Crawley Blue Plaques — Peter Young

Kev Neylon
6 min readNov 9, 2023

Peter Young was born in 1930 and read history and archaeology at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

He married his late wife Bridget four months after they met at a cinema while he studied history at Cambridge. They moved to Crawley with their son Simon, and daughter Judy, in 1957. Mr Young was chairman of Society of Sussex Authors and wrote a series of books and company histories.

He was the chairman of Crawley Arts Council and championed the town’s blue plaque scheme to highlight Crawley’s history before the new town was built. He also helped found the Hawth Theatre, which is why his blue plaque is on the door there.

He had a lengthy career as an author which started with the 1978 book — The 1945 Revolution.

Peter Young’s first book was a joint effort with former Faversham schoolmate Bill Harrington. After a gap of many years, they met in Charing Cross Road during a politically turbulent phase of the 1970s. Since both were active Labour campaigners during their school days, the talk soon turned to the striking parallels between different decades. At the time, Bill was reviewing books for Tribune and discussed the idea with one of the literary editors, who thought the subject was good book material. “Here are the names of four publishers,” he said, pushing a piece of paper across the desk to Harrington. “As luck would have it, one of them was Davis-Poynter,” Peter recounts. “I happened to know Reg Davis-Poynter already through local arts activities, since he lived in Crawley. Bill contacted Reg and within 24 hours we’d sold our first book.” Not that it would ever happen that way now, he concedes. “Bill covered the arts, and I did the chapters on parliament and the church. Then we swapped our drafts and edited each other’s work. It worked because we were both on the same wavelength,” explains Peter The 1945 Revolution was launched in 1978, its opening featuring Tommy Trinder. Who after years of working in benefit gigs for one hospital after another, he had spoken publicly in the general election on a single subject. He spoke of the need for a national health service, which remained one of the few surviving political landmarks of post-war Britain.

Some of his other noted books include

The 1983 — Power of Speech: A History of Standard Telephones and Cables 1883–1983. The story of Standard Telephones and Cables established in 1883 as an agency of the American giant Western Electric, to market the telephone — barely seven years after it had been patented by Alexander Graham Bell. It became one of Britain’s Largest and profitable telecommunications companies. In celebration of the centenary of Standard Telephones and Cables plc.

And 1991’s — Person to Person: International Impact of the Telephone.

When he in 2000, after just over 20 years of fulltime writing, he promptly set about authoring another book! “I was in the garden with the family pet tortoise,” he recalls. “I said, ‘You’ve been a part of the family for 50 years, so I’m going to do something for you in this millennium year’ and thus it was I wrote the first of my animal books.”

Which was released in 2003 and called Tortoise.

It was first cultural and natural history of these long-lived and intriguing creatures, which have existed for more than two hundred million years. The book covers tortoises worldwide, in evolution, myth and reality, ranging across palaeontology, natural history, myth, folklore, art forms, literature, veterinary medicine and trade regulations. The tortoise has been seen as an Atlas-like creature supporting the world, as the origin of music and as a philosophical paradox. The tortoise is looked at in all these guises, as well as a military tactical formation, its exploitation by mariners and others for food, as ornament (in tortoiseshell), as a motif in art, and in space research. It includes the movement away from exploitation to conservation and even the uses of the tortoise in advertising.

It was followed by 2008’s Swan

Swan is a comprehensive natural and cultural history of this most dignified of birds. Peter Young relates the natural history of the swan: its elegant exterior concealing a lightweight frame; details of extinct species and the differences between the eight surviving species; its power and endurance; its formation flying, which conserves energy and allows long-haul flights to be made at speed; its habitat and feeding habits. He also explores the extensive cultural history of the swan, from its frequent portrayal in painting, sculpture, porcelain, and furniture; to its use in heraldry; the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan; Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling; and Swan Lake. The book goes on to examine the uses and abuses of swans; questions of conservation; of the swan as food; and its widespread use in logos and brand-names.

From animals he moved onto trees with 2013’s Oak.

Oak, one of the first two books in the Botanical series, narrates the biography of the tree that since time immemorial has been a symbol of loyalty, strength, generosity, and renewal. Peter Young explores how the oak, native to the northern hemisphere and found in locations as diverse as the Americas and tropical Asia, has played a significant role in state-building, art, folk tales, poems, and songs. Starting with the pagan societies that venerated the oak, it examines how the tree was used in other religions, revealing how it was believed to be a gateway between worlds in Celtic mythology and later became sacred to Thor in Norse mythology. It follows the oak as it was adopted by many Western European countries as a national symbol, including England, France, and Germany. It was designated as America’s national tree in 2004, and it is the state tree of Iowa, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and Georgia. In addition to tracing the history of the tree itself, the book looks at oak as a wood used to make furniture, bridges, wine casks, homes, ships, weapons, and even the electric chair, and he describes how the tree has been used as a food source, with its fruit, the acorn, eaten in ancient Greece, ancient Iberia, and Korea, and a traditional food of Native Americans.

Peter Young died, aged eighty-five, at East Surrey Hospital on January 29th 2016. His funeral service was held at Worth Crematorium on Monday February 22nd and was covered by local media. His books, and a book in which mourners could pay tribute to him were on display at the Hawth Theatre following the funeral service.

The ceremony for the unveiling of his Blue Plaque at the Hawth Theatre in Crawley was held on Friday December 8th 2017 at 4.30pm. It took place on a bitterly cold day and a small group congregated inside the theatre, to which Peter Young contributed so much to its early formation, his pivotal role in the development of this cultural centre was fulfilled so quietly that even people who knew him well were not fully aware of until the town’s 70th Anniversary. It was unveiled by the Mayor Brian Quinn.

The Hawth was opened in 1988. It is set in a 38-acre wooded site, and its facilities include the Theatre (seating 855), Studio (seating 146), meeting rooms, a restaurant and pizzeria, two bars, and an amphitheatre used for performances throughout the summer. The Hawth is managed by Parkwood Theatres working in partnership with Crawley Borough Council.

Plaque Details

Location — Outside main entrance, The Hawth, Hawth Avenue, Crawley. RH10 3NS

Dedicated to — Peter Young

Dedication Text — Author, historian and inaugurator of the Crawley Blue Plaque Scheme and Heritage Trail Peter Young (1930–2016) was instrumental in the founding of this theatre.

Dedicated by — Crawley Arts Council

Date Installed — December 8th 2017

For other Crawley related pieces check out the list below

Crawley Wanderings

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Kev Neylon

Writing fiction, travel, history, sport, & music blogs. Monthly e-zine with all kinds of writing at www.onetruekev.co.uk. All pictures used are my own.