Crawley New Town: Social and cultural activities

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 3, Bramber Rape (North-Eastern Part) Including Crawley New Town. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1987.

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'Crawley New Town: Social and cultural activities', in A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 3, Bramber Rape (North-Eastern Part) Including Crawley New Town, (London, 1987) pp. 81-83. British History Online [accessed 25 April 2024]


The master plan proposed the building on the Boulevard of a community centre and an arts centre to cater for concerts, theatrical performances, art exhibitions, and meetings of local cultural societies. (fn. 1) They were never built, and by 1985 no comparable buildings had been erected on any alternative site. The delay has been attributed to financial restrictions imposed by government and to the development corporation's priorities; it put off providing space for cultural amenities until more essential requirements had been met, and was then dissolved before it could remedy the lack. (fn. 2) Nevertheless, although the corporation in 1952 demanded a relaxation of the government's ban on community buildings, it was soon persuaded that such facilities were not needed; 'it is . . . the corporation's experience that a new house, a garden, and new surroundings absorb the interests of new residents for a year or more to the exclusion of other activities'. (fn. 3) That attitude was evidently favoured by the chairman, Sir Thomas Bennett, who emphasized domesticity and disliked large-scale entertainment. Already c. 1949 he regarded an annual record-playing dinner as 'the essence of human living and much better than building a palatial concert hall'. (fn. 4) As late as 1960 he thought that the demand for outside activities, among which he saw greyhound racing as typical, was a result of poor housing, which had been eliminated in Crawley; the population 'has very largely returned to the home-life of a former generation', so that there was no need to offer an alternative. (fn. 5) That approach was vainly resented by the newcomers accustomed to London's night life. (fn. 6)

Probably also as a result of Bennett's outlook, however, the corporation hastened to provide facilities for social activities within neighbourhoods by building temporary community huts. Four such huts, at West Green, Northgate, Three Bridges, and Langley Green, had been erected by 1954. (fn. 7) Two more were built in 1955-6, (fn. 8) and three more between 1957 and 1959, completing the provision for all the original neighbourhoods. (fn. 9) The first permanent community centre was built not by the corporation but by West Sussex county council as an extension to West Green school in 1954. (fn. 10) After Bennett left the chairmanship, the development corporation and later the Commission for the New Towns replaced the community huts with permanent buildings, or built new neighbourhood community centres, in Pound Hill and Northgate in 1963, in Three Bridges in 1965, (fn. 11) in Gossops Green and Ifield in 1968-9, (fn. 12) in Furnace Green in 1970-1, (fn. 13) in Tilgate c. 1972, (fn. 14) in Southgate in 1974, (fn. 15) in Langley Green in 1976, (fn. 16) and at Broadfield in 1980. (fn. 17)

Because communal meeting places were provided in each neighbourhood but not in the centre, recreation tended to be restricted to neighbourhoods, and societies to be organized on that basis. (fn. 18) Hence the early years of the new town saw an extraordinary proliferation of clubs and societies, upon which the development corporation congratulated itself. There was already in Crawley by 1950 a strong community association, (fn. 19) which had more than 30 affiliated organizations in 1951. (fn. 20) There were 132 clubs and societies by 1953, (fn. 21) 203 by 1954, over 300 by 1957, and c. 400 by 1962. (fn. 22) The Crawley council of social service, founded in 1959 to promote all charitable purposes in the urban district, and renamed the Crawley council for voluntary service in 1975, (fn. 23) became the lessee of the community centres in Pound Hill and Northgate c. 1964. By then it was well established and received contributions from the Commission for the New Towns, the urban district council, and West Sussex county council. (fn. 24) It controlled all the neighbourhood community centres by 1984. From the mid 1960s interest in communal activity declined throughout the new town. In 1984, despite the increase in population, there were no more clubs and voluntary organizations than in the early 1960s. (fn. 25)

Since by the late 1950s there were many adolescent children of the original newcomers, increased provision of youth clubs and facilities was needed. In 1960 the only youth centre was at West Green school. Crawley boys' club in the town centre was built in 1962, the Gates youth club at Tilgate and youth wings at Hazelwick and Thomas Bennett schools in 1963, Northgate and Langley Green youth centres in 1964, and Gossops Green youth centre in 1965. There were 4,800 members of youth clubs in 1964, and 5,500 members of 85 youth clubs and similar organizations in 1965. (fn. 26)

A labour hostel in Tilgate park used for the corporation's workforce was converted in 1958 into a social centre. (fn. 27) As the Forest recreation centre it was transferred to the borough council in 1981. (fn. 28) An entertainment centre with a dance hall and 24-lane bowling alley was opened in 1965 next to the existing Embassy cinema. (fn. 29) The company went into liquidation in 1967, (fn. 30) but the centre was still open in 1986 when it included the bowling alley and a bingo hall in the former ballroom. There was also an indoor bowls club in Pound Hill. (fn. 31)

