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History and heritage

History of Crawley

Crawley's history can be traced as far back as the Stone (Neolithic) Age.

Crawley's name is derived from the Anglo Saxon crawe leah meaning a 'crow infested clearing'. The spelling changed during the Middle Ages: 

  1. Crauleia (c1203)
  2. Crawele (c1250) 
  3. Croule (1279)

The current spelling Crawley appeared around 1316. 

The town itself is a mixture of three parishes, including Ifield, Crawley village and part of Worth. Worth Church is Crawley’s oldest building originating from Saxon times.

The first mention of Crawley comes from 1203, when a licence to hold a weekly market was granted.

Crawley continued to grow steadily over the next 400 years, helped by the continuing success of the iron industry.

The arrival of the railway in the 1840s killed off the town’s coaching trade, but it made Crawley more accessible, bringing a surge in the population.

Crawley continued to prosper during Victorian times, and did not suffer too badly in either World Wars. The sale of many former estates made land available for more building, around 900 new houses were built between the wars. 

Gatwick Racecourse opened in 1891 and hosted the Grand National during the Great War. An airfield was opened nearby in the 1930s. Gatwick Aerodrome was requisitioned by the R.A.F. during World War II, after which Gatwick Airport was opened by HM The Queen in June 1958. 

Crawley was designated as a new town on January 9 1947, merging the villages of Three Bridges and Ifield with the small market town of Crawley filling in the gaps.

The planners envisaged nine residential neighbourhoods, each based on a village concept, grouped around a town centre with an industrial estate. Each would have a neighbourhood centre with shops, a primary school, church, community centre and pub.

In 1962 the town had a thriving community of 60,000, and the original nine neighbourhoods increased to ten. 

Crawley’s boundaries were extended by 1,800 acres in 1983, stretching to the M23 in the east and the new Ifield West development in the west. 

As at 2019, Crawley has a population of around 114,000 with 14 neighbourhoods, the largest inland town in West Sussex.