16-22 February 1915: Work for Women

As noted in previous weeks, workrooms were set up around the borough to create jobs for both men and women, as well as to supply a place to make clothing for soldiers and others in need. The Tooting workroom had been set up by the local committee of the Prince of Wales Relief Fund, but there were also two workrooms in Battersea set up by the Committee of the Queen’s Works for Women.  These were at the Latchmere Baths and the Wesleyan Hall on Queens Road [now Queenstown Road].  The Wandsworth Borough News of 19 February carried two items relating to the workrooms, one was a short article about the workrooms, saying 200 women who had lost their work due to the war were employed there and that they were turning cast-off clothing into clothes for children and adults.

The other item was a letter from Kesia Beaumont Thomas, of Elspeth Road, publically acknowledging the receipt of £6 15s 4d as a result of a house to house collection for the work of the Queen’s Work for Women Fund.  Kesia Beaumont Thomas was a widowed school teacher, originally from Cornwall, her only child had been born in Russia and her late husband was a publishing agent.  The 1911 census entry for her house says that “All the inmates of this house were away from home on Sunday night April 2nd 1911”, which could be the case – although she doesn’t appear anywhere else on the census – or it could be part of the suffragette refusal to complete the census.  No records of the Queen’s Work for Women Fund in the area survive, if indeed they were ever created, although there was later a Voluntary War-Workers Association which kept minutes.

The workrooms were not without detractors, A J Hurley, owner of the Tooting and Balham Gazette, wrote in that week’s paper that he understood the scheme was to provide light needlework for women at the rate of 2s per day.  He was surprised to discover four women scrubbing the floor in the workroom for this rate, when the going rate for a cleaner was 3s per day and protested that he “would like to put the women who have fixed the rate of pay on the same job only for one day.  They would then probably have more compassion than they at present appear to possess for these poor creatures who, through no fault of their own, have been thrown out of employment and have perforce accepted the ‘light work’ to be found in the Tooting Women’s Workroom, which is supported out of public funds.  By the way, is it true that some of the older women who apply for work are advised to go to Battersea, where wood choppers and rag sorted are wanted?  Is that ‘light work’ for respectable women?”.

Wandsworth Borough News and Tooting and Balham Gazette available on microfilm

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