Gloucester Kindertransport: local support for refugees, yesterday and today

This is the fourth and final project which is part of our partnership with the City Voices programme of the Gloucester History Festival. Undergraduate students in History at the University of Gloucestershire are undertaking a number of local history projects for 2022, and in this case they examine Gloucester’s role in the organized rescue of children from Nazi occupied territories in the Second World War. The project group is made up by students Yasmine Brigdale, Megan Brown, Emily Langdale, Ellie Speck, and Isabella Watkins.

Our group project focuses on the Kindertransport system in Gloucester and, more specifically, the lives of ten Jewish boys who found refuge in a hostel near the Kingsholm area during the Second World War. We chose to study this topic not only because of a key interest in our city’s historic role in aiding refugees, but also because it feels very relevant to what is going on in the world at present with the current refugee crises in places such as Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. One of the goals of our research is to present a study of the experiences of the ten boys during their time as refugees in Gloucester. We also aim to reflect on what legacy this may have left for Gloucestershire today.

We have been visiting the Gloucestershire Archives and Heritage Hub (GA) at least once a week to study the Kindertransport materials. The archival sources will form the focus of our first display panel, which will outline the start of the Kindertransport programme in Gloucester and the founding of relevant charities and committees, such as the Gloucester Association for Aiding Refugees (GAAR). It was organisations such as GAAR that were responsible for finding suitable accommodation, education and training for refugee children in Gloucester, until they were old enough to move on. We have also become familiar with some of the significant figures who played a very active role in running these organisations, including Mrs Hall. We hope to explore how these developments led to the establishment of the hostel in Alexandra Road, and what role these organisations continued to play in supporting the ten boys.

Appeal for British women to provide homes for the rescued children.

Alongside this, we have been working with staff at GA, who have helped us to access information relating to an upcoming film about the hostel. We have been put in contact with relatives of the Jewish boys and the Arnsteins. Interviews conducted with Michael Zorek, Jenney Valley and Angela Willis have provided us with a real insight into what life in the hostel was like, from leisure activities, including their attendance at a youth group in Gloucester, to how their basic necessities were met and financed. We have also learnt that their religious education and practice was still very much encouraged: a Rabbi from Birmingham came to meet with the boys. Our goal is to continue making connections with the families. Not only has this been extremely informative, but we also believe this to be a valuable element of our research. This will help to shape the middle section of our project, where we hope to build a profile of the boys during their time in Gloucester, as well as their lives after the hostel’s closure in 1942.

The final part of our project will discuss the legacy of the Kindertransport programme and what existing charities in the local area are doing today. In this part, we hope to track the importance of refugee aid for the ten boys, as well as for the many other young people in Gloucester during the Second World War, and how this is still extremely relevant to current global issues. We have been in contact with two local organisations: Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees (https://www.cheltenhamwelcomesrefugees.org.uk/) and Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (GARAS: https://www.garas.org.uk/). These have been really helpful in offering insights into the workings of the charities both historically and at present.

We are also planning to help fundraising efforts for a blue plaque to be placed outside the address on Alexandra Road in June. Any surplus money will be donated to GARAS.

Legacies of Slave Ownership in Cheltenham

As part of our partnership with the City Voices programme of the Gloucester History Festival, undergraduate students in History at the University of Gloucestershire are undertaking a number of local history projects for 2022. The third project examines the legacies of slave ownership in Cheltenham, extending the work conducted by students in 2021. The project group is made up by students Steve Hannis, Ben Haidon, Sam Burgess, Tom Gullick and Harvey Pearce.

In 1833 the Abolition of Slavery Act was passed in parliament, starting the slow process of the emancipation of all slaves in the British Empire. As a result of abolition, the government agreed to pay compensation to slave owners for the ‘loss of their property.’ Any slave owner who wanted to claim compensation had to apply. This process created detailed records of slave ownership in Britain. These records are the starting point of our project, which aims to examine some of the issues relating to the abolition of slavery and compensation paid to people residing in Cheltenham.

