Life on the home front during World War One

While the men of Crawley, Ifield and Three Bridges fought in foreign fields during World War One, the people at home still had to carry on with their day-to-day lives.

Reading through the 1914-1918 editions of the Sussex and Surrey Courier – which would later become the Crawley Observer – the articles paint a fascinating picture of life in the early 20th century.

George Hotel, High Street SUS-140320-102830001

George Hotel, High Street SUS-140320-102830001

And they bring home how much the world has changed in one short century.

For instance, a report of a road accident summons images of very old cars bumping into each other at a rather slow speed – but turned out to have been between two horse-drawn carriages.

Horses featured rather regularly in news article of the time.

One, published on Saturday April 3 1915 read: “RUNAWAYS.—On Tuesday evening a runaway horse caused a good deal of excitement.

“The animal, an Arab belonging to Lady Blunt, of Crabbet Park, was attached to a light American carriage, and it bolted at Three Bridges and covered several miles before it reached Crawley.

“The frightened animal dashed up the London road, and when it was nearing the George Hotel several members of the Surrey Yeomanry who are billeted in the town, as well as some civilians, attempted to stop it.

“Getting in front of the animal and waving his handkerchief, PS Capelin was successful in causing it to partly stop, but it was about to continue its mad rush when one of the Yeomanry and the police sergeant managed to seize the reins and brought the animal to a standstill.

“One of the shafts of the carriage had been broken, and the horse was injured about the legs and body, its wounds, no doubt caused by the fractured shaft, bleeding copiously.

“Happily there were no personal injuries.

“The animal was taken to Mr F Walder’s surgery, and after treatment there the groom was able to take it home.”

The article went on to say:

“Earliear in the same day there was a similar, though not quite so serious an affair.

“A horse, attached to a wagon, bolted at Ifield and dashed into the main road at Crawley.

“When near the London County and Westminster Bank the animal got on to the pavement but managed to regain the road without damage, and when it got on the southern side of the railway crossing it looked almost certain that the horse would collide with Mr M Nightingale’s shop.

“Mr Herrett was near and succeeded in turning the animal into East Park, where it rushed into Messrs Longley’s yard.

“It was being pursued by Mr Thos Bartley and a man in the employ of Mr Linford, and they promptly closed the yard gate after the horse had entered.

“Before it finally stopped, the animal dashed against the workshops, and, turning round, set off again, but stopped after collision with the yard gate.

“In this case, too, fortunately, there was no personal injury.”

With places such as East Park, the level crossing and even Nightingale House still standing, it is easy to picture the events reported.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the decades is Crawley people’s enjoyment of a good night out.

A report from a meeting of the Temperance Society, also from April 3 1915 showed not everone shared the love of a wee dram or two.

It read: “Mr Arthur Cheal presided at the monthly meeting of the Crawley Temperance Society, held in the YMCA Room on Monday night. There was a very good attendance.

“In his opening remarks Mr Cheal spoke of the scenes he had witnessed in the public-houses when engaged in YMCA work there, the sights he saw, due to drink, being most deplorable.”

One person Mr Cheal would have approved of was Miss Faggetter, who taught at the British School, in Robinson Road, for almost 20 years.

An article about her retirement read: “After nearly 19 years’ service as a teacher at the British School, Crawley, Miss Faggetter has resigned her position, much to the regret of her scholars and others who have known and respected her so long.

“The School broke up for the Easter holidays on Wednesday and in the afternoon Miss Faggetter was made the recipient of parting gifts.

“Mr G Tizard attended and, on behalf of the managers, teachers and scholars, presented Miss Faggetter with a handsome silver-plated fish service in case and a silver-plated egg stand. In handing over the gifts,

“MrTizard referred to Miss Faggetter’s long and valued connection with the school. They all regretted her resignation and were sure her services would be greatly missed.”

Just because the country was at war didn’t mean the courts weren’t as busy as always dealing with petty crime.

Under the headline “Cruelty to a pig” the paper reported: “Grace Dance was summoned for treating a pig in a manner that would cause it unnecessary suffering by omitting to provide it with sufficient nourishment and attention during divers dates between February 1st to February 19th, 1915.”

Crawley Fire Brigade was also kept on its toes.

On Saturday October 2 1915, a report was printed which read: “A big petrol fire caused a good deal of excitement at Crawley on Thursday evening.

“By some means a large motor lorry, containing about a thousand gallons of petrol, caught fire, and so fierce were the resultant flames that the country was lit up for miles around.

“At the moment of the outbreak the lorry, which was proceeding towards Brighton, had reached near the top of Hoggs Hill, and there were happily no houses sufficiently close to become involved.”

Crawley Cottage Hospital would eventually be used to treat and rehabilitate wounded soldiers returning from the front but, on Saturday December 5 1914, the wonderfully named Dr A Burn had a much younger patient to deal with.

Under the headline “A boy’s narrow escape”, the report read: “Soon after being released from school on Wednesday afternoon a little boy named Pettitt, whose parents live at County Oak, was knocked down by a motor car near the George Hotel, Crawley.

“The lad apparently stepped right in front of the car and the accident could not have been avoided.

“The chauffeur pulled up at once and conveyed the child to the Crawley Cottage Hospital, where he was attended to by Dr A Burn.

“Happily it was found that he had escaped serious injury, only having a slight mark on the right forearm, and he was able to walk home soon afterwards.”

As well as news, the paper held a treasure trove of adverts and personal notices.

There was an offer of a reward for anyone who found a three-month-old tabby kitten which had wandered off from The High School, in Springfield Road, Crawley.

The creature was described in detail as having “long fur, tawny in parts, four white paws, white chest and a curious white smudge on its nose”.

Elsewhere there were acorns for sale “200 bushels, apply R Easton Princess-road, Crawley”.

And for those wishing to breed their cows, Woldhurstlea Farm had a pedigree Guernsey bull “on service” at five shillings a time.