The British Welding Research Association (BWRA), a predecessor to today’s TWI Ltd, purchased Abington Hall in 1946 for £3850, with the surrounding land becoming the headquarters for both TWI and The Welding Institute.
Before this purchase by the BWRA, the land had been used by the military during the Second World War, with both British and overseas troops being billeted on the site as well as at the nearby village of Abington.
The Bertram family, who had been in residence at the Hall when the war broke out, soon moved to live in Devon during the war years, leaving Mr Raymond Lane in charge as bailiff. Mr Lane himself served in both World Wars, first in the army and then as an RAF plotter based at nearby Duxford.
The Military Arrives
Rumour had started to spread through Abington that the army was going to be stationed in the area and before long, lorries began to arrive and tents were erected in preparation for the arrival of the troops.
The London Irish Rifles Regiment were the first troops to arrive in the area, having walked from Cambridge station after coming back from Dunkirk. They were followed by the Royal Medical Corps, the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers, Lancers, Signals, the Canadian troops, Cameron Highlanders, and the Lothian Border Tanks Regiment. The tank regiment parked their tanks down Church Lane in Abington before heading off to join the fighting in the Middle East. The Duke of Gloucester while stationed in the area, where they dammed the river so they could test run their vehicles through three to four foot deep water, inspected the tank regiment.
While the troops found themselves camped out under canvas during the war, the officers were billeted in the Old House and Abington Lodge, as well as at Abington Hall itself. Hetty Pavitt (née Cutter), who lived in the area at the time, recalled delivering newspapers to the officers at Abington Hall, having cycled across the nearby meadows.
In addition, there were a number of Polish soldiers stationed at the Hall and camped in the gardens of the Old House for a short while, who were remembered as being “polite and well liked.” Canadian troops also passed through for a weekend of rest and recuperation, where they played softball and a group of Belgian soldiers also passed through before heading off to help relieve Brussels. Meanwhile, Italian prisoners of war were also put to work in the village and on nearby Grange Farm.
The U.S. 8th Army also spent time stationed in the grounds of Abington Hall ahead of the onset of D Day, with reports saying they enjoyed drinking in the local pubs – The Railway Inn at Pampisford, The Princess of Wales and The Crown. The Three Tuns pub in Abington was, however, the preserve of the officers in the area.
The Crown pub also acted as the section HQ for the local Home Guard, who manned a gun point to defend a bridge behind the Old House, while England cricketer Frank Woolley commanded an RAF searchlight battery at the park.
The War and the Local Community
Aside from the many troops who were stationed at and around the Hall, there were a number of incidents that impacted the local community. Air raid shelters were erected in the gardens of local people and there are reports of a bomb landing on the bridge between Great and Little Abington, another striking the road at the entrance to Abington Hall and a third bomb landing on the nearby North Road. Fortunately nobody was hurt by these bombs, but V1 and V2 rockets were sighted overhead by villagers.
Of course, a number of men went to fight in the war – joining the RAF, army and the Royal Navy, some of whom lost their lives while fighting. The local GP, Dr Wilson, also did his bit locally, training the Red Cross in first aid.
Clearing the Site
At the end of the war, the site was initially cleared by the Royal Pioneer Corps before a small group were formed to continue this work. Mr Tom Patten was released from his military service in November 1945 and joined this group to clear the site on June 1946 as the BWRA moved into Abington Hall.
Of course, as mentioned above, some of the army buildings were repurposed for use by the BWRA while other items, such as a searchlight battery on the site, were decommissioned. The upper floors of the Hall were converted into flats and the history of TWI and The Welding Institute at Abington near Cambridge had begun.
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