Child refugees from the Spanish Civil War: a scrapbook tells a story

Online exhibition, Marx Memorial Library

The aerial bombardment of Spanish towns by German and Italian planes during the Spanish Civil War prompted the co-ordination of an unprecedented mass-evacuation of refugee children. 4,000 arrived in Britain in 1937. Deprived of support from the British government, the children were cared for in ‘colonies’ across the UK supported entirely by volunteers in the local community. 

The Marx Memorial Library's Spanish Collection is the largest archive and library on the British response to the Spanish Civil War in the UK. One of the treasures of the collection is a contemporary scrapbook compiled of documents, photographs, children’s notes and news cuttings which vividly encapsulates the lived experiences of a community of refugees resident at colonies in Worthing, particularly Penstone House. This album has now been digitised and is available to view online for the first time.

The scrapbook reveals that the 'colony' at Penstone House opened immediately after the arrival of the refugees in May 1937, housing around 40 children - a majority girls. It was closed in October 1939, with all but six of the refugees returning to Spain. Mrs G Moreton, the warden, made the property available, and Mr and Mrs Omegna oversaw the care of the refugees during their time in the UK. A Brighton and Hove Basque Refugee Committee - with the Thornycroft family heavily involved - played a major part in fundraising for the upkeep of the children. There were other 'colonies' in the area including one at Beech House and another at Hove which also feature in the scrapbook.

Browse the online exhibition here: