One of my photos

Secret Crawley: No. 2 – Whalebone Plantation

October 18th, 2005 · Posted by Skuds in Life · 5 Comments · Life

Just over the road from Broadfield is a place called Whalebone Plantation. I think thats what its called anyway.

Tucked away in the angle between the A23 into town and the M23 it looks from the outside as if its a tiny triangle of land, but its a real Tardis of a place. Accessible on foot by crossing the A23 racetrack, or by car if you can pull over into an almost hidden little gap in the trees with just about room for a second car to block a first one in, it looks like there is not much here.

However you can go right along a path which winds around, close to the M23, or take the road less travelled and go down through the trees to the left. Either way, you can soon find yourself lost in the forest, which seems to go on for ever.

The place is a popular dog-walking location, but you can spend an hour or two wandering round without encountering another soul, even though the paths are reasonably well-trodden. The trees are mostly oak, chestnut and birch (I think. Im not David Bellamy!) with a few evergreens here and there, and the place is what you could call ‘slightly managed’.

Trees which have fallen stay where they fell, unless it was across a path, and provide plenty of climbing opportunities for those younger than I am, and there are some extremely large mature trees in there.

The place is only spoiled by the constant noise of traffic from the motorway while you are near the Eastern edge.

As you walk through the woods you pass into Tilgate Forest, but the more natural, less ornamental and less frequented end of it. The reason why this is important is that Tilgate Forest is, in the minds of most people in town, sacrosanct whereas the Whalebone Plantation part of it is not. I think it is designated as an area suitable for major development, so its a place we make the most of while we can, as it is living on borrowed time.

In theory, anything could be built here. I’m sure I saw some old plans for an application to build a lot of houses amongst the trees, which came to nothing. In reality, the place seems to have been kept back for something special, and that looks like being a university campus. Obviously a university would really be worth having, but if it does happen I do hope it is built in a forest setting, keeping as many of the trees as possible, with a decent route through to Tilgate Forest for us.

There are deer living in the forest. Although I have seen no sign of them, I still harbour the hope of spotting one amongst the trees.

There is plenty of evidence of rabbits and in the clearings there is some unfortunate evidence of humans, in the form of the scorched remnants of campfires, complete with empty Stella cans.

But for all that, even the discarded rubbish can seem to get claimed by the land until it almost looks as if it grew there.

Sounds a bit like poetic nonsense? I suppose it is, but just have a look at this example:

The whole place reminds me a lot of Langdon Hills in Essex where I spent a lot of time as a child – a place I don’t dare to visit in case I find it has been swallowed by Basildon new town. Possibly the lack of access and parking for cars is what makes Whalebone Plantation a place to go to avoid the madding crowd, but like Pease Pottage thats just a bonus for us up Tollgate Hill.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Frank Sidebottom


    Whilst walking in whalebone plantation did you happen to come across a small derelict building?
    Its tucked away, The only clue of its existence being a row of rather tall leylandi type trees, Which appear to surround what was once a small garden? There is not much left of the building, only piles of bricks and some strange boiler looking object.I’ve heard that the area was used as a ammo-dump in WWII. Could you shed any light on this?

  • Skuds

    No. I didn’t see anything like that. and it is not something I have heard of – but then I am a newcomer to the area.

    A good question for the Craawley museum or a local historical society.

  • Richard Coppen


    I was intrigued to see your ‘report’ on the place you call ‘whalebone plantation’. I grew up in crawley over 40 years ago and the area you describe was where my friends and I spent many summer days playing in the woods. I must say, I’ve never heard it called ‘whalebone plantation’, and can find no reference to that name on any maps or in any documents.

    We knew it as either ‘Titmus Woods’, or ‘CherryTrees’. That was long before the M25 cut through it!

    So, where did the name ‘whalebone’ come from?


  • Skuds

    Interesting question. I came across it in some documents when I was on the council.

    Have a look at this map.

    It was generated by the council’s GIS, based on data from the OS. It shows the are on the Crawley side of the M23 as Whalebone plantation, with Cherry Tree Plantation on the other side of the motorway.

    The strange thing is that my own OS map shows no name for that place at all. 40 years ago, when there was no M23 there was no boundary like that and I guess the whole area got referred to by the best-known name.

    That’s where I found the name, but as to where it came from in the first place… a question for the local historians I think. I wonder if the Crawley museum has any old maps?

  • Anne Locke

    We are archaeologists doing a survey for the Forestry Commission and also came across the ruined building referred to as a possible WW2 ammo dump. Did anyone find out any more about it? It doesn’t appear on the historic maps; there was a brickworks in these woods marked on the 1st edition OS map but not in the same place. It looks like there were people living there (fruit trees and daffodils planted) and as if it must have employed quite a few people too.