29 December 1914-4 January 1915: Battersea Polytechnic Student activities

We close the year with Battersea Polytechnic. This post has much of the background to the polytechnic, and they produced their own magazine which updated students on college activity and alumni information. The editorial for December 1914 comments that they would like to wish all their readers ‘“a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year”. The first half of the greeting however, cannot, we feel, be realised in its entirety this year, as present condition are too serious for that.’ Having acknowledged that the war had not been over by Christmas, the editorial goes on to encourage all readers to do their duty to help their country.

A War Fund had been set up, and the Art Department had contributed by holding an Art Exhibition, pointing out that artists are not generally “overburdened with this world’s goods” but determined nonetheless to be involved in the fundraising. The Ladies’ Sub-Committee was also very active, dealing with cases submitted by the Women’s Emergency Corps, Labour Bureaux and local clergy – they employed women workers and numbers employed had risen from 5 to 7. The women were employed to make army shirts – flannel had been purchased and the women made between 4 and 8 shirts a week. Cutting out the shirts was done by the staff and students of the Domestic Science Department, along with other willing helpers, each evening. The War Fund was also concerned over whether the care packages sent to troops should contain tobacco, or if small packets of tea would be equally acceptable – the balance was mainly in favour of tobacco.

The magazine also carried a report on the Women’s Relief Corps, an organisation designed to help women to prepare to take up other duties which may be required of them later in the war. The Civil Section aimed to train women to take up men’s posts to release them for active service, whilst the Semi-Military Service had the added task of training women in some military drill. The report assures readers that the “nature of the training is in no way intended to encourage women to attempt to act as combatants”.

The previous issue of the magazine had carried a list of all staff and students currently serving in the Armed Forces, and the December issue contained an update – as well as a photograph of Frederick Johnson, who had graduated in summer 1914 and was a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. Later magazines contain photographs of other men connected with the Polytechnic.

More routine aspects of Polytechnic life were not overlooked by the magazine, it carried reports of scholarships awarded, posts obtained by students – particularly those from the Domestic Science Department – and reports of society activities. The Engineering Society had visited the Osram lightbulb factory in Hammersmith and the LCC Tram repair works in Charlton. There were also reports of new books in the library and exam successes, so although the war was clearly having an effect on the life of students, some aspects very much carried on.

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22-28 December 1914: Christmas Concerts

The Tooting and Balham Gazette of 26 December reported on a matinee concert held at Balham Hippodrome in aid of the Home Defence League Equipment Fund. The paper praised the artistes involved, saying “it speaks volumes for the profession – probably the hardest hit of any by the war – that so many prominent performers in the music-hall world figured on the programme”. The acts performing included Gus Garrick, singing The Kaiser and Any Old Iron, which was reported as being very funny and a hit with the audience (Garrick appears on this Cambridge postcard in 1898 and was appearing in films in the 1930s, so obviously had a long career). Several of the other acts were highlighted as performing patriotic material, including “local favourites” Will Deller and Ernest Shand.

The afternoon ended with local business man Edwin Evans, president of the South West Division of the Home Defence League, thanking the audience, the performers and the Hippodrome for the fundraising event. The League consisted of nearly 2000 trained men ready to defend Balham and Wandsworth.

(c) Wandsworth Heritage Service

(c) Wandsworth Heritage Service

The Hippodrome had opened in 1899 as the Royal Duchess Theatre on Balham Hill. It became the Hippodrome in 1909 and closed in the 1930s, after various owners had financial difficulties. During the Second World War it was badly damaged and subsequently demolished.

15-21 December 1914: First meeting of the Battersea Recruitment Committee

The first meeting of the Battersea Recruitment Committee took place on Wednesday 16th December. The formation of the committee had been a little controversial when discussed in Council the previous week, and one of the first things the committee did was to define their object so that their purpose was clear to the public (in many ways, committees have not really changed).

The Committee decided it was not their job to force men to join the army and that they would nto approve of any employer discharging staff for that purpose – this seemed to be due to the fact that a recruit joining in this manner would “not be worth his salt”. What they did want to do was encourage the young men of the borough to remember that they were members of a “nation of freedom and liberty” and it was their duty to defend these things, this would prove that conscription was not necessary. The Committee were also anxious to ensure that dependents left behind did not suffer, this was to be done in as personal a manner as possible – as opposed to official – so that they would feel pride in the sacrifice their young men were making. With this in mind, the Committee planned to lobby the Government to give proper compensation to dependents of those killed or injured in the war. In a time before social security and a free NHS, the risks of losing the main wage-earner in a household still included ending up in the workhouse, so this could be a major concern.

The Committee also hoped to arrange recruiting marches in the borough, and planned to get local organisations involved in helping with recruitment. There were no plans for recruiting a local battalion yet, this not happen until spring 1915 so we will be coming back to the Recruitment Committee at a later date.

