A Christmas tale (in August)

As part of our Heritage Project we invited Double Elephant to lead a print workshop with our residents. Double Elephant are a printing company based at Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre. They offer courses, resources and support to budding artists and professionals and they are passionate about people of all ages enjoying the benefits of print making.

During the afternoon workshop, our residents were given a lesson in printing and then got to have a go themselves! Using inspiration from the stunning stain-glass windows and backdrop of St Stephen’s Church (where YMCA Exeter held services in the 1930’s!) our residents were able to create imaginative designs which not only capture the fascinating history of our city but also bring that history to life for the 21st century.  The designs will be turned into Christmas cards and sold to raise funds for YMCA Exeter later in the year.

Special thanks to the team at Double Elephant, you are a joy to work with!



Photo courtesy of www.yretired.co.uk

During WW2 YMCA Exeter once again opened up our doors to soldiers who were travelling through the city and needed a place to stay. We also provided meals and helped soldiers find shelter through a B&B service by putting them in touch with local people who had spare
bedrooms they could offer.

However, when the bombs fell on Exeter during the night of the 3rd & 4th May, 1942, YMCA’s headquarters at King’s Lodge were completely destroyed. For over 50 years the lodge had been YMCA Exeter’s home, located just behind the High Street, where Clark’s now is. It provided countless people with a place to stay, to meet and make new friends.

Despite being victims of war, YMCA Exeter still rallied the local community together to provide support for civilians who too had been displaced by the bombings. Working with the Women’s Auxillary, when the blitz sirens stopped, we travelled around Devon in canteen vans to offer essential food and drink to people affected by war. Whether this was tea or corned beef
sandwiches, YMCA’s support was vital in helping communities rebuild their lives.

From fancy frocks to military precision canapes, BBC Spotlight to WW1 renditions, Tuesday 4th July saw the launch of our two month exhibition in Exeter Library.

Attended by over 60 people, including the Bishop of Exeter and the Mayor Exeter, the event took guests on a unique journey of discovering of 170 years of YMCA Exeter history.

So whether you have 15 minutes from your lunch break or are a regular at the Exeter Library do take some time to look at our exhibition in the foyer and discovery your local YMCA like never before.

Special thanks to Exeter Cookery School for the canapes and Nettl of Exeter for the photo montage.

YMCA & World War 1

At the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, YMCA Exeter became particularly active, both at home and on the front.

At home, YMCA Exeter opened its doors to all serviceman who could stay at the YMCA for as long as they needed. Some were travelling home, some were making the first steps of their journey to the continent. Whatever people’s need, YMCA was passionate about meeting it, whether that was by providing writing materials for soldiers to write letters home to loved ones, or picking up soldiers from the railway stations.

Out on the front, Westcountry vicar, Reverend John J. Haworth, travelled to France to serve as a Padre with the YMCA. He kept journals of his time in the trenches and in 1917 wrote this about life in the YMCA huts:

“The sleeping quarters [were] small but full of good things. [They were] a shelter where men could sit and eat their cakes, drink tea and then have a chat. Without the YMCA life in the rest camps would become utterly wearisome, even injurious to the men.”

Haworth’s descendents still live in Exeter to this day and remain actively involved with the YMCA. The photo above is of Rev. John J. Haworth in his uniform for the 51st Division of Highlanders.

Photo courtesy of the Shipton family

Masterchef eat your heart out

On Tuesday we had the pleasure of welcoming Jim and Lucy Fisher from Exeter Cookery School to lead our weekly Food Hub.

On the menu? Shepherd’s Pie and Syrup Sponge Pudding! Hmmmmm….

But not only did Jim & Lucy teach us how to make this delicious English recipe, they also taught us about how food has developed over time. From using different cuts of meat and sourcing easily obtainable ingredients, to learning how sugar and salt have changed our taste buds over the years, we got a real insight into how food is more diverse now than it ever has been.

Book yourself onto a course at Exeter Cookery School at www.exetercookeryschool.co.uk, we can very highly recommend!

