30 March – 5 April 1915: Wage Increases and the Wonder of the Telephone

Following on from local arguments (see here for more information) about what the women in the Tooting workroom should be paid, the Tooting and Balham Gazette reported that when the Queen had visited the workroom she had expressed the opinion that 10s a week “seemed scarcely sufficient renumeration…in view of the increased cost of living”.  This apparently caused her to intervene and increase the number of hours offered, as the paper reported that the pay may be raised by up to 15%, whilst the number of hours possible increased from 40 to 46 hours a week.  The newspaper also reflects on the overall effect of the war on Tooting:

Remarkable as it may appear at first sight to be, the war has been something of a blessing in disguise for Tooting.  It was anticipated a few months ago that in the early part of the present year a great deal of distress would arise in Tooting owing to unemployment through the war.  Quite the contrary has been the case, and, as a matter of fact, just now there is a scarcity of labour, and many employers, especially traders, are very much agitated in their minds as to how they are going to “carry on” owing to the lack of workers and assistants.

The newspaper also reports on a recent recruiting rally held at Tooting, with a military band – apparently a successful rally as the recruiting sergeant was very pleased with the results and informed the paper that over 800 recruits had passed through his hands since the outbreak of war.

On a more day to day note, there is a report on a recent meeting of the Balham and Tooting Traders’ Association, which mainly focused on the paper presented by Mr T Ball on “The Telephone as a Useful Adjunct for the Little Shop”.  Printed immediately beside this is an advert for Tom Ball & Co, 161 Balham High Road, asking “Have you rung up Streatham 1795 yet?” and explaining how the telephone is part of their service to the customer.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mr Ball’s talk was mainly enthusiastic about the possibilities created by having a telephone in the shop, summing up that telephones can: “save you time; save your money; bring you business; save life; bring you pleasure”.  Perhaps the 30% of the Association who were not yet on the telephone took note.

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23-29 March 1915: Recruitment, Allotments and Suffragists

We’ve been focusing on Battersea slightly more over the last few weeks, mainly because the records for Battersea have more detail in them for February and March 1915.  There was still plenty going on across the rest of the borough, including a meeting of Wandsworth Council on 24th March.

One of the items considered by the Council was a letter from the Executive Committee of the Metropolitan Boroughs’ Standing Joint Committee, which raised concerns over the local government election due to take place in November 1915.  They were worried that men who were away on active service with the Forces would be unable to stand as Councillors or Aldermen and wanted the Local Government Board to remove all disqualifications, including the one relating to residency.  The Council agreed to make representations agreeing with the letter.  It wasn’t just their own numbers that they had cause to discuss, a letter from the Local Government Board pointed out the importance of releasing men as far as possible from other occupations to join the Forces.  Councils were encouraged to hire older men to replace recruits or “where conditions allow, women workers”.  Wandsworth Council responded by putting notices in all their offices encouraging men to join up and specifically pointing out that wages would be met.  Not only that, but they recommended that no other men who were of an age to join up should be taken in to the Council’s service.

Councillor Foot raised the matter of a petition submitted to the London County Council by residents of Roehampton, asking that the LCC obtain allotments in the area and asked the Council to support it.  According to the Wandsworth Borough News, the petition was read out and the reasons for it included that no house or cottage occupied by the working class in Roehampton had sufficient ground to grow vegetables.  Rents and the cost of living were high, but wages lower than that paid to the more metropolitan worker.  Councillor Foot felt that the Council should support the petition as it was to use ground for productive purposes, and Alderman Cresswell seconded him – noting that Southfields allotments were greatly appreciated.  An amendment was put forward after debate to make no order in the matter, and this was the motion which won.

The Borough News also reported on a meeting of the Wandsworth Committee of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage, which had been held at the Town Hall – also on 24th March. Lady Frances Balfour spoke, and remarked that since the outbreak of war, the question of suffrage had been scarcely mentioned.  The suffragists felt that this was not a time to press their claims, but she thought that “they would never have to refute that old and curious fallacy that women have nothing to do with war”.  Women were assisting in keeping soldiers well supplied, and working in factories making ammunition and explosives, as well as hundreds of nurses volunteering for service.  Details of the activities of members of the Wandsworth branch were also given at the meeting, although the paper mainly reports on the headline speaker.

Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/15

Wandsworth Borough News, 26th March 1915

16-22 March 1915: Battersea Polytechnic

The March edition of the Battersea Polytechnic student magazine updated the Roll of Honour and also provided several pages of images of former students who were now serving with the Forces in some respect.

The update to the Roll of Honour was a report of the death of James George Alexander Johnson, of Queenhithe.  After leaving school – including some time in a German gymnasium – he had joined the paper makers Grosvenor, Chater & Co, and therefore did some of the Polytechnic’s courses in paper-making in 1912 and 1913.  At the outbreak of war he joined the London Scottish regiment, and was killed near Ypres November 13th, 1914.  His photograph is included in this issue of the magazine, alongside other students and former students who had joined up.

The Polytechnic War Fund Committee had an update in the magazine, as reported here they were employing local women to make flannel shirts for soldiers.  Subscriptions were dropping, as students were faced with increasing expense due to the war, and the shirt-making was currently costing more than the income of the fund.  Despite this, the magazine reported that it was to continue until the end of February (the magazine coming out somewhat behind the times) and then the level of production was to drop to four shirts a week per woman rather than eight.  This decision was partly motivated by the likelihood of more women needing additional work during the winter.  The Committee also decided to stop supplying tobacco, as re ports suggested that men at the front were well supplied.  A suggestion to supply chocolate instead was deferred until the next meeting.

