Evacuees’ School, Herbert Road, Solihull

Shortly after the devastating blitz of Coventry on 14th/15th November 1940, Miss Caroline (“Carrie”) Amelia Morgan (1889-1963), Headmistress of Moseley Avenue School, Coventry, together with a small group of teachers, brought a party of 160 children aged 2-14 to Solihull. The children were billeted in foster homes and, a few weeks after their arrival, schooling began to be provided.

All the local schools were already completely full as 900 evacuees from London had arrived on 23rd October 1940. Evacuees were billeted with Solihull residents or, in the case of large families, in empty houses that had been requisitioned in St Bernard’s Road, Knightsbridge Road, Highwood Avenue, Durseley Close and Onslow Crescent. Solihull had been asked to find accommodation for an additional 500 evacuees from Coventry.

Miss Morgan had to scour the district to find accommodation to set up a school. Finally, rooms were found in two houses in widely separated parts of the area, and the use of the Roman Catholic clubroom was offered (although this offer had to be withdrawn). For want of anything better, some 60 children had to crowd into the vestry of a local church. The metal workshop at Lode Heath School was offered as a temporary measure until July 1941.

We have some silent film footage of evacuees arriving at Solihull Railway Station during the war. It’s undated so we’re not certain whether or not it shows the children from Coventry or those from London.

 

Warwickshire County Council’s Education Committee then stepped in and offered premises it had requisitioned in Herbert Road, Solihull. The building (believed to be where the Boston Tea Party – formerly the Coach House pub and then Ebb & Flow – is now) was a large, detached three-storey Victorian house, named Eastcroft. It had lain empty since the previous residents – the family of Mr Henry Francis Adkins – had left in January 1939 to move to Devon. The headmistress and her staff, as well as some of the older pupils, had to thoroughly clean the house before the school could open, which it had done by October 1941. 

By December 1941, the school at Herbert Road was catering for 147 children, whilst another school exclusively for evacuees at St George’s Hall, Dorridge, accommodated between 40-50 children.

In early December 1941 a canteen opened for the provision of mid-day meals for children whose foster parents were unable to provide one. The 6d cost of the meal was paid for by the foster parent.

At the beginning of June 1942, the school premises at Eastcroft also included a hostel for children who “proved to be inadaptable in billets.” Fearing that these “difficult” children would be sent back to Coventry, Miss Morgan applied to open a hostel to house them. She felt that after everything they had gone through “these children, above all others, needed a quiet existence in calm surroundings.”

Solihull’s Billeting Committee, 2nd March 1942, heard that approval had been given by the Ministry of Health for three rooms at 4, Herbert Road to be given over to a short-stay hostel accommodating 10 children and two members of staff. 

Miss Morgan (who was awarded the M.B.E. in the New Years’ Honours List 1942 for services to education and evacuation) and two of her staff offered to sleep on the premises and be always on duty every hour of the day and night every day of the week. A local newspaper report commented that this was no light undertaking given that the comforts provided were of the scantiest – hard wooden chairs, wooden beds, and one exceedingly small cupboard to house the belongings of the three staff being all that the authorities considered necessary by way of amenities. The teachers would received board and lodging in return for their services.

More evacuees were received from London in July 1944:

  • 685 children on 6th July 
  • 266 mothers and 611 children on 12th July
  • 93 mothers and 185 children on 30th July

The Chief Billeting Officer reported to Solihull Council that by 30th September 1944, the district had accommodated 3,952 people under the Government Evacuation Scheme:

  • 1,108 unaccompanied children
  • 2,237 mothers and children
  • 607 people accommodated in requisitioned houses

As time passed, numbers dwindled and teachers and children returned to Coventry.  Miss Morgan divided her time between Solihull and Coventry, with a Miss Street being the teacher in charge at Solihull. The hostel finally closed its doors in early December 1944, with a reporter from the Warwick County News noting in the issue of 16th December 1944 that:

there were tears at the prospect of leaving the place which has given the stability, the chance to develop social as opposed to anti-social habits in an atmosphere of affectionate understanding and sympathy… these youngsters were fortunate to come under the influence of women who had an understanding of the fundamental need of every child for sympathy, affection and a solid home background

Inspired by the success of the hostel, Mrs P. M. Devey, Solihull’s Chief Billeting Officer, applied to establish Eastcroft as a hostel. Convinced that children were seldom difficult through any fault of their own, Mrs Devey sought a setup that would “reproduce as closely as possible the conditions of ideal family life and will aim at instilling a sense of security to the lack of which many child behaviourism abnormalities are attributed.”

Eastcroft was felt to be ideally suited to its intended purpose, as it “breathes the essence of family.” Eastcroft Special Care Hostel was opened in March 1945 with the intention of housing 20 children between the ages of five and 14.

Solihull’s last remaining 86 unaccompanied child evacuees from London left the district on 30th June 1945, departing from Solihull Railway Station. The Evening Despatch reported that “teddy bears, dolls, and toys of every description were in evidence and every other child was laden with baskets of fruit and flowers.” The newspaper also noted that one young resident of Eastcroft special care hostel flatly refused to be parted from the Matron.

 

Other evacuee hostels in the area

There was a short-term hostel at 191 St Bernard’s Road, Olton, which was opened by 1941 for the temporary housing of children where, for example, their foster parent had been taken ill.

The Evans Convalescent Home, Widney Manor Road, Solihull also took a proportion of evacuated children until the Chairman informed the Chief Billeting Officer in July 1943 that the Committee wished the home to revert to the care of convalescent children.

The Hill Orchard Hostel in Meriden also apparently catered for “difficult” evacuee children. Ten boys described as “in most cases out of control at home” were admitted for periods of between one and eight months at a time. The cost of their maintenance was borne by the Ministry of Health.

If you have any further information about Eastcroft. the hostels in Olton and Meriden, or wartime evacuees in Solihull, please let us know.

Tracey
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian

email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

 

© Solihull Council, 2020
You are welcome to link to this article, but if you wish to reproduce more than a short extract, please email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

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