Basque refugees: How Worthing people stepped up to help children fleeing the Spanish Civil War

The people of Worthing stepped up to help children escaping the Spanish Civil War 85 years ago, giving them a happy home with no support from the government.

Known as the 1937 Basque refugees, the 60 children came from Northern Spain to live in Beach House, Brighton Road, Worthing.

It was the people of Worthing, from all walks of life, who raised the money, provided the clothes and helped cater for all the children’s needs.

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That same year, more than 4,000 children came to the UK to escape the bombing and starvation in the Basque region. At the time, it was the biggest single influx of refugees the country had ever seen.

Christine Brown and Maria Teresa Grijalba unveiling the blue plaque at Beach House in May 2007. Picture: Gerald Thompson W21043H7

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Maria Teresa Grijalba was one of the children who came to Worthing. At the age of 85, she returned to Beach House to see a blue plaque unveiled in May 2007.

She was driven in a 1930s Southdown bus, similar to the one in which the children would have travelled to Worthing.

Being translated by her daughter, also called Maria Teresa, she told the Herald: “I was so happy here, and have good memories of the time I spent living in Beach House. It was hard to be away from my family but the people here were so generous and nice it made it much easier.”

The plaque, marking the 70th anniversary, reads: “In 1937 Beach House provided sanctuary for 60 refugee children from the Basque region of Spain, who came to Britain fleeing bombing and starvation after the distruction of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. They were supported and cared for entirely by local volunteers.”

It was funded by the Basque Children of ‘37 Association and unveiled by deputy Worthing mayor Christine Brown with Maria Teresa’s help.

Also at the ceremony was Bill Thornycroft, whose mother married one of the children’s wardens. He was involved with the campaign to get the plaque put up and in his speech, he highlighted the fact no government funding was provided for the children.

He said: “I think it is important that this history is remembered – it was an enormous achievement to provide for some 60 children with no funding from central government.”

The refugees remained in the area for a couple of years before the majority returned to Spain.

If you are interested in history, you may like to read about Lancing Carriage Works. CLICK here to find out how its closure affected people in the village