Our Ark

Pax Lodge History - Our Ark Section.jpgBy the early 1930s, there were more than one million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts around the world within the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. A World Bureau for the Association had recently been established in London and it was becoming apparent that the Girl Guides who visited London needed a place to stay. The World Bureau regularly received requests for accommodation and during the World Committee meeting in Scotland in July 1937 the idea of a World Centre in London was discussed.

The Committee agreed that a Guide hostel should be built in London. It also decided that the World Bureau would need more space and there would be many advantages of building the World Bureau and World Centre next to each other. Dame Katherine Furse, the first director of the World Bureau, became the driving force behind the project and wrote to all the member countries of the World Association about the proposals.

The new centre, of course, could not be built without money.

Our Ark postcardSo Dame Katherine launched the ‘Pennies Appeal’ in her Thinking Day letter to the WAGGGS member countries. "We already have £300 to enable the office to start in its new premises…but we need money to provide the house…If every Brownie, Guide, Ranger and Old Guide…would send us one penny on Thinking Day we should receive 1,320,000 pennies, or £5,500. Just think what a world house we could set up with that!"

On 22 February 1938, the pennies began to pour in and soon there were enough to purchase the chosen site: three houses on Palace Street, one of which was to become the World Bureau, with the remaining two forming London’s first World Centre. Our Ark, 11-13 Palace Street, London.

Our Ark paintingThe Palace Street houses had been built in the 17th century over the Tatchbrook – one of the many streams used to flow out to join the River Thames, but which are now hidden beneath the paving stones of London. The buildings were in a convenient, central location, across the road from the side entrance to the British Guide Headquarters and very close to Buckingham Palace. From the windows, Her Majesty’s Footguards could be seen marching by.

The first guests started to arrive a few months before the official opening. In line with the international emphasis of the World Centre, the very first visitor was the Swiss wife of an Englishman who led an American Girl Scout troop in Peking. On 2 May 1939, the WAGGGS’ second World Centre (the first being Our Chalet in Adelboden, Switzerland) was ready. Guides from Hungary, India, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, and the USA formed a guard of honour to welcome Lady Bowater, Lady Mayoress of London, who performed the official opening ceremony. Our Ark was created to be a place where Guides
from all countries could meet and feel at home.

Our Ark remained open throughout the Second World War, becoming a safe haven for many Guides and Scouts from across the world. By the end of the war, Our Ark had already established a few special traditions. Flags were kept on tables to represent the various nationalities present, visitors could come for house tours, the staff had animal nicknames, and rooms were named after countries or places which had helped pay for the furnishings.