Now that we’ve upgraded our website we’re going to introduce an object each month that we think will interest you. As you may have seen elsewhere, Little Hall’s Second World War history was to feature in an exhibition this month so our object for May relates to this era.
The Chest of Drawers with a Unique History
Visitors to Little Hall may wonder at the name “dormitory” given to the upper area above the dining room. During the 14th, 15th and until the mid-16th century this room didn’t exist but was an open space from the simple earth floor to the roof where swirls of smoke from the hearth below were deposited onto the heavy beams. Soot marks can be seen on the roof timbers and visitors remark on the smoky odour of the room which can still be detected to this day.
The Gayer-Andersons had many visitors to their beautifully restored home in Lavenham and were proud of their “best bedroom” inserting sinks with stunning 18thc Sevres plates as splash backs to give guests the equivalent of today’s ensuites. However it was in September 1939 when a plan to evacuate over 600,000 London school children to escape the bombing of the second world war, that Colonel Gayer Anderson changed its name from the “best bedroom” to “the dormitory” in order to accommodate five evacuees from Bethnal Green.
The Georgian oak chest of drawers in which the boys kept their few possessions still bears their names, Henry, Victor, Billy, Reggie and Terry, carefully painted on each drawer by the Colonel. You can see this just to the right on entering the room along with portraits of two of the boys above. The Colonel was an accomplished artist. The two portraits show Henry and Tony. Tony Maunder gave his portrait (painted on his 9th birthday) to Little Hall and in a letter dated 1991 he spoke of his many happy memories of Lavenham. He had been evacuated along with his brother Frank from London and although lodged at Cross Cottage, Market Place he and Frank were frequent visitors to Little Hall where they could play in the garden with the other boys. In his letter he writes: “The picture will remain a record of the time and also remind us of the Colonel’s kindness to an evacuee”.
We know of the devastation 30 high explosive bombs and 3 parachute mines wrought on Bethnal Green between October 1940 and June 1941. 21,700 homes were hit killing 555 and seriously injuring a further 400.
The boy’s life in Lavenham couldn’t have been more different to the one they left behind. Attending the small primary school, being offered apprenticeships, enjoying the garden and surrounding fields and even having a cook to spoil them with cake and biscuits. Even so it must have been a tremendously difficult time for them and their families having to deal with separation, loneliness and the uncertainties of a country at war. However, it may be that the experience changed the direction of their lives. Four of the boys returned to visit the Colonel and the house and it cannot be a coincidence that three of them spent many years living abroad. Could it be that the tales of foreign adventures shared by the Gayer Andersons ignited a passion for travel?
You can find out more about each evacuee in the brochure “Sheltering the London Boys”, sold in our shop.