The Cambridge Hostels
Much of what we know of the two Cambridge hostels – the vicarage at Pampisford (June 1937-January 1938) and Salisbury Villas, Station Road, Cambridge (January 1938 – November 1939) – comes from a magazine called ‘Recuerdos’ (memories).
The magazine was distributed by the Cambridge Daily News, which was sold for 1/-, with proceeds going to the hostel. It was edited by Jessie Stewart, a key member of the Cambridge Basque Children’s Committee and wife of St John’s College fellow, Hugh Stewart. She and her family had a large house at Girton and often invited the children to tea or to play tennis on their lawn.
Produced towards the end of the children’s stay in Cambridge, the magazine contains descriptions of how the hostel was run and organised, the daily activities of the children, essays by the niños themselves and reports about the fundraising concerts, including a regional tour and daily dances in costume outside the ‘Spanish Shop’ on Bridge Street.
Background image: Children at Girton gate
Image: ‘Recuerdos’ magazine front cover
Another valuable source of information was produced by the noted educationalist E.W. Hawkins, who volunteered to teach at the hostel.
‘The vicarage at Pampisford was roomy and soundly built, but with thirty children eating and sleeping, working and playing in it, the school-master had to look elsewhere for a class-room. He found one to dream of, in the loft over the stables, reached by an outside wooden stairway, whose top landing offered a splendid view over the churchyard and the fields beyond […] Our time-table began at 9 o’clock, when the two junior classes began lessons, leaving the seniors to an hour’s housework before joining in the morning’s work in the loft. The mid-morning break for exercise and cold douche was followed by two more lessons before lunch at 1 o’clock. After lunch, and an hour’s ‘quiet time’, the afternoon was usually given up to painting, music or handicrafts, with the help of a patient, devoted band of outside workers.’
(E.W.Hawkins, “Education at Pampisford”, Listening to Lorca, London: CILT Publications, 1999, p.104)
In ‘Recuerdos’, Jessie Stewart gave a vivid portrait of the children at Salisbury Villas:
‘Our group of 29 children was composed of several families of 2, 3 or 4 members, of ages varying from seven to fourteen…. They seem entirely without class consciousness and have a real wish to be educated and become independent.
The most interesting record of their development in the first six months was the series of paintings. In the early days few of these were without an aeroplane, a burning house or a battleship belching fire – but after a few weeks village and farm scenes and strange flower pictures appeared more and more frequently and it became rare to see any reminder of the war.’
As they were about to leave the Cambridge hostels for good, Jessie Stewart reflected on the experience of caring for these 29 remarkable children from the Basque country of Spain. ‘All who have been connected with these children as individuals will keep a very living and moving memory of their dear qualities.’