Reflecting the ideology of new town planning, the master plan gave considerable attention to the provision of parks, playing fields, playgrounds, and other open spaces. It allotted 351 a. to parks, 48 a. each for childrens' playgrounds and for allotment gardens, 36 a. for a town sports ground between Crawley and Three Bridges, and 153 a. for neighbourhood playing fields; each neighbourhood would normally have two fields on the edge of the built-up area. The provision for playing fields was less than that recommended by the National Playing Fields' Association. (fn. 32) By 1954 the development corporation had transferred 10 sites for playing fields, covering 80 a., to Crawley parish council. (fn. 33) By 1962 the urban district council controlled 306 a. of open spaces, of which c. 230 a. had been transferred by the corporation. (fn. 34) By 1966 there were 395 a. of parks and playing fields in the town; although the playing fields were the best in any new town, the total was regarded as inadequate. (fn. 35) About 1970, however, the 623 a. of open spaces were well above the minimum accepted standard; it was proposed to provide a further 290 a. in Broadfield neighbourhood. (fn. 36) In 1983 there were 950 a. of parks and open spaces; the largest park, Tilgate park, covered 434 a., and playing fields 300 a., including 27 pitches for association football, 5 for rugby, 12 for cricket, and 4 for hockey, besides 4 stoolball grounds, 2 bowling greens, and 9 tennis courts. (fn. 37) Water sports were provided at Tilgate park from the late 1960s. (fn. 38) An 18-hole pitch and putt golf course was opened in Goffs park in 1965; (fn. 39) there was an 18-hole full golf course at Tilgate park by 1984. (fn. 40)

Despite the master plan's provision for children's playgrounds, Crawley was thought in the late 1970s to lack sufficient playgrounds. (fn. 41) In 1983 there were play centres in seven neighbourhoods, and adventure playgrounds at Furnace Green, Langley Green, and Bewbush. (fn. 42)

A sports centre was developed in Haslett Avenue from the 1960s, although on a much smaller site than the master plan foresaw. A championship-sized swimming pool built by the urban district council to the designs of the Commission for the New Towns' chief architect was opened there in 1964. (fn. 43) The council completed a sports arena and running track adjoining the pool in 1967. A sports hall for athletics training and indoor sports was opened in 1974. (fn. 44) Similar facilities were provided at the Bewbush leisure centre opened c. 1984. (fn. 45)

Proposals for arts centres and concert halls recurred from the 1960s to the 1980s. In 1980 most Crawley societies whose opinion was known wanted a new arts complex for their use. The smaller Arts Centre 80, with drama, music, and craft workshops for adults and children, opened in a hut in Barnfield Road in that year. In the early 1980s Crawley arts council, a funding body for community arts, claimed that c. 2,000 people were involved in arts activities each week. (fn. 46) The borough council appointed a community arts officer in 1986, and began building an arts centre at the Hawth. (fn. 47) The sports hall served as the main site for large public performances, mainly sporting events and concerts of popular music. (fn. 48)

In the 1950s there were for a time three weekly newspapers in Crawley: the Crawley and District Observer (before 1946 the Sussex and Surrey Courier), the Crawley Courier, founded in 1953, (fn. 49) and before 1957 the Crawley Weekly News, absorbed in that year into the Crawley and District Observer. (fn. 50) In 1963 the Courier was incorporated into the Crawley Advertiser. (fn. 51) The Advertiser and the Observer were the sole newspapers in 1971. (fn. 52) The Advertiser closed in 1982, when it was taken over by the owners of the Crawley News, founded in 1979. The Observer survived in 1986. By 1982 the Crawley Courier, a weekly freesheet, had a circulation double that of the Observer. (fn. 53)

West Sussex county council opened Crawley public library in temporary buildings in 1951. It moved to the county buildings opened east of the town centre in 1963. A branch library at Broadfield was opened in 1980, and in 1983 there was a children's library at Hazelwick school. (fn. 54)

The Crawley new town licensed premises committee was set up in 1953 to advise the minister of housing and local government about the number, disposition, and type of new public houses at Crawley. Four public houses had been finished by 1957, and by 1961 the development corporation had provided one public house in each new neighbourhood. (fn. 55) Twelve had been built by 1971. (fn. 56)