We began our project in January and began using the Legacies of British Slave Ownership database. We started by looking at various individuals living in Cheltenham who claimed substantial amounts of money under the Compensation Act. Many of these individuals left little trace of how they spent the money, bringing us to the conclusion that most of them simply lived off it. We researched various people, but many were dead ends. Then we discovered William Hinds Prescod, who moved to Cheltenham after Emancipation. The records showed that prior to abolition, Prescod was the largest slave owner in Barbados after inheriting a number of plantations from his uncle in 1815. He claimed £37,000 in compensation following the abolition of slavery, over £4,000,000 in today’s currency.

Our research so far has demonstrated the complex nature of this subject, with Prescod being a particularly complicated figure. A Cambridge educated Lawyer, Prescod freed over twenty slaves during his time in Barbados and fathered 4 children with a freed slave. One of these children was Samuel Jackman Prescod (fig 1), who became the first black politician in Barbados. Prescod also fiercely contested other claims made against his uncle’s will, claiming that his relatives intended to put their hands into his pocket. After this online research we visited Gloucestershire Archives where we managed to find proof that Prescod bought his Cheltenham estate, Alstone Lawn, for £1,200 just after he received his compensation. We found the original record for this transaction, on the document was Prescod’s signature still intact. Some further research online found that his estate eventually fell into disrepair and was burnt down by suffragettes in 1913.

Samuel Jackman Prescod on a
Barbadian bank note.

Prescod’s wealth was demonstrated by the fact that he also amassed a substantial art collection that was auctioned off by his family in 1861, 13 years after his death in 1848. A record of the auction of Prescod’s collection is held at the National Gallery. After looking through these records we found that a significant proportion of his collection was acquired on a series of trips to Italy, which means he took part in the ‘Grand Tour’ custom of his era. His collection was made up of sculptures, vases sketches and paintings, with the most notable artists being Rembrandt, Vandyke and Guido (fig 2). Our research has also revealed evidence that Prescod invested in shares in the Assembly Rooms in Cheltenham. The Assembly Rooms was a hub for the elite in Cheltenham due to its versatile nature. It was the site of art trading, theatrical productions, and political activities (which had also included debates on the abolition of slavery). The site of the Assembly Rooms is now the Everyman Theatre, giving us a potential link between Prescod’s wealth and the present day.

“The Philosopher” By Rembrandt, a
painting similar to one of the pieces owned by
Prescod.

What we have found so far is interesting, but there is a lot more to learn about Prescod. We are going to conduct further research into his investments in the local area, as well as his activity in Barbados before abolition, with the hope that we find out more about the legacies of slavery and how these may have impacted the town. We have recently found Prescod’s will, which may provide some further information. All the information we have found so far has given as a lot of leads, we are hopeful that once we have followed all of these up, we will have a clearer picture of Prescod’s story.

From Department Store to City Campus: the story of the Debenham’s building in Gloucester

As part of our partnership with the City Voices programme of the Gloucester History Festival, undergraduate students in History at the University of Gloucestershire are undertaking a number of local history projects for 2022. In this first of four projects, students examine how the changing function of an important building can give an interesting insight into the city’s change over more than a century. The project group is made up by students Jack Eccles, Nathan Gathercole, Kacper Kwiecinski, and Sophie Phillips.

Our project focuses on the links between the Gloucester community and the Debenham’s building as a retail commercial centre. The Debenham’s building is a testament to the growth of the retail economy in Gloucester and to its links with the local community.

Engraved on the Debenham’s building are the dates 1909 and 1914, which indicate the expansion of the building and also the growth of retail shopping in Gloucester. After the First World War, Gloucester city centre was seen as an area where the growth of the local economy could be further developed. In the 1920s, what is now Kings Square used to be King’s Street and St Aldridge Street. King’s Street is now Kings Walk. The city’s first department store, Bon Marche, owned by Drapery Trust, was opened on Northgate Street in 1889 by John Rowe Pope. In the late 1920s, a new building was constructed near to the site of the original shop.

After the Second World War, large retail businesses opened in Gloucester, and these began to displace some of the existing local businesses. Kings Square became a retail centre to rival the city of Bristol. In 1971, the Bon Marche department store was sold to Debenham’s.

We’ve looked over a number of news articles, interviews, reports and business documents relating to the original building to establish the growth and success of the companies that were located inside it, from the original Bon Marche department store through to the renamed Debenham’s. The building is a perfect case study of the economic growth of Gloucester as a whole. Its rise signalled the coming of a commercial boom in the city, much like its later decline came to reflect the downturn of city centre retail in the early 21st century.

