Willans Works Huts for Belgian Refugees

Group of wounded Belgian soldiers outside Red Cross Hospital in the Institute, Lower Brailes. 1914
Warwickshire County Record Office reference PH 352/37/45

The project to catalogue the records of the Rugby engineering firm Willans and Robinson has uncovered many topical references to the First World War.

Following the German invasion of Belgium on the 4th August 1914 many thousands of Belgians were forced to flee their homes and many of these migrants found their way to holding centres in London before being dispersed to locations all over the UK. Rugby District Council was contacted by the Government and the area became a destination for hundreds of refugees.

Documents in the Willans Works material being catalogued at the Warwickshire County Record Office include records relating to temporary wooden huts that were built for First World War Belgian refugees on Willans land in 1915.

Accommodation for workers

These were still being used until the mid 1930s as temporary accommodation for workers. The huts were known as ‘King Albert Row’ and were eventually demolished after they were deemed as unfit for human habitation by the Rugby Medical Health Officer. A letter from the Works Manager (GW Raby) to the English Electric London office on 17th May 1935 included the comment:

“These huts should have been scrapped many years ago, and even if the authorities were not taking the matter in hand I should have taken the matter up ….. to have them demolished as they serve no useful purpose to the company and I feel that we should be severely criticised should an infectious epidemic start due to the unsanitary conditions prevailing. I shall be glad therefore if you can see your way clear to allowing this property to be demolished under the Slum Clearance Act”.

There are also 1930s tenancy agreements for the hutments as they were let out to company employees, and further details are included in the memories of the Lorriman family provided by Gerald Lorriman, who started at Willans as a mail boy in 1941 and retired in 1990 as Chief Financial Accountant. His memories mention that his father married in 1921 and lived in one of the huts (the rental was 2/6 a week).

One thing we are not sure about is where exactly these huts were built so any information on this would be most welcome.

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