18-24 August 1914: The Board of Guardians meeting and the Local Relief Committee

Wandsworth Union workhouse J119

The Board of Guardians for the Poor were the management committee of the Wandsworth and Clapham union and its various institutions – also known as the workhouse. They were an elected body who met regularly to discuss management issues, including how their work was affected by the war and considering how to alleviate distress caused by the war. Their meeting of 20 August refers to the Local Committees being set up to deal with distress caused by the war.

This meeting was the first ordinary meeting of the Board to take place since war had broken out. So immediate were some of the potential effects of the war that the Board had held two Extraordinary Meetings in the past two weeks. They had concerns over whether or not they ought to stockpile food on 6th August, while several of their suppliers asked to be released from their contracts owing to foreseen difficulties in fulfilling them (all but the fishmonger were refused and were to be reconsidered). The second Extraordinary Meeting, on 13th August, again decided not to release suppliers from contracts so long as goods were reasonably available, and put up notices to remind everyone in their institutions to practice economy.

The meeting had a lot to consider – there was an argument over a mother’s complaint about the treatment of a child at St James’ Infirmary, which was extensively reported on by the Wandsworth Borough News. The News did not report any of the other discussions held by the Board, but their minutes had several updates following their Extraordinary Meetings. As with the Extraordinary Meeting, a big issue was how to deal with financial distress. Staff who dealt with Outdoor Relief (payments to those not in the workhouse, or Wandsworth Institution as it was then known) were recalled from holiday and they decided to co-ordinate with the local committees which councils were setting up to make sure that people were not receiving two sets of payments.

The Board meeting took place the day after the Wandsworth Committee was formed to administer the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund. That meeting was so well attended that the list of those present covers two pages of the minutes. Letters from the Local Government Board encouraging the temporary filling of vacancies were circulated to help prevent local financial hardship. A 45 person strong Grand Committee was formed, with sub-committees for each ward. The Putney ward committee alone had 40 members appointed. Each committee agreed to find volunteers for administration, with one secretary appointed by the Council, and were to have their first meeting on 27 August. It’s hard to know if the incredibly high attendance at this meeting was concern for the cause, interest in a high profile fund or enthusiasm for doing their bit for the war. Certainly attendance at the next Executive Committee meeting in September was not quite so high!

Photo – J119, Wandsworth Union, Swaffield Road

Minutes of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union Board of Guardians – full records of the Union are held by London Metropolitan Archives, copies of the minutes can also be found at Wandsworth Heritage Service

Minutes of the Wandsworth Local Relief Committee, ref: MBW/2/32/2

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