Regular events continued at the Polytechnic, with several pages of the magazine taken up with the report on the Annual Conversazione.  This was a chance for students to display their work and for others to have a look round what had been happening across the Polytechnic.  The report on the engineering workshops noted that “The work exhibited showed a high detail of accuracy, and much of it was done by students who are now serving in some capacity of other in His Majesty’s Forces, where we feel sure the same skill and thoroughness will be manifest in their military operations for the benefit of their King and Country”.  The Physics department were demonstrating X-rays: “Many thought that the pale green fluorescence of the bulb was ‘the Rays’, although it was not produced by the ‘X’ Rays, but by reflected cathode rays.  Our enquirer was quite disappointed when told that the X-Rays were not even visible”.

The Domestic Science department was adapting to the war in its demonstrations – a number of the dishes represented were deliberately prepared without meat, and some of the cakes had been made without eggs.  Methods of cooking whilst economising on fuel and utensils were also on display: “a complex dinner was cooked in a four-tiered steamer over one gas ring and another simple and economical meal was steamed entirely in jam jars which wer2 fitted into one large saucepan”.  A Hay Box cooker was also being demonstrated, attracting a lot of attention.

Domestic Science students were also mentioned in the magazine for their part in the war effort.  Lucia Creighton was in Serbia, managing all the cookery at a Red Cross hospital with a staff of 26 people.  It was noted this involved all the practical work as well as the management, her Red Cross details can be found online – although these are for later work.  Monica Stanley had been with the Red Cross since the outbreak of war, first at Antwerp then Cherbourg.  She was sailing for Serbia as well, where she was to be in charge of the catering at another Red Cross hospital.

The magazine also carries the first instalment of Private George Wilson’s mobilisation diary, from 5th August to 14th October 1914.  He was in the London Scottish regiment, and the diary was written up after he returned home wounded – although details of that are in the June issue of the magazine, so we’ll come back to his diary at a later date.

Battersea Polytechnic magazine, ref: S15/5/8

9-15 March 1915: Kitty Bellenger and the Central (Unemployed) Body

On 12th March 1915, the Battersea Town Clerk wrote to try to find some work for Kitty Bellenger – the carbon copy of the letter does not give details of who he was writing to, but it seems likely that it was to the Central (Unemployed) Committee, rather than the local section.

According to the 1911 census, Kitty would have been 17 at the time the letter was written.  She was the oldest child of Walter and Agnes Bellenger and had four living younger sisters and brothers.  In 1905 Kitty was a pupil at Mantua Street School in Battersea, the school registers are available via Ancestry and state that her previous school was “Wandsworth Union”.  That means that the family had spent some time in the workhouse and that Kitty had gone to school there.  She left Mantua Street school in 1906, the registers do not show which school she moved to but she was still listed as at school in the 1911 census so that was not the end of her education.  Kitty’s father, Walter, was a house painter – an area in which work was declining during the war as Battersea Council’s disputes over wages demonstrated in previous weeks.  She had been visiting the Labour Exchange 2 to 3 times a week trying to find domestic work, without any success.  The Town Clerk had already sent papers recommending her for work on 24 February, but this had obviously not proved successful or he would not have been writing again three weeks later.  There is not record of whether or not Kitty was eventually successful in finding work – the letter book finishes at the end of March and she is not mentioned again, so perhaps we can assume she was finally successful.  Kitty went on to marry William Matthews in Battersea in 1922 and lived in a flat on Lavender Sweep in the 1930s.

Between 1 July 1914 and 31 March 1915, 479 women were helped to find work by the Battersea section of the Central (Unemployed) Committee.  Of these, the largest number found work in dressmaking – 177, with a further 39 found work in tailoring and 23 in needlework.  17 women were found “mantle work”, this presumably referred to the Veritas Gas Mantle factory in Garratt Lane.  Gas mantle were pieces of fabric designed to provide a bright white light when heated by a flame (see here for a fuller description).  Despite the reports of a drop in business in laundries, 18 women had been found work there, 55 women were charring (cleaning) and 29 had been employed as domestic and general servants.  Only 12 had been found no work, others were waitresses, cooks, nurses, factory hands and clerks.

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

2-8 March 1915: How the war affected local business

The work of the Central (Unemployed) Committee has been mentioned before, as has the effect on the war on local businesses.  The letter books of the Committee stop at the end of March 1915 – meaning that, although the Town Clerk may have continued to chart the detrimental impact on the area, we hold no records which directly note the figures.

On 5th March the Town Clerk wrote his regular Battersea Businesses report – the letter book is a carbon copy, so only picks up what he wrote, not what we assume was the standard typed form he was filling in.  The report covers whether or not staff were working full-time and if any dismissals had been made.

Two businesses were clearly doing their best to work to normal capacity.  Gartons Glucose Works had lost about 100 men who had signed up to fight, all the vacancies had been filled as far as possible and staff were working full time.  A wholesale furniture works on York Road reported that all staff were full-time and there had been no dismissals.  The Asbestos Patent Firelight Co, based in Battersea Square, actually had a shortage of men – despite noting difficulties in getting hold of raw material, they reported no dismissals and that all were working full-time.  May & Baker, a chemical manufacturing company, may well also have been having difficulties getting hold of material, but they didn’t report it and were also working full-time.

Two of the companies reporting were definitely suffering as a result of the war.  The John Bull Laundry on Gideon Road, one of many laundries around Battersea, had kept on all their staff but at ¾ time and were reporting a 30% drop in business.  The Easey Wallpaper Manufacturing Company were also working at ¾ time, although their business had dropped by 50%.  Men who joined the army were not being replaced, the numbers joining are not noted and it is difficult to establish how big an enterprise this was.

Much of the rest of the letter book records trying to find places for individuals, so there will be another post about employment problems next week.

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