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The Garden Gifts Scheme

The garden Gift Scheme was established in April 1946 to collect seeds, plants and shrubs for the owners of blitzed gardens and those who had been rehoused in prefabs.[1]

As with many WVS post-war activities the scheme was very popular and encouraged those who had been rehomed to plant gardens with gifts collected by WVS from established gardeners and abroad. The scheme asked for flowers; vegetable seedlings; shrubs; trees and hedging plants. If you got in touch with your local WVS they would collect your plants; distribute them to prefab owners in London and other blitzed cities and pay for postage or transit.[2] This was a real moral boosting exercise which resulted in Queen Mary awarding a challenge cup in 1947 for the best prefab garden. The scheme continued into the 1950s although the need for WVS to help gardeners changed.

Due to flooding in 1953 around 30,000 private gardens on the east coast were destroyed. WVS was involved from start to finish, cleansing and fertilising the soil ready for planting. Volunteers then distributed ten tons of Italian grass seed given to England by the Government of Northern Ireland and seeds given by America.[3] They also provided advice including “Don’t apply farmyard manure until all the salt has gone” and “don’t give up hope”.[4] 

It would take a while for the gardens to be ready to take plants, shrubs and seeds but WVS were always ready. They kept the plants at “Transit Nurseries” until gardeners were ready for them.[5] The scheme continued until the late 1950s but WRVS and Royal Voluntary Service maintained their links with gardening and community work in to the twenty first century. This includes befrienders helping with gardens of the people they visit and running men in sheds groups.


[1] RVS Archive & Heritage Collection, WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/PUB/PUB/G-63-002, Report on 25 Years Work 1938-1963, 1963, p.77 [2] RVS Archive & Heritage Collection, WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/PUB/PUB/GG-47-001, 1947 [3] RVS Archive & Heritage Collection, WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/PUB/PUB/G-63-002, Report on 25 Years Work 1938-1963, 1963, p.77 [4] RVS Archive & Heritage Collection, WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/PUB/PUB/GG-53-004, ADVICE TO GARDEN OWNERS IN FLOODED AREAS, 1953 [5] RVS Archive & Heritage Collection, WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/PUB/PUB/G-63-002, Report on 25 Years Work 1938-1963, 1963, p.77

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 19 February 2018.

Labels: Garden Gifts, WVS, Flowers, Queen Mary, Blitz, East Coast Floods

The WVS and Queen Mary's Carpet

In the years after World War II Britain struggled to recover economically. In stark contrast, the USA was becoming a much richer nation than before. Sterling was no longer a leading currency and national banks wanted US Dollars, not Sterling. Feeling that every citizen should try and “do their bit” for the economy, in November 1949 Queen Mary decided to donate her needlework to the nation, so that it could be sold for dollars. A committee responsible for the “disposal” of the Carpet was formed and chaired by Lady Reading as Head of the WVS.

Before its journey to America the Carpet went on public display at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) on February 8th 1950. From the start queues were averaging 3000 per day who were stewarded by members of the WVS. By the end of the exhibition which finished on March 12th 1950, it had been seen by over 100,000 visitors including Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother) and Princess Margaret.

Lady Reading’s PA Miss Patricia Hardie was then appointed to care for the carpet on its journey. The only qualification for the job was that Patricia had worked with the American Red Cross during World War II.

As the V&A exhibition closed, the Carpet was carefully folded and placed in its specially made oak & steel casket. Accompanied by Patricia Hardie on the RMS Queen Mary it was shipped to New York. The plan was to take the Carpet on an 80 day, 14,000 mile tour of cities across the USA and Canada, arranged by the son of Lady-in-Waiting, Lady Antrim, Colonel Angus McDonnell, who would also escort the Carpet assisted by Miss Hardie.

The Carpet, Colonel McDonnell and Miss Hardie arrived in New York on March 23rd 1950. The first exhibition was in New York for 5 days before embarking on a tour of 23 cities in the USA and Canada. Every venue had made special arrangements to display the Carpet. Some even removed priceless artefacts to make room. 

Miss Hardie noted “In every case the Carpet was in place within half an hour of our arrival. Sometimes it was hung with a curtain background, sometimes against a wooden frame or plinth and sometimes laid flat on a specially built dais.

Young GI brides helped us in many cities, always willing and enthusiastic, arranging their household duties so that they might be free to work a shift at the sales desks selling the literature from which the expenses of the tour would be paid.”


The Carpet was seen by over 400,000 across North America, including Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt former 1st Lady and wife of the former US President Franklin D Roosevelt. Mrs Roosevelt praised Queen Mary for her sacrifice and devotion in sending her needlework to the USA to generate dollar funds for her country. Miss Hardie commented that it was the most exciting three months of her life.

