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Emergency rest centres: Temperance Hall in WW2

A school, a community centre and a temporary refuge for evacuees fleeing German
attacks on London- the Temperance Hall in George Street was put to a variety of different uses

During World War II, many established buildings in the town would be put to uses that had never been originally intended.

The Temperance Hall, in George Street, was no exception, and would variously accommodate a school, a community centre and a temporary refuge for evacuees fleeing the German flying bomb and rocket attacks on London.

At the instigation of the Buckinghamshire County Education Committee, in February 1939 a letter proposing to transfer the County Lending Library from the Temperance Hall to the Bletchley Road Schools had been sent to the county council. The work would now be taken over by a voluntary committee, and the position of part-time paid librarian was, in consequence, abolished. Following this rearrangement, from October 21 books would be issued from the Bletchley Road Junior School on Saturday afternoons from 2pm until 4.30pm.

With the arrival of evacuees in the town, those boys belonging to the 45th London Company Boys' Brigade, of Salters Hall Baptist Church, Islington, had now been formed into a separate group under the enthusiastic command of their captain, Charles Ricketts, and their meetings were held in the Temperance Hall.

Having been in use as an evacuation centre, on January 10 1940 the Bletchley Road Schools then reopened. Mr E C Cook, the Senior School headmaster, had received information at the end of the previous year that under the headmistress, Miss K Stearns, who had accompanied the pupils from London, the Ecclesbourne Road Senior Girls' School would now be accommodated in the Temperance Hall.

Yet apart from this educational role, as with the Methodist Hut in 1942 the premises were also designated as an emergency feeding and rest centre for Bletchley and, if necessary, would be opened on a four-hour basis from 7am until 11pm, staffed by a rota of volunteers.

As for the educational use, on Tuesday December 15 1942 the London Senior Schools, both at Bletchley Park and the Temperance Hall, combined their breaking-up party, and 83 scholars accordingly joined in a carol-singing concert. Amongst those present were the headmaster, Mr Taylor, and the headmistress, Miss K Stearns but, with the Temperance Hall school scheduled for closure from the end of the current term, during the new year she would resume her work in London.

Thus in February 1943, at a Tuesday meeting at the Council Offices, the opening of a social club at the premises was agreed by representatives from Bletchley firms and organisations, with the objective being primarily to provide general entertainment for workers. The Ministry of Labour were prepared to release the centre for this purpose, and one room would be especially set aside for rest purposes.

Miss Bezzant, welfare officer for the Ministry of Information, said that, having seen the achievements in other districts, she fully realised the similar need for Bletchley and, with a full-time warden to be appointed to organise the activities, for the benefit of shift-workers the facility would be open all day and every day. Mr H Jones was subsequently appointed as secretary of the committee which, at the opening of the centre, would then be replaced by a council and their elected committee.

Thus, on Saturday August 28 1943 the 'Bletchley Community Centre' was officially opened at 3.30pm by W Blakiston, regional controller, Ministry of Labour & National Service, and in the evening a concert by the Jollities Concert Party took place at 7pm. This was followed by a dance at 9pm, with admission for the concert priced at Is, and the dance at Is 6d.

With Mr F Bates as chairman and Mr H Jones as honorary secretary, as previously agreed the management of the centre now came under a local committee, and in fact the idea had aroused the interest of many firms locally, whose workers paid a subscription of 4d a week, or 2d if under 18. The membership was expected to eventually total around 800, and attractions would include two billiards tables, table tennis, darts, draughts etc. It was also hoped to start an amateur dramatic society and debating clubs, and concerts and dances would be an additional feature, with light refreshments and baths available on the premises.

On Wednesday May 17 the following year at 7.30pm, the re-election of the committee took place at the AGM and, reporting that he found it easier to get people to dance than listen to lectures, Mr Mort announced that the membership now numbered 170 - although people were not allowed to come to the centre to play games seven nights a week, nor was the centre to become 'a playground for older people'!

Public dancing on Tuesday nights drew a welcome attendance of about 40, but a talk and discussion held on Wednesdays only attracted around '12 interested and 12 disinterested persons'. As for the Thursday music appreciation class, this was a fiasco, in contrast to the whist drive on Fridays which proved a huge success!

