The church which watched a town grow

Crawley History - the clergy
Crawley History - the clergy

Over the years, hundreds of old photos of Crawley have been printed in the Observer’s nostalgia pages.

No matter the subject matter or the date, if they were taken in the town centre then there was one constant presence in the background of all the pictures - St John’s Church.

It’s impossible to imagine the town without the church which has stood like a sentinel watching over the village, town and new town as it grew up over the years.

When it was built, the church would have looked nothing like the one we all see today. It is believed the south wall is the only part to survive from the 13th century.

There would have been no tower - that was added in the 15th century and built six courses higher in 1804.

Hand in hand with St John’s – and the many churches which followed – went the clergy.

The first names listed as Chantry Chaplains of the Chapel of St John the 
Baptist, at Crawley in the Parish of Slaugham, were Thomas de la Brewere in 1267 and 
William Knovile (no date listed).

According to the Dunkin Mss Volume 7, held at the British Library, they were followed by Roger Pykewell in 1408 and Robert Hadden in 1410.

There has been a church in Crawley since 1250AD and the chances are St John’s was consecrated by St Richard - who was plain old Richard de Wych, Bishop of Chichester, at the time.

He was canonised in 1262.

The most famous Rector to have graced its aisles was John Mason Neale, scholar, translator and writer of hymns.

Young John had some exciting plans to modernise the church in 1842 – which didn’t go down very well with the congregation in what was at the time a rather sleepy village.

He left for St Margaret’s, in East Grinstead, after just four months.

These photos all come courtesy of West Sussex Past Pictures. They include the opening of the new church entry gates in memory of Rev John Barrett-Lennard, who was Rector in 1876. The picture was taken in 1898.

The photos of Crawley Rectory – taken in 1865 and 1952 – are particularly interesting when you realise that the land in front of the Rectory is now The Boulevard.

The Rectory was built in the 1840s and was home to Rev John Soper, who was Rector from 1855 to 1876. The building was demolished in the late 1950s.

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