Searching for the New Town Ghosts

The Pitcher family moved to Crawley into a council house in 1967. Dad was a plumber for the council, mum was pregnant with her second child, and her first son, Jeff was one year old. Fifty years later, Jeff is tracking down the last fragments of the new town dream and photographing them.

Crawley was one of eight new towns built in an 20-30 mile radius of London in a plan that began in the 1940s. Each promised an infrastructure designed for cleaner living, employment, and houses rather than high-rises. Londoners poured from the over-crowded, war-scarred capital into what they saw as a brighter future.

The neighbourhoods of Crawley were carefully planned, among them Three Bridges, Furnace Green, Tilgate, Gossops Green, Ifield and Pound Hill, then built in a programme that lasted into the the 1970s.

As social housing was sold off by the Conservative government of the 1980s, so the new town dream slowly faded. Original shop frontages were replaced with loud signs and corporate logos, and libraries and police stations left to moulder. But it was the small details that went with the least noise. Previously uniform, wood-and-glass doors and Crittall windows were replaced with plastic versions, tiles torn away or concreted over, fences torn up to create parking spaces, staircases ripped out, and the simplicity of the new town was lost in a jumble of UPVC porches, double glazing and extensions.

Jeff is obsessively documenting the vanishing detail of Crawley; the ‘no ball games’ signs, the elegant, 1950s stairs, the final few original doors, handles and shopfronts. The last details of this baby boomer Utopia are fading, being quietly lost, and succumbing to decay and nature.