Heritage Bulletin blog
The Heritage Bulletin Blog ran from July 2012 to January 2020, covering a huge range of subjects, from a day in the archives, to extracts from the WVS bulletins, and histories of various WVS/WRVS services.
It’s 219 articles have become a valuable resource in themselves, why not search them or just browse to discover something new.
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This week we bring you our third Heritage Bulletin Blog Podcast please click play on the soundcloud player above or you will really miss out this time I promise
Inspired by recent discussions on audio-visual archives I thought it would be appropriate for our third podcast, (the audio part), to be about something visual. Many of you will have heard of the Rank Organisation and the image of the man hammering the gong has probably popped into your head, or you can visualise Sid James and Barbara Winsor in a Carry On film with their distinctive laughs [if you’re reading and not listening to this you have just missed out on my very bad impression, well it's really a case of the giggles]. Obviously there was not a Carry On film about or featuring the WVS, however, the Rank Organisation made many other films including the Look at Life series.
Look at Life was a regular British series of short documentary films between 1959 and 1969 which were screened in their cinemas. The films always preceded the main feature film that was being shown in the cinema that week. In 1959 the Rank Organisation made and showed the film Women in Green all about the work of WVS, or as they called them the million women in green, between 1938 and 1959. The film features shots of WVS members carrying out services such as emergency feeding, hospital work, care of children, clothing and helping house holders during Devon’s floods in the 1950s. Services Welfare was also highlighted with cameramen flown out to Cyprus filming members preforming their daily tasks. The WVS was supported by ambassadors in the 1950s/1960s as it is today; Dinah Sheridan who starred in Genevieve and The Railway Children can be spotted collecting magazines for the forces. Most importantly the film features founder and Chairman Lady Reading giving another inspirational speech to rally her members. The film is a good reminder of the importance of voluntary service.
Its overriding theme was how remarkable and integral WVS had become to British society in just over 21 years, as it is nearly 80 years later after it was founded. Copies were sent to British Council Cinema and NATO while we still hold a copy in the Archive. The film was well received by WVS and its supporters; on 31st October 1960 Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh viewed Women in Green [reported in the WVS Bulletin December 1960] before the premiere of The Man in the Moon. It was still being shown and the rights requested by other organisations in 1963, 1968, 1969 and 1975 according to archival records. As one letter from a WVS member about the film stated ‘the film is part of our history’. Today it is as important in telling the story of WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Services as none audio-visual archives.
We hope you will join us again soon to listen and read more blogs about the history of Royal Voluntary Service contained in its archives.
2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the creation of Women’s Home Industries, which was started in 1947 to support the national export drive following the end of the Second World War. Sponsored by the WVS, Women’s Home Industries’ objectives were “Earning dollars for this country by producing home made articles for export to Canada and the United States” and “Giving work to those who are not able to leave their homes, but who would like to use their skill to add to production”. The idea of ‘Knit for dollars’ came from a 70 year-old bedridden Yorkshire woman, who wanted to contribute to the export drive but was unable to, and mentioned this to Lady Reading. Lady Reading showed samples of women’s work to American and Canadian buyers, and their delighted reaction encouraged her to pursue the idea.
On 1 October 1947 WVS Centres were sent a leaflet about Women’s Home Industries, with the organisation being officially launched in a press conference the following day. WVS members were instructed to send a sample of their knitwear, needlepoint or quilting to Women’s Home Industries Limited, giving an idea of the number or orders they could undertake and an approximate time for delivery. Women whose work was selected as suitable were paid at standard industrial rates and sent the necessary materials. This was made possible by an agreement between Lady Reading and the Board of Trade that raw materials would be supplied to Women’s Home Industries coupon free – rationing of course continued in one form or another in Britain until 1954. Indeed, as Lady Reading stated in a newspaper article, many women working for Women’s Home Industries found a “thrill in having once again lovely materials to work with and retaining the skills of their fingers”.
