Delving into the Senate House’s WWII accounts


While most administrative staff were sent to work from alternate offices during World War II, attendants, engineers and catering staff still provided services in the building. Maintenance minutes from the war years shed light on the operation of the university during that turbulent time, and the dusty tomes unveil some interesting stories.

Destiny determined for vermin in Senate House

An unfortunate rat infestation was discovered inside Senate House in May 1941, and a call to eradicate the pests was instructed by the maintenance officer. The extermination process was agreed at a cost of 25 guineas (£26.25) for a three-month intensive treatment, and 5 guineas (£5.25) thereafter for nine months.

The university engineer reported that after two months’ treatment Arnold Products Ltd “had tackled the job in a business-like manner and produced effectiveness of their treatment”.

It was undoubtedly a pressured time to be working in Senate House, but to add to the tensions a bug infestation broke out. An investigation uncovered the origins of infiltration to the mattresses in the basement air raid shelter. It was thought that people entering the building had inadvertently brought in the bugs which they’d picked up from the upholstery on tube carriages.

These infestations weren’t uncommon, for months bugs and fleas had been rampant across London. Half the population of Greater London encountered bed bugs at some point during the year, and in some areas, nearly all households were affected to some extent (Ministry of Health 1934, Hartnack 1939, Harvey 1940).

The treating of the bunks and mattresses in the basement of Senate House was recommended and fumigation took place immediately.

Carpet commissioned but insurance mite be an issue

Before the war broke out a green “Kaltonah” Wilton carpet was commissioned for the Senate House entrance hall and staircase at a cost of £149.18.5 – approximately £75,000 today.

Whilst the MOI was in residence the carpet was being stored by Messrs, Heal and Son. The firm proposed to insure it against fire, sprinkler leakage or storm flood but were unable to accept responsibility for a possible moth attack.

Despite the mite issue, the maintenance committee agreed to pay a ‘post-war insurance price’ of £300 (premium £1.10 per annum).

Office in the Ministry of Information

Richmond College “girls” deemed successful gardeners

An agreement was made by the university to include the upkeep of the gardens at Richmond College whilst they were in residence.

In 1942 the former gardeners of the grounds had to leave for National Service so the university hired Land Girls to take their place.  It was reported that the women had proved a great success with the head gardener being “well satisfied with their work”.

That spring the football field was ploughed to take potatoes, cabbages and other vegetables which were to provide a useful supply for the winter months.

The balance sheets revealed that the kitchen gardens were virtually self-supporting. The expenditure, including the gardeners’ wages, seeds and the cottage utilities amounted to £472.19.9, whilst the market value of produce supplied to the College kitchen and Senate House totalled £472.19.9.

Full use of the ‘Kitchen Gardens’ continued throughout the war. Quantities of jam were made to ‘augment the ration’, fruit was bottled for the winter months and chickens were kept. During 1943 2,141 eggs were laid, of which a number had been preserved. The produce remained solely for the staff at the College and Senate House.