Crawley is a town and local government district with Borough status in West Sussex, England. It is south of Charing Cross (London), north of Brighton and Hove, and northeast of the county town of Chichester, covers an area of and had a population of 106,597 at the time of the 2011 Census.
The area has been inhabited since the Stone Age, and was a centre of ironworking in Roman times. Crawley developed slowly as a market town from the 13th century, serving the surrounding villages in the Weald; its location on the main road from London to Brighton brought a passing trade, encouraging the development of coaching inns. It was connected to the railway network in the 1840s.
Gatwick Airport, now one of Britain's busiest international airports, opened on the edge of the town in the 1940s, encouraging commercial and industrial growth. After the Second World War, the British Government planned to move large numbers of people and jobs out of London and into new towns around South East England. The New Towns Act 1946 designated Crawley as the site of one of these. A master plan was developed for the establishment of new residential, commercial, industrial and civic areas, and rapid development greatly increased the size and population of the town in a few decades.
The town comprises thirteen residential neighbourhoods based around the core of the old market town, and separated by main roads and railway lines. The nearby communities of Ifield, Pound Hill and Three Bridges were absorbed into the new town at different stages of its development. As of 2009, expansion is planned in the west and northwest of the town, in co-operation with Horsham District Council. Economically, the town has developed into the main centre of industry and employment between London and the south coast of England. A large industrial area supports industries and services, many of which are connected with the airport, and the commercial and retail sectors continue to expand.
The area may have been settled during the Mesolithic period: locally manufactured flints of the Horsham Culture type have been found to the southwest of the town. Tools and burial mounds from the Neolithic period, and burial mounds and a sword from the Bronze Age, have also been discovered. Crawley is on the western edge of the High Weald, which produced iron for more than 2,000 years from the Iron Age onwards. Goffs Park—now a recreational area in the south of the town—was the site of two late Iron Age furnaces. Ironworking and mineral extraction continued throughout Roman times, particularly in the Broadfield area where many furnaces were built.
In the 5th century, Saxon settlers named the area Crow's Leah—meaning a crow-infested clearing, or Crow's Wood. This name evolved over time, and the present spelling appeared by the early 14th century. By this time, nearby settlements were more established: the Saxon church at Worth, for example, dates from between 950 and 1050 AD.
By 1839 it offered almost an hourly service to both destinations. The George, a timber-framed house dating from the 15th century, expanded to become a large coaching inn, taking over adjacent buildings. Eventually an annexe had to be built in the middle of the wide High Street; this survived until the 1930s. The original building has become the George Hotel, with conference facilities and 84 bedrooms; it retains many period features including an iron fireback.
Crawley's oldest church is St John the Baptist's, between the High Street and the Broadway. It is said to have 13th-century origins, but there has been much rebuilding (especially in the 19th century) and the oldest part remaining is the south wall of the nave, which is believed to be 14th century. The church has a 15th-century tower (rebuilt in 1804) which originally contained four bells cast in 1724. Two were replaced by Thomas Lester of London in 1742; but in 1880 a new set of eight bells were cast and installed by the Croydon-based firm Gillett, Bland & Company.
Railway age and Victorian era
The Brighton Main Line was the first railway line to serve the Crawley area. A station was opened at Three Bridges (originally known as East Crawley) in the summer of 1841. Crawley railway station, at the southern end of the High Street, was built in 1848 when the Horsham branch was opened from Three Bridges to Horsham. A line was built eastwards from Three Bridges to East Grinstead in 1855. Three Bridges had become the hub of transport in the area by this stage: one-quarter of its population was employed in railway jobs by 1861 (mainly at the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway's railway works near the station). The Longley company—one of South East England's largest building firms in the late 19th century, responsible for buildings including Christ's Hospital school and the King Edward VII Sanatorium in Midhurst—moved to a site next to Crawley station in 1881. In 1898 more than 700 people were employed at the site.
