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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.
October 1st was world vegetarian day and heralded
the start of international vegetarian week. Most people probably see dietary
requirements and other lifestyle choices when it comes to what we eat as a
relatively new and modern concept. However vegetarianism has deep roots from
ancient world including the Greeks to the National Vegetarian society (Britain)
formed in the nineteenth century. So as you can see it is not new and this
means we can share with you some fascinating insights into the thoughts of WVS
members on vegetarian’s in the 1940s and 1950s.
Extracts from Spinach and Beet – the diary of a centre
TUESDAY. How careful one has to be when wearing uniform: one's
slightest word is taken literally. Among ourselves in the office we have dubbed
as "vegetarians" the members who come to peel vegetables for Meals on
Wheels. ("How many vegetarians are wanted on Thursday?" "We
shall want an extra vegetarian on Tuesday when there's Lancashire hot-pot
"-and so on.) Apparently similar remarks were overheard on a 'bus or
somewhere equally public, as we were telephoned this morning by someone who
wanted to join "The W.V.S. Yes: The Women's Vegetarian Society-such a
splendid idea!" - WVS Bulletin No.118 October 1949 p.7
Friday.-Now that Mrs. Young's small boy attends kindergarten
in the mornings, she is free to help us and to-day she signed an Enrolment
Form. On his first day home from school he said to her excitedly: "Oh Mummy, there are ever so many
foreign children in my class: there's a French boy and a Norwegian, and a
Hungarian and- and a Vegetarian. What country does a Vegetarian come from,
Mummy?” - WVS Bulletin No.1 48 April 1952 p.6
Extract from Nature and other Notes reports for WVS members
A great neurosis about our fauna seems to have swept over England, and even Tothill Street has succumbed! I must admit that the crabs are unprepossessing and the rats not house-trained, but with a little ingenuity and a tin of poison one can avoid having to hob-nob with them.
The rats are not really rats at all. They are large sand-mice called "taboa" (not "jerboa" as appeared in one paper). They are vegetarian and non-disease- carrying. They are incredibly bold, greedy and noisy, and not at all fussy about where they leave their droppings. We have waged chemical warfare against them, and at one stage felt we would have to move. - WVS Buletin No.221 May 1958 p.5
Recipes to try out
Now perhaps you are trying to think of something to eat to
celebrate world vegetarian day, so why not try one of these.
I am sorry about the tripe as I'm pretty sure this is not a veggie option.
Remember it is #AskAnArchivist day on 4th October
with your questions.