UNTIL recently the London-based fashion brand Burberry believed that records marked “Winchester” referred to the premises of the firm that were once situated in Winchester Street, Basingstoke, where the firm started.

Memories from Southampton resident Colin Grant sparked detective work that has shown, however, beyond any doubt that the company had a factory with access from Staple Gardens, Winchester, probably making its iconic trench coats during WWI. It had probably ceased use by Burberry in about 1926. Formerly it had been the site of a Victorian gasworks, a bakery and a Co-operative Dairy.

A year before the start of WWII Burberry sold the premises to Hampshire County Council, to house a printing works and later a library store. Now owned by A2Dominion (a successor to Winchester Housing Association), which has a portfolio of social housing premises, it was let in 1996 on a long lease to the Winchester Churches Nightshelter.

It was developed by the Winchester and District Housing Association and opened, with the assistance free of charge of removers Pickfords, in September 1997 by Baptist minister, Rev Paul Hill.

Daily Echo:

The clinching evidence of the Burberry link came when WCNS chief executive Michèle Price found a mention in the lease of a conveyance of April 17, 1938, between Burberrys Limited and the “County Council of the County of Southampton”, which was the name of the county council until 1959. A Burberry minute book confirms that at a meeting of March 29, 1938, the sale was approved.

Commenting on the record, Burberry said: “It did not give any further details as to what it was [being used] for by 1938 but there are no records of us leasing it which suggests that it was used as a Burberry site of some sort – whether that be a factory, or if demand had decreased in the interwar period, possibly even a warehouse.

“We had a factory at Reading situated on Mill Lane committed to the manufacture of raincoats and a cleaning works, which opened in 1914. In 1916 we offered serving military personnel a complimentary cleaning and reproofing service of Burberry coats, which is likely to have taken additional capacity at the Reading site. This possibly goes some way to explain why we needed an additional factory at Winchester, together with the fact that the demand for Burberry weatherproof coats also significantly increased during the First World War.”

Daily Echo:

Photographs of the Burberry factory show long ranks of women working at sewing machines in a building similar to the present WCNS building. Michèle said: “When we looked at photos of the building which we took over it was obviously the one that Burberry had used. But we had no idea of this until we took a close look at our lease.”

WCNS was founded in 1988 to support the growing number of people in the Winchester area who were experiencing homelessness. It followed the election of a Conservative government and the Housing Act 1980 and later legislation which brought in the right to buy.

It was a perfect storm for homelessness. The stock of council houses declined by one-third, employment reached three million and the price of houses rose faster than wages. By 1986 there were 2,000 people on the local waiting list and in the 1987 International Year of Shelter for the Homeless plans were made to remedy the situation at a conference in Winchester.

This led to the Winchester Churches Housing Group and WCNS was initiated with a “winterwatch” function and supported until it had been firmly established as a year-round facility and became a charity in its own right. Originally providing short-term shelter in church halls and vacant properties in the city, in 1997 it moved into the former Burberry factory with access from Jewry Street.

Daily Echo:

Michèle commented: “Over the last 30 years, Winchester Churches Nightshelter has helped thousands of people to escape the cycle of homelessness. Not only does the charity provide a safe place to stay but its wide-ranging and specialist one-to-one support gives people the opportunity to make positive steps forward.

“There are ten bedrooms on site as well as two separate four-bedroom supported housing projects nearby and prior to the pandemic they were housing 25 people every night in the three different locations – some staying for as long as three years. Last year, the Nightshelter accommodated 116 people and 69% moved onto to planned accommodation.

“Due to careful planning, the Nightshelter has managed to stay open throughout the pandemic and has adapted to become a 24/7 service allowing residents to stay safe on site. The charity is now looking to the future and considering making more permanent changes to the building to potentially allow self-contained rooms with bathroom facilities.

“This would not only make it more secure against any future pandemics but would also provide residents with more privacy and independence. More plans regarding the proposed changes will be revealed at the charity’s virtual AGM on Monday November 9 at 6.45pm.”

Daily Echo:

Contacts: www.wcns.org.uk and admin@wcns.org.uk. For more information on Hampshire, visit: www.hampshirearchivestrust.co.uk.