Cataloguing Crawley New Town: The Team Behind the Corp.

By Alice Millard, project archivist

Behind the development of Crawley New Town was a phenomenal group of people. As well as the ten or so members of the executive committee, there were more than 100 employees across planning, estate, legal, administrative, financial and housing departments. These employees were some of the best architects, engineers, town planners and housing managers from West Sussex and across Britain.

The Executives

L-R, Dame Caroline Haslett, Sir Thomas Bennett, Alwyn Sheppard Fidler. Images courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Each Development Corporation around the country was headed by a crack team of specialist professionals. Soon after Crawley was designated a New Town in 1947, several people assembled a working group to lay down the foundations of a Master Plan for Crawley. These people included:

Sir Thomas Penberthy Bennett was a celebrated English architect and acted as chairman of the Crawley Development Corporation from 1947 to 1960. Lawrence Neal acted as vice chairman to Bennett. Dame Caroline Haslett had made her mark by pioneering electrical engineering, using her expertise to promote use of electricity in households in order to alleviate the burden of housework upon women. Alwyn Sheppard Fidler, originally from Wales, was the Corporation’s chief architect until 1951 when he left to become City Architect of Birmingham. Sir Edward Gillett was appointed for his specialism in surveying. Eric Walter Pasold, the Austro-Hungarian founder of textile company Pasold, was a member of the committee until 1950. Alderman James Marshall, once mayor of Croydon, brought his public service experience. Similarly, Ivy Molly Bolton brought decades of experience as an ex-chair of London County Council.

The Non-Executives

Various job advertisements from the Crawley and District Observer, 1949-1950.

Assisting the executive committee was a small army of dedicated employees, all contributing to realising the Master Plan in their own ways. In the Corporation’s annual report of 1951, they reported 168 employees broken down as follows:

Architect’s Department – 41

Architects on sites – 7

Engineer’s Department – 31

Engineers on sites – 14

Estates Department – 22

Legal Department – 4

Administrative Department – 14

Executive Department – 10

Domestic staff – 13

Many of these staff members were hired locally, especially those who worked in the domestic, administrative and estates departments. The Corporation utilised the local newspaper, the Crawley and District Observer, to advertise for vacancies. This is a little surprising given that the Corporation was governed centrally by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning; it would be easier to assume they recruited nationally as many civil service roles are today.

This being said, some posts were filled by individuals coming from much further afield, suggesting that the Corporation were willing to sacrifice a little extra time for staff relocation; but also that certain positions within the Corporation were just too good to miss out on. Ultimately, they wanted the best of the best.

Housing Manager: Margaret Wragg

Crawley and District Observer, 1950

In 1950, the Corporation appointed Miss Margaret Wragg as the New Town housing manager. Margaret was a life long resident Rotherham, Yorkshire. She had previously worked as an assistant housing manager in Rotherham, and had undertaken a qualifications in public housing just prior to the Second World War. Margaret subsequently moved 200-odd miles across the country, for what was hopefully her dream job.

Interestingly, Margaret was one of 60 female applicants to the role. The efforts of Octavia Hill, an English social reformer, to improve housing in the 19th century created the idea of ‘housing management’. This area quickly became a socially acceptable career for women. Inspired by Octavia, the Association of Women Housing Workers was founded.

It’s a strange analogy but, similar to ants in ant hills, all members of the Corporation were crucial to building and maintaining the new community that was Crawley New Town. As I slowly work through the management files of the Corporation, I like to think of these bustling employees working hard to realise this utopian vision for new towns.

The next update will look at the foundation of Crawley – the Master Plan.

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