THE HISTORY OF SHREWSBURY HOUSE
The original Shrewsbury House was built around 1789 and did not stand on the site of the current building it was situated slightly further north where numbers 21 and 23 Mereworth now stand with its grounds covering Shrewsbury Park and what is now the Laing Estate.
In 1891 it became the Crole Wyndham Home for Convalescent Children Shrewsbury House itself continued to be the Crole Wyndham Home up to 1916 when a Miss Garside was the Matron but after this date it seems to have remained empty.
It was in dire need of rescue and probably going to ruin Eventually Mr Fred Halse bought the southern half of the property that is the part now covered by the Laing Estate Having been a builder Mr Halse was able to assess the condition of the old house He decided that the best thing to do was to demolish it.
In 1923 Mr F W T Halsey JP was the owner of a new Shrewsbury House It had up~todate services including electric light and was easier to heat In spite of being modern it had some traditional features such as wooden panelling in many of the ground floor rooms and the entrance hall According to English Heritage there is suspicion that parts of the new house such as the front and rear porticos were transferred from the old building.
His new house with its beautifully cultivated grounds was the venue for several garden parties to raise funds for the Conservative Party. In 1934 Shrewsbury House and one acre of ground surrounding it was bought by Woolwich Council for £9000.
The rest of the remaining grounds were sold for housing development which we now know as the Laing Estate This estate was constructed in 1936 It was intended that the house should become a Library and Museum but the Museum idea was never developed and the library did not open until 1938.
During the Second World War painted khaki and green in official camouflage Shrewsbury House was used as an Air Raid Precautions Control Centre.
At Shrewsbury House was based a fleet of mobile canteens which served the ARP Wardens and others working on the sites of fresh bombing incidents and on the clearing of sites after the event.
When the war was over the sandbags and the scars were removed The Library was reopened in 1946 and services using the building were gradually extended A clinic was opened to cope with the postwar baby boom and various clubs started to ask if they could use the other rooms for their meetings.
Eventually the Borough Councils first Woolwich than Greenwich realised that Shrewsbury House would fit well into plans for local Community Centres Under the guidance of a number of enthusiastic wardens together with volunteers it flourished for some twenty years.
In the late 1980s by order of the Government the Boroughs funds were reduced by millions of pounds This meant that Leisure Services were vulnerable and one of the options appeared to be the closure of Community Centres. A dramatic meeting in the Council chambers saved Shrewsbury House on one occasion, but soon it was under threat once again.
It seemed that closure was inevitable. In 1990 there were a thousand regular users and 48 separate groups and Societies which were a source of pride throughout the Borough, but the Government of the day had developed an antipathy to worthwhile community services which was so severe that the Borough withdrew its support and closed the Library and other services.
However, when Fred Halse sold his home to the Council, there were certain conditions, and there were other considerations for a house of historical significance. The house was preserved and the Borough was obliged to maintain and insure it.
Through the extraordinary efforts of volunteers, the destroyers were defied. The House came to be run by a voluntary committee, letting the rooms as before to the various clubs and each individual user paid a contribution to the House each time he or she attended a meeting.
So Shrewsbury House remained a Community Centre and a monument to at least two hundred years of history.