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

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