Women of all social classes contributed to Women’s Home Industries. Even Queen Mary sent them six embroidered floral chair seats, which were sold in New York for $10,000 with proceeds donated to the Queen’s Institute of District Nursing. Queen Mary’s needlework later generated even more money for the nation when her carpet was exhibited across the USA and Canada. You can read more about Queen’s Mary’s carpet here
Women’s Home Industries was a huge success, and by 1953 had “developed into a well-established business, executing wholesale orders for the most fashionable stores in the United States and Canada”. Whilst the association between Women’s Home Industries and the WVS had ended by 1958, Lady Reading remained Chair of both. Women’s Home Industries is yet another example of the role the WVS played in the social and economic life of Britain during and after the Second World War. Without the initial sponsorship of WVS, Women’s Home Industries almost certainly would not have existed and the beautiful handiwork of women across the country would have remained unknown.
During the war the Scottish section of the WVS tended to maintain a more independent status from the rest of the organisation. This is evident within our collection of Narrative Reports; the National Headquarters series has no records from 1942 to 1960, we hope they survived somewhere in Scotland. For many years WVS/WRVS had a Scotland Headquarters in Edinburgh which did not send Narrative Reports to London till after the establishment of the Archive in 1958. Fortunately, we still have other sources mentioning the activities of WVS Scotland and the Narrative Reports which made it to London HQ between 1939 and 1941 draw attention to the wide array of activities performed by Scottish volunteers in the early years of the war, one such report recorded the decisions of a local meeting held in January 1941 in the town of Ayr; it provides an excellent example of WVS Salvage work
The Waste Food for Pigs campaign was created as
part of the Government’s National Salvage Scheme to help maintain a constant
supply of feed for the nation’s livestock. In order to accomplish this, kitchen
waste was boiled and concentrated at special plants, thus resulting in what is
commonly known as pig swill. Working in tandem with the local authorities, the
WVS helped organise this scheme to ensure that salvage became an integral
component of wartime society.
To help address this issue, the above meeting
was facilitated by Mr J.B, Crookes, the National Controller of Salvage for
Scotland and also by Mr Strain of the local Cleansing Department and Regional
Salvage Advisor for the West of Scotland. Their attendance to this meeting also
demonstrated its significance, because it is quite possible that their
solutions for tackling ‘pig swill’, may have filtered down to other WVS
centres.Such as members of East Barnet, Hertfordshire featured in the two photographs in this week's blog. The meeting in Ayr laid out the schemes structure.
After a series of discussions, they concluded that the Burgh of Ayr would be
divided into districts for the collection of pig feed. To ensure there were
enough collection points, a bin would be placed on each street for every ten or
twelve households. One member from the WVS Housewives’ Service would be
responsible for each bin. The members were keen to implement this system
swiftly, so shiny new bins were distributed to five locations around the town
to then be placed on an appropriate street corner.
a) Allotment Schemes.
b) Fruit Shops, Multiple Stores, Canteens.
c) Tenement Properties.
d) Villas, Bungalows, Mansion Houses.
e) Hotels, Boarding Houses.
Royal Burgh of Ayr Centre Report January 1941
Due to the fact that this is the last year of reports we hold for the Burgh of Ayr
until 1961, it is very difficult to ascertain whether or not the solutions
proposed in this meeting were a resounding success. Although you might wish
to scour the Scotland reports featured in the WVS Bulletin during the war. Nevertheless,
the centre organiser for Ayr was more than complimentary about how the meeting
WVS later WRVS Scotland acted as both Region 11
and in some ways a separate organisation with its own Headquarters up until
1980s/1990s. However, it is evident from
the earliest records that their commitment to Lady Reading’s vision of voluntary
service was and is at the same level as the rest of Great Britain. Especially
true when it came to the establishment National (UK wide) schemes such as
salvage and the collection of waste food in the burghs.
the Heritage Bulletin Blog comes to you in the form of our second podcast. As
it’s Explore Your Archive Week
we thought we would treat you to a clip from one
of our oral histories. We're exploring the ideas behind why people volunteer and Mary Gibbons a volunteer in South Wales told the project why girls taking part in volunteering for Duke of Edinburgh got involved and the impact that had.
Hopefully you will then be inspired to visit Archive
Online and explore the Voices of Volunteering
collection for yourself. Clips
and resources based on oral histories are also available on the Voices of Volunteering School Resources page.
who can't listen to the podcast, which I whole heartedly recommend, the
transcript is below.
