Longley’s: The firm which helped to build Crawley

Over the years, many businesses have made Crawley their home.

From Thales to Edwards to newcomers Nestle, they have become part and parcel of our town.

Crawley History: Longleys of Crawley'Pictures courtesy of West Sussex Past Pictures

Crawley History: Longleys of Crawley'Pictures courtesy of West Sussex Past Pictures

But arguably the most influential must have been James Longley & Co.

Longleys was founded in 1863 when James Longley – who was born in Worth in 1836 – went into business with his father-in-law Thomas Fuller, landlord of the Red Lion Inn at Turners Hill.

James, who was only 25, bought out Thomas’s share of the company and carried on alone.

The company’s early work mainly centred around general building jobs on the railway network.

He moved to Crawley – which was undergoing rapid growth following the arrival of the railways – in 1881, setting up shop in East Park.

James opened the first steam-powered joinery works in Sussex, which included a brick chimney which was still standing well into the 1990s.

Longleys flourished over the years, with James’ sons Charles and George working side by side with their father.

As well as building dozens of mansions and houses in Crawley, they quickly established a reputation for quality work, particularly on the railways.

But Longley’s was definitely not a one trick pony.

In 1895, James and his sons secured the contract to build West Sussex Asylum, in Chichester – later known as Graylingwell Hospital.

They spent five years building Christ’s Hospital School, in Horsham.

But it was in Crawley that the success of Longley’s was making itself known, with 700 men employed by the company in 1898 and earning up to 5d an hour.

Such was the regard in which the Longley family was held that, in 1897, when Charles’ wife Alice died of diptheria at the age of 34, along with their youngest child, the whole town went into mourning.

A newspaper report of the time read: “So popular was the deceased lady, and in fact the whole family to which she belonged, that the end...cast a gloom over the whole of Crawley and Ifield...the whole town put on mourning.

“There was a procession 300 yards long. All the men engaged on the Crawley works...were present.”

Disaster struck again in March 1924, when the joinery was destroyed by fire.

An extract from the Sussex Daily News dated 
Friday March 21 read: “Crawley was awakened just before 7 o’clock yesterday morning 
by a fire alarm, which was given from the extensive premises of Messrs James Longley and Company...and a most disastrous blaze it proved to be, for the damage done is estimated at many thousands of pounds.”

James died in 1915 and Charles in 1931, having handed over the reins to his son Norman.

The company went into receivership in 2000, despite recording a turnover of £38.5m in 1998.

It was sold to construction group Kier for £1.

Sources: Longleys of Crawley, a pictorial history of James Longley & Co, published 1983.