A memorial paid for by the whole town

Crawley History: Memorial Gardens
Crawley History: Memorial Gardens

There have been calls from some quarters to move the town’s War Memorial gates to the opposite side of the Memorial Gardens. Former Crawley resident Nadine Hygate provided this history of the gates and the gardens.

Current residents of Crawley must find it a little strange that one of the plaques on the gates has the heading, “Crawley and Ifield” as Ifield is now the name used for one of the neighbourhoods of the “new town” construction.

Crawley History: Memorial Gardens

Crawley History: Memorial Gardens

The term “gates” has been used deliberately, as they are not the War Memorial.

Prior to 1955, all areas of the town adhered to the old and traditional parish boundaries. the boundary between Ifield and Crawley was central on the west side of the High Street, from three Bridges road – now called Haslett Avenue – round to the Monastery, and northwards to county Oak.

With all the land development on the west toward lfield in the 1880s, what was at the time of World War One known as Crawley, the majority of the population lived in actual fact in Ifield parish.

Hence the two parish councils, not for the first time, co-operated for a lasting memorial to the communities’ war dead.

Crawley History: Memorial Gardens

Crawley History: Memorial Gardens

Early in 1919, two persons from each parish were given the task of getting ideas from the public, and then the most popular ideas were voted upon by every adult in the community, which resulted in wishing for a recreation ground which could be used by everyone for leisure activities as opposed to the confines of a building.

It also served two purposes: a future for the children and an honour for the dead.

For not only had many of the town’s cricketers been killed or severely injured, but their original pitch and village athletics track which was on the site of the present Northgate road, had been sold by the Montefiore family and ploughed for wheat growing in 1916.

Finding a suitable site near the town centre was difficult. All the fields behind 55 High Street, through what is now known as Queens Square to and including college road, was owned by the Sussex electricity & Supply company.

The owner of the company was Sir John Drughorn. He agreed to sell approximately a seven-acre field to the committee for £862 18 shillings and 3 pence. This was not the first choice of site but all that was affordable.

Everyone in the town contributed what they could afford, no matter how small, and in all £1,020 5 shillings and 5 pence was raised (approx £36,000 today).

On March 16 1920, Dr Sidney Matthews purchased the land on behalf of the committee.

Apart from providing the site amenities, the biggest problem to the committee was that of access.

From the Monastery gates there was just a mud lane to Three Bridges. The land lay in the parish of Worth, and any development needed approval of Cuckfield District council, who refused to pay for a hard surface road extension.

To lay a hard surface as far as the field entrance cost the committee a further £25 10 shillings. In total the project cost £1,063, the biggest outlay being for the cricket pitch turf and laying, all protected by removable posts and chains.

When the whole project had reached an advanced stage, though work would be on-going, the land was registered with the charity commission on October 22 1921, ref no 100449/4B &4c.

The question of maintenance now arose. The two parish councils were approached, who agreed to be trustees and a levy was made upon the rates for the upkeep of the grounds.

The Memorial was again registered with the charity commission in January 1922, ref no 100449/2B naming the two parish councils and their successor/s as trustees in perpetuity, responsible for the maintenance of the Memorial.

The covenants upon the land preclude business being carried out on the land or money to be made from it, nor can it be disposed of without permission of the charity commission.

As a War Memorial it is protected by government legislation. An act of Parliament would be required to change its designation.

So it is the land which is Crawley’s War Memorial, not the gates and the land still belongs to the residents of the town.

The gates were a later concept and addition, proposed and commissioned by Sir John Drughorn as a fitting entrance to the memorial.

They, with their four bronze plaques engraved with the names of all the community war dead, were erected in June 1921.

With the advent of the New Town Development Corporation, compulsory purchase orders were served on all central businesses and land, and in 1953, order no 36 was served on the war memorial.

The plan shows this area was designated to be one vast car park with a central road through the gateway as an approach to the proposed town hall site.

So, the corporation had not done its homework, neither had they anticipated such a public outcry.

A public enquiry was held in 1954, with little success. If it had not been for the determination and tenacity of the chairman of the parish council, Percy Wales, meeting almost weekly with Sir Thomas Bennett, until he finally succeeded, the memorial would be no more.

It was released back to the community in 1955, but some damage had already been done, College Road was under construction.

To compensate for the loss of this piece of land, 12 acres of the newly designated Goffs Park was offered and accepted for a cricket pitch, and this 12 acres is subject to the same terms and conditions as the original, under the Charity Commission and it cannot be built upon.

Problems arose again in the 1980s when two of the name plaques were stolen, supposedly for the metal. Those of today are of a cheaper metal and the remaining original plaques are held by Crawley Museum.

In the succeeding years, several changes have taken place, some so minute as to almost be unnoticeable to the general public.

Small snippets of land have been taken, so the plot is becoming smaller.

As trustees the council can do what they consider to be best for this open space, but it was not until 1999 that they conceded that the land not the gates were Crawley’s War Memorial.

Seldom in the past 25 years have I visited this site. It destroys too many happy childhood memories, and I am infuriated by the signs “no ball games”.