6-12 June 1916: Battersea Council Exemptions

c 1914 (C) Wandsworth Heritage Service

c 1914
(C) Wandsworth Heritage Service

The Battersea Borough Council meeting of 7 June started by acknowledging the death of Lord Kitchener, and expressed their sorrow at his loss by all standing as a mark of respect. The meeting then moved on to discuss the Council and Military Service, and how to deal with potential exemptions from military service.

Three clerks of military age in the Council had received complete exemption from military service, on account of being indispensable. Overall there were 28 officers and clerks of military age working at the municipal buildings (Battersea Town Hall), 17 of whom were permanent and had occupation based exemption.  Three temporary clerks were medically unfit to service, and one had actually been discharged as medically unfit.  There were 5 who were not yet called up – either due to only just being 18 or to being in later groups under the Derby scheme.  It was argued that there was a great deal of extra work in the Council due to pressures from government and that there was no doubt that all the men who had obtained exemptions could not be spared.  Eight of the permanent staff in the borough accountant’s office had joined the army, and six from the Town Clerk’s department, with six exemptions granted across both offices.  Exemption certificates had been obtained directly from the recruiting officer, rather than going before a tribunal – a fact which caused some controversy as the Councillors (9 of whom also made up the tribunal members) felt that exemption was a personal matter which should be dealt with by each man individually and they did not wish the employees of the Council to receive special privilege.

The Council had already decided that employees who wished to serve should gain the permission of the Council to do so, and at this meeting they granted that permission to E T Taylor, a temporary clerk in the Town Clerk’s office, and W Worrell, a sewer flusher. Presumably the loss of the clerk made it even more important that they were able to keep the remaining staff in order to carry out the work of the Council.

The Tribunals this week, as reported in the South Western Star, appear to have been granting more exemptions than usual – although the corresponding minutes show that this was not the case and the majority of cases were disallowed.  W J Baldwin of Rollo Street was a widower with one child, who claimed he would have to sell his home to ensure they were looked after – and that he objected to vaccination.  The Tribunal said that his child would be cared for by the country if he went and disallowed his claim, the Star headlined this with “The Poor Law for a Soldier’s Child”.

Battersea Borough Council minutes, ref: MBB/1/16

Battersea Military Service Tribunal minutes, ref: MBB/2/25/2

South Western Star available on microfilm

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23-29 May 1916: The Price of Milk

Home supplies were raised at the meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council on 24th May 1916.  A letter from Lady Denman suggesting that restrictions on keeping chickens and other fowl should be lifted for the duration of the war to encourage people to keep their own was met with the response that no such restrictions currently existed, before the meeting moved on to the price of milk.

A letter had been received from Acton Urban District council, forwarding a resolution which they intended to pass to the Local Government Board:

That in the interest of Public Health and Child Welfare, this Council view with grave concern an increase in the price of milk, particularly at a time when Local Authorities are being urged by the Government to exercise every precaution in the care of infants, and respectfully urges the Government to take such steps as may be necessary to control the price of milk in the interests of the children of the nation.

The Public Health Committee recommended that no action be taken, and the Council agreed with them – although Councillor Hurley did say he did not see why milk should be 6d a quart and that the Council ought to concur with the resolution. Ironically, several of the adverts on the page reporting the meeting in the Wandsworth Borough News were for local dairies, Morgan & Sons of East Hill and C H Cookson of Creswick Dairy Farm, Earlsfield Road among them.  Cookson’s claimed to be the only dairy farm in Earlsfield where cows are kept on the premises.

The Council also raised strong objections to the suggestion that Conscientious Objectors could work for them in posts vacated by men serving with the Armed Forces. The Committee on work of National Importance had suggested it as a possibility for Tribunals to determine what work COs could take, and had supplied a list of potential posts.  They hoped that the Council would employ people who had gained exemption based on getting a job considered of national importance – a suggestion to which the Council “strongly protested”.

Wandsworth Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/16

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm.