The impact of the building can be seen beyond its economic function. It became a true hotspot for the community by offering a space, being proactive and, more importantly, creative in its engagement with the local population. Minute books show how the employees and management were committed to the idea that the building should serve as more than just a department store. It was also a communal space that hosted events, participated in parades, and did so by engaging the entire staff. This community outlook proved to be incredibly successful. Many people fondly recall their time spent at Debenham’s. In many ways, the picture we are drawing from our research can be compared to that of mall culture in North America during the 1980s.

It is both of these factors put together that give our project a critical understanding of how the Debenham’s building was truly a crucial and important part of the city. Its evolution is closely tied to the development of Gloucester as a whole. This gives profound meaning to its legacy as the building is currently being remodelled as the University of Gloucestershire City Campus.

Planned design for the new City Campus on King’s Square.

Our project aims to uncover and show these developments to a wider audience so that this building’s unique history can be shared and understood as we move into the next phase of Gloucester’s life.

Lockdown Life Stories

This year, our students are working on a number of important local history projects covering the hidden lives of prominent women, exploring the experiences of lockdown, and uncovering links with slavery. All the projects will be exhibited in September as part of the ‘City Voices’ programme of the Gloucester History Festival. This post is one of five projects exploring the much more contemporary experiences of life under lockdown, and sees students applying some knowledge of oral history as a research method. The students involved are Mike Brazier and Tom Thickbroom.

The aim of our Lockdown Life Stories is to find out the impact the series of lockdowns have had on workers employed in some of the country’s key public services, such as the NHS and teaching, and the ways in which these people have overcome the issues that may have arisen during lockdown. We decided to interview four NHS workers and four teachers because these occupations could provide us with different experiences of the lockdowns. Each group has been affected by the pandemic, with NHS workers having to take on new roles due to Covid and teachers being forced to use online resources to present their classes because of school closures.

We agreed to conduct the interviews together via online calls on Microsoft Teams so that we could record the meetings and write up a transcript for future reference when we come to produce the final presentation of our project. For the interviews, we decided to ask a set of standardised questions with both professions, the only difference being that each group would be asked four ‘profession specific’ questions alongside a further four ‘general’ questions. We agreed to use a standardised set of questions for the interviews as opposed to sets of randomised questions so that every person we interview receives the same overall experience, making the interviews more straightforward to conduct, and because the answers then allow for more direct comparison when it comes to producing the final project.

We designed a consent form that all participants complete and sign before the interviews commence. The form includes the opportunity for participants to withdraw any information they don’t wish to be recorded. If they don’t feel comfortable with how their answers may be used in the future, they also have the option to withdraw completely from the project. This was done to ensure that all participants felt comfortable with all of the questions we may ask during the interview.

So far, we’ve completed four interviews. We’ve been able to complete all the interviews for those working in the NHS, so we’ve now got the recordings and the transcripts of these interviews for future use when we come to produce our final project. We still need to complete the last four interviews involving the teachers, but we’ve found it difficult to identify teachers who are able to participate in the interviews because schools reopened at the beginning of March and since then teachers have been too busy to participate in our project.

As this is the case, we’ve discussed the idea of changing our focus from teachers to shop / supermarket workers because, like NHS workers, they’ve continued to work throughout the lockdowns and they’ve been greatly affected by the pandemic. It’s likely that we’ll switch our focus to these workers if we can’t get any teachers to agree to be interviewed before the Easter Break.

African American Abolitionists in Gloucester

This year, our students are working on a number of important local history projects covering the hidden lives of prominent women, exploring the experiences of lockdown, and uncovering links with slavery. All the projects will be exhibited in September as part of the ‘City Voices’ programme of the Gloucester History Festival. This post is one of five projects, and explores the visits of former American slaves to Britain in the 19th century. Group members include Bethan Burley, Abbie Coleman, Alivia Middleton, Rebecca Taylor.

