27 April – 3 May 1915: Council Prosecutions

Amongst the usual business of the Battersea Council meeting on 28 April 1915 were two uses of the Grand Hall  for recruiting meetings – one for the Voluntary Training Corps (see here for more on them) and the other for the London Irish Rifles.  Most meetings involved approving the decisions of the Finance Committee to grant use of the Grand Hall, either free or for a reduced fee, and recruitment meetings were regular – there had been one in Earlsfield earlier in the month.  The lets of the Grand Hall were not usually for such similar events so close together, the VTC meeting had been on 21st April and the London Irish Rifles on the 25th, and the minutes don’t record how successful either of them were.

The Council also had a report from their Law and General Purposes Committee on the outcome of several cases where they were prosecuting people in the borough.  The majority of these related to the sale of food which had been adulterated in some way, including butter which was “70% foreign fat” and milk that was “8.5% extraneous water”.  The shopkeepers responsible were fined accordingly.  There was one slightly more unusual prosecution under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, that of Mary Susan Davison as the occupier/person in charge of 5 Usk Road, for knowingly permitting it to be used for habitual prostitution and for acting in management of a brothel.  The South Western Star refers to the case as “Usk Road disorderly house” and gives details of the prosecution, which actually took place a couple of weeks earlier.  Mrs Davison appears to have recently moved to Lavender Road, and when she was arrested said that “We’ve only been here a few days and the other women don’t come here” – a man who was present when the police arrived ran away.  According to the police who had been watching the Usk Road property there had been a number of male visitors to the house accompanied by one or other of Mrs Davison’s lodgers, women described by the police as “of bad character” – two of whom were known to the police from a previous incident.  Mrs Davison claimed to have thrown one of the women out when she was told that she was bringing men to the house, and denied all knowledge of the other two.  The magistrate said that it was a “perfectly clear case” and sentenced Mrs Davison to six weeks hard labour, a sentence probably extended because she had a prior conviction for a similar offence.

Finding more information about Mary Susan Davison is actually quite difficult.  She obviously moved from one short-term let to another, so does not appear in the electoral registers for either Usk Road or Lavender Road (the last electoral register produced during the First World War was collated in October 1914) and the account of the court case suggests she was in Tooting before that – she doesn’t show up in a search of the electoral registers on Ancestry.  There is no obvious match to her in the borough in the 1911 census, and although she claimed to be a widow of ten years standing there is no Samuel Davison (the name she gave for her husband, claming he’d been dead for ten years) who died around 1905 in London on the General Register Office index of deaths.  She doesn’t appear under this name either, so perhaps it was a false one or she changed it later.  There is something of a mystery about it, but the case shows that borough councils didn’t just have to deal with war-time issues, they carried on having what was considered some level of responsibility for local society.

Battersea Borough Council minutes: MBB/1/15

South Western Star available on microfilm

Ancestry Library edition available in all Wandsworth libraries

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20-26 April 1915: Wandsworth Council and the Forces

Wandsworth Borough Council held their regular meeting on 21 April, which included considering a list provided by the Officers and Servants Committee on employees of the council who were serving with the Forces or who had transferred to work in the arsenals or some other war-based work.  The difference between Council “officers” and Council “servants” seems to have been largely down to the type of role they held and how senior it was.  Clerks seem to have counted as “officers” and road-sweepers as “servants”, although other references to staff make a distinction between permanent and temporary staff.  The actual list is not included with the Council minutes or the minutes of the Committee, although the Council would have had to have kept careful records of staff who had joined up as they had promised to keep their jobs for them and to pay them the difference in their salary  (for example, the salary books for Putney Library show them doing just that for William Mills) and when the Wandsworth Battalion was formed later in the year the file shows that the council produced a list of men who were eligible for military service but had not joined up.  The Committee was concerned over being able to continue the full work of the Council, given that many staff were now serving, and proposed to the rest of the Council that a list of staff who were considered essential should be created.

The Council also decided that a section of the Wandsworth Cemetery should be set aside for members of the Forces who died in the 3rd London General Hospital or any of the other hospitals in Wandsworth.  The War Office was to contribute to the cost of each interment.  Wandsworth Cemetery is officially recognised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as a war cemetery, there are five war plots from the First World War, with 477 graves Commonwealth War Graves across them and other parts of the cemetery.  A further 115 war graves were added during the Second World War.  There is more information and full details of all graves on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site.

Wandsworth Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/15

13-19 April 1915: Sober Tooting

The Tooting & Balham Gazette reports this week on the recent meeting of the Tooting Ratepayer’s Association.  The meeting started off with some discussion on the increased cost of living, raised by Councillor Cusden (who owned grocery stores, see here for more information), he pointed out that provisions and foodstuffs had risen in price by 20 to 25 per cent but wages had not.  The overall feel of the meeting seemed to be that the competition between firms was keeping costs lower and it was the small traders who were doing worst out of the situation.

