Skip to main content

Evacuation during the Second World War

Just before the outbreak of the Second World War an evacuation plan was put in place. In July 1939, four tin boxes of documents were taken to the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

The tin boxes contained the documents previously displayed in the Library of the House of Lords (such as the death warrant of Charles I and the Petition of Right) and a collection of iconic records from the Tower, such as the remaining Naseby letters.

In May 1940, about nine tons of documents were moved to a depository in Elstree provided by the Office of Works. The building was far from satisfactory, and it was even nearly demolished by enemy action on one occasion.

Laverstoke House

In January 1941, the Office of Works required the Elstree building for other purposes. The documents were then moved in two loads to Laverstoke House (the residence of Lord Portal in Hampshire) in March. They occupied a large amount of space in his living rooms, and even the drawing-room and billiard-room.

The documents first transferred to Laverstoke included the original Acts of Parliament to William III, the House of Lords Main Papers and the Main Parchment Collection to the 18th centuries.

From April to June 1941, three further batches were shifted including more original Acts to 1757, ordinances, committee books, minute books and manuscript journals, and a complete set of the printed Rolls of Parliament. They were crammed into some 400 wooden cases, where they remained until the end of the war.

Bravery at Victoria Tower

A dramatic scene also unfolded at Victoria Tower during the war. When a fire bomb landed on the roof of the Tower, Police Sergeant Andrew Forbes, failing to find the key to the spiral staircase, bravely climbed the scaffolding around the Tower with a sandbag on his shoulder in just 20 minutes.

Forbes was about to fling his sandbag on the fire when a jet of water extinguished the flames. At the same time that Forbes made his climb, firemen had gained access to the staircase and were racing up the roof.

Did you know?

Laverstoke Park is now an organic farm and biodiversity education centre

Also in this section