The Belgian refugees who came to Letchworth during the First World War
A extract taken from "Letchworth Recollections" Co-ordinated by Heather Elliott and John Sanderson. Published by Egon Publishers Ltd
By Viv Birch
An early garden city resident recalls,
“Then of course the First World War came along and many things changed. There were lots of Belgian refugees came to live in the town. We had some living with us at various times. Lot’s of people in Letchworth of course took in Belgian refugees and eventually the Westbury estate was built specially to house them – it used to be called Little Antwerp in those days. Quite a number of them worked at the Kryn and Lahy factory.(This Metal works was located on Icknield Way, later moving to Dunhams Lane.) The Belgian man who lived with us was called Verreyt and he used to work there. Sometimes he would be there for forty hours straight off working on the blast furnaces. In his own trade he was an architect at Malines in Belgium
I knew an old Belgian lady called “Granny” and she used to come to the butchers shop when we were in there. She said “English people are the laziest people going – absolutely -lazy none of them carry their own shopping home – they all have to have it sent !.” The Belgians had a horse flesh shop half way down The Wynd and Franklin’s Pet Shop at that time was the Belgian Grocer’s Shop.
My little brother used to play with some of the little Belgian boys who often used to smoke on the common. My mother used to say to my brother “now you are not to smoke if you go and play on the common” He said, “No” and then one day he came back crying and he said “I’ve been smoking and I feel sick “- he never smoked again !”
A second recollection
“My mothers people escaped from Belgium when the war broke out because the Germans were coming into Antwerp. We came to England on Christmas day in 1914 landing by boat in Harwich. They put us into what I thought was a college in Streatham, a girls college, but I found out later that it was a workhouse.
We moved to Letchworth in 1915 as Dad was in poor health having trouble with his stomach and the doctor advised to move out of London for the fresh air of the countryside.
My youngest sister already lived in Letchworth her family choosing the town because Kryn and Lahy was there and because other French and Belgian people also lived there. When we joined her our house was in Burnell Rise.
When we came out of the railway station I thought “oh what a place to come to. I’m being buried alive here.” There was nothing on that side but fields. On the Broadway just a mens outfitters and a little tea shop.
The attractions of Letchworth were many for my family being both
Quakers, vegetarian and forward thinking on many fronts. Charlie who was a qualified architect and surveyor obtained a position in the office of Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin”.
Standalone Farm was also occupied by Belgian Refugees during the 1914-18 war.