Crawley – Old Town / New Town

As a child I lived in Ifield. It was about a mile and a half to go into town and that meant Crawley. As I grew up our village of Ifield became a part of the New Town experiment. Crawley had been selected as a site for a big town to be built as an adjunct to the old.  Other local communities were to become a part of the town and that included Ifield.

Of course, it was all planned properly. It wasn’t just to be a new town of dwellings. New shops, factories, pubs, churches and community buildings were all in the plan. Crawley gained a new town centre just away from the historic High Street of old.

By and large the planning was quite good. It’s not the original planners’; fault that Crawley is now vastly bigger than envisaged and the facilities don’t really match need. I’m not sure that planners some 60 or more years ago can be blamed for not realising how the car was to become a must have item, first for families and then for individuals. Many areas are thus chronically underprovided with off street parking.

But it is the Crawley Town Centre we are going to look at. These are more photos taken by Herman Gerard, our German friend, and given to my family in that wonderful Disney album.

Let’s start with the old town

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This is Crawley’s old High Street and the building is known as The Ancient Priors. It’s still there, still looks much the same and is still some kind of Café. The two ladies walking by are Herman’s wife Geppa, on the left and my mum on the right. The car we see part of is an Austin A40 – a popular model of the early 60s.

I think Herman did little more than turn round to take this other High Street photo.

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This looks past Mum, Dad and Geppa and beyond an Austin A20 to The George. This was very much Crawley’s heritage – a coaching inn on the main road from London to Brighton. More than fifty years on, it, too, remains unchanged.

And now to the new town centre.

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The same trio of people pose for Herman’s photo which shows a part of Crawley called Queen’s Square. The Queen had ‘opened’ it a few years before. My dad met her on that occasion. Queen’s Square was something new and special for the new Elizabethan age. Shops we see include Tesco’s Food fair and the original Sainsbury Store in Crawley. This was so hugely popular that on Saturday mornings the doors had to be shut to stop people getting in.

But it is the sheer quantity of old bikes that look amazing now. Actually, the nearest one looks remarkably like mine – the one which languishes, unused in my garage. It certainly has the same shape. The same kind of Sturmey Archer gear change and the same front hub dynamo. But I doubt it had been ridden to town, although it was once the way the journey was made. I still recall riding on a child seat on my mum’s bike.

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There’s the same trio of people sitting in Queen’s Square. The multi storey building housing Queensway Stores was a slightly later addition. There’s a Victorian bandstand which came from elsewhere in Crawley (I think). My wife, as a schoolgirl, played her oboe in a band there. Just out of shot on the left there was a Woolworth shop, said to be the biggest self-service shop in Europe at the time it opened. It certainly wouldn’t be now.

Aspects of Queen’s Square have been revamped but the buildings still look much the same. Cars were stopped from using this square years ago. It might look less cluttered these days.

I remember both ‘halves’ of Crawley but I have to say I’m glad I live where I do now.

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