Sunday, 19 February 2017

Where was “The Beggars Roost”? – a Wembley mystery

Many thanks to Philip Grant for this fascinating guest blog. My late older brother, David, had a lifelong passion for motorbikes that probably started with the 'Wembley Lions.
 
You were probably living in Wembley during the Second World War, more than seventy years ago, or have talked to someone who was, if you can answer this question. But even if neither applies to you, you may still be interested to know why I am asking.

I deal with email local history enquiries on behalf of Wembley History Society, and they sometimes set some fascinating puzzles. One arrived recently from a lady in the United States. She was looking around a Goodwill store (charity shop), and saw a very attractive coat of arms, hand-painted on a wooden plaque. She bought it, took it home, and then began to wonder what it was, and the story behind it.

The name “Wembley” was almost certainly a place, and she found out that the letters “ARP” stood for Air Raid Precautions, in Britain during the Second World War. By searching online, she discovered that there was someone she could contact who might know more about the history of Wembley at that time, so she sent me a photo of her plaque.

A.R.P. Post 12 Plaque, from Cheryl Hutton
 I have no doubt that this home-made coat of arms came from “our” Wembley, as the lion in the top right quarter is copied from the badge of the “Wembley Lions” motorcycle speedway team. They were based at Wembley Stadium, and were hugely popular during the 1930’s, when they were national champions several times. 
 
The blue and yellow quarter below it shows an air raid warden’s helmet, gas mask and rattle, so there can be little doubt that the plaque was first made for, and probably displayed at, ARP Post 12, in Sector 8 / 9 of the Borough of Wembley. But where was this, and why did the wardens call their base ‘the Beggars Roost”? Is the chicken (or “rooster”) a clue, and who is the beggar above it on the plaque? I don’t know, and would certainly welcome any information that readers, or anyone they can forward this article to who might be able to help, could provide.

Eighty years ago the Borough of Wembley was a separate local government area, with a population of just over 100,000 people. Even before the war, the local Council was making A.R.P plans, and starting to build public air raid shelters, in response to the threat from Germany. After war broke out, a full-scale air raid wardens service was mobilised, which at its height had 2,500 wardens, 95% of them unpaid volunteers. 



I know, from an elderly neighbour (the son of a warden), that the A.R.P. post for our 1930's-built estate was in the requisitioned garage of a local bungalow. His father was one of the first on the scene when a German "parachute mine" hit a row of shops in Kingsbury Road one night in September 1940, killing two mothers, a baby boy and a seven year old girl, in the flats above. This is an official "war damage" photo of the scene, taken the following day, which shows the sort of event that the wardens had to deal with (thankfully, not too often!).


Bombed shops and flats in Kingsbury Road, 1940

As well as the A.R.P. wardens, first aid and rescue teams were also organised. After the bombing raids started in earnest, in August 1940, nearly all civilians had to undertake "fire watching" duties (around 7,500 of the c. 9,000 bombs which fell in the Wembley area between 1940 and 1945 were incendiaries), so around 25,000 Wembley people in total were engaged in some form of Civil Defence work during the war. The Borough lost 149 civilians killed in air raids, including several A.R.P. wardens, with over 400 more seriously injured.


The “Beggars Roost” plaque, which somehow found its way to the U.S.A. after the war, is a reminder that the bombing of civilians, horrible as it is, is not just something that happens in far-away places like Syria or Yemen. It happened in Wembley as well, and the volunteer men and women of A.R.P. Post 12, and others like it, did their best to protect their neighbours from such atrocities. I hope that, perhaps with your help, I can find out more about them.



Philip Grant.

6 comments:

Older Wembley Resident said...

Was the rooster possibly related to a public house? From my childhood in the 50s I seem to recall that a similar trade mark was displayed on some pubs/hotels in the area. Was it Charingtons Brewers?
I will dig some more amongst some of the older residents I know. Perhaps we can circulate this amongst some of the older people's clubs and homes in the area. I don't suppose Brent Archives can help provide any info on the ARP areas. I am sure that if Malcolm BB was still thee he would have come up with something on this.

Philip Grant said...

Dear Older Wembley Resident,

Thank you for your suggestions. I believe the brewer you are thinking of was Courage, and their "rooster" was more upright, and faced the other way.

Please do ask anyone else who may have any memories or information that could help to locate where this A.R.P. post was. This is a little piece of Wembley's history which is worth preserving, and there is a lady in Nashville, Tennessee, who would like to know the story behind this plaque, and help to keep that story alive.

I am still in contact with Malcolm, and have sent him a "link" to this article, to ask whether he can help.

Philip.

Malcolm Barres-Baker said...

My thanks to 'Older Wembley Resident' for his/her confidence in my knowledge of the area, and implied lack of confidence in those who succeeded my colleague and myself when we were made redundant from Brent Archives in a restructure in early 2014!

Unfortunately, in this case I don't know the location of the various Wembley ARP posts, and I've never heard of the 'Beggar's Roost'.

However, I can suggest three possible sources of information.

There are some Wembley ARP bulletins in the collections of Brent Museum (catalogue number 1995.20.**). However I think they largely relate to ARP Post 25.

No ARP material turns up in the Brent Archives online catalogue, but I know there are 4 volumes of Wembley Civil Defence minutes (accession number a2/1999, I think - these were on shelf 79a in the new, and wrongly named, 'strong room', but this location may no longer be accurate) and six more unnumbered ones (on shelf 81b, or used to be). I don't know the dates though, but hopefully they are not all post-war. My colleague and I would have had no difficulty showing them to a visitor, and the same should be true of our successors.

The Imperial War Museum holds some Wembley ARP magazines (see http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1506004470).

Any of the above might provide information.

Regarding the cockerel/rooster, if it is related to a brewery it is of course Courage, whose cockerel was similar, if a trifle thinner (and not always facing in the same direction). There is a very strong similarity as regards the tail. Charrington's symbol was, I think, a Toby jug.

Malcolm Barres-Baker said...

Oh, IWM also has later (September 1941 onwards) Wembley Civil Defence News (Wembley ARP Magazine is 1938-1941) - http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1506004471

The older resident again said...

Thanks Malcolm. I felt sure that you would be able to give some help and some starting points in the search. Although bed bound for the last few days I have started putting out a few feelers. I have established that there was an ARP point in or near Stanley Avenue (off the Ealing Road) and I hope I will know more about it next week. The source of this info father was also apparently a fire warden. If I can track down any of the former pupils of Wembley County Grammar School of the mid 1940s(or earlier if pos) to 1950s this may well be helpful. If anyone who was schooled in Wembley in 1930s to 1960s can dredge their brains we may eventually piece together enough to get there. I will keep dredging

Cheryl said...

Phillip,

I read with fascination the above comments. It is exciting to think that we may discover the original home of this plaque. I am keeping it safe in Nashville. Although I love having something that holds such a rich history, I am beginning to feel like it may need to go home to Wembley if it could be placed in a local museum.

I'll check back to see if anything else transpires.

Cheryl