A trip back in time

Exeter’s Underground Passages are almost 800 years old and are an incredible testament to the magnificent city we live in. Last week, we took a group of our young people to look around them…

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Exeter Blitz, we (YMCA Exeter residents and staff) were given a specially themed tour of the passages, with sound effects and all!

We began the tour in pitch black, with nothing but a small flickering light to navigate the way. The atmosphere was truly eerie and one which helped us understand what it might have felt like that fateful night in May 1942 when Extonians raced into the Underground Passages to shelter from the air raid.

Learning about what happened that night as well as experiencing some of the conditions people used to live in, our trip to the passages was truly an incredible experience enjoyed by the whole group. But enough of our words… let the photos speak for themselves!

Special thanks to Exeter City Council for the tour and the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting this great opportunity.


Another week – another story. This week… the YWCA.

One of the most common questions we are asked here at the YMCA Heritage Project is… Was the YWCA founded by George William’s wife and are you the same? Well, wouldn’t that make a great story!? Unfortunately, the answer is no…

Started during the mid 1800’s by two ladies in London, Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird and Emma Robarts, two distinct movements were founded which both called themselves the Young Women’s Christian Association.



One provided accommodation for nurses in the city, and the other was a society offering female servants with a safe and moral place to read the bible (the latter sound familiar to anyone?). Eventually, after learning about each other, they decided to combine their efforts and today they exist as ‘The World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA)’, a global movement working for women’s empowerment, leadership and rights in over 120 countries around the world.

Nonetheless, our histories, though unique, do collide. During the night of May 4th & 5th, 1942, Exeter’s YWCA lost their home in Dix’s Field due to the Blitz – the same bombing in which YMCA lost King’s Lodge. After both our centres were lost, YMCA and YWCA rallied together to run joint socials for their members, supporting each other during tough times. It was then decided in 1952 that the two associations would occupy the same premises at 41 St David’s Hill, due to “a demand from the younger members of the (YMCA) Association to have girls in for certain activities, and as the Y.M.C.A. could offer better facilities for the members of the Y.W.C.A.”


So, whilst Mrs William’s didn’t found the YWCA and we remain two independent organisations, our stories do overlap in Exeter and both organisations are still thriving over 70 years on from that fateful night in 1942.



YMCA Exeter needs you! (and any YMCA related artefacts you may have!)


In preparation for our exhibition in Exeter Library in July and August we are looking for any old photos, artefacts, or memories the local community has of our history.


To date we only have a few treasured gems from our past, like this wonderful journal which found its way to us after surviving the trenches in 1917. Belonging to YMCA Padre, Reverend John James Haworth, the journal is full to the brim with insights on the impact of YMCA on the front line.

We also have this gorgeous triangle pin from 1917, another item owned by the Reverend, and together with the journal has seen a lot of remarkable history.

YMCA badge from 1917, 100 years old! #ymca #heritage #Exeter #Local #history #WWI #1917

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From our more recent days, we have this photoboard from which we have been able to put faces to all the names in our dusty archival minutes! A man called Bob Whitchurch helped to orchestrate the revival of the YMCA and the St. David’s Hill rebuilding in the late 80‘s and early 90’s and he has generously lent us this photo board for the exhibition



Another gem we have can be found in a very old YMCA newsletter, it is a drawing of our previous home at King’s Lodge. This is one of the only pictures we have of the headquarters that served us so well for half a century, until the beautiful building was lost in the Blitz.

So why do we need you?


To make our monumental exhibition even more unique we need more gems like those already mentioned. No matter how small or insignificant it may seem you – an old YMCA badge, a 15-year-old YMCA newsletter, or a photo of a distant relative who was a YMCA trustee – these artefacts each have a story to tell and we want to tell them!


So, if you have anything you would like to share with us, or indeed you have a story to tell that we can capture in words, then please get in touch! You can leave your comments below, email sam.rainbow@ymcaexeter.org.uk or ring the YMCA Exeter Heritage team on 01392 410530 ext. 217.