Elsewhere, the Town Clerk was writing to the Central (Unemployed) Committee to say they had posters about opportunities for women’s emigration but none of the application forms. F W Farmiloe Ltd, a paint & varnish manufacturers in Nine Elms Lane reported that business had decreased 40% and that 67 of their men had joined the Army, although they had also made 16 dismissals. Mr Holliday, a pawnbroker on Battersea Park Road, reported regularly that business was down, whereas for many of the manufacturing companies in the area – particularly engineering or chemical works, as noted last week – the reports stated that business was up and extra hands had been engaged.

Battersea Borough Council minutes, 1914-1915, ref: MBB/1/15

Central (Unemployed) Committee letter book, 1913-1915, ref: MBB/8/3/3

8-14 December 1914: the Board of Guardians meeting and Battersea businesses

The Wandsworth and Clapham Union Board of Guardians met on 10 December. The Board of Guardians were responsible for the management of the Union workhouse and infirmary, as well as an Old People’s Home at Tooting and a school. Much of the business of their meeting was taken up with the accounts, which were lengthy, including as they did payments to staff, suppliers, contractors, central funds and the poor themselves.

Staffing issues came up repeatedly, Ward Sister Williams was reported as having left for service with the Army Nursing Reserve. Two new probationary nurses were appointed subject to the approval of the Local Government Board. Presumably to help, rather than to take her place. Five new temporary clerks were taken on in place of those who had joined the Forces and, as with the Borough Councils, concerns over how to deal with the salaries of those who had joined the Forces were raised. The Local Government Board had written to the Board of Guardians to say that staff must be paid, and the Board decided that all staff who were serving before instruction was received from the Local Government Board would be paid half-pay. This would ensure that the difference between Army pay and their normal salary was made up. To attempt to minimise the risk of having a lot of staff on half-pay whilst replacements were having to be found, the Board also decided that any further staff who wished to join up must seek permission from the Board.

The Guardian for one of the Southfields wards, Mrs Margery Corbett Ashby, was absent from the meeting as her husband had joined the Forces. This was approved by her fellow Guardians until the termination of the War or until she was again able to take up her residence. Margery Corbett Ashby married Brian Ashby in 1910 and they had one son, born in 1914. On the 1911 census she listed her occupation as a lecturer in Suffrage and Politics, she had achieved a degree in Classics at Newnham College , Cambridge, which had not been granted as women were not permitted to receive degrees from Cambridge until 1948. She had been secretary to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and was involved with the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. For more information about her see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margery_Corbett_Ashby

The Board of Guardians was not the only organisation available to help those who fell upon harder times. The Central (Unemployed) Committee was a London wide committee which sought to find work for men and women in need, including offering them a chance to go to a work camp in Hollesley Bay and sometimes opportunities to emigrate. The Battersea Town Clerk wrote to the Committee with recommendations, requests and local information and some of his letter books survive. On 11 December 1914 he reported on the business of several Nine Elms firms, which the Committee used to find work for men and women in the borough. The figures show that in Mark Mayhew’s Flour Mills trade had improved and all staff were full-time with no dismissals. Dorman Long Engineers reported that all staff were full-time and they were very busy. Crosse & Blackwell had men on ¾ time, as did the London Provincial Laundry Company. Spiers Pond Laundry reported a decrease in business, although all staff were full-time.  Engineering was obviously a growth industry at the time, as was bread production, whilst other industries started to drop off.

Full papers of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union are available at London Metropolitan Archives.  Copies of minutes are also held at the Heritage Service, for 1914 ref: WCU/1/22  The Wandsworth Borough News is available on microfilm.

Central (Unemployed) Committee letter book, 1913-1915, ref: MBB/8/3/3

1-7 December 1914: The Home Defence League, absent Councillors and the Cinema

On 2nd December Wandsworth Borough Council had their regular meeting – not quite the last of the year as they met fortnightly and therefore held another on the 16th. The meeting included the first leave of absence of a Councillor being agreed by the Council, Councillor James Allsop was granted two months owing to his absence on His Majesty’s Service at Pembroke Dock. The length of time granted was presumably an indication that the general feeling was still that the war would not last much longer.

An application from the Home Defence League gave a slightly different picture. The Balham and Wandsworth Branch applied to the Council for the loan of six of the Council’s picks and spades for trench digging on weekends. After some debate, the Borough Engineer was authorised to lend the League as many as could be spared and might be required. The minutes do not record where the trenches were to be dug, or why. The Tooting and Balham Gazette report that the discussion on the loan was a high point of a meeting otherwise described as “dull and uninteresting”. The Gazette was also keen that the League received more publicity and that efforts were being made to get the Government to recognise such voluntary organisations. The local branch of the League had some 2000 members by December 1914, the newspaper comment wished to know how many of those members were actually eligible for active service and if they were being encouraged to join up.

The Armed Forces were also a focal point of the upcoming films at the Tooting Pavilion on Mitcham Road. For the first part of the week the film was “The Three Musketeers” but it was to be followed by a special exclusive called “The German Spy Peril”, dealing with the ways and means of acquiring useful information for Germany. Apparently this was a popular theme, as there was also a reference to the Scala Theatre, London, showing a series on the “Fighting Forces of Europe”.

1914 Wandworth Borough Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/14

Tooting and Balham Gazette available on microfilm