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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.

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

Use your imagination and your vision


We fast approach the end of another year, a year which has been one of success for the Archive. As many of our readers would have witnessed we heavily promoted our Kickstarter Campaign Hidden histories of a million wartime women in May. With the help of 705 backers £27,724 was raised to digitise the many stories written by volunteers over 70 years ago in the form of Narrative Reports. The process has now begun to bring these stories to you and you can keep up to date with the project by following our Facebook and Twitter pages, joining our heritage bulletin mailing list or regularly visiting our Kickstarter page for the Friday update.
 
Our final blog for the year comes from part of Lady Reading’s Christmas Message written in 1955; I believe it highlights how important it is for us not to forget the past, how we need to be practical in going forward and relates to sharing hidden histories. I hope you enjoy.

Lady Reading's Christmas Message to WVS 1955

“As one Christmas follows another, it is ever more difficult to find the right present to send to you, and so, I send this year, the means, hidden and unsuspected, of gauging, watching and guarding the precious thing which is in your keeping.

I believe that we, workers in Voluntary Service, are today enjoying the endowment bestowed on us by the previous generations, enriched by their outlook and strengthened by their experience. And I want to ask you whether you will, this Christmastide, pause and examine this thing we call Voluntary Service, for it is ours to enhance during the time it is in our keeping, and it is for us to hand on in perfect and ever better shape.

We live in an age where allegory and parable appear to be out of date, but, to my mind, they are not only the best way of teaching but, for oneself, they offer an infinite joy in the companionship of one's own mind. And so I hand into your possession the power with which to examine this thing that is in your trust, charging you to use your imagination and your vision to appraise it, to weigh it, and, above all, to treasure it.”

It’s the Job that Counts Vol II

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 26 December 2016.

Labels: Lady Reading, WRVS, Imagination, Kickstarter, Hidden History, Million Women