Our project focuses on African American abolitionists that visited Gloucestershire in the 19th century. We are examining their impact on the abolitionist movement as a whole, along with the methods they used in order to bring about the abolition of slavery. Going into this project, we knew a little bit about abolitionists in America. However, we knew nothing about the work of African American abolitionists in England, the impact that they had whilst here, or even the reasons why they came to England in the first place.

The connections between slavery and Gloucestershire are evident over hundreds of years. One of the earliest relevant documents dates from 1603. In England, slavery wasn’t abolished until 1834, and because of the amount of money generated in Gloucestershire through the operations of the slave trade, there was a good deal of local resistance to the abolitionist movement. British and American abolitionists joined forces in the call to end slavery, delivering lectures hosted across the county.

Our project focuses on four African American abolitionists that were identified in the work of Hannah Rose Murray, and the Frederick Douglass in Britain and Ireland project: Moses Roper, William Wells Brown and William and Ellen Craft, all of whom delivered talks in Gloucestershire in favour of the abolition of slavery.

Moses Roper was one of the first escaped slaves to travel to Britain, and his very first lecture was delivered in Gloucestershire. With the aid of British abolitionists, Roper gained a university education and told gruesome stories of his experiences on the slave farms in North Carolina and Florida.

William Wells Brown was a prominent African American abolitionist lecturer, novelist and historian in the United States. His time in Britain had a lasting impact. His personal objectives indicated his desire to educate others on the wrongs that were still being committed towards slaves and the free coloured people in both America and Britain. He often addressed the issues of slavery as a lecturer and a fugitive tourist. His success is reflected in a growing audience that sparked conversations and debates, benefiting his work as an anti-slave activist.

William and Ellen Craft made their escape from slavery to north America in December 1848 travelling by train. Their escape was made easier by Ellen’s ability to cross dress and pass William off as her servant. When they were threatened by the fugitive slave act, they emigrated to England. They continued their work as abolitionists by giving lectures across the country. They later returned to the United States where they set up education facilities for freed slaves’ children.

One of the main resources we’ve used in this project is the British Newspaper Archives. British newspapers included articles on all of the abolitionists we’re looking at and although there was not much on them in Gloucestershire the information provided for their travels throughout the country has allowed us to form an impression of what they may have done during their time in Gloucester and Cheltenham.

Overall, we aim to highlight how much of an impact these African American abolitionists had in Gloucestershire by reviewing what they did, what they said, how they interacted with other abolitionists and their contribution to the fight for racial equality.

Legacies of slave ownership in Gloucestershire

This year, our students are working on a number of important local history projects covering the hidden lives of prominent women, exploring the experiences of lockdown, and uncovering links with slavery. All the projects will be exhibited in September as part of the ‘City Voices’ programme of the Gloucester History Festival. This post is one of five projects, and explores the legacies of slave ownership in and around Gloucester, and includes Joe Richardson, Harry Scott, Stephen Walmsley.

The Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 awoke a desire in many to learn more about our past and to question what we see around us. Many people wanted to gain further knowledge of the slave trade, a topic often brushed over in school, and many, ourselves included, wanted to know in what ways wealth generated by slavery is still visible. This project provides us with the opportunity to explore these questions in a case study of Gloucestershire. We aim to explore some of the legacies of the slave trade that are still visible in Gloucester and Gloucestershire.

Initially, we investigated how the abolition of slavery came about in Britain and its empire. There were two key pieces of legislation. First, the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act allowed for the confiscation of all ships involved in the slave trade. The 1807 Act also imposed fines on slave ship masters of £100 per slave if they tried to transport thereafter. Second, the 1834 Abolition Act had two sections: one emancipated the slaves, and the other compensated the slave owners. This act saw over £20,000,000 (over £2.4bn in today’s money) given in compensation to over 3,000 slave owning families. This was around 5% of GDP and 40% of the national budget. The money borrowed to pay this compensation was only paid off in 2015.

Next, we used the University College London (UCL) website Legacies of British slave-ownership to identify the names of known slave owners of Gloucester who received compensation after 1834. We then used a range of archives and digital archives, including the British Newspaper Archive, to explore further the individuals found on the UCL website. We found eleven people in Gloucester, or the villages just outside of the city, who received compensation. Of these eleven, we were able to find some more detailed information in archives and from records kept by local history societies, although this is still an ongoing process.

