1. Crawley history
  2. Notable people from Crawley
  3. Influential figures in Crawley history

Exploring Influential Figures in Crawley History

This article explores the influential figures in Crawley history and their contributions to the city.

Exploring Influential Figures in Crawley History

Crawley is a town with a long and storied history, and throughout that history, there have been many influential figures who have left their mark on the town. From politicians to educators to businessmen, these influential figures have helped shape the culture and outlook of Crawley. In this article, we explore some of the notable people who have helped to shape Crawley into the town it is today. From prominent political leaders to pioneering entrepreneurs, we will look at some of the most influential figures in Crawley's history. We will discuss their backgrounds and careers, and how they helped to shape the Crawley of today.

We will also look at some of the challenges they faced and the successes they achieved in their respective fields. So, join us as we explore the impressive people who have left their mark on Crawley's past and present. Through their stories, we can gain insight into the rich history of this town, and learn how it has evolved over time. Crawley has a long history of influential figures, each of whom have left a lasting impact on the city. Politicians, activists, writers, and entrepreneurs have all played a part in shaping the city into what it is today. Let's take a look at some of the most influential people in Crawley's history.

Sir John Mason

Sir John Mason was one of Crawley's most influential politicians in the 19th century.

He served as the Member of Parliament for East Grinstead from 1859 to 1868, and he was also a member of the Privy Council. During his time in office, he played an important role in the passage of the Reform Act of 1867, which extended voting rights to many more people. He was also an advocate of free trade, and it was during his time as MP that Crawley began to develop as an important commercial center.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was a pioneering doctor and activist who lived in Crawley during the 19th century. She was the first female to qualify as a physician in Britain and the first female mayor in England.

She also founded the first hospital staffed by female doctors and nurses. Anderson was an early advocate for women's rights, and she campaigned tirelessly to bring about equal access to education and employment for women. She is remembered today as a pioneering figure in both medicine and women's rights.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was one of Crawley's most famous residents. He is best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, but he also wrote many other works including novels, plays, and short stories.

He moved to Crawley in 1891, and during his time there he wrote several of his famous works including The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles. His works are still read and enjoyed today, and he is remembered as one of Britain's greatest authors.

Charles Rolls

Charles Rolls was an entrepreneur and engineer who lived in Crawley during the late 19th century. He founded the Rolls-Royce car company with Henry Royce in 1904, and he became known as one of the pioneers of motoring. Rolls was also a renowned aviator, and he held several records for long-distance flights.

His influence on motoring can still be seen today, with Rolls-Royce cars being some of the most desirable vehicles in the world.

James Symonds

James Symonds was an influential writer who lived in Crawley during the 19th century. He wrote several novels including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which are still widely read today. Symonds also wrote many essays on topics such as religion, philosophy, and politics which were popular at the time. His works remain influential today, and he is remembered as one of Britain's greatest writers.

Agnes Weston

Agnes Weston was an activist who lived in Crawley during the late 19th century.

She founded several charities dedicated to helping sailors and their families, including the Royal Sailors' Rest in Portsmouth. Weston also founded a number of churches around England dedicated to helping those in need. Her work remains influential today, and she is remembered as one of Britain's great philanthropists.

Notable disagreements with these figures' impact or legacy

Whilst many people remember these figures as influential figures in Crawley history, not everyone agrees with their legacy or impact. Some people have criticised Sir John Mason for his support of free trade policies which they argue led to increased inequality in Britain.

Others have questioned Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s legacy due to her opposition to suffrage for women over 30 years old. Similarly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been criticised by some for his support of spiritualism and psychical research which many people consider pseudoscience. Finally, Charles Rolls has been criticised by some for his involvement in motor racing which led to several fatal accidents.


Crawley has been home to some of the most influential writers in history, whose works have shaped the city and its people. From political activists to poets, these writers have had an undeniable impact on Crawley's history. One such figure is Ruth First, a political activist, writer, and academic who was born in the city.

