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Clothing Stores

The WVS Clothing Department was established in 1939 to run Regional Clothing Depots which provided garments, shoes and boots for children. Clothing was donated, sent from overseas by the Canadian and American Red Cross, and handmade in working parties. Volunteers would run regional and sub-depots; sorting, and distributing clothing as part of WVS’s Civil Defence role.

Clothing was also supplied to adult evacuees and the homeless from 1941 resulting in six and a half million garments being distributed between 1940 and 1943. The WVS also opened Clothing Exchanges from 1943 allowed parents to swap clothes for their growing children without using valuable coupons. As a result millions more garments were given out during 1944, 1945.

Although Depots began to close in 1946 many people still needed assistance and WVS carried on its vital role in clothing setting up County, Centre and County Borough Clothing Depots. It was also a huge part of WVS Civil Defence work providing clothing to flood victims in 1947 and 1953.

Clothing Depots were for people who had no other way of clothing themselves and they had to be recommended by certain bodies or organisations. This included the NSPCC, Ministry of Pensions, Hospital Almoners and Prohibition Officers, Doctors and Social Services.

Over the years clothing was also distributed to refugees from Hungary in 1956 and then Ugandan Asians in 1972. The demand for clothing continued to be high and by 1976 1.5 million garments were given out each year. In the late 1980s they were renamed Clothing Stores and distributed around 2 million garments a year. At that time stores could be found in Area, County, Scottish Regional, Metropolitan, District, Local and London Borough Offices.

As part of the Voices of Volunteering project 2014-2016 over 80 volunteers shared their experiences including for some clothing stores. Barbara Sparks a volunteer in Somerset was one of those volunteers.


"Then I started to work in the clothing store and thoroughly enjoyed it, absolutely
thoroughly enjoyed.
[Interviewer] Who would come into the clothing store?
[BS]: It, they were sent by Social Services, they had to have a need. And they
would be supplied with up to three changes of clothing twice a year so they
could come in the summer for summer clothes and then in the winter for their
winter stuff. And everything was logged down in a book and, if they came back
in between time and tried to swing the lead that they needed more because
they hadn't got any, the ladies would go and produce the book and say ‘Look, is
that your signature? Because on the such and such a date you were given this,
this, this, this, this and this, what have you done with it’? ‘Ah, I, well it wore out’
or well, and that was fair enough, that was fair comment. But if it was just that
they'd sold it because they thought they'd get a couple
of pennies for it, well no, they didn't get anything else. The ladies were quite strict like that, but you
needed to be. And it was quite, quite sad to see some of the people that came
in some days because one lady came in, no names obviously, but she’d, she’d
been pregnant and she's got a maternity grant and she’d blown the lot on a pink
baby dress because it was something she’d never had when she was a child,
and she just loved this dress, and she blew the entire maternity grant and then
she had a red headed boy. And poor lady, she came in and she said ‘What am I
going to do’? And they said ‘Don't worry, don't worry, we’ll sort you out’. And
they gave a complete layette, so she had everything from nappies right the way
through to vests and booties and, and, and little rompers, everything that the
baby needed for a little boy. And it was so tragic to think that she’d, she’d been
so much in need when she was a child that all she wanted was this dress for
her child. Really, really sad. And yes, I used to go in
there on a regular basis, well three times a week.
Some people you, you thought ‘Well, why did you do it’? One of my relatives
was quite high up in Social Services elsewhere and he said he loved WRVS,
absolutely loved WRVS clothing stores because their s
taff were being asked for
money and they knew it wasn't being spent on what it was being asked for
whereas they could give them a letter for our clothing store and we would make
sure that they actually got what they are supposed to need. And that they could
use it that way. He, he couldn't sing their praises high enough. So it was a much
needed facility at the time."

  You can find more oral histories and information about clothing stores by serching Archive Online.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 09 April 2018.

Labels: Clothing, Volunteering , WVS, WRVS, School Resources, Social Services

Hungarian Refugees in Yorkshire

WVS Bulletin December 1956

This week is Refugee Week, it takes place every year around the globe to celebrate World Refugee Day on 20th June.  In the past we have shared many stories with you about WVS and WRVS’s involvement in refugee crisis across the world from Belgian and French refugees during World War II to Ugandan Asians and Vietnamese in the 1970s. This week we thought we’d bring you a different story that of Hungarian Refugees who came to the UK in 1956.

On 23rd October 1956 the Hungarian people rose up against the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic. It spread quickly across the country but was eventually crushed on 10th November. Thousands of those who revolted fled the country as refugees 21,500 came to the UK although 5,500 later re-emigrated. Ready to assist the refugees was WVS who took full responsibility for clothing, arranged hospitality in people’s homes and worked in reception centres and hostels.

There are many records on the efforts of WVS in 1956 and 1957 to help the refugees on a national level. However there are also local reports two which come from cities still known for their work to help refugees, Sheffield and Leeds.

Leeds was involved in various different aspects of relief for refugees including sorting 400 blankets, housing students at the university, assisting refugees with employment and clothing. One story particularly stands out as a huge act of kindness.

Sheffield was also very busy working with Hungarians arriving in the city they were initially involved in clothing even before Hungarians arrived. Sheffield United Tours took clothing from the WVS to Austria along with one ton of sugar given to Sheffield WVS by Bassetts Ltd. Some refugees were brought back on returning coaches and clothing still remained and issue.  

In 1957 WVS Sheffield was mostly concerned with billeting taking on a role which they had been responsible for during the War. This included private billets as well as hostels for 64 Hungarians, by June 1957 29 had left Sheffield. One boy had returned to Hungary and three people had left for Canada.

Aid continued for many years in Report on 25 years work 1938 -1963 the following was written:

“Most Hungarians have now become fully integrated into the life of the country, but a few still live in these communal billets, while many others continue to depend on WVS for advice in connection with their families and homes.”

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 19 June 2017.

Labels: Refugee, Hungarian, WVS, 1956, Clothing , Billeting

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