9-15 May 1916: The Medical Officers of Health

Every fortnight the Medical Officer of Health prepared a report on the health of the borough. This included summaries of births and deaths, causes of death and dealing with insanitary conditions across the borough.  It also gives a good idea of what concerns there were about the public health of the borough and sometimes an insight into the conditions people lived and worked in.

In the two weeks covered by the report, 264 houses had to be disinfected by the Council, with a further 52 having their drains flushed with disinfectants following infectious disease and 93 having disinfectant supplied. 78 cases of infectious disease were reported and 1815 items were disinfected.  This may seem somewhat over the top, but this was before antibiotics and vaccines so many infectious diseases were fatal.  21 people died of measles in this period, all were under the age of 15 – and only 2 were over 5.  The report made to the Council includes an instruction from the Board of Education that children under 5 should be excluded from public elementary school and that if children had siblings under 5 then they should be excluded from classes infected with measles.  In order to try and combat the heavy mortality associated with measles, the Council was to seek permission from the Local Government Board to employ an additional female sanitary inspector and health visitor.

Anyone suffering from particular infectious diseases had to notify the Council, presumably so that disinfection could take place. Scarlet fever was the most common notifiable disease with 24 notifications, followed by chicken pox, both mainly in children and all over the borough.  The statistics given also include “Infectious Diseases Contacts at the Reception Shelter” (14 for the fortnight), which presumably was how the Medical Officers team were notified.

Library bye-laws stated that anyone who had a library book and came into contact with infectious disease had to notify the library. This meant that in the May 1916 accounts, there as a charge of £3 and 4s for books destroyed after cases of infectious disease – charged to the Health Committee.  The Health Committee also spent 17s on disinfectant from Sanitas Co Ltd and £96 14s and 5d on disinfectant from Newton, Chambers & Co.

Medical Officers of Health annual reports for across London are available via the Wellcome Library – the Heritage Service has the reports for Wandsworth and Battersea but as neither produced annual reports during the war years, these can only be traced through the Council minutes.  They are a fantastic resource for information about life in the borough and challenges faced by those who lived here.

8-14 February 1916: Conscription and Free Speech in Battersea

The Battersea Council meeting of 9th February 1916 contains the information that the Battersea Trades and Labour Council made representations to protest that their meeting in Latchmere Baths was cancelled by the Baths Committee. No explanation is given in the minutes as to why the meeting was cancelled – the report submitted to the meeting by the Baths and Wash-houses Committee refers only to their spending and not to any decisions they might have made. The South Western Star, reporting on the Council meeting, had a rather fuller version of events – as is often the case – referring to it as a “noisy demand for ‘free speech’”, which took up two hours of the meeting.

An unusually large number of persons, several being women, were in the gallery. Mr Grundy, leaning over the rail, was prominent. The explanation of this is that an unpatriotic movement was suspected.

The meeting had been to consider action to repeal the Military Service Bill, passed on 27th January, which brought in conscription. It appeared that the hall had been hired by the Battersea Trades and Labour Council, but was in fact hired by the local branch of the No Conscription Fellowship, according to the paper. The letter from the Trades and Labour Council stated that they had “decided to enter an emphatic protest at such action in attempting to stifle free criticism of the measure” – hence their deputation and the rather more lively meeting described by the Star. The fact that the hall had been hired by the No Conscription Fellowship lead to accusations of duplicity, as the Trades and Labour Council did not have a direct interest in the matter. The leader of the deputation, Mr Carmichael, claimed to be astounded that the cancellation had taken place in Battersea, a borough noted for its free speech, especially during the Boer War – there was an active Stop the War Committee during the Boer War – and with an MP who had done six weeks in prison for free speech thirty years ago. Comments on “where John Burns was now” came from the gallery, as his opposition to the war was well known, although Mr Carmichael pointed out that Burns had voted against the Military Service Bill. He also pointed out that Trade Unions had assisted with recruitment because they thought it would keep away conscription and that the Trade and Labour Council had held a practically unanimous vote to affirm their own opposition to conscription.

