West Sussex Unwrapped 2021 – Crawley New Town

This month West Sussex Unwrapped is devoted to Crawley.  Here we highlight a number of collections that feature the West Sussex town of Crawley – or as it was known for many years after the last war – Crawley New Town.   Visit the WSRO Blog about Crawley New Town, which includes photos and some remarkable documents that trace the town’s post-war story.

Our next episode, live on the 8th of March, for International Women’s Day, will be about the Suffragette Movement in West Sussex.

Below we showcase three collections that feature the West Sussex town, both before and after it had been incorporated into the UK’s post-war New Towns project.

The Nightingale Collection

Largely financed by the patriarch of the family, Moses Nightingale, a prosperous corn merchant, the films in this collection were made between 1927 and 1986 by Percy Nightingale, his sister, Florence Nightingale Payne and their brother-in-law, Albert Jones. Between them they filmed family gatherings and celebrations, holidays and outings and events in the small market town of Crawley before and after it became a much enlarged ‘New Town’. These included films showing civic events and public celebrations like the 1935 Silver Jubilee as well as other aspects of life and leisure in the town.

Crawley & District Bowling and Lawn Tennis Club [1927 to 1928]

This amateur film captures people playing bowls, croquet and lawn tennis at an outdoor sports club in Crawley in the late 1920s.

Crawley Events in the 1930s

Scenes include Crawley Fair livestock auction in 1928, a parade commemorating the Coronation of King George VI in 1937 and the opening of the town’s new recreation ground (generously supported with a £1,000 donation to the playground equipment by the Nightingales).

The Gladstone E. Moore Collection

Gladstone E. Moore lived in Crawley from 1934 to 1969. He was a fellow of the Incorporated Society of Auctioneers and Landed Property as well as being a Baptist Minister, Deacon and Superintendent for several Churches in the Crawley district. He documented many local events in Crawley and Three Bridges; from weddings, school sports days, parades, flower shows and Sunday School outings to places like Littlehampton, Chessington Zoo and Bexhill-on-Sea.  Mr Moore also filmed scenes showing the redevelopment and expansion of central Crawley into a New Town. These show the construction of the new shopping centre, new housing and industrial estates, and even a visit to Crawley by HRH Princess Elizabeth for an official opening ceremony.

Ancient and Modern – Three Bridges Free Church [1949 to 1963]

This film shows scenes around Three Bridges, in Crawley, between 1949-1963 and includes: a children’s party; a miniature train ride; a visit to the seaside; building new houses; Queen Elizabeth II opening Queens’ Square Shopping Centre; construction of the new Three Bridges Free Church; Punch and Judy; and a school outing with an American West theme.

Princess Elizabeth ‘Royal Visit To Crawley’ [1950]

A film documenting the Royal visit to Crawley by HRH Princess Elizabeth.

The Rosalind and George Howe Collection

George and Rosalind Howe founded the Crawley Film Unit as an offshoot of the Crawley Film Society and began producing films on a semi-professional basis from about 1954. Their output ranged from training and medical films to fictional dramas across most genres. They set up a production company called Hollybush Films Ltd and operated their business from the address of a fellow society member, Ron Prosser, who often assisted the Howes with camerawork and editing.

A New Town Story [1955]

This amateur film captures the community-centred ethos in the fledgling New Town of Crawley, which was expanding as a consequence of the 1946 New Towns Act. This film features those early days of construction when the villages of Ifield, Three Bridges and the market town of Crawley were merged into a single conurbation. Screenings of the film were accompanied by someone reading aloud a script which explained the events seen in the film.

A Milestone for Crawley [1989]

A well-made amateur film from 1989 which documents the development of the Hawth Theatre and Arts Centre, Crawley. The film features many local artistic and cultural groups and examines the impact the new centre will have on the town.