The Duke of Edinburgh
Award. There was a school in, in Swansea, a girl’s school, and one of the
Masters at the girl’s school had always been interested in Duke of Edinburgh
Award, and he persuaded the Head Mistress there to let him use some of his
pupils for Duke of Edinburgh. Now he was using girls who were challenged. They
seldom went to school, they had got very little home support, they really were
not bright. And he had said to them would they like to do this, you see,
because in Duke of Edinburgh you have to do a certain amount of service. And so
the service was our service, helping out at WRVS Luncheon Clubs for the
elderly, which the girls thought was wonderful. So he sort of said to us ‘Will
you do the rest of it’? Because they obviously had to know all about WRVS and
they had to do a certain amount of, of work with it, so we had said ‘Yes’, and
the girls were good. But the girl, he said to the girls ‘You only go to the
Luncheon Club if you go to school’.
Now truancy was the
thing. So in fact, for the year that we
were doing it there, or for the two years, they went to school every day
because they wanted to go to the Luncheon Club. And we used to go and we would
do lessons with them, but we knew that they couldn't really take things down
because possibly they couldn't write, they couldn't read and it was just very
unfortunate for them. But we, even when it came to the test or, or sort of
making sure they'd got it all, we had an oral rather than a written. Now for
other schools we would do written things whereas with them it was… And we
didn't do the testing at the end, but other people did, and that was quite
amazing because they all got through.
And I can see it now,
we had the Head Mistress was there the last, they, they had to have the
certificates given to them and the badges. And they had got, he had organised a
very special coffee morning. All the girls had been in the day before to help
make cakes and things. And their parents had been invited. And it, she had sort
of introduced the girls, and how superb they had been, and the WRVS had been
doing this and that, and then I had to say something about them because I was
Emergency Services, I had to say something about what we’d done with them. And
then, you know, sort of say, we had given them their things and praise and
And afterwards I was
going round talking to the parents who were there. And I can remember going up
to this dad and his daughter was there as proud as punch, and I said to him
‘Well, what did you think’? He said ‘Oh’, he said ‘how I didn't cry’, he said,
‘I had to take time off work because I never ever thought she would get
anything’. And I thought that was lovely. He’d, he was so chuffed that she’d
got something, you know. you know. Out of all of this, so different, so
different. So it did do very well, and actually he [the Duke of Edinburgh] came
to Swansea on one occasion and we were there, there were two of us, somebody,
Julie, another girl, and the two of us were there with some of our, with some
of us, the school girls. And, and he had talked to them, which was, he thought,
they thought was wonderful. But, no, that was good.
Mary Gibbons Volunteer
WVS took on work for the
Armed Forces when it became a member of the Council of Volunteer War Workers,
in 1940 and established the Services Welfare Department. Most of the WVS’s work for the Armed forces was domestic including
canteens and darning socks. These services developed further in 1944 by
training WVS members to run clubs for Service Men overseas.
The NAAFI wanted WVS to run clubs for
soldiers in their barracks and the first contingency was sent to the Algiers
after the war ended. Women went to countries and continents such as: North
Africa and Italy; The Middle East; Germany; Austria; The Far East; Japan;
Korea; Cyprus; Kenya; Christmas Island; Singapore; Malaya and Hong Kong. Most of the members who went
out spent their time running the clubs but also had their own experiences which
they recorded in letters and diaries.
A member called Kathleen Thompson went to
India for 18 months to work in Deolali,
Randu and Raiputana. In 2016 the Archive received 93 letters written by
Kathleen about her time in India and this week we would like to share part of one
of those letters with you. An extra handwriting challenge for those who eagerly
await the monthly narrative Report handwriting challenge (though not as
7th March 1946 Letter no.8
Kathleen left India at the end of her contract with the
organisation in August 1947 but many more women went out to other countries as
part of Services Welfare which later included the Falklands and Canada. You can
find out more about WVS and WRVS Services Welfare on the Voices of Volunteering schools resources pages and searching Archive Online.
