Story behind Crawley’s Haslett Avenue

Caroline Haslett c1924. Picture courtesy of the IET Archives SUS-180214-172203001
Caroline Haslett c1924. Picture courtesy of the IET Archives SUS-180214-172203001

When Three Bridges Forum member Dave Hathaway was researching for our Caroline Haslett Memorial Project at the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) Archives in London recently, he discovered correspondence relating to the naming of Haslett Avenue, which runs between Three Bridges and Crawley.

Popular belief, not surprisingly, is that the road, a Crawley New Town radial route built in 1959-60, is named after Dame Caroline Haslett – a locally born and nationally acclaimed electrical engineer, campaigner, educationalist, suffragette and feminist role model.

She had served as a valued member of the Crawley and Three Bridges New Town Advisory Committee from its inception in 1946 and then Crawley Development Corporation until her retirement through illness in 1955.

She died two years later at the age of 61. New Town era correspondence in the IET Archives, however, reveals an interesting twist in the story.

Dame Caroline Haslett’s youngest sister and biographer, Rosalind Messenger, who had looked after Caroline during her final years, wrote to Crawley Development Corporation from her home in Bungay, Suffolk.

She suggested that the new road should be named Haslett Avenue - not after her sister, but after their father, Robert Haslett.

Robert had been a popular Three Bridges character and retired railway signal fitter living in Hazelwick Road until his death also in 1957 at age 92 - only months later, it transpired, than daughter Caroline.

The suggestion to commemorate Robert Haslett in the Haslett Avenue road name was picked up and supported by elected members in Crawley, over an earlier plan to call it Eastwood Avenue.

Since it is only the Haslett surname that appears in the Haslett Avenue road name (except for the ‘East’ and ‘West’ epithets made necessary due to the County Mall acquisition and pedestrianisation of the still un-named section of the route next to the Memorial Gardens), it will hardly matter to most people whether the road takes its name from the nationally acclaimed and honoured daughter or her very locally popular, but now almost forgotten old dad.

It is still slightly intriguing, though; did Rosalind know that pitching for her father’s rather than her sister’s name was the more likely route to getting Haslett – her own maiden name – on the map?

Or was there some other reason for not leading with her sister’s name? We can only speculate that a surviving sibling, also Robert, who emigrated to Australia in the inter-war period, would have been pleased to hear news of the outcome, regardless of whom was held in the higher regard by Crawley’s road naming authority.

- Three Bridges Forum is about to launch its consultation for a Caroline Haslett Memorial Project. The consultation is planned to run until the end of September 2019, with related exhibition material on display throughout August at Crawley Library and Crawley Museum.