Humble British hostel used by Land Girls during WWII protected as cultural gem

A simple hut in northern England has been given one of Britain’s highest cultural accolades because of its historic importance.

The hut in the county of Cheshire is one of the few surviving hostels used by the Women’s Land Army, known as the Land Girls, during World War II.

The purely functional building, made from plain materials with a concrete floor and minimal heating, is in the rural village of Smallwood which has a population of just 600.

The Land Girls helped feed Britain during World War II and their tough work ethic and uncomplaining attitude helped the feminist cause in the post-war years, said Historic England, the official cultural watchdog.

The hostel has been listed at Grade II listing by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England, joining a list that includes many of the country’s most important buildings and structures.

“The land army girls played a key role in feeding the country during the second World War. Throughout its history, around 250,000 women, mostly in their teens or early twenties, served as Land Girls,” Historic England said.

“Though they were young and many had little experience of farming or the countryside, they made a major contribution to reducing our annual food imports, ultimately producing around 70 percent of all the food the country needed,” it added.

Queen Elizabeth II’s mother, the late Queen Mother, said the Land Girls “supplied the needs of this island and sustained the life of the nation.”

Their uncomplaining willingness to endure the hardships of the tough work also demonstrated to doubters the capability of women, which helped the feminist cause in the post-war years.

“The Land Girls got us through one of the lowest periods in our country’s history. Many of us will have had Land Girls in our own families — they were normal young women, often from towns and cities, determined to do their bit for the war effort,” Historic England Director Catherine Dewar said.

“Many will have stayed in simple hostels like this one in Cheshire, enduring often difficult and unpleasant working conditions with little complaint. The listing recognizes the rarity of this building but also how important the women who used it are to our national story,” she added.

“As we prepare to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe) later this year, I’m delighted that this hostel will now be preserved and protected for future generations,” Heritage Minister Nigel Huddleston said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to the Land Girls who served during the second World War and this is a great way to recognize their important contribution to the war effort.”