More than 250,000 Belgian refugees fled to the UK, escaping the fighting of the First World War. On Sunday 2nd August 1914, Albert, King of the Belgians, refused Germany permission to enter his country in order to attack France. From this day, Belgium was referred to by the British press as “Brave little Belgium”. From September, Belgian refugees were welcomed as ‘guests’ and provided with hospitality which, for those who needed it, meant all necessities were provided. So in 1914 the Bruce Cole Institute opened its doors to some of these refugees.
Throughout the years 1915 and 1916 the authorities were ever crying for more beds, and in response to this demand, more and more auxiliary Red Cross Hospitals were opened. In Bristol altogether there were eleven hospitals, Cleve Hill, Handel Cossham and Almondsbury, opened in 1914; Foye House, Kingsweston, the Homoeopathic Hospital, opened in 1915; the Bruce Cole Hospital, the Eye Hospital, the General Hospital and the Queen Victoria Hospital in 1916 ; and in 1917 the Ashton Court Hospital for officers.
The caption below the photograph says
"This photograph taken from the roof of the new No. 5 Block, gives a very good impression of the spaciousness of the ground, which has been described by an eminent Welfare authority as one of the finest and best equipped Industrial Recreation Grounds in England. The Imposing Institute, named after the late Mr. Bruce Cole, can be seen at the back.
During the war, it served first to house a number of Belgian refugees, and afterwards as a Military Hospital. In the foreground the newly erected Tennis Courts is shown to great advantage. The cricket match in progress is the Gloucestershire v Sussex match. It may be mentioned that the ground has become the recognised venue for a number of Gloucestershire's home fixtures."
We know that athletics, hockey, cricket, bowls, tennis and football all played a part in the history of Packer’s ground, but a lot of other events occurred regularly in the early years. The institute and ground has always been a focal point of the local community. Fund raising concerts, whist drives and recitals, often attended by the lord and lady mayor, happened. As did Christmas parties and other social events put on for the benefit of the chocolate factory workers. St John’s ambulance held their annual suppers and the Bristol Leather trades held their athletics meetings here.
During the 1920’s newspaper clippings show that the building and grounds were used by the local schools for exhibitions of work, eisteddfods and for sports days. An annual flower show, often opened by the Duchess of Beaufort, happened during the summer months. The West Country brass band area contest used the grounds.
Throughout the 20’s the institute was used for political meetings, both by the local MP and councillors.
The upstairs of the institute (our social club), was used to put on plays and there is still evidence of a projectionist room complete with fire door and window fire screens.
1931 was a significant time in the history of the pavilion. The corporation knocked the price down from £18K to £12K and bought the pavilion, five cottages and grounds. This covered a total area of just over 23 acres, where a portion was to be used to build an abattoir. I think this is now the East Park industrial site.
After the purchase by the city council the use of the pavilion and grounds continued as before, with the only change being the name, from the Bruce Cole Institute to the Whitehall Pavilion. In 1932 The Sanitary and Improvement Committee were prepared to receive offers to rent the Pavilion Whitehall Recreation Ground.
In 1935 St George School needed more classrooms and applied to use the pavilion as a centre for woodwork and cookery, as well as for dramatic use.
The above photograph shows the pavilion in all it's glory. Why was it allowed to get into such a state of disrepair.
The pavilion and grounds were used extensively during WW2. War lectures explaining air raid precautions were held in the pavilion. The ground was used for Home Guard parades, displays and inspections.
There is oral accounts that an air raid siren was situated on the building. In "Extracts from Memories of a Balloonatic" David Wintle" states "I soon ascertained that one balloon was on Packers Sports Field on Whitehall Road". This shows that a barrage balloon was situated in the grounds. The "Know Your Place" 1946 aerial view of the ground shows what could be the position of the balloon. This is now under the car park of the new changing rooms.
In 1976 Old Georgians Sports and Social Club which grew from the Georgian Old Boys Society took over the top floor of the pavilion for the benefit of the local community. The ground floor of the pavilion and the grounds continued being used and rented out by the city council.