We found Rev. George Wilson Bridges. Bridges served as a vicar in two parishes in Jamaica and then served as rector as St. Giles Church in Maisemore, a village just outside Gloucester, from 1844-1846. He returned to Gloucestershire as vicar at Beachley from 1858-1863. He received just over £87 in compensation for three slaves, but this was not the main way that Bridges profited from slavery. Bridges earnt an annual income of between £500 and £2000 from baptising slaves whilst he was serving in Jamaica. With this money, he was able to fund a decade of travel around the world developing photography, something for which he is remembered. This example shows two aspects of slavery: first, the way people could indirectly profit from slavery; and second, one of the ways people spent the money they made from it, including pursuing a hobby.

People also invested their wealth. For example, George Henry Ames received over £45,000 in compensation for sixteen slave estates and made significant investments in the Great Western Cotton Company. Henry Sealy received £393 in compensation, and he invested a total of £2,500 in the York and Carlisle railway. Sealy was not the only Gloucestershire slave owner to invest in railways. These examples demonstrate that profit from the slave trade remains ingrained in many aspects of modern life in ways that are extremely easy to miss, such as the development of a railway network.

Badminton House as mentioned above (https://www.badmintonestate.com)

Another visible aspect of wealth from the slave trade is in the country estates around Gloucestershire. These were the ideal purchase for wealthy slave traders and merchants from Bristol. There were at least ten country estates in Gloucestershire that saw money from slavery invested in them, including one of the most famous in the country: Badminton House. Badminton benefitted from a £20,000 refurbishment in late 17th century by its owner, Henry Somerset, who had extraordinarily strong links to the slave trade.

Even though the project is ongoing, the examples listed in this post demonstrate that money from the slave trade can be seen in many aspects of modern life even in areas that one might not expect.

The Soldiers of St Paul’s, Cheltenham

This post comes from second year undergraduate student Jason Thomas, who is conducting a project with the University’s Archives and Special Collections as part of the HM5002 Engaging Humanities module.

My project involves making a contribution to writing the short biographies of a number of alumni soldiers who attended St. Paul’s Practicing School, located at Francis Close Hall campus along with St Paul’s College in Cheltenham. In due course, a memorial board will be placed inside the chapel at FCH and an exhibition about the alumni soldiers is scheduled to take place in November 2021.

Commonwealth War Graves Cheltenham Cemetery

Many of the 41 students covered by this project lived locally and they all served as soldiers in the Second World War. The task involved analysing service records about the students, and preparing short biographies noting information relating to their family life, educational background, employment history and leisure activities. Most of the source material came from the Commonwealth War Graves website (which has a ‘Held in Honour’ page providing short biographies of the soldiers), grave register and registration information and a pdf copy of the burial site. The major challenge for me in writing the biographies was to ensure that they did not simply repeat the information already publicly available. With only two paragraphs to work with, it was important to provide some new insight to every story, even if the eventual outcome for each of the individual soldiers was ultimately the same.

Image of St. Paul’s Training College Practising School and environs, Cheltenham (1934)

My personal connection to Cheltenham has been further cemented by working on these biographies. Although my other interests in photography and walking had already established a sense of belonging to the town through visiting various buildings and the surrounding landscape, this project has imprinted an emotional link with Cheltenham that will stay with me for a long time. I considered it not only a duty, but also a pleasure to learn more about the everyday lives of these local people, their day-to-day normality, the routine of going about their business, until either by choice or by call, their lives were taken in a different direction. They have helped to shape Cheltenham’s wartime history.

From India to Cheltenham

This post comes for second year undergraduate student Lydia Munn, who has been working as a research assistant on the Cheltenham: Diaspora project.

When I first joined the Cheltenham: Diaspora project I was unsure where my research would lead me. After exploring some of the project’s initial findings, I decided that I wanted to focus on women’s stories as I feel their voices are often overlooked. I noticed one narrative the project had already started looking at was the Ayah’s, who were Indian women brought over to England during the 19th century by British colonial officers in order to look after their children on the long ship journey’s. The officers were supposed to pay for these women’s journey home, but many ended up abandoned and were sent to the Ayahs’ home in London.

Ayahs Home
The Ayahs’ Home in Hackney, 1904. Photo courtesy of the British Library.

