25-31 January 1916: The Wandsworth Fiction Ban

On 26th January, the meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council received a deputation from the Clapham and District Fabian Society and the Clapham branch of the Women’s Freedom League.  The reason behind this was the ongoing ban on lending fiction and juvenile [by which they meant children’s] literature from Wandsworth Libraries.

The head of the deputation, Frederick Kettle, presumed that the ban was in order to save money, “something like £5000 a year”. In his view, this saving was being used to fund lower rates, and the money would have been better invested in a War Bond and the rates kept at previous levels.  Savings in rates did no good to renters, as the landlord paid the rates but kept the rent at previous levels – and was unlikely to invest the difference in a War Bond.  The main issue was not whether or not rates were raised or lowered, however, it was the effects of the lack of fiction – “the closing of the fiction departments was a serious thing for the working man in a district like Clapham”.  The principle was wrong:

Poor people had husbands or sons at the front and they got solace of mind by reading novels, instead of continually thinking about the hazards of the war. Young girls, further, were deprived of getting books and were tempted to buy penny novelettes and cheap melodramas…  He was an educationalist…  He had examined the papers of school children and there was an evidence that the children were unfamiliar with the use of a library

Mrs Corner, representing the Women’s Freedom League, also spoke in support of the re-introduction of lending fiction, “from a woman’s view”. She backed up Mr Kettle’s point about what young women were reading, and said that “they were at an age when what they read mattered much” – reading cheap novels meant they were “developing a taste for bad literature just at a time when they should be developing a high standard of morality”. She clearly felt that women were particularly at a disadvantage due to the ban, as she further pointed out that “The novel to a woman was what a pipe was to a man” and that the ban was not currently necessary – “if the time should come when it was absolutely necessary for them to be deprived of it [fiction], they would not make any protest”.

The Council agreed to look again at the ban, and at their next meeting decided to keep it in place.  They had saved £572 from the book buying fund in the year ending March 1916, as well as £190 on bookbinding and £168 on staff costs, so in the interests of economy the ban was maintained.  Further representations were made in June by the Putney Municipal Alliance – only to be declined again.  Fortunately, fiction became available again after the war.

Wandsworth Borough Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/16

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm

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