YMCA Exeter Mysteries: King’s Lodge

Did you know that King’s Lodge was the home to YMCA Exeter in the 1940’s, where we used to run loads of different activities such as a billiards hall and an extensive library? But, where was King’s Lodge we hear you ask? Well, on Kings Alley of course! Yet for us involved in the Heritage Project, finding King’s Alley in Exeter was not quite as simple a task as you would think…


What we do know:

  1. King’s Lodge was on King’s Alley
  2. King’s Lodge was blitzed to rubble on 4th May 1942
  3. King’s Alley was on, off, or near Exeter high street – the area affected by the blitz

Blitx map C Ex Mem.JPG

As you may know, Exeter is an ancient city, meaning that lots of the streets emerged organically rather than in a structured and planned manner. This results in two things…


Firstly, odd little streets like Parliament Street in Exeter that is about 0.64 metres (2 ft 1 in) at its narrowest, approximately 1.22 metres (4 ft 0 in) at its widest and only 50 metres (160ft) in length!


Secondly, some old streets are not recorded on many maps, so whilst King’s Alley was presumably wider than Parliament Street, we just couldn’t find it on any of the maps we had.


Historical research is, if nothing else, essentially detective work. Unfortunately, detective work in real life is rarely as glamorous or exciting as television and movies would have you believe – although thankfully gun fights over historical resources are also less common.


The detective work, in this case, was done by Tom Browne, Senior Fundraiser and research enthusiast at YMCA Exeter.


Tom discovered that before YMCA Exeter lived at King’s Lodge in 1892, it had previously been the site of a day and boarding school ran by headmaster, Mr Quicke. Quicke had established the school in 1797 specifically for young boys in the area. Going through the story, Tom then found that Mr Quicke was living at King’s Lodge in 1851, where the address in the census was given as, “King’s Ally, St Stephen’s, Exeter”.


Lightbulb moment!


Part serendipity, part hard work, we found our answer. King’s Lodge was located on the opposite side of the High Street to St Stephen’s Church. The physical location of King’s Lodge might seem a trivial matter but this building was our headquarters for 50 years. The building gave the YMCA a real home in Exeter from which we could engage with the community, provide a place for young men to meet, and help the community through the First World War and a significant portion of the Second – until it was blitzed!

Blitz showing SSTephans.JPG



WWI Front Lines

Following on from last week with our WWI time frame, this week we want to look at all the work the YMCA did beyond Exeter. Money raised on the Homefront often went to fund YMCA Huts on the front lines.

But what were YMCA Huts? Huts were, well – huts. Tents, small structures where soldiers on leave could go to recuperate from the horrors of the trenches. There were cakes, and tea, and sometimes even music. Huts provided a lot of for soldiers on the Warfront – simple things like free writing paper and envelopes so that soldiers could write home, or a quiet place to sit and chat.

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We are very lucky to have access to the diary of Reverend John J. Haworth. The Diary has been lent to us by one of his descendants who still supports YMCA today.  The reverend was ordained at Exeter Cathedral in 1903 and in 1917 he was serving in France as a YMCA Padre. Commenting in the pages of his diary he comments that without the YMCA Huts life in the rest camps would have “become utterly wearisome, even injurious to the men”

As useful as the YMCA Huts were to soldiers it was not all we provided. The aim of the YMCA on the front was described in 1915 as “to carry the principles for which it stands into the Army, and help the men become more fit in spirit, mind and body. It has provided huts, tents, and workers at every military camp, and it has extended its labours to the front, where they are of the greatest value.” (Devon & Exeter Gazette 31.5.1915)

As we learned last week, YMCA Exeter opened accommodation up to any servicemen in uniform. Regarding this undertaking Mr Walker King, the President of YMCA Exeter at the time, revealed something else about the people of the YMCA – “Within six months of the outbreak of war every eligible member of the Exeter Y.M.C.A. joined the forces without waiting to be called upon to do so.”

Serving in the army, providing workers for military camps, funding and running huts, on the front lines –YMCA Exeter was there.