  • 1. Minoprio, 'Master Plan', 63.
  • 2. Crawley, ed. Gray, 29.
  • 3. C.D.C. 5th Ann. Rep. 1952, 160; 7th Ann. Rep. 1954, 167.
  • 4. The New Crawley (Crawley Observer, c. 1949), 7 (copy in Crawley Ref. Libr.).
  • 5. Crawley Ref. Libr., C.D.C. reps. binder, meeting, 9 Apr. 1960, 13th speech of Sir Thos. Bennett.
  • 6. Crawley, ed. Gray, 29.
  • 7. C.D.C. 7th Ann. Rep. 1954, 167.
  • 8. Idem, 9th Ann. Rep. 1956, 142.
  • 9. Idem, 10th Ann. Rep. 1957, 176; 11th Ann. Rep. 1958, 170; 12th Ann. Rep. 1959, 176.
  • 10. Idem, 7th Ann. Rep. 1954, 163; 8th Ann. Rep. 1955, 140.
  • 11. Idem, 15th Ann. Rep. 1962, 161; C.N.T. 1st Ann. Rep. 1963, 14; 2nd Ann. Rep. 1964, 14; G. Brooke Taylor, 'Amenities in Crawley' (TS. in Crawley Ref. Libr.), App. A, p. 3.
  • 12. C.N.T. 7th Ann. Rep. 1969, 24.
  • 13. Idem, 9th Ann. Rep. 1971, 22.
  • 14. Idem, 10th Ann. Rep. 1972, 16.
  • 15. Idem, 13th Ann. Rep. 1975, 19.
  • 16. Idem, 14th Ann. Rep. 1976, 18.
  • 17. Above, growth of new town.
  • 18. Osborn and Whittick, New Towns, 149.
  • 19. C.D.C. 3rd Ann. Rep. 1950, 64.
  • 20. Idem, 4th Ann. Rep. 1951, 113.
  • 21. Idem, 6th Ann. Rep. 1953, 147.
  • 22. Idem, 7th Ann. Rep. 1954, 167; 10th Ann. Rep. 1957, 165; 15th Ann. Rep. 1962, 161.
  • 23. Char. Com. reg. 227757.
  • 24. C.N.T. 2nd Ann. Rep. 1964, 14-15.
  • 25. Inf. from Mr. Kay and Mr. Frost; Crawley Official Inf. Handbook (Crawley Council for Voluntary Service, [1984]).
  • 26. C.N.T. 2nd Ann. Rep. 1964, 15; 3rd Ann. Rep. 1965, 16; Brooke Taylor, 'Amenities in Crawley', App. A, p. 2.
  • 27. C.D.C. 11th Ann. Rep. 1958, 160.
  • 28. C.N.T. 19th Ann. Rep. 1981, 22.
  • 29. Idem, 3rd Ann. Rep. 1965, 13; 4th Ann. Rep. 1966, 17; Brighton Evening Argus, 17 June 1965; Brooke Taylor, 'Amenities in Crawley', App. A, p. 4.
  • 30. C.N.T. 6th Ann. Rep. 1968, 24.
  • 31. Inf. from Mr. Frost and Mr. Kay.
  • 32. Minoprio, 'Master Plan', 51-5.
  • 33. C.D.C. 7th Ann. Rep. 1954, 167.
  • 34. Idem, 15th Ann. Rep. 1962, 159.
  • 35. Brooke Taylor, 'Amenities in Crawley', 21 and App. A; Crawley Ref. Libr., 'Devel. of Community Life', Dr. Ivan Clout.
  • 36. Clarke and Stoppard, Crawley Expansion Study, 10.
  • 37. Crawley Official Guide (1983), 37; Municipal Yr. Bk. (1984).
  • 38. C.N.T. 8th Ann. Rep. 1970, 16.
  • 39. Brooke Taylor, 'Amenities in Crawley', App. A, p. 4.
  • 40. Municipal Yr. Bk. (1984).
  • 41. Osborn and Whittick, New Towns, 150.
  • 42. Crawley Official Guide (1983), 36.
  • 43. Crawley, ed. Gray, 29; C.D.C. 13th Ann. Rep. 1960, 158; C.N.T. 4th Ann. Rep. 1966, 18; Crawley Official Guide (1971-2), 67.
  • 44. Crawley Official Guide (1971-2), 69; W. Suss. Gaz. 30 Aug., 5 Sept. 1974.
  • 45. Municipal Yr. Bk. (1984); Bewbush Leisure Centre Charges Sheet 1985-6 (copy at leisure centre).
  • 46. Brooke Taylor, 'Amenities in Crawley', 18-19, 23; C.N.T. 11th Ann. Rep. 1973, 20; Entertainments and Arts: Rep. of Working Party on Provision for the Arts (Crawley, 1980), 107-9; A. C. Russell, 'Investigation into Establishment of a Community Arts Scheme in Crawley' (Crawley Coll. of Technology Cert. in Management Studies dissertation, 1983), 10, 12, 32, 39; Crawley Observer, 2 Apr. 1981.
  • 47. Inf. from Mr. Kay; W. Suss. Gaz. 10 Apr. 1986.
  • 48. Entertainments and Arts, 169-70.
  • 49. B. L. newspaper files.
  • 50. C.D.C. 11th Ann. Rep. 1958, 160.
  • 51. B.L. newspaper files.
  • 52. Crawley Official Guide (1971-2).
  • 53. Ibid. (1983); Russell, 'Community Arts', 29; inf. from Mr. Kay.
  • 54. Crawley Official Guide (1983); inf. from Mr. Kay.
  • 55. C.D.C. 7th Ann. Rep. 1954, 165; 10th Ann. Rep. 1957, 176; 13th Ann. Rep. 1960, 159; 14th Ann. Rep. 1961, 171.
  • 56. C.N.T. 9th Ann. Rep. 1971, 43.