Blog > The Effects of World War I in Oxford House

The Effects of World War I in Oxford House

When World War I broke out in 1914, Oxford House was no stranger to its effects. In the years that followed, the House experienced various changes: clubs lost members, the number of residents shrunk, but in spite of it all Oxford House remained a place for the people of Bethnal Green to come together during such difficult times.

The first and most palpable effect to be felt in the House was the decline in the number of residents and workers. In 1914, the House had 30 external workers and 27 residents. By 1915, the total number of residents and workers had gone down to 29 men, out of which only 14 were permanent residents.

In that same year it was reported that almost 100 former residents were at the front, and that three of them were missing. In the years to come, the number of Oxford House’s men that had perished in the war would only increase. After the war had ended, their names would be immortalised in the War Memorial in the Chapel of the House.

The war not only had an impact on the number of residents and workers, but also on club memberships. The 1914 Annual Report already lists a loss of 200 members in the clubs. Given the situation, the House found it necessary to temporarily close some of them; such was the case of the University Club in 1916. While some clubs had to close down, the pressing conditions of the war had the Army taking over some of Oxford House’s buildings. The Webbe Institute, for example, was converted into an Army boot factory during those years.

Nonetheless, the war was not only about losses for Oxford House. In 1914 the House opened a new club aimed for the soldiers’ and sailors’ wives, offering them a place to come together while their husbands were at the front. Moreover, if the clubs aimed for young men old enough to join the Army had to close, the situation at the Boys’ Club was the complete opposite. By 1915, the challenge was for only one manager to deal with the vast number of kids in the clubs. In addition to this, the Excelsior Hall continued to provide p1020124entertainment activities for the community throughout the war.

In 1917, during the air raid of the 13th of June the neighbours of Bethnal Green gathered at Oxford House seeking for shelter, after a long campaign to convince them that the House was safer than their own homes. After that episode, Oxford House became the place in the area to shelter from air raids. With every raid, the basement and other common spaces were filled with at least 1,500 people.

Even though the consequences and casualties of the War were deeply felt by Oxford House, the House was able to maintain its role as a place for the community to feel welcome and safe in that dark period.

 

Text: Juan Pablo Vilches

Images:
1. World War I Air Raid Damage in Aldgate High Street. IWM Non Commercial Licence.
2. Ralph Charles Fairbairn Cotton. Winchester College
3. War Memorial in Oxford House’s Chapel. Oxford House.

Sources:
The Oxford House in Bethnal Green 1884-1948. London: T. Brakell Ltd.
Oxford House: 100 years of work in the community (Mandy Ashworth)

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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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