There appears to be a growing trend of debate on twitter; It’s
usually an hour during the day where like minded people discuss a topic using
#somethinghour. Now Archives appear to have jumped on the bandwagon with
#archivehour (not that jumping on the bandwagon is a bad thing). Unfortunately I
was unable to take part in the first #archivehour on 26th October as
I was in Russia. However the intriguing topic hosted by @ARAScotland was
digital preservation. One question posed was:
I would now like to answer this question from the perspective
of Royal Voluntary Service Archive and Heritage Collection’s digitisation
Over the years we have had a few digitisation projects including
the Bulletins, Narrative Reports, photographs, posters and now the publications
(more on that in a later blog). One reason for these projects was to provide
online access to our records as we cannot currently provide physical access to
the collection. Another reason was the general preservation of the physical
document, not the digital reproduction. Digitising means less handling of
fragile items and keeps them in the ideal environment rather than constant temperature
changes as they move from store to search room. This is digitisation providing access
to analogue/traditional archives to help preserve the originals. Therefore
digitisation is not digital preservation but preservation in its wider sense,
for Royal Voluntary Service digital preservation applies to its born digital
Interestingly we have very few born digital archives, a lot
of our records are still produced in a physical format. However we do have a
set of born digital records which have been mentioned several times; the Voicesof Volunteering Oral Histories and their transcript/summary sheets. The oral
histories were recorded as WAV the transcripts and summary sheets were typed as word
documents. Over time we will need to monitor how these records are kept the
word documents have already been converted to pdfs. An open source document
which follows archive standards of digital preservation and allows easy access,
they have at least three backups each. The WAV files are already at an archival
standard for audio records however the file format makes them two large for
access purposes we have created MP3 versions for Archive Online. Over time we
will need to make sure these files don’t become obsolete, corrupt or suffer
from bitrot as well as making sure they are not accidently deleted. This is
digital preservation protecting born digital documents from many dangers and
keeping them accessible for future generations.
In conclusion digitisation programmes are not digital
preservation because they are about access to original documents and digital preservation
is about protecting born digital records from destruction once they have made
their way to the archive. I am sure at some point someone will raise the
question is a digitised copy of a traditional archive a born digital record
i.e. an archive/document in its own right and therefore keeping it a case for
digital preservation. However I don’t have enough words in the blog to look at
this now it is a discussion for another day.
From 1938-1942, our collection holds 31,401 pages of Narrative Reports. These reports were sent to the headquarters of the WVS at 41 Tothill Street, London. This allowed members at HQ to be able to keep track of all WVS activities in the country.
Due to the unique structure of the WVS, duplicate copies of the monthly diaries were also sent to our county offices, whilst keeping the original reports at the individual centres. This set up allowed each section of the organisation to monitor what was going on. It also meant that a chain of communication could be rapidly established between WVS Headquarters and WVS members throughout the country. Due to the existence of these multiple copies, an identical monthly report will occasionally pop up. Whilst it would be wonderful to have duplicates of every diary, it would rather limit our shelf space.
To handle the massive influx of Narrative Reports each month, members at headquarters tagged specific reports that were considered important enough to be read by the heads of department. By 1942, there were just over 2000 centres across the country. With each centre sending in one report per month, Tothill Street must have had one of the busiest letter boxes in London.
After the introduction of the archive in 1958, the reports were filed in brown card folders with their respective location hand written in blue and red ink. The reports are still in their original files today, but they have been repackaged in acid-free folders and placed into boxes to help maintain their condition. Unfortunately, members of the WVS probably didn’t realise how significant these documents would become so not all of the reports have survived the test of time. This is particularly stark in Region 4 (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk), as the reports were weeded to save space. As a result, Region 4 has by far the fewest number of reports.
Nevertheless, their survival is testament to the members of the WVS that decided the reports were worth keeping. A member from the WVS centre for Worcester wholeheartedly agreed with the great work happening at headquarters and consequently wrote this excellent poem.
A most exciting place to be,
I’m sure that you will all agree,
is in Headquarters, Tothill Street,
For, there, you’re almost sure to meet
With many famous people who
Are bent in seeing their country through.
The smallish muddles that arise
And cause the gov’ment much surprise;
The minor details that occur,
Apart from battles, as it were.
For instance, take Evacuation;
Who copes with urns at every station?
Who takes the children for a ride
Into the pleasant countryside?
Who kindly helps the I.C.C
To sort out each evacuee
Who has some clothing coupons owing
Because their clothes they are outgrowing?
Who interviews the under-fives
And helps to save their little lives?
