Tothill Street our first Headquarters

WRVS had a number of headquarters over the years including Park lane, Brixton, Milton Hill, Cardiff and not forgetting Scottish HQ in Edinburgh. However WVS’s (1938-1966) Headquarters was 41 Tothill Street now the Conrad London St James. This was the office where the hard work really began when Lady Reading sat down in a tiny office in Tothill Street in Whitehall, London; crammed in with four other handpicked women she laid the foundations of what would quickly become the largest volunteering organisation in British history. I wonder if they ever thought this organisation would still be around today.


The Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions was founded and took up residence at 41 Tothill Street on 16th May 1938.  Originally this was a single room secured by Lady Reading’s Secretary and former Civil Servant in the Ministry of Labour Mary Smieton. The WVS Offices expanded quickly to occupy the whole 4th Floor. A reception was established on the ground floor and not long after a shop for the purchase of WVS uniform. Over the years the shop window was used for a number of displays including Make do and Mend in 1943 as seen in the image above.By the end of the War there were 176 members working at Headquarters.

Over the years many other WVS activities took place at Tothill Street including:

  • The labelling Princess Elizabeth gift food parcels distributed to the needy as a wedding present from the future Queen in 1948.
  • Collecting gifts including a Sheffield Plate Soup Tureen for Canadian Flood Relief in 1950

  • One in Five introductory talks in November 1958, the department was established by Lady Lucas Tooth at Headquarters in 1955.

  • The sorting of magazines for Services Welfare, as part of the books and magazines adoption scheme in 1962.

WVS Headquarters moved from Tothill Street to Park Lane in May 1966 the year they were renamed Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS). At the time there were 361 members of staff working at Headquarters more than double the numbers in 1945.

Today we are delighted to honour our founder, Lady Reading, with an English Heritage blue plaque in London at The Conrad London St James (formally the WVS Headquarters 41 Tothill Street). Today is also the digital launch of all those fascinating hidden histories of one million wartime women which we have been digitising since September. Follow us on Twitter to find out whats happening at todays launch event.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 10:00 Tuesday, 04 July 2017. 0 Comments

Labels: Million Women, Lady Reading, WVS, Tothill Street, Headquarters, WRVS

Back to list

Comments

Join Royal Voluntary Service to leave a comment

Please sign up as a registered user to leave a comment. If you're not yet registered, sign up now.

Sign in