1887/0/10021 CRANLEIGH ROAD
15-JAN-07 Combined Dining Hall and Kitchen at Sa
Combined Dining Hall and Kitchen at Sayers Croft, a World War II evacuee camp, 1940, T.S. Tait of Burnet, Tait and Lorne.
MATERIALS: Walls of Canadian Red Cedar boarding, erected on a foundation of concrete posts. The roofs are covered in cedar shingles.
PLAN: The dining hall is rectangular, symetrical with small square rooms at either end, each with their own entrance, and slightly smaller rectangular kitchen attached to the rear. Centrally placed in the long elevation opposite the kitchen is a porch with opposing doors in its side elevations.
EXTERIOR: The dining hall and kitchen was constructed from prefabricated wall units formed of 4" x 2" studs diagonally braced, faced with rebated cedar weatherboarding. These were erected directly on the floor joists, on a foundation of concrete posts cast in situ and sunk to a depth of 3ft at 6ft centres along the length of the building: the floors were also built in situ.
The main symmetrical long elevation of the dining hall has tall four-paned windows narrowly spaced at regular intervals, five either side of the porch, which is also lit by windows to the front. The main entrance into the dining hall is through the opposing doors in the porch. On either side of the porch is a veranda which runs the length of the building. The end rooms have three paned windows placed side by side. The kitchen's rear long elevation has pairs of two paned windows regularly and closely spaced, its side elevation a block of four two paned windows. The dining hall and kitchen have separate pitched roofs with raised vents on the apex, one centrally placed on the kitchen, one at either end of the dining hall roof, which also has a chimney at either end. The roofs of the small side rooms are flat.
INTERIOR: The interior of the dining hall was originally a single open space, but the serving area has been pushed out from the kitchen into the body of the hall. This is the only change, apart from the possible addition of a door into the tuck room: a door at the opposite end of the hall gives access to the other room. The ceiling and roof are lent support by angled braces placed between the windows.
The most remarkable feature of the room is the two murals painted above the fireplaces at either end of the hall. These depict, respectively, the life of the camp and its activities in summer and in winter. These were designed and executed by the boys.
HISTORY: As part of the Governments programme, drawn up in 1938, to protect vulnerable civilian populations in the event of war, it was proposed that children should be moved with their schools to camps purpose built around vulnerable cities. On April 4th 1939 the Board of the National Camps Corporation met for the first time, a month before it was formally established by Act of Parliament under the Camps Act. It was initially proposed that about fifty permanent educational camps would be built to house 348 children each, with the capacity to house more in the case of emergency: in time of peace the camps would continue to be used to provide education in a rural setting for urban children. In the event the construction of each camp proved more expensive than anticipated, and only about thirty three were built. The first camp, at Laverstoke, Overton, Hants, was completed in October 1939. Sayers Croft was ready for occupation in April 1940, when the boys from Catford Central and Brownhill Schools from London moved from their temporary billets in Ashford, Kent. All camps consisted of the same elements and number of buildings, including accommodation huts, washblocks, administrative and class rooms. The dining hall and kitchen block, and the assembly hall, were at the heart of the site. At Sayers Croft the huts are arranged on either side of Thornhurst Brook, with staff, administration and dining hall on the south east side, and children's domestic accommodation, assembly hall and play areas on the other; a bridge connects the two.
Although the construction of the camps was an immediate solution to a particular problem, it was also part of longer term social strategy to deal with the effects of urban poverty: as part of the existing policy to provide rural health and education to deprived city children, it was envisaged that their use would continue in peacetime, as indeed it did, proving to be adaptable to changing social conditions. Several camps survived as educational establishments, including Sayers Croft, which remained in the ownership of a succession of London Authorities, serving London schools. In recent years, in order to remain viable, the field centre has extended its services to other authorities, organisations and groups to provide a wider range of courses and activities.
Dobinson C.S. 2000 Twentieth Century Fortifications in England Vol VIII Civil defence in World War II Protecting England's Civilian Population.
Camps for Peace or War. Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects Aug 1939 pp929-936
The Architect and Builders News 1939 Vol 159 pp150-152 and 160-163
Sayers Croft website: http://www.sayers-croft.org.uk/
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: T.S. Tait's designs for prefabricated huts for evacuee camps erected to house and educate vulnerable urban children were not only innovative and successful, they have a strong aesthetic which is particularly well illustrated in the combined dining hall and kitchen building at Sayers Croft. Although this building would have been replicated at all the evacuee camps in England and Wales, the very few camps that remain survive only in a much altered and fragmentary form. Not only does this building demonstrate the flexible use of all elements of Tait's design, it has the distinction of housing two fine examples of war art, murals designed and executed by the boys depicting aspects of life at the camp in winter and summer respectively. These are painted on the walls above the fireplace at either end of the hall: in 1998 they were included on the United Kingdom national inventory of War Memorials. However, the value of Sayers Croft lies not only in Tait's designs for the individual huts, but in the camp's unique survival as a whole, and in its history. These are best represented in the totality of its structures.
This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 6 December 2016.