Stage coach gallops back to do its bit in war years

Crawley History - Stage coach in Crawley
Crawley History - Stage coach in Crawley
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During the August bank holiday in 1943, with the Second World War raging, a plan was hatched to bring the town’s stage coach out of retirement for a fortnight of day trips.

These photographs were sent in by Nadine Hygate, who included an account of the event, paraphrased from the writings of her grandfather.

Crawley History - Stage coach in Crawley

Crawley History - Stage coach in Crawley

She said:

Until recent years, August bank holiday was the first weekend of the month.

Each bank holiday in Crawley, community events were arranged such as dances, garden fetes and sporting events to raise money to support Crawley Cottage Hospital, which only opened through donations of varying kinds.

This weekend exactly 70 years ago saw a most ambitious plan achieved, made more so due to the fact that we were in the middle of the Second World War.

Crawley History - Stage coach in Crawley

Crawley History - Stage coach in Crawley

The proposal was that the old Crawley Coach should travel again.

It was well over 30 years since coach and horses had travelled the London to Brighton road and would require much preparation and organisation, taking several months as there were few persons who had knowledge of coaching days, without the added restrictions of war.

At this time, the coach was owned by James Farmer of “Old Rectory”, Ifield, who agreed for it to be used.

But while he had the coach and harness, other things were necessary before a run could be put into practice. There were horses, stables, grooms and coachmen and blacksmiths’ forge without the passengers.

Crawley History - Stage coach in Crawley

Crawley History - Stage coach in Crawley

Who could drive such a coach? Mr Sidney Truett came to mind, one of the finest professional drivers in England and one-time owner of “Old Berkley” which plied from London to The Old Ship Inn, in Brighton.

Mr Truett was now 74 years of age and retired to Hassocks. Could he cope? But he agreed to come to Crawley.

Now for the selection of horses. Several visits were made to London by Mr Farmer and Mr Truett, finally selecting four horses – a grey, a bay and two blacks.

How would they react as they had never been driven by a team before and were mostly used in filming?

The garages at the Railway Inn were converted back to stables by James Longley & Co and the horses transported to the town by train.

Two extra horses were found to be needed and they were housed in The Rectory Stables.

Advertising, tickets and “way bills” were required and 10 paying passengers were needed for each journey to cover costs and make a profit.

It had been decided to run the coach for a fortnight. A half-day trip cost 10 shillings and six pence (51p), a whole day one guinea (£1.05) with a break for lunch at one of the old coaching inns in the surrounding villages, agreed with the hostelry’s owner at the passenger’s own expense.

This part was organised by the Misses Warren at their shop at 32 High Street.

To add to persons interest and enthusiasm, they also organised an exhibition of coaching memorabilia within the shop, which proved to be very popular.

Word had been put around the friends of Mr Truett’s coaching community and, on the duly appointed day, July 13 for a practice day, they arrived. Mr Truett with his whips, horn, his coaching coats, grey top hat and other items required for driving.

All caused great excitement! You could watch the practices, changing of horses etc, the young receiving information from the elderly who were reliving their youth.

Advertised in the Horse and Hounds, enquiries and visitors came from all over the country, including two Americans on leave in London. Mention of the event was also printed in The Times, who sent a photographer.

“Saturday morning arrived, way bills were ready and down the street comes the coach. It draws up with a flourish outside the George Hotel where passengers wait. Mr Truett having lost none of his skill in handling a team.

“Mr James Farmer is on the break, Mr Harry Love is the guard and blows the posthorn.

“ He, incidentally, was in the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) working in London and took his only week’s holiday to be every day on the coach. He had been the guard on Mr Bertram Mills’ coach.

“The stepladder is brought out and up go the passengers.”

Wherever the coach travelled along the country roads and surrounding villages it caused great excitement and many spectators.

Yes, I was fortunate to experience travelling on the coach. Twelve children – six from each of the schools – were chosen to have an afternoon ride accompanied by a teacher.

Most of us travelled on the top of the coach. The seats were wooden and very hard to sit upon. I would not like to travel for any long period of time by such a mode.

Also, the continual bumping and swaying motion was not very pleasant – and we were on a good road surface by comparison to days gone by.

Our journey started outside The George, we travelled what was then called Three Bridges Road to North Road as far as Tinsley, then west to Lowfield Heath and thus back south to Crawley. Of course, this was in the main country roads then, with little traffic.

So, a further 70 years has passed and the coach is still going strong, still in private hands and being driven at coach driving shows.

How apt it would be for it once more to travel the High Street as an opening event for Crawley’s new museum premises?

n A full account can be read in Wayfarer Denman’s Crawley Revisited, available via amazon.co.uk