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The Blitz

The air raids brought hundreds of people to Oxford House seeking shelter. With light, warmth, a canteen and the chance of a sing-song, the House was a more attractive prospect than the stables under the nearby railway arches. Packed together on wooden bunks with limited washing facilities, they were given aspirin daily in the hopes of preventing an epidemic. Meanwhile, student residents and members of the Boys’ Club watched on the roof in case a bomb fell nearby.

One of the bombed sites in Bethnal Green

One of the bombed sites in Bethnal Green

But it was all this chaos that really made Oxford House a community hub. In the words of then Chief Shelter Welfare Officer Jane Leverson, people came to Oxford House ‘not because it was an air raid shelter … but because there they found happiness and a true spirit of fellowship’.

Every evening up to 300 teenagers would flock to the House clubs to join activities ranging from boxing and drama for the boys to dressmaking and dancing for the girls. Soon, Oxford House would be providing everything from nursery schools to legal advice to hostels for the temporarily homeless. Even the thousand Men’s Club members serving abroad, dubbed the Unseen Club, were sent regular magazines with news. One such member wrote back:

‘Many thanks for the Mag, it comes like a breath of fresh London air to us blokes whose bodies are here, but whose hearts will always be in England and especially London, where you people are putting up such a good show of spirit and morale. Jerry will never lick England, he could never kill the spirit that exists here, no matter how many bodies he kills’.

1941_source Bombsight_copyright by Bombsight_bombed sites near OH

At least 9 bombs were dropped in the area surrounding Oxford House

Despite the war, Oxford House was determined to focus not on the present but the future. It was voluntary work that had first met the social needs of the Blitz, and as the war drew to its end they hoped to show the world what that voluntary work could achieve. In time, their nursery schools would be taken over by the council and the relief they had provided would help inspire the new welfare state.

Text: Lucy Valsamidis

Images:
1. 1944 Oxford House Annual Report. Oxford House.
2. 1942/43 Oxford House Annual Report. Oxford House.
3. Bombsight

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Workers and Welfare: Living Conditions of the 1800’s East End On This Day... 30th November 1891 WANTED: Archivist for heritage project Fascism in the East End The Blitz The Original Oxford House Conscientious objectors The Welsh Schools The Excelsior The Effects of World War I in Oxford House War Memorial The Inauguration of the Oxford House Building 1892 From Oxford House to Local and International Stardom In the Spotlight: the Repton Boxing Club and Oxford House Hensley Henson, Oxford House leader The Kray Twins Alfred Soord, The Crucifixion. Oxford House Chapel Women and Oxford House Oxford House and its Clubs Why you should donate to save our secret chapel The Bethnal Green Tube Tragedy The Webbe Boys’ Club Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s Super Kid (a.k.a. Eddie Marsan) Save Oxford House's 'Secret' Chapel Oxford House and Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram Our resolution? Raise all the funds to start our major heritage project Post War Regeneration of Bethnal Green Weavers’ Fields and the Huguenots Guy Clutton-Brock: from Oxford House to hero of Zimbabwe WWI: Zeppelins or ‘Take me back to dear old Blighty’ The Hidden Gem: Oxford House Chapel History in the making Oxford House and Ben Uri Gallery The Chapel Oxford House Arms: Dominus Illuminatio Mea Why is Oxford House listed as Grade II Heritage? Heritage Lottery Fund - 'Oh! ‘wins’ the lottery' Who designed Oxford House? The Boys and Men’s Clubs in the 19th and early 20th century Why a new building in 1891? Rise under Rev. Winnington-Ingram How it all begun. Clubs and activities at Oxford House 1884 Who created Oxford House? What is a settlement? 130 Not out! Our pre-history: The Oxford Movement From Victorian Gap Year to Community Hub
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