And who persuades the very aged
A dang’rous war is now being waged
And they could better serve the nation
By going to some safe situation?
Who manages the Clothing Centres?
And laughs at all such misadventures
As parcels of damp frocks and jackets?
Or books in ladies’ clothing packets?
Or take the case of Demolition!
Who gets the canteens in position?
And helps to feed with buns and tea
The men who labour constantly
To make the place “as safe as houses”?
And who is it the police arouses
Whenever any help is needed
Knowing the always have succeeded?
The noble wears-out very slowly!
And may they be successful wholly
How good they are, p’rhaps you guess!
Our grand H.Q., WVS!
In the aftermath of the Flying bomb attacks of 1944, the needs of the elderly to be appropriately housed took on new impetus, particularly within WVS. The solution to the problem in many cases was the creation of WVS Residential Clubs, the first of course being Thornbank, in Ipswich which opened in 1946. These were the first ‘modern’ old people’s homes with small numbers of residents looked after in an environment we would recognise today. But these were not for everyone and also not for some councils.
An experiment in Salford spearheaded by Mrs Rothwell (WVS County Borough Organiser, Councillor and JP) lead to WVS acquiring three old Victorian houses and converting them into flatlets for those old people in need of housing. The people lived independent lives and one resident received a free flat in return for undertaking the cleaning and management of the communal areas.
WVS had created a simple system in which ‘neglected old people and neglected old houses came together for mutual benefit’ and helped reduce the council’s waiting lists. Sadly despite gathering quiet momentum for almost a decade in 1954 the relatively newly formed Ministry of Housing and Local Government found out about the scheme and said ‘you can’t do this’.
To cut a long story short, this administrative hiccup led to the formation of the WVS Housing Association in 1955.
The Housing Association assisted with the temporary housing of Hungarian and Anglo-Egyptian refugees, in the late 1950s in similar types of houses adapted for the emergency. In 1959 the WVS Housing Association really got going and pioneered new ideas. WVS moved from merely providing homes for the elderly to young professional women opening houses in Tunbridge Wells and Sheffield.
By 1960 WVS had converted 42 houses for the elderly and three for professional women and in January that year opened a new home in London specifically for former WVS members, at Chagford House, Marylebone, London. Opening it in January 1960 Lady Reading (founder Chairman of WVS) said. “I hope that thus may be known as the happy house of St. Marylebone”.
This week the Heritage Bulletin Blog comes to you in the form of our first podcast. Have a listen to Matthew McMurray talking about his inspiration for the archive's upcoming (2018) museum exhibition and journey to get there.
For those who can't listen to the podcast, which I modestly recommend, the transcript is below.
This last week I have been putting together my first ever museum exhibition plan and it’s fascinating how the approach of museums differs from that of archives. I had merrily sat down with the idea that I was going to come up with a story, nice and ordered and linear and then write some beautiful text and add some nice pictures; What my colleague rather inelegantly called the ‘book on the wall’ approach. This though, to misquote Mr Punch is ‘not the way to do it’!
Some research later and some sage advice from those with more experience than my none in museum exhibition design and I was trepidatiously ready to begin.
The key, apparently, with any museum exhibition is to start from the objects, let them tell your story. Hmmm I thought to myself as I visualised the towers of several million pieces of paper in our strong rooms and rather fewer objects and felt despondent.
While as an archivist I love nothing more than reading reams of text (preferably with footnotes) apparently not everyone else does, Horror I thought.
Visual impact is unsurprisingly the order of the day, with interactive displays for different levels of understanding from children to adults, short and sweet descriptions (in 25-30 words) and constant repetition. As a lover of detail, as someone who prefers to use ten words when one will do, and also someone who makes every effort to use the English language in all its glory, how was I going to inculcate my audience to the amazing work of the Royal Voluntary Service with so few words.
The answer was a single thread. Most great enterprises come from a small idea, and as a colleague said rather poetically in an e-mail today, quoting the 14th century proverb ‘Great oaks from little acorns grow’.
Much like a tin of Ronseal paint, Royal Voluntary Service has always done what it says on the tin, provided ‘Voluntary Service’. Our founder Lady Reading, whose portrait stares down and scrutinises my every action here in the archive, was the epitome of that ideal which she championed all her life with a zeal most could never hope to match. I have read volumes of her speeches, letters and writing and I find myself repeating her grand eloquent style frequently, in-fact this podcast is becoming a good example. But my point here is that a single bright thread came into my mind and I pulled at it.
