The new town with an intensely annoying level crossing

The development of Crawley new town was the cause of much excitement among planners, architects and, of course, the people who found themselves living here.

'Star' flats in Sunnymead, West Green, 1952 SUS-150625-120143001
'Star' flats in Sunnymead, West Green, 1952 SUS-150625-120143001

In August 1952, The Sussex County Magazine published an article looking at how the building work was progressing and what sort of homes and workplaces the new towners had been given.

Written by WA Barron, with pictures by Alan Duncan, the article practically bounced with enthusiasm for the emerging development.

The planning which had gone into building homes, shops and factories for 13,000 workers was lauded on every page as was the decision not to opt for a simple “patch and piece” approach which had built up so many “industrial blots” on the UK’s post-war landscape.

The Link, West Green 1952 SUS-150625-120103001

Crawley had been planned down to the last brick and The Sussex County Magazine loved it!

WA Barron’s description of Crawley was an interesting one.

He wrote: “Crawley, to one who lived some 20 miles away, was represented by a quaint bifurcated High Street, with the George as a main feature, an intensely annoying level crossing on the Brighton Road, a few attractive houses and a good many rather unpresentable bits and pieces on the way to Three Bridges.”

It’s amusing – and annoying – how, some 63 years later, anyone who has been stuck at the level crossing for what feels like days at a time, will still recognise the description.

Oak Way, Northgate 1952 SUS-150625-120113001

Builders Longleys, who were responsible for much of the development in Crawley, were described as “the famous old Sussex firm who would build you a Christ’s Hospital or repair you a bishop’s throne with equal competence and skill”.

And it was reported 750 homes had been built by March 1952 with 1,000 per year planned for the next 10 years in nine neighbourhoods, each of which would have its own primary school and shopping centre.

One aspect which the author particularly liked was the use of a Swedish ‘star’ design when it came to building flats.

He said: “Nine flats in three-storey block, shaped as a three-armed star, with stairs and services at the centre, so arranged that the living rooms in every flat get sunshine at some time in the day.”

Manor Royal factory 1952 SUS-150625-120123001

So now you know, if you live in any of the ‘star’ flats - the ones pictured are in Sunnymead, West Green - your home is something special.

Nipping up to Manor Royal, the article’s description of the factories caused a double take when it described the workshops as “almost all electric”! As well as being fitted with the newfangled electrics, the factories were “neither a blot on the landscape nor disseminators of smoke and dirt”.

Summing up his visit to the fledgling new town, WA Barron wrote: “The air is still clean over Crawley and when the grass has grown and the shrubs and gardens begin to take hold, the ground should be so too.

“What does Sussex make of an invasion of this kind, and what do the invaders make of Sussex? It is very hard to say at present. All is changing and developing so rapidly.

Flats in Northgate 1952 SUS-150625-120052001

“Crawley High Street is not to be destroyed, but will it be more than a fossil embedded in strata of modern developments?

“The migrants seem to get on pretty well on the whole with the originals, but as the former increase, will the latter be overwhelmed - rari nantes in gurgite vasto - obstinately and slowly til the last is submerged?”

For those who were wondering, according to the vast and all-knowing internet, ‘rari nantes in gurgite vasto’ means ‘swimmers in the vast abyss’.

What would WA Barron make of Crawley today? Those nine neighbourhoods have grown to 13, with another on the way, the population has exploded to more than 100,000 and the level crossing is still as annoying as it always was.

Some things never change.

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Small's Mead, West Green, 1952 SUS-150625-120153001

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