London Welsh Centre

london_welsh_centreIs a community and arts centre owned and run by the London Welsh Trust. The Centre is a base for three choirs: the London Welsh Chorale, the Gwalia Male Voice Choir and the London Welsh Male Voice Choir. The Centre also hosts Welsh language classes, concerts, drama productions, the Young Welsh Singer of the Year Competition, the London Welsh School’s Eisteddfod y Plant, literary events, discussion programmes, and a variety of other events. The Centre was built to provide a home for the Young Wales Association (YWA), which later became the London Welsh Association and is now the London Welsh Trust.

The Young Wales Association was founded on 21 October 1920 at the Portman Rooms, Baker Street, when more than 400 members of the London Welsh community attended a meeting presided over by Margaret Lloyd George (who became the YWA’s first President). The YWA was founded partly as a tribute to the dead of the First World War but mainly as a meeting place for young Welsh migrants. It was registered as a company limited by guarantee in March 1925 under the title of “Young Wales Association (London) Limited” and later changed its name to the London Welsh Association Limited. The London Welsh Trust was established in 1964.

During the first decade of its life, the YWA lacked a permanent home. Meetings were held first in a little café in Villiers Street, then in the premises of Gwilym Thomas at 26 Upper Montagu Street and later at the Hotel Somerset. At a lunch hosted by Picton Davies at one of his hotels in July 1928, the Rt. Hon Lord Atkin and the Rt. Hon David Lloyd George spoke in support of a movement to provide headquarters for the Young Wales Association in London. As a result, Sir Howell J. Williams, a building contractor and LCC member, purchased a site of just over 15,000 square feet (1,400 m) bounded by Doughty Street and Mecklenburgh Square on the West and Gray’s Inn Road on the East, and offered it as a free gift to the Young Wales Association. These premises were formally opened by Margaret Lloyd George on 29 November 1930. Coincidentally, the site was almost exactly opposite that in Gray’s Inn Road which had been occupied from 1772 to 1857 by the Welsh Charity School.

Sir Howell J. Williams later rebuilt the properties that fronted on to Gray’s Inn Road and completed the main hall of the current London Welsh Centre. These new premises were formally handed over by Sir Howell J. Williams on 5 November 1937. They contained a large lounge, tea room, billiard room and gym In the Second World War it was used by Welsh military passing through London (as well as a few Canadian). It also hosted entertainment such as dances and was used by a Welsh chapel (Eglwys Jewin) for Sunday services when their own premises near the present Barbican site were bombed in December 1940. This was later rebuilt on Fann Street.

The properties on Doughty Street and Mecklenburgh Square have since been sold off for residential use, but the premises fronting on to Gray’s Inn Road remain in use as the modern day London Welsh Centre. It has a. The bar at the Centre was officially opened by Harry Secombe on 17 March) 1971. The building is in the Holborn conservation area. The Centre seeks to promote the arts (primarily Welsh art and culture) and provide facilities for local community use. The current President since 2008 is BBC journalist and newsreader Huw Edwards.

Steve

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