BLOG: From Richard III to Gareth Southgate - the joys of local history

obby look back john haigh acid bath murderer
obby look back john haigh acid bath murderer

In the first of s new series of blogs, Crawley Observer chief reporter Karen Dunn writes about local history – and why it’s not boring.

The discovery of the bones of Richard III beneath a car park in Leicester demonstrated that there’s nothing boring about local history.

And while there are unlikely to be any skeletal monarchs festering beneath the streets of Crawley, the town certainly has one or two famous – and infamous – names associated with its past.

Did you know, for instance, that the lover of playwright Oscar Wilde is buried at the Friary Church of St Francis and St Anthony, in the town centre?

Lord Alfred Douglas – known as Bosie – died on March 20 1945, aged 74, and is buried alongside his mother, Sibyl, Marchioness of Queensberry, who died 10 years earlier at the age of 91.

The town was also home to Mark Lemon, the founder and first editor of Punch magazine. He lived at Vine Cottage, in the High Street, from 1858 until his death in 1870.

When he died, the village shops closed and a funeral procession was attended by hundreds. He is buried at Ifield churchyard.

The Mark Lemon Society was founded in 1991 to mark the 150th anniversary of Punch magazine.

A less noble figure from Crawley’s history was John George Haigh – the acid bath murderer – who rented a workshop in Leopold Road, West Green.

Haigh’s grisly crimes saw him shoot three of his victims before dissolving their bodies in drums of acid at the workshop.

He was hanged in Wandsworth Prison on August 10 1949.

But if it’s the bones of the past you are really interested in, the chances are that you are sitting where dinosaurs once roamed.

In 1822, the tooth of what turned out to be an Iguanodon was discovered by Gideon Mantell or his wife (accounts vary). The specimen was named Kukufeldia tilgatensis in honour of Cuckfield and Tilgate Forest and can be seen in the Natural History Museum, in London.

It was believed to be the first example in history of a fossil being dug up, analysed, and assigned a genus.

Moving on to more recent history, the first Crawley man to play football for England was former Hazelwick lad, Gareth Southgate. He was also the first Crawley man to miss a penalty in a major football tournament and the first Crawley man to wear a paper bag on his head for a TV advert following what was, at best, a mixed year for him.

So, as you can see, there is nothing dull about local history. To find out for yourself, visit the Roger Bastable section on the second floor of Crawley Library, on Southgate Avenue, or drop in at Crawley Museum, in Goffs Park House, Old Horsham Road, which re-opens in March 2013 on Wednesdays 2-4pm, Sundays 2-4pm, and Bank Holiday Mondays 2-4pm.