The clerk who booked the hall had been under the impression that it was for a Trade and Labour Council meeting, and when the Committee realised that it was not they had held long discussions over what to do. A small majority had concluded that the best decision was to cancel the meeting, a decision upheld by their chair, Mr Simmonds, who thought that “in the present circumstances…the committee were justified”. Mr Bigden argued that it was “most monstrous that the Council should allow the use of the hall” for a No Conscription meeting, and other members argued that the Council should not be the arbiter of patriotism in the borough. This was followed by Mr Brogan launching what the Star called “a tremendous onslaught on rebels and labour, and unpatriotism”, an accusation which caused Carmichael to shout that he was a liar, resulting in him being removed from the chamber whilst Mr Brogan continued that “conscription has come, partly as a result of their apathy in regard to recruiting…Now they had conscription he felt it was his duty to loyally accept it”. The paper records insults to the No Conscription Fellowship and arguments about past bad behaviour at meetings and if that would be comparable to holding a No Conscription meeting, before eventually the Council decided not to refer the matter back to Committee and to carry on with the rest of the business of the day.

Very little of the debate is reflected in the minutes, even though it took up two hours of the Council meeting and showed that the matter of conscription was a controversial one. Many members of the No Conscription Fellowship ended up before the Military Service Tribunals, including Clifford Allen, who write extensively for Fellowship’s news-sheet, The Tribunal, which we will be coming back to in future posts.

Battersea Borough Council minutes, ref: MBB/1/16

South Western Star available on microfilm

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

18-24 January 1916: The Military Service Tribunals and Tooting

The Tooting and Balham Gazette of 22nd January 1916 carried several columns by the owner/editor of the paper, A J Hurley, on the lack of a Tooting representative on the Wandsworth Military Tribunal.  Hurley was one of the councillors for Tooting, and last year was vocal about the levels of pay in the Tooting workrooms in the paper, so often used it as an extra platform to promote his area with the Council.  The Prime Minister and the President of the Local Government Board had given assurances that the Tribunals would be made up of men with local knowledge – but there was no representative for Tooting on the Wandsworth Tribunal, although Hurley described it as “that densely populated portion of the borough which has given such a huge proportion of its male population to the service of the country”.

Appeals to the Tribunal made from Tooting men had been rejected “by men who possess no local knowledge of Tooting” – although as this post on the Battersea Tribunal shows, many appeals were rejected by that Tribunal.  Representations were made to the Local Government Board and the Tooting Recruiting Committee unanimously agreed that Alderman Mellhuish should represent the ward.  The Mayor interviewed the Alderman and obtained his consent to serve, but the Council’s General Purposes Committee rejected it.  TheGazette also objected to the timing of the Tribunals – they were held during the day, usually in the mornings – as it was bad for workers and for employers, suggesting that members of the Tribunal “were only prepared to meet at times convenient to themselves” and that they should be prepared to make a sacrifice for the war effort and meet at other times of day.  Cllr Hurley also said that if he were Mayor, “my resignation…would have been both prompt and emphatic”.  At a Special Meeting of the Council on 9th February, Alderman Mellhuish and Cllr Garrett – one of the Balham Ward councillors – were added to the members of the Tribunal, so the Gazette’s campaign was a successful one.

Elsewhere in the local papers, the main Tooting-related story this week was the story of Robert Lubbock – reported in the Wandsworth Borough News. Robert was 17 and ineligible for military service due to poor eyesight so was the mess-room steward on a Government employed ship, currently moored in a semi-tropical harbour.  One of the fire-men fell overboard into shark infested waters, Robert and one of the ship’s apprentices dived in to try and save him.  According to the paper “The Fireman was unfortunately killed by a shark, but happily both boys got back to the ship unharmed”, and the paper was clearly proud of the local boy’s efforts.

Tooting and Balham Gazette and Wandsworth Borough News both available on microfilm.

