Rick Leigh

Memories of 'old' Crawley

By Gina Da Cunha

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Rick Leigh' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Rick Leigh' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Rick Leigh' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Rick Leigh was given his name in the air force where there were three men named Richard billeted in the same place. He is from 'old' Crawley and lived with his grandparents who had a cycle shop in the area.

A reminder of Crawley's rural past

I came to Crawley in 1940 and stayed with my gran and grandpa. In 1941, my mum and sister came. My dad was in the Navy, but when they found out how old he was, they threw him out. He went into the Home Guard - the famous 'Dad's Army' -  after that. My granddad was a stockman and we had beef cattle, a lovely shire horse called Tommy and about three pigs (that the government didn't know about). I fell into the pig food one day! My grandma used to run the cycle shop and my mum did a bit of domestic work.

Deep Sussex roots

I was virtually brought up by my grandparents. From the age of five in 1940, I was sent to them during the war from Worthing to Crawley. They were my mum's parents. The grandfather on my father's side died around 1914, but before the First World War started. My dad joined up in 1912 as a boy sailor. My mum's parents were called Bristow. They were an old Sussex family. Their ancestors (on the wrong side of the blanket) were the Montgomery's of Arundel Castle.

Memories of Gran

My grandmother was a funny old lady. She had a heart of gold. She was religious though, and I was marched off to church all the time. They used to run a cycle shop in the Ifield Road. They had three kids but one died, leaving my mum and her sister. My gran always wore a hat, a blouse, a skirt and a pinafore.  Friday morning was shopping morning. On the kitchen table she used to leave the insurance man's money, the milkman's money and the rent man's money, then she'd leave the kettle on the hob and the door open, so they could pick up the money and have a cup of tea whilst she was out. My granddad died of a stroke when he was 82, and my grandma when she was 86.

A kitchen that looked like a cowshed!

We lived at 39 Ifield Road. I remember the kitchen of a house that I lived at with my grandparents from when I was about five or six till I went into the air force. It was the kitchen and the house was part of my granddad's business, a cycle shop. There was a big kitchen table, scrubbed white, though it was made of wood. Also, a dresser and a sink. There was a big copper in the corner with a fire underneath it and a mangle next to that. My job was to help my gran wind the handle of it. There was a huge range which I had to polish with black lead. There were clothes hanging from the ceiling, a stone floor and primrose painted walls. My grandmother painted it that colour and when my grandpa came home, she said what do you think. He said: 'It looks like a cowshed! '  It was pulled down in 1956 when we moved to a council place.

Ask a silly question...

I attended West Green School. In 1943 there was a bomb which landed on the school. There was another occasion when grandfather was trying to tie a tarpaulin over their bombed out house. A man passing said, 'Jerry blowed your roof off then?' And granddad replied in a very witty way: 'No, the landlord took it off because we didn't pay the rent!'

Games we used to play

As kids we used to play Knock-down-Ginger with cotton tied to the door and hiding out behind the gate to watch the household come to the door for no reason. I also played hockey on the A23!  Also tempting was a game of tricking people with a parcel tied to a piece of string...I used to put a lovely parcel in the middle of the street and the local copper came by, but before I could pull the parcel out of the way, the copper gave it a good kick, only then did the copper come to realise that there was a brick inside this parcel!  Funnily enough, the copper turned around and went straight to knock on my door to speak to my parents. How presumptuous!  I also had a lemonade racket going with my mate. We would give in two bottles and get our pennies, then the shop owner would put the bottles out back, so we would pick up the bottles and hand them in again a day later!

School - Not the best days of your life!

I hated school and would rather be out there ploughing the field with my Grandfather. In those days, the brightest pupils were at the back of the class and the trouble makers at the front. I was at the front of the class - I was a rascal! If you hated school like I did, then it was hard to get on. I went to West Green School, Ifield Road in 1940. It was bombed in 1943 in the February. Then I went to Billingshurst Junior School, when I was seven. I came back to Crawley and went to Sarah Robinson's School from 1944 till 1950. I was 15 when I left, though I wanted to leave earlier. In the air force I had my RAF education Parts 1 and 2. I did my C.S.E.'s there.'

Driving Mrs Davis - mad!

In West Green School, we had a wooden hut in the middle. When the bomb dropped, it didn't break a single window. It destroyed the primary school though. In the Infants School, I remember Mrs Davis, boy could she thump! Me and my mate was mucking around one day, and she whacked him so hard that he slid off the chair onto the floor. We had coal stoves in the classroom. No heating then. That's when there was only about 8,000 people in Crawley.

A very merry Christmas

After school, I went to work as an apprentice motor mechanic at Stanford's Garage now Southern Counties.  Then I joined the air force in 1952 and went for training. I remember a Christmas Eve in Nairobi 1954. We had a few beers, rather too many and someone said: 'Come and see the new fire engine!'  A gang of drunk young men up to no good shall we say. I slept it off and woke up at 11:30am. Oh good it's Christmas morning, I thought...Oh no it's not, its Boxing Day! I'd slept all the way through!

An ingenious solution

I was stationed at RAF West Malling, working on the night fighters. One day I was working on an engine and dropped a bolt and could not reach it. So I made a long magnet to get the bolt out. The C.O. (Commanding Officer) got to hear about this magnet and from then on, I used to go with him on air tests after an aircraft had been serviced for 100 hour checks. My job was to sit in the navigator's seat, and after take-off, we would fly out over the channel, turn the aircraft upside-down, and I would collect all the loose nuts, bolts and washers off the canopy with my magnet and put them in the sick bag. Great fun if you like that sort of thing. Only once did the sick bag have something other than nuts and bolts in it! I got discharged eventually as my dad died, so I came home.


I once worked at Fields garage - a Jaguar agency when someone brought in a car suffering from a nasty noise, especially when going around roundabouts. Me and a colleague took the car out for a drive and listened, yes, there it was. I got into the boot to listen and locate the noise. The police came past and said, 'do you know you have a body in your boot?' Eventually the noise was found to be a tin with bulls-eyes in it!

Old Crawley characters

Rick has lots of stories about the characters in Crawley during these times, including the bowler who used to bowl imaginary cricket balls in town near the bus station, and the 'Crawley detectives' who were brothers and used to walk behind each other in town wearing the same outfits. We talk about characters from Crawley past and how there don't seem to be those eccentric people about now. Many of the reminiscence group know about the same Crawley characters. There was Mad Mary: 'my girls were scared of her' (Dolly), 'She used to kick men' (Rick),' she was good looking for her age though' (Rex), 'She dressed like tramp' (Margaret). 'I think she got left at the altar' (Rex). Rick gets quite cross about the change to Crawley. 'I wasn't happy about the new town being built and how new folks got houses and people from old Crawley were just forgotten. The provisions were only made for Londoners. We lost the Sussex accents due to the incoming Londoners and the accents go mixed up together.'

Crawley through-and-through

Rick has lived on 39 Ifield Road, 225 Ifield Road, Shipley Road, Ifield, and Oatlands on Gossops Green in Crawley. 'My sister is the mayoress of Crawley now. I'm retired, but am a member of my old squadron association, as well as working as a volunteer guide at the Crawley Museum'.

This page was added by Gina Da Cunha on 01/04/2008.
Comments about this page

What an interesting man!
Please would you join the Shelia Snelling (mad Mary) appreciation society on facebook and send a link to Jeff Stonehouse.
He will be very interested.

By Carol Vincent
On 04/08/2009

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