always getting off the train at the end of the day and having to make the long trek home. Many a time, Georgie and I would be given the key to run on ahead and put the kettle on!
We always favoured the straight-through railway carriages before corridors; to ensure we had one to ourselves we would crowd around the windows when stopped at a station to deter others joining us. Who would want to share their journey with us noisy children? The drawback to these carriages was that there was no toilet. Many a time when returning from a visit to our Nan in London, Mum would hang our little brother Steve out of the door to pee at Redhill station, to our great anxiety, saying, “It’s OK they’re loading the mail sacks, we’ll be here for ages.”
Sometimes Eddie and I would stay in London, at our Nan’s in New Cross or with family friends at Greenwich. For the return journey Nan would see us onto the train at New Cross Gate in the Ladies Only carriage next to the guard’s van with the guard keeping an eye on us. Mum would meet us at Crawley station.

School
The new schools had not been completed so George and I started at a house called ‘Little Deerswood’ which was a lovely name. I was in the Infants and my classroom was upstairs. There was a fireplace to heat the room during that first winter and our third of a pint bottles of milk would be put there to warm. (Not very nice.) Assembly was held downstairs in the largest room and it was a horrible push and shove down stairs that were not designed for a crush of young children. George was a Junior and this amounted to only one mixed age class. When our school, Ifield Primary School at Rusper Road, was ready we happily transferred. The number of children had grown so rapidly that temporary classrooms (huts) were soon installed. The Headmaster was Mr Worthy and he and his wife lived in Findon Road. Council houses were given not only to those whose firms had relocated to Crawley but also to teachers, police, doctors, nurses, firemen, and so on. This gave a very good mix of people who were all grateful for quality housing in the early 1950s. Mrs Worthy wrote in Italic and for this reason Mr Worthy adopted that style for the school. It is a beautiful script written well with an italic nib but caused some problems at secondary school when speed and ball point pens were required. Mrs Worthy had a baby and I knitted bootees for a present. Few families owned a car so the school organised a coach trip to Leonardslee Gardens. It seemed to be such a long way and the gardens were an exotic playground. We had fun looking for the wallabies that we had been promised were there!

When the Queen visited in 1956 (?) we lined up at Ifield shops and waved our flags and cheered as she drove past.

The top classes at Junior School went away for a week in the summer term. George went first and then it was my turn. We went to St Margaret’s Bay in Kent and stayed in what appeared to be old army barracks that we thought were a children’s holiday camp. This was my first time away from my family. We slept in dormitories, ate in a canteen, ladling out the food at long trestle tables and bathing once during the week. We went on a miniature train and climbed a lighthouse. I was put at the front of many of the photos as for most of the week I wore a pink and white striped dress with an emerald green knitted cardigan.

Dr Barnardos had an orphanage nearby towards Ifield Woods and there were large foster homes in each neighbourhood. Many of these children attended our school. One boy who I especially liked and sat with when I could was Michael Halfpenny, a boy full of fun and mischief. One day he fell asleep in class (my first year in Juniors – year 3 today) and was sent home. The next day he was back at school. He died I believe from gastroenteritis and I never forget the hole he left in our class and our lives.

George’s birthday was in September but he was always bright and was put into the year above his age. He took and passed the 11-plus but was told he couldn’t go up to Ifield Grammar School as he wasn’t old enough. This meant having to stay at Junior School for another year while all his friends went on.

school building

I also passed my 11-plus much, it seems, to everyone’s surprise as Mr Worthy called me into his study to congratulate me and Mum had already sourced a Sarah Robinson Secondary School raincoat for me that I had to wear to the Grammar School for the first term – a good way to develop a hard skin! I am forever grateful to a teacher called Mr Wilson in the third year of juniors (year 5). He had taught George and he noticed me and encouraged me to answer questions. I have always felt that this was a turning point in my education and achievement. Returning to the school mac, Mum wanted me to have a warm winter coat and for the Grammar school this meant a straight (swagger style) coat in grey wool with a cherry red lining. For some reason this could only be bought at the time from D H Evans in London. She took Eddie and me to Oxford Street to buy it. I was so proud but she was mortified to be followed around the store as if we were shoplifters.

Brenda was at secondary school when we moved in 1955. The schools in Ifield – Ifield Grammar and Sarah Robinson – had not been built so she went to the old Sarah Robinson School in West Green. She remembers that the school was archaic compared to where she had come from and that the outside toilets froze in Winter. She went to the new school for just a few months before leaving at 14 – she was not 15 until the end of August. She worked at APV Paramount at Manor Royal and remembers Jordans, the APV social club in London Road (now a carvery) and Marios coffee bar in the town centre. There was a ladies dress shop called Leons that had a ballroom above. They played some pop music but it was essentially a place to learn ballroom dancing. Leons was still going when I reached my teens but I remember hiding in the Ladies toilets during the lessons.

