Days of goats, farms and a level crossing

Crawley History
Crawley History

You be forgiven for thinking that only Jenny Agutter and the other Railway Children would have fond memories of living near a train track.

But 86-year-old Elizabeth Brice looks back on her years as a railway man’s daughter with pride and humour.

Crawley History'Pictures by Sylvia Parmenter

Crawley History'Pictures by Sylvia Parmenter

Mrs Brice – whose maiden name was Funnell – lived with her family at her grandfather’s home in Hazelwick Road when she was a baby.

Her grandfather was Charlie and her parents were Frank and Olive Funnell.

Her father was born in Hazelwick Road and her grandfather used to work at Little Buckswood Farm.

When Elizabeth was six years old, in 1933, the family moved to 8 Gatehouse.

The Nash family at Little Buckswood Farm

The Nash family at Little Buckswood Farm

If you walk along the A23 Crawley Avenue from Gossops Green and peer over the railway bridge onto the tracks below, the Funnell’s little house would have been on the left.

The house was not far from a level crossing - now long gone - and Frank and Olive used to be responsible for opening and closing the gates.

On the side of the house there was a little phone for the family to contact railway officials if needed.

There was an outside loo, a wash house, a well and a veranda.

Mrs Brice said: “We were there for 14 years and we had some wonderful times there.

“One night, dad locked me out and I climbed up on the veranda and my brother let me in It got so busy when they were building the bypass. I saw the bypass built and saw the first electric trains to come through.

“They closed the level crossing but we still stayed there.

“When they took the level crossing away, they put the bridge over and we sat up on Saturday night and watched it go up.

“Down the bottom where you went into the cemetery, they took all the iron gates for the war effort.”

Opposite the cemetery were allotments - though the children were never allowed to go there. The picture of the Funnell’s home was originally loaned to Crawley History by Sylvia Parmenter, who remembered some one had painted “Rabbits for sale” in black paint across the bridge wall.

The recollection made Mrs Brice laugh as she recalled the incident clearly.

Her brother Bob, now 82, was responsible for the graffiti - which was spelled “Rabits for sale”. Not surprising as the lad was often known to play hooky from school!

She said: “He got his ear clipped for that!”

Olive and Frank rented three acres of land and one acre of orchard.

Mrs Brice said: “Dad used to keep goats and tethered them along the railway line. My brother was brought up on goats milk.

“When the coal train came passed they used to drop off a bag of coal for us.”

When school life ended, Mrs Brice went to work for Jimmy Lee when she was 14 at his farm which stood where Squires Garden Centre is now.

She used to milk the cows and move the horses.

She said: “Dad got rid of the goats and, when I worked for Jimmy Lee, he had some young cows and he let me have one. It was called Queenie and was a little, tiny brown thing.”

After working for Jimmy Lee, she went to work for Mr Farmer in Ifield.

Mrs Brice married John at St Peter’s Church in April 1949.

As for brother Bob, he worked on the railway after coming out of National Service.

The photos show the little house on the railway line, the wedding of John and Elizabeth Brice and the Nash family, who lived at Little Buckswood Farm .