Minutes of the Wandsworth Military Service Tribunal, ref: MBW/2/30/1

26 October – 1 November 1915: Recruiting Women

On 26th October, local Councils were sent a memo from the Local Government Board, relating to recruiting and local committees. This was proposing the creation of “starred” men, who would be considered exempt from military service, and a mechanism for ensuring that men who were not in essential occupations, but might otherwise be unable to serve, would be able to gain exemption. Further proposed was the creation of Local Tribunals for the area covered by each Council, these were made up of a group of local Councillors who could allow or deny applications for exemption – the Heritage Service holds records for both the Battersea and Wandsworth Local Tribunals so we will come back to these in future weeks.

The memorandum also encouraged local authorities to support recruitment as far as possible “by stimulating local enthusiasm, by lending accommodation, by facilitating the employment of women in place of men who enlist and in other ways”. Both local borough councils had already provided accommodation for recruitment and for local troops – as well as trying to provide benefits for serving soldiers such as discounts at the local baths.

This was not the first time employing women had been proposed, the Board of Guardians for the Wandsworth and Clapham Union meeting of 11 March 1915 reported on a circular received which said: “There are some posts in which the employment temporarily of women in place of men may be practicable”. At their meeting of 28th October they approved the appointment of a set of Female Relieving Officers, although it is not clear if this was an innovation or not. Wandsworth Borough Council minutes of 16th June record an earlier recommendation to avoid making new appointments during the War, and to try to hire staff who were retired or ineligible for active service. In fact, the Council had already been doing so and authorised heads of Council Departments to fill vacancies by temporarily hiring women.

Clapham Library c1910It is quite hard to trace where the plan to hire women to fill Council posts is recorded – Council and Committee minutes only name senior staff, most of whom were ineligible for active service anyway, and few wages books which might record staff survive. The ones which do survive are both for libraries, Putney Library and Clapham Library. Putney’s wages book does give insight in to the story of Lieut Mills, but it is not obvious if they were hiring women to fill vacancies – they do not appear to have taken on any extra staff at all. The Clapham Library wages book gives slightly more information. The permanent staff were all men, but from the week ending 22nd May 1915 to the week ending 23rd October 1915 a Miss H M Inkster was employed as a temporary assistant. She returned for a further 6 months between November 1916 and May 1917, and has been rather difficult to trace further information about, despite the relatively uncommon surname – she does not appear to be related to the Inkster who was Librarian of Battersea (and who had instigated a policy of hiring women when the library opened in 1890) and the records do not note her first name. Another temporary assistant, Miss F R Richards, was taken on the week ending 5th June and stayed until the week ending 30th October 1915. Both Miss Inkster and Miss Richards were being paid 18s per week, it’s hard to establish if this was more or less than a mal equivalent, as the Clapham Librarian was on £2 1s 4d a week and the various staff listed were all on less than 18s per week – perhaps due to a different rate of pay for temporary staff, the wages book does not say. A junior assistant, Miss C K Wray, is taken on in November earning 9s a week, 2s a week less than A R Browne, who was also working at the Library. A second new junior assistant was taken on in May 1917, a Miss J M Wilkinson – presumably continuing the policy of hiring women.

Elsewhere in the borough, the libraries were coming in for criticism for a different policy – that of refusing to lend fiction. The Wandsworth Borough News devotes half a column to this, referring to it as “Bumbledom in Excelsis” – although the column also refers to being served by a “pert young lady librarian”, so the hiring policy was clearly being implemented across the borough. The fiction ban was in place as an economy measure, and the Borough News recommended all those who would like to see if over-turned to make representations to the Council as soon as possible. The ban, despite deputations, remained in place until 1918.

Clapham Library Wages book, ref: MBW/5/6/17

Putney Library Wages book, ref: MBW/5/6/16

Local Government Board circular, in Battersea Battalion Recruitment file, ref: MBB/8/2/15

Wandsworth Borough News, 29 October 1915, available on microfilm