Most of these women’s stories have not been written down and are lost to history, but one Cheltenham related name that kept appearing was ‘Ruth’. She was an Ayah in the service of Colonel Rowlandson, and she became the first person from India to be baptised in Cheltenham along with one of the Colonel’s children. What is even more interesting is she was baptised by a different priest to the child, one who could speak her native language: Tamil. Very few records surrounding these women have been saved. With some determination though, I found the record of her baptism on Ancestry. This record revealed her last name, or at least the name she had been given while in England, as Adnitt, a piece of information I had not been able to previously find. I wondered if she had kept the name, so I searched for it on shipping records but found nothing. It was so frustrating as there was so much information about the English family she lived with, but so little about her.

munn
Ruth’s Baptism certificate obtained from Ancestry.

I have not given up on Ruth and hope to one day find out more about her but I wanted to be of more use to the project. A few weeks before I had helped the Diaspora team set up a pop-up exhibition at the Cheltenham Community Rescource Centre. During this Bernice Thomson, who runs the centre, had mentioned that she ran a group on Monday’s called Sahara Saheli, for women had had emigrated to Cheltenham from other parts of the world. I contacted her and asked if any of the women would like to be interviewed for the project, she suggested I come along to one of the Monday sessions, in order to introduce myself and explain the project. I thought I could be of use to the Diaspora project as many of these women come from traditional cultural backgrounds and would feel more comfortable being interviewed by another woman.

Munn 2
The Cheltenham: Diaspora exhibition being installed at the Community Resource Centre on Grove Street.

The Sahara Saheli group was really welcoming and some of them seemed genuinely interested in the project. I conducted my first interview in March and heard the powerful story of a woman who came to Cheltenham from India in 1967. Over the next fifty years she watched a town change dramatically whilst dealing with immense loss and the need to support her family back in India. Sadly, due to the current Coronavirus pandemic it is unlikely I will be able to conduct anymore interviews this year, but I am so grateful that I have been able to have even the tiniest glimpse into some of these women’s amazing stories.

Exhibits now on display at the Community Resource Centre

The Community Resource Centre based on Grove Street in Cheltenham now has two of our main exhibitions on display. Visitors will now be able to see the ‘Cheltenham’s Lower High Street: Past, Present and Future’ exhibition, which was first displayed at Chapel Arts in June 2017. This project, which has been available on this website since early 2018, focuses on the memories of former residents of the Lower High Street area, and it’s often hidden role in development of Cheltenham. Visitors will also be able to see the ‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ exhibition, which explores various and often unexpected narratives of migration to the town from the late 19th century onwards from different parts of the world.

Many thanks to Bernice Thomson, Manager of the Cheltenham West End Partnership and her team who have supported both of these projects. Contact details below:

Community Resource Centre, Grove Street, Cheltenham GL50 3LZ

01242 692112 or office.cwep@gmail.com

Mondays to Fridays: 9am – 4pm
Saturdays & Sundays: Closed

Gloucester History Festival 2019: the CC4HH Exhibits

The programme for this year’s Gloucester History Festival is finally here, and we’re very excited that the student projects conducted for CC4HH will be displayed in two separate exhibits throughout the festival. These are part of the Festival’s ‘City Voices’ programme which explores aspects of local history and heritage. The theme for this year is ‘Power and the People’.

Firstly, the projects exploring Gloucester’s Windrush Generation and Gloucestershire’s LGBTQ+ community will be exhibited at the Eastgate Shopping Centre (see pic above) in Gloucester from the 7th to the 21st of September. The projects exploring Cheltenham’s history, which include life in the workhouses, a history of Pittville, and the Heritage Lottery funded project led by Dr David Howell ‘Cheltenham: Diasporas’ will be exhibited at the Chapel Arts gallery on Knapp road in Cheltenham from 4th to the 14th September. After this date, these exhibits will be relocated to the Quad Walk Gallery in the Francis Close Hall campus library at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham. Ultimately, all the exhibits will be made available on the website. Here’s a sneak preview of a couple of the panels from the Windrush and Workhouses projects.

We’re very much looking forward to this year’s exhibits, which will be the third year in the life of the Centre, and the second year of collaboration with the Festival.