The chief item on the agenda was more controversial, as it was the proposed closing of public houses until the termination of the war.  Councillor Hurley, honorary secretary of the association, had placed it on the agenda as it seemed to be a burning issue of the time.  Councillor Cusden felt that total prohibition was out of the question.  A small section of the community should not be allowed to dictate to everyone else and “a man was a much entitled to have a glass of beer as another man was to have a cup of tea” – he quote a figure that £160 million a year was wasted on drink and expressed the opinion that it was no more wasted than on tobacco, there should not be any more slur on beer than on tea or cocoa.  Crime had reduced and the best thing that had happened was the reduction of pubs’ opening hours.  The Chairman of the Association – W H Smith (not he newsagent) argued that the Chairman of the Middlesex Sessions had said the drop in crime was remarkable and could only be put down to a reduction in drunkenness, and he claimed that 80% of those in workhouses and infirmaries were there due to drink.  If 60,000 people a year died of fever, steps would be taken to stamp it out and as a teetotaller he clearly felt that steps should be taken to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed. Councillor Hurley pointed out that drink problems were decreasing, he had never seen such a sober crowd as that on Easter Monday and only saw one drunk person in Tooting.  Mr Edwards, though himself teetotal, felt that the licenses of many of the local public houses were amongst the most respected men in Tooting, and involved in the well-being of the community.  In the past, according to Councillor Hurley, the area had been known as “drunken Tooting” which he considered a gross slander.  Councillor Cusden said that it was “sober Tooting” today and that those who were drunk were visitors from other areas.  A resolution was eventually passed that the Ratepayers Association did not support prohibition but were in favour of the continuation of reduced opening hours.

The issue must have been of some concern to the community, as there was a lengthy letter in the paper from an M Arran of Coteford Street relating to “The War and Drink”, which picked up on allegations that drunkenness was impeding the supply of munitions due to the condition of some of the workers.  The letter suggests that the Government ought to have foreseen the shortage of munitions and that the workers are not to blame, even if there was a small minority who over-indulged in alcohol.  His proposal was that spirits should be prohibited, except for medical purposes and that wine should be duty free as it was of great value.  Beer, however, “is a matter requiring much more drastic and revolutionary action”.  This action was to take the form of the nation becoming its own brewer, so that a purer beer could be brewed, which could then be available in improved pubs.  Those pubs would be “light, airy, comfortably and beautifully appointed, where a man can take his wife and children, where he may drink beer, wine, tea, or anything else he likes…Given these conditions and drunkenness would disappear”.

The reduction in pub opening hours had come in under the Defence of the Realm Act, pubs were only allowed to open from noon–2pm and 6:30pm–9:30pm.  You can find out more about the reduction in openings hours and the Carlisle experiment of government owned pubs in this National Archives blog post.

Balham & Tooting Gazette available on microfilm in the searchroom.

6-12 April 1915: The Board of Guardians and War issues, and local football

This week’s South Western Star carries a report on the fortnightly meeting of the Battersea and Wandsworth Board of Guardians.  Many of the issues the Board had to discuss arose out of the war – either directly or indirectly.  A large number of staff had applied for increased pay as a result of the increased cost of living (a problem shared by the local councils as well), although as it was not all staff an amendment to grant the requests was not passed.  Staff also caused concern when Mr Rees questioned the age of a man hired on a temporary basis – on hearing that he was 27 the response was to ask why he was not in the Army, and on discovering that he was from Alsace one member commented that he was from the Blue Alsatian Mountains (a song, the words can be found here) and Mr Rees commented that he ought to be “over the water”.  Mr Rees was clearly a keen supporter of the war, as he also moved that 120 beds at the Swaffield Road institution should be offered to the War Office for wounded soldiers.  The beds in question were currently allocated to the elderly and the proposal was to transfer them to the main building, as there were 300 spare beds there and it would then be possible to create a separate entrance for ambulances – there were already wounded soldiers at St James Hospital, who had been admitted in March.  Both this and another motion by Mr Rees were passed, the second motion proposed creating a return which would show how many people of military age were currently employed by the Guardians.  This motion proved slightly more controversial, as both Mr Winfield and Mr Archer thought it was akin to conscription and forcing men to go to the Front.  Mr Winfield would prefer the Government to be responsible for conscription, whilst the Guardians could hold men’s jobs.

The South London Press demonstrates that other aspects of life carried on much as usual – the end of the football season was drawing close and the paper was somewhat disparaging about the South London amateur leagues:

The homeless West Norwood team may fulfil their remaining Metropolitan League fixtures, but as nobody, player or otherwise, takes any interest in the games, it does not matter… the group of clubs forming [the League] have no trophy, no medals, no subscriptions, indeed nothing but a private arrangement for matches among themselves.

Perhaps the only positive in this report was for the Tooting club, who beat Croydon by 4 goals to 1, three of those goals being scored by Honor.

South London Press and South Western Star available on microfilm

Wandsworth Board of Guardians full records are at London Metropolitan Archives, copies of the 1915 minutes are at the Heritage Service, ref: WCU/1/23