First wrote extensively on race and class inequality in South Africa, and her books included '117 Days', 'South West Africa: The Last Colony', and 'No Cold Comfort'.The poet David Gascoyne was another influential writer from Crawley. Gascoyne's work is known for its surrealist, metaphysical, and symbolist elements, and he wrote several collections of poetry including 'Roman Balcony' and 'Man's Life is This Meat'.Noel Streatfeild was an English children's writer who was born in Crawley. She is best known for her novel 'Shoes for the Ballet', which was published in 1936. Other works include 'Ballet Shoes', 'The Circus Is Coming', and 'The Painted Garden'.Other influential writers from Crawley include novelist and short-story writer Ethel Mannin, poet and playwright Arthur Waley, and satirist and broadcaster Mark Steel.


Crawley has a long and proud history of influential political figures. From local activists to national politicians, these individuals have left their mark on the city.

One of the most prominent figures in Crawley's history is Dame Mary Elsie Robinson, who became the first female councillor in England when she was elected to Crawley Urban District Council in 1926. She went on to become a Member of Parliament, and was instrumental in establishing Crawley as a town in 1947. Sir Stanley Reynolds also had an important impact on Crawley's history. As a Member of Parliament for Crawley from 1950 to 1964, he was involved in the expansion of Gatwick Airport and the development of housing estates throughout the city. Other prominent political figures from Crawley include Jack Petchey, who served as Member of Parliament for Carshalton and Wallington from 1966 to 1997, and Derek Hatton, who served as Member of Parliament for Knowsley North from 1983 to 1987. These influential politicians have helped shape Crawley into what it is today, and their contributions should not be forgotten.


Crawley has had many successful entrepreneurs who have made a lasting impact on the city's history.

Prominent figures such as John Donkin, the founder of the first print works in Crawley, and the Crawley family, who are responsible for bringing industrial development to the area, are some of the most influential people in the city's history. Other successful entrepreneurs include Robert Crawley, who founded the first bank in the area, and Nick Robinson, who established the first large-scale shopping centre in Crawley. These entrepreneurs have all had a significant impact on the city's economy and culture. John Donkin is perhaps the most famous entrepreneur from Crawley. He opened a print works in the area and was responsible for introducing new printing techniques that revolutionized the industry.

His printing works became one of the largest in England, and he was a major employer in Crawley. The Crawley family were another influential group of entrepreneurs who shaped the city's history. They bought land to create industrial sites, which helped to bring economic growth to the area. Robert Crawley was another entrepreneur from Crawley who played a key role in developing the city. He opened the first bank in the area, which helped to attract more businesses to the city.

Nick Robinson is another famous entrepreneur from Crawley who established one of the first large-scale shopping centres in the area. This shopping centre helped to transform Crawley into a major shopping destination for locals and visitors alike.


Crawley is home to many activists who have had a lasting impact on the city. One of the most influential is Dame Elizabeth Anstee, who was a leading campaigner for equal rights and civil liberties in Crawley during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was a founding member of the Crawley Women's Institute and was one of the first female barristers to be called to the Bar in 1883. Dame Elizabeth was also instrumental in setting up the first women's suffrage society in Crawley and was a vocal advocate for women's rights.

Another influential activist was William Henry Smith, who campaigned for better housing conditions and social reform in Crawley during the early 20th century. He was a founder of the Crawley Labour Party and served as its first chairman, helping to establish the party as an important voice in local politics. He was also an advocate for improved education and healthcare, and was one of the first councillors to campaign for free school meals for children. Finally, Sir Charles Cripps, Baron of Parsloes, was a noted philanthropist and social reformer who had a major influence on Crawley's history. He founded the Cripps Foundation in 1908 and provided grants to many charitable organisations, including those dedicated to improving education and living conditions in Crawley.

He also provided financial assistance to local businesses to help them grow and thrive, creating a strong economic base for the city. Crawley has been shaped by a number of influential figures throughout its history, from politicians to activists, writers to entrepreneurs. Politicians such as local MP Henry Smith have had a significant impact on the city, helping to bring about improvements in infrastructure and services. Activists have been instrumental in raising awareness of important social issues and pushing for change. Writers have helped to spread the word about Crawley and its people, while entrepreneurs have provided much-needed employment opportunities.

These influential figures have had a lasting impact on Crawley, and their contributions will continue to be remembered for many years to come.