Clothing Relief for Swindon and the Middle East

Hello I'm Elaine and I have just joined as volunteer here at the Archive & Heritage Collection. This is my introductory challenge, researching Clothing Stores in my local town of Swindon. I hope you enjoy reading it ...

By the late 1950s the WVS had become experts in dealing with the provision of clothing in times of crisis. This was not surprising given the extensive experience that had been gained in the distribution and handling of garments during the war when, “at a conservative estimate, fifty million garments were sorted and distributed” to those who had been evacuated and bombed out, and who were left with literally nothing. This meant that often items had to be sourced from areas unaffected by the bombs, transported, sorted and then distributed according to need. It had been a huge undertaking that had required considerable organisational skills.

As the war came to an end however, the need for the WVS clothing services did not diminish, with garments urgently needed in liberated Europe. This was followed a decade later by the Hungarian crisis, and again in April 1959 when an appeal from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Beirut resulted in the WVS collecting, sorting and bundling 1,000 tons of processed clothing – that’s 2,548,997 garments - to help refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Gazza and Syria.

Following the press appeal for clothing donations by Lady Reading at the beginning of November 1959, Miss Honeychurch, a reporter from the Wiltshire Evening Advertiser paid a visit to the Swindon branch of the WVS on Victoria Road. She was astonished by the amount of work that the WVS continued to do several years after the end of the war, and following the establishment of the Welfare State. In her report she emphasised how in addition to international appeals the local office provided vital practical assistance to many of the town’s residents in their times of need. It was particularly important for the provision of clothing and Swindon was consequently “one of the busiest centres in the whole region” for this form of help.

Swindon was a new industrial town with a rapidly expanding population, to which people often came with little as they searched for work. Like elsewhere in the country, the WVS clothing service was also used by single parent families, the elderly, those who had been struck by illness or by those who had suffered a disaster such as a fire or a flood. All were identified as having a chronic need and had been given a certificate from a doctor, N.S.P.C.C worker, or other professional before attending the WVS. As a result whole families, often with a large number of children, would often be completely re-clothed, and in some instances this would occur twice a year.

To give this some scale, in the month that Miss Honeychurch visited the office in Swindon, a total of 28 families were helped with at least 51 children included. This was in addition to the previous 114 families that had been assisted in the preceding months of 1959.

All this meant that there was often great pressure upon the service in Swindon and the local WVS Secretary, Mrs Grundy, emphasised to Miss Honeychurch, the on-going need for donations of good quality clothing from the public, “We never have enough clothing. We have great difficulty getting sufficient for our needs.”

As a result they often held ‘make and mend’ sessions where garments that were not of sufficient quality for immediate distribution could be re-made into other items. Old fashioned white nighties for example could be skilfully transformed into pillow cases, petticoats, knickers, and hankies! However, when demand outstripped the resources available in Swindon, requests for garments often had to be made to the clothing centre at Corsham.

Corsham was also one of the centres where the refugee clothing was held before shipping, and despite the enormous pressure on the home front in Swindon they were pleased to report in December 1959, that they had been able to send a full van, with several bales of refugee clothing to Corsham. All on top of clothing a further 29 local families!

Posted by Elaine Titcombe Volunteer at 09:00 Monday, 06 February 2017.

Labels: Swindon, Middle East , Clothing, WVS, 1950s

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