In her 1970 treatise entitled simply ‘Voluntary Service’ she said
“Voluntary Service is a coloured thread in the fabric of a Nation and without that thread the fabric is neither as beautiful nor as strong as it should be”
That single coloured thread is literally going to run through my exhibition joining disparate activities and ideas into a story of voluntary service over 80 years; joining objects from wartime uniforms to models of Atlantic longboats and medals denoting a thousand years of service beyond self.
That single thread now has a lot to answer for and the ideas are coming thick and fast.
On 23 August the Tea & Co. Café at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridgeshire was officially opened. It is one of a
range of developments in the charity’s Healthier Choices retail transformation programme which also includes Shop & Co. The Café is run by a staff and volunteer team in Cambridgeshire. This week
we thought it might be interesting to look at the history of Addenbrooke’s and
Royal Voluntary Service.
The first canteen was established in 1950 in “a passage
between the out-patients' department and the hospital itself. There was room
for only two people behind the counter and a row of customers in front, with a
constant stream of stretchers, chairs and nurses passing behind”. (WVS Bulletin January 1954, page 5). It quickly expanded as a new canteen with work
space was opened; in the 1950s 80,000 people were served annually.
Canteen helpers were needed weekly to prepare food, defrost
refrigerators, keep statistics and accounts, serve customers and wash up. In
1960 Cambridge City held a meeting of WVS Hospital Helpers to celebrate their
ten years' service in the Out-Patients' Canteen at Addenbrooke's Hospital.
“This very modern and up-to-date canteen was equipped from the profits” gifts
from further profits given to the hospital in the 1960s included a television set
for the Children's Ward, 160 trays, one carrying chair, and two geriatric chairs (WVS Bulletin May 1960).
In the 1960s Addenbrooke’s opened a new hospital which meant the opening of a
new canteen for WRVS in the late 1960s.
By the 1970s WRVS ran two canteens one in the old and one in
the new hospital; they funded a house for the relatives of patients who lived a
long way from the Hospital. When the old hospital closed a second canteen was
opened to cope with increased demand. The new canteen opened in 1972, at the
time WRVS also provided trolley shops, a patient helpers’ service, reception
duties and flower arranging. The Narrative Reports which we talk about so often
recorded the story of voluntary Service until the early 1990s in Cambridge.
Reports mentioned Addenbrooke’s had canteens in Radio Therapy and Out Patients.
They also started to serve new lines including toasted sandwiches. In the early
90s the Hospital Organiser continued to provide the service to the hospital as
well as a trolley shop.
Unfortunately the archive does not hold many records of the
charity’s activities in the 1990s however we do know that volunteers from
Addenbrooke's went to London to assist Cilla Black with the launch of the “Give
us a hand campaign” in 1998. It was designed to encourage people to volunteer
with WRVS. The campaign embraced the power of celebrity, asking famous people
to pledge their support by sending in an autographed outline of their hands.
Over a hundred celebrities took part, including Imogen Stubbs, Stephen Fry, Sir
Ian McKellen, Robbie Coltrane, Sean Bean and David Suchet. The campaign also
saw ordinary people make colour paper cut-outs of their own hands at the WRVS
stand at the Ideal Health Show, then hang them on a cardboard tree. The WRVS
continued to run services at Addenbrooke’s into the 2000s when changes began to
The early 2000s saw a few changes to WRVS’ role at
Addenbroke’s. A new Coffee Shop was opened in 2003 which was rebranded after
the rebranding of Women’s Royal Voluntary Service to WRVS (Green and red to
purple and orange) in 2004. In 2013 the charity was renamed Royal Voluntary
Service and more recently plans for hospital shops, canteens and tea bars were
updated to provide healthy options in hospitals and to bring back the red and
green branding. Addenbrooke’s is now one of Royal Voluntary Service Tea & Co. cafés and the volunteers and staff will continue this
partnership steeped in history.
If you would like to learn more about Royal Voluntary
Services history with hospitals then read our fact sheet Welfare work in hospitals 1938 – 2013.