OldLathe

Whilst looking through some archival material about Charlton I came across this strange account of the Husbands’ Hostel in Picture Post December 1940. It did strike me as bizarre, a home for men left alone when their wives and children had been evacuated. It was opened by two sisters Mrs Davie and Nurse Conway who thought of the idea whilst sheltering from an air raid. Men and boys who were in reserve occupations needed practical support. They came up with the idea of providing board and lodgings for them. John West, a docker, was there with his 13 year old son who was a tea boy on the docks. Cyril Chambers a munitions worker at the Royal Arsenal moved into the home when his wife and baby were evacuated to Northampton.

The home catered for 24 men and was in a Large Georgian House 233 Charlton Lane. Close to Woolwich it was ideal for munitions workers and dockers who would walk through the foot tunnel. The house is no longer there.

John Davis, a rigger of heavy tackle on the docks described his journey into the home:

“When my missus went, her father cooked for me. The poor old boy did his best, but it wasn’t like the wife. Now I’ve had him looked after and I came on here.”

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The service included a comfortable bed, hot breakfast, packed lunch plus bread, cheese and cocoa for supper. The cost was 24/6d (twelve pence) per week. It made me think how difficult it would be for lone men working in the docks or the Royal Arsenal. First, they worked very long hours and shift work. There were no take-aways, fridges or microwaves so cooking a meal after a long back breaking shift would be a dismal prospect. Standard shopping hours (9 until 5) would also present a challenge as would the long queues created by rationing. So perhaps not as bizarre as I first thought.

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The Hostel was supported by the Red Cross and Greenwich Council. Mrs Davie who was much appreciated by the men for her fine needlework skills particularly darning socks had this to say:

“What I can’t understand is why there aren’t more places like this”

This remained the only one in the country and clearly appreciated by the men who lived there.

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