Patricia also commented that “so many I met were needlewomen themselves and everyone, without exception, wanted to feel the texture of the carpet.”

Sadly, present day visitors to the National Gallery of Canada are rarely able to view the Carpet. Due to the light sensitive nature of the wool dyes and degradation of the fabric, the Carpet is not on permanent display.

If you’re interested in more information on Queen Mary’s Carpet you can contact our enquiry service or search the WVS Bulletin/WRVS Magazine. 

Posted by Ian Myhill, Volunteer at 09:00 Monday, 24 April 2017.

Labels: Carpet, Canada, America, Victoria and Albert Museum, WVS, Queen Mary

What can you tell me?

Did you know that the Archive & Heritage Collection runs an enquiry service? Do you wonder what people ask us? In May we received a very interesting enquiry asking what information we held in our Archives about Queen Mary’s Carpet and how its sale in 1950-1951 was coordinated by WVS.

The answer to this question is a simple but important one we hold two files one in our Central Registry collection discussing the how the carpets journey from the Victoria and Albert Museum to America, its tour around the USA and Canada and how it raised money for the united Kingdom after the War. The other is a file of miscellaneous memoranda containing leaflets, postcards, souvenir booklets and letters - the story these records tell is fascinating. 

In 1950 Queen Mary gave the nation a carpet that she had been embroidering between 1941 and 1946 and measures 10ft 2inches by 6ft 9.5inches has a unique floral design and signed Mary R, the boarder was made by the Royal School of Needle Work. Her Majesty decided to give the nation the carpet to help ‘bridge the dollar gap’, created by the war, money raised would go to the National Exchequer as she thought that everyone should contribute something to the country in its time of need. The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) were responsible for raising the much needed dollars while WVS were responsible for the carpets tour of US and Canadian public institutions. Lady Reading was made acting chief of staff of the operation.

The Carpet was first displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum before traveling to North America on the Queen Mary. The Carpet arrived in New York on 20th March and was exhibited there for 5 days before traveling around 15 other main cities in America and Canada including Ottawa (Ontario), Washington DC, Los Angeles (California), Seattle (Washington), Vancouver (British Columbia), Toronto (Ontario) and Montreal (Quebec).  On its tour the carpet was accompanied by a WVS volunteer who commented that it was the most exciting three months of her life and at in that time she and the carpet traveled 14,000 miles and was seen by 400,000 people.

After its tour the IODE purchased the carpet and toured it across Canada, raising at least another $100,000 for the British Exchequer. The carpet was presented to the National Gallery of Canada at the end of its tour. It is now kept in the gallery’s collections.

If you have a question about the Archive’s or the History of Royal Voluntary Service why not contact our enquiryservice today, we look forward to hearing from you.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 18 July 2016.

Labels: WVS, Queen Mary, Carpet, Enquiry, Archives, Records

Long to reign over us

Today Her Majesty The Queen becomes our longest serving monarch, and Royal Voluntary Service, one of the many charities of which she is Patron, wishes her every happiness.

We have a long association with the Royal family, in fact back to before our foundation. Our first Patron in 1938 was Queen Mary, who was so instrumental in galvanising and leading Home front efforts in the First World War and who had a profound influence of on our founder Lady Reading encouraging and supporting her in the formation of the WVS ahead of that second terrible 20th century conflict. She would be followed later that year when Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) who consented to be our president, a position she actively held until her death in 2002.

It was not until 1953 on the death of Queen Mary and her ascent to the throne that Queen Elizabeth II became our Patron. But this was not the first or the last time that the WVS would be associated with our current reigning monarch. As Princess Elizabeth, our members were always ready to help, and in early 1948 were responsible for sorting, packing and sending out over 1,0000 parcels a day of gifts of food sent to Princess Elizabeth from the Dominions and Colonies at the time of her wedding. WVS was also entrusted with the task of dusting the Royal Wedding Presents while they were on view at St. James's Palace.

The Royal Wedding was a huge occasion in the long hard years of recovery after the war and one celebrated to the fore by members of the WVS. In all they collected £901 18s 10d, the majority of which was used to buy the Princess a refrigerator.

In 1966, on August 4 to be precise, Her Majesty conferred on the WVS the honour of adding Royal to their name, a thank you for the sacrifice of members during the Second World War and in the long recovery afterwards. It is a title we still treasure to this day.

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Wednesday, 09 September 2015.

Labels: Wedding presents, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, Colonies, Dominions, Food gifts, Heritage Bulletin Blog, RVS, WRVS, WVS