Sunday, 16 October 2016

Poles and off-licences

It’s strange how often news reports from the past seem to echo the present.

Many today have forgotten that the current influx of Poles into the UK isn’t the first. Large numbers of Poles settled in the UK after WW II, mostly because they didn’t fancy returned to a communist-controlled Poland. I knew vaguely about this, but not the details. I explain some of them after the article.


Morpeth Magistrates on Wednesday granted a request by Edward William Allen, 13 Castle Street, Morpeth, for bottled beer to be sold on the premises known as Morpeth Common Camp Stores. Representing the applicant, Mr. J. Kent told the court that the present residents of Crash Camp were 60 per cent Polish and 40 per cent English.

Since Mr. Allen opened the shop four weeks ago there had been a weekly increase in his sales. He had been approached by both Poles and Englishmen with a view to selling bottled beer. Until Mr. Allen had opened the shop nearly all of the shopping had to done in Morpeth. This meant either walking across fields or going a longer way round by road.

Mr. Kent went to tell the court that the Poles often preferred to drink beer in their own homes rather than going out to public houses. If drink was the cause of trouble in the camp, it would have happened long before now. When questioned by Superintendant Goodfellow, Mr. Allen replied that at present he was under a weekly tenancy. The premises were partitioned off so as allow room for storage, a relative of his also occupied part of the premises. Mr. Allen stated that his sister would take charge of the store while he was elsewhere. The superintendant asked if he thought it would be alright to leave his sister in charge of the stores when 60 per cent of the camp residents were Poles. Mr. Allen said it was alright.

When the superintendant asked the applicant if he knew there were more people in Stobhillgate than at the Crash Camp, Mr. Allen said he knew, but the folk Stobhillgate could visit Morpeth or a public house much more conveniently than those at the Crash Camp.

Mr. Robert Scott Powers, an employee of Morpeth Council who lives at the Crash Camp, took the stand.

He told the court that there were 147 huts in the camp and about 147 families. The greater majority of the families were Polish. There had only been, in Mr. Powers’ opinion, one serious incident at the camp in which the police had to informed. Mr. Powers told the court that the English and Polish families got along well together. but the Poles mostly kept to themselves.

Superintendent Good fellow asked Mr. Powers if he took drink, to which he replied he did. Mr. Powers said he had never tried to order beer, but had recently put in order for mineral waters to be delivered to him from Morpeth. This had been refused because his was in an awkward delivery area.

Superintendant W. Goodfellow said he opposed the application. The huts were only under a weekly agreement and could be terminated at any time. As regards the dwellings they could be done away with at any time the Ministry of Health required.

Mr. Kent reminded the superintendant that most council houses came under agreement where they could be terminated at a week’s notice. It was the Ministry of Works and not the Ministry of Health who had authority to close the camp. This action was not at all probable as alternative accommodation for 500 people could not easily be found.

Supt. Goodfellow continued and stated that the premises in which the beer was proposed to be sold were not suitable. "If Stobhillgate can manage without an off-licence store, then surely the Crash Camp can. If a licence was granted to every 300 inhabitants I don't know what would happen,” said, the Superintendent. Then he continued "If the people at the Crash Camp want beer in their homes they could the same as many other people do and have it delivered.”

The magistrates granted the licence condition that Mr. Allen would undertake only to sell bottled beer.”
Morpeth Herald - Friday 24 February 1950, page 1.

The Crash Camp was a resettlement camp for Poles in a former army camp on the outskirts of Morpeth. It operated between 1947 and 1962 with families living in huts. Eventually they were all rehoused into proper homes. The name Crash is an acronym of one of the army units that had been stationed there: County Regiment of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. There’s a personal account of life in the camp here:

It sounds like it turned into a small Polish town with a chapel, club and community centre. And obviously a licensed grocers, too. The camp was demolished in 1964 and Craik Park is now on the site.

Personally I’m amazed people were still living in army huts in 1962.


Matt said...

I went to a wedding do at a Polish Catholic club in Birmingham earlier this year. It was set up by people who stopped on here after the war and up until a few years ago there were worries that it'd close as the founders were all getting old. Happily, the place is now buzzing with young people and has added a bar, restaurant, advice centre, shops and hairdressing salon.

StuartP said...

I used to work with a chap who's parents arrived from Poland in the wartime wave.
Even in the pre-Glasnost days of the Iron Curtain, you could catch a bus in Swindon that took you to Warsaw.