Mum would often meet us after school and take us over to Ifield Rec (or Common as we called it) with sandwiches and a cold drink for our tea. She was always looking after other people’s children and for many years Christopher M and Denise P came to us after school and during school holidays thereby adding to our number. If we were lucky friends could also join us so there were always lots of children to play with. I don’t remember ever being bored and certainly not lonely. Once home from school we played in the garden – tennis, football, catch, skipping, two balls, British bull dog, digging, collecting creepy crawlies… Or out in the street skipping with a long rope across the road (very few cars), playing Queenie, Queenie who’s got the ball? or rounders on the green, riding our bikes or roller skates. We were only in doors when the weather was bad and that is when Ed and I played with our dolls or colouring books. We had very few books and it seems that our parents thought that education was for schools. Surprisingly then we all did well. On summer evenings our parents would often take us all to a local park and play cricket, rounders or football, adapting the games to include the biggest and the smallest.

Our first Christmas in Crawley must have been very hard financially. Uncle Bert, Mum’s brother, sent some money to buy us presents. Ed and I received new-born baby black dolls about 12 inches high with eyes that closed and arms and legs attached by thick elastic bands. We loved those dolls and played with them for years. I’ve still got mine. Black dolls were very popular as Siamese twins had been born at that time and we followed them with interest. One did not survive and I think that the one that did was called Boko. Every year thereafter we didn’t get a new doll but the same one appeared at the top of our paper sacks dressed in new knitted clothes that Mum had tried (unsuccessfully) to knit when we weren’t looking. Ed and I would wake early on Christmas morning and take our newly dressed dolls into bed until morning.

Babies and Bike Rides
Today we would not think of letting our baby out of our sight and certainly not allow an 8, 9 or 10 year old who knocked on the door and said “Can I take your baby out?” to do so but that is what happened almost every day of our school holidays. There were nearby babies such as the twins who sat in a double pushchair wide enough for two of us to push side by side. Then there was a delightful baby girl who had such a large pram that I couldn’t see over it. She was stung by a bee or wasp as I pushed her near Ifield shops and of course she was very upset. I took her into the chemist’s and then straight home, relaying the chemist’s advice to her mum. I was surprised when I wasn’t allowed to take her out again. Sometimes we took the babies to the local park and pushed them on the baby swing or put a cover on the grass and let them crawl around. We would walk up and down the road looking for a pram in the front garden or window and knock on stranger’s doors. One mother told me not to go up or down any kerbs which became quite boring after half an hour. Our own mother couldn’t understand why we wanted to take other people’s babies out but not our own brother.

Dad had always been a keen cyclist and felt it was important that we all had bikes. These often passed from one child to another as we grew. There was the three wheeler and the little black bike with the solid tyres. This wasn’t good for crossing the cattle grid at Ifield Woods as I found out to my cost. I remember being taken to a house in Tilgate where a man renovated bikes. How we got there, I don’t know but I certainly cycled home. We went on long bike rides, always heading out towards Ifield Woods where we had the choice at the T-junction to turn right to Charlwood or left to Rusper. There was a playing field in Charlwood which was a convenient place to stop for a drink or snack. Then we would continue to the back of the runway at Gatwick Airport and home via Bonnetts Lane. A left turn and then right would take us to The Mount where we would free wheel down the hill and thank our lucky stars that we didn’t meet a car at the bottom. We also went on to Rusper and then back home via Rusper Road. Or, if it was a nice day, we would find ourselves peddling on to Faygate. We even made it to Lowfield Heath to the north and back along the A23 or to Horsham and back along the A264.

We would often stop at the River Mole or at a pond. In the spring we came home with armfuls of bluebells much to Mum’s consternation. We also collected frogspawn which we nurtured to tadpoles and frogs. We collected chrysalis (pupa) and kept these in our bedroom, waking up one morning to butterflies flying around the room. Once George had a bowlful of newts in his bedroom that disappeared overnight! He loved wildlife and biology. One night he woke me when everyone was asleep to hold a torch for him. He was dissecting a frog and was happy once it was pinned out in a bowl of liquid with its inners floating. Much to Mum’s horror when she went in to wake him in the morning!

In 2017 my siblings and I are enjoying retirement. Brenda worked as a secretary, George as a manager at Gatwick Airport, Sandra as a teacher, Eddie as an Occupational Therapist and Steve as a Social Worker. George and Eddie are still living in Crawley.

(Sandra Lowton, March 2017)

Images are from https://www.flickr.com/photos/westsussexpast/albums

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