There was a major expansion in housebuilding in the late 19th century. An area known as "New Town" (unrelated to the postwar developments) was created around the railway level crossing and down the Brighton Road; the West Green area, west of the High Street on the way to Ifield, was built up; and housing spread south of the Horsham line for the first time, into what is now Southgate. The population reached 4,433 in 1901, compared to 1,357 a century earlier. In 1891, a racecourse was opened on farmland at Gatwick. Built to replace a steeplechase course at Waddon near Croydon in Surrey, it was used for both steeplechase and flat racing, and held the Grand National during the years of the First World War. The course had its own railway station on the Brighton Main Line.
In the early 20th century, many of the large country estates in the area, with their mansions and associated grounds and outbuildings, were split up into smaller plots of land, attracting haphazard housing development and small farms. By the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Crawley had grown into a small but prosperous town, serving a wide rural area and those passing through on the A23 London–Brighton road. Three-quarters of the population had piped water supplies, all businesses and homes had electricity, and piped gas and street lighting had been in place for 50 years. An airfield was opened in 1930 on land near the racecourse. This was a private concern until the Second World War when it was claimed by the Royal Air Force.
In May 1946, the New Towns Act of 1946 identified Crawley as a suitable location for a New Town; but it was not officially designated as such until . The of land set aside for the new town were split across the county borders between East Sussex, West Sussex and Surrey. Architect Thomas Bennett was appointed chairman of Crawley Development Corporation. A court challenge to the designation order meant that plans were not officially confirmed until December 1947. By this time, an initial plan for the development of the area had been drawn up by Anthony Minoprio. This proposed filling in the gaps between the villages of Crawley, Ifield and Three Bridges. Bennett estimated that planning, designing and building the town, and increasing its population from the existing 9,500 to 40,000, would take 15 years.
Work began almost immediately to prepare for the expansion of the town. A full master plan was in place by 1949. This envisaged an increase in the population of the town to 50,000, residential properties in nine neighbourhoods radiating from the town centre, and a separate industrial area to the north. The neighbourhoods would consist mainly of three-bedroom family homes, with a number of smaller and larger properties. Each would be built around a centre with shops, a church, a public house, a primary school and a community centre. Secondary education was to be provided at campuses at Ifield Green, Three Bridges and Tilgate. Later, a fourth campus, in Southgate, was added to the plans.
Expectations of the eventual population of the town were revised upwards several times. The 1949 master plan had allowed for 50,000 people, but this was amended to 55,000 in 1956 after the Development Corporation had successfully resisted pressure from the Minister for Town and Country Planning to accommodate 60,000. Nevertheless, plans dated 1961 anticipated growth to 70,000 by 1980, and by 1969 consideration was given to an eventual expansion of up to 120,000.
Extended shopping facilities to the east of the existing high street were provided. The first stage to open was The Broadwalk in 1954, following by the opening of the Queen's Square development by Her Majesty The Queen in 1958. Crawley railway station was moved eastwards towards the new development.
A new plan was put forward by West Sussex County Council in 1961. This proposed new neighbourhoods at Broadfield and Bewbush, both of which extended outside the administrative area of the then Urban District Council. Detailed plans were made for Broadfield in the late 1960s; by the early 1970s building work had begun. Further expansion at Bewbush was begun in 1974, although development there was slow. The two neighbourhoods were both larger than the original nine: together, their proposed population was 23,000. Work also took place in the area now known as Ifield West on the western fringes of the town.
By 1980, the council identified land at Maidenbower, south of the Pound Hill neighbourhood, as being suitable for another new neighbourhood, and work began in 1986. However, all of this development was undertaken privately, unlike the earlier neighbourhoods in which most of the housing was owned by the council.
In 1999, plans were announced to develop a 14th neighbourhood on land at Tinsley Green to the northeast of the town. However, these were halted when proposals for possible expansion at Gatwick Airport were announced. As of 2008, discussions were underway with Horsham District Council concerning the possible future provision of new housing on Crawley's western fringes, to be named Kilnwood vale; much of the land proposed for development currently lies within Horsham's administrative boundaries. Development of the neighbourhood began in 2012.