Saturday concerts and social evenings also proved popular but on Sundays the centre opened only in the evening, due to a drop in the afternoon attendance. Mondays also drew an unusually low attendance, and it seemed that the faults of the centre lay with the lack of co-operation and communal spirit. Therefore, an all-out effort would be needed to get the Entertainment & Social and Sports & Education Committees working efficiently, and he proposed to enrol all members aged under 18 as associate members, and not as full members as was presently the case.

Mr Mort also proposed setting aside two nights a week for young people, allowing them the run of the premises, but since several of the 18-year-olds had been behaving like children of nine and 10, this caused understandable problems.

Yet the problems would soon become irrelevant for, with the launch of the German's V1 flying bomb campaign, the premises were closed as a community centre, and from Sunday July 2 were made available as an evacuation centre for displaced persons. On being offered a similar position in Aylesbury, Mr Mort would shortly resign, and with a local advisory committee the centre was now administered from Aylesbury by the Public Assistance Committee.

Based at 45 Bletchley Road, Muriel Manlove became the centre organiser for the Bletchley Urban District, and she was therefore tasked with supplying helpers to the staff, who would be under the direction of the full-time supervisor, Mrs Breeze. Also responding to the emergency were the WVS who, under the charge of Mrs Taylor were now running the Methodist Centre in Bletchley Road as additional accommodation. With a consequent shortage of assistants, an appeal was duly launched to persuade Bletchley housewives to become volunteers and interested persons were asked to apply to Mrs Warren at 20 Cambridge Street or Mrs Fennell at 14 Oxford Street.

As for the entertainment of the refugees, one Sunday towards the end of July a small party of artists came to the centre to entertain the London evacuees and, although there was a piano on the premises, it was alleged that permission to use the instrument had been refused. Instead, from Stoke Hammond a piano had to be borrowed from the RAF, 'who came flying to the rescue'. Despite the report of a number of'desperate cases', the use of the telephone had also supposedly been disallowed.

Hardly overjoyed by these allegations, Mr Mort, who was still fulfilling the role as warden at the community centre, was unsurprisingly swift to respond, exclaiming: "What is all this baa-ing of sheep and bleating of lambs?"

He explained that, as the property of the community centre, the telephone was subject to Post Office regulations and, although a delay in reaching an agreement regarding its use had resulted in some 'interference' (in fact for 36 hours), even then the interests of the evacuees were safeguarded, since incoming calls could be taken. As for outgoing calls, there was a public telephone box about 100 yards away. Regarding the piano, this was the property of the Ministry of Labour and, despite Mr Mort and the committee being held responsible, "no one, at any time, has applied for its use for concerts either to me or anyone else", and in fact if anyone could disprove this, "I'll buy him a piano."

He sympathised with the plight of the evacuees, having during the previous week experienced the effects of a VI, but his comments concerning the complaints of the artists could have been hardly more disparaging: "It is easy to provide one hour's cheap entertainment per week and be absolutely impervious to the fact that for the other six days and 23 hours evacuees are herded like cattle with inadequate supplies of gas and water."

Nevertheless, conditions at the centre were clean and efficient and, with the men's quarters situated in the old games hut (as well as the hospital bay and medical depot), by mid-August, from a one-day peak of 51, now 19 'happy' evacuees were being accommodated, with Mrs Hayward in charge.

However, during October the Rest Centre authorities then unexpectedly released the 'Bletchley Centre', and it was now scheduled to reopen with 'a social' on Saturday, November 4. Thus, with the unforeseen need for a replacement, during the day four candidates for the position of warden were accordingly interviewed by the Bletchley Community Centre Committee, and by the end of November Mr E Halsey, of Chingford, would be appointed. In fact, he seemed an appropriate choice for, having arrived from an East End educational settlement, he and his wife had already been wardens in a rest centre, as well as being involved in the Citizens' Advice Bureau. On Saturday, January 13, 1945, Mr Halsey acted as MC at a social and dance at the centre, with admission being free. Mr Papworth's band provided the music.

Following the end of the war, the community centre would accommodate a new use, and not without a certain irony. For with rationing still in force, in 1946 it became a centre where people could bring 'points' foodstuffs for Germany. In fact, tins of powdered milk, eggs, beans, etc had already been received by the warden, Miss Challenger, and gifts could be left any morning or evening, as well as on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. With the collection being taken over by an official body, a good response was anticipated, and this proved to be the case. Each weighing 151b, the first gift parcels to Germany were despatched on Wednesday, December 18, via the Save Europe Now Fund.