16-22 May 1915: Guest Post – The Real Winslow Boy



On the Society of the Sacred Heart War Memorial at the University of Roehampton is the following inscription:

George Archer-Shee

Lieut. S. Staff. Regt.

1st Batt.S.R.

Killed near Ypres


Aged 19.

George Archer Shee

George Archer-Shee (6 May 1895 – 31 October 1914) was a young Royal Navy cadet whose case of whether he stole a five shilling postal order ended up being decided in London’s High Court in 1910. The trial, which became a British cause célèbre, was the inspiration for the play The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan. Archer-Shee was successfully defended against the charges by the notable barrister, judge and politician from Ireland, Sir Edward Carson. Following the acquittal, the boy’s family were paid compensation in July 1911. Archer-Shee was commissioned in the British Army in 1913, and killed aged 19, at the First Battle of Ypres in October 1914.

The full story of George’s acquittal can be found here.  But how did he come to be on the memorial, as he has no obvious connection to Roehampton?

George is honoured on the Society of the sacred Heart War Memorial as his half-sister, Winifrede Archer-Shee was at school at Roehampton, becoming a novice in 1908 and ultimately Mother Superior at Roehampton. In her memoirs, held in the Society’s archives, she is quoted as saying “This place [Roehampton] has always meant more to me than any other place”.

Winslow 1.0

With thanks to Gilly King, University of Roehampton, who provided the information and photographs in this post.

Copies of The Winslow Boy play text and on CD are available through Wandsworth Libraries.


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

20-26 July 1915: Poetry written whilst waiting in Balham

Last week’s blog post mentioned the letter from Edward Thomas to his friend Eleanor Farjeon about coming to London to be attested.  This week’s post looks at the letters he wrote a few days after he joined up, again to Eleanor.

On Tuesday 20th July, Edward wrote from his parents’ house in Rusham Road, Balham, that “yesterday I was attested”.  Attestation was the start of the process of joining up when the recruit completed the attestation forms.  He also wrote that he had been having trouble with his feet and was due to visit the doctor, apologising for delay in writing:

Otherwise I should wait longer until I had seen the doctor.  I only hope he won’t give me leisure to think why I joined.  Several people have asked me; but I could not answer yet. 

The following day he writes again, also from Balham, having had to be signed off by the doctor until the tendons in his foot had recovered.

Letter to Eleanor Farjeon

Letter to Eleanor Farjeon

This letter finishes with him requesting “don’t tell anybody I aren’t a soldier yet, tho I am in uniform”, presumably in relation to being signed off, but the bulk of it refers to the poetry he has been writing whilst in Balham waiting:

…six hours over ten lines which perhaps are not right yet.  But if you would type them for me could see them better.  They are

What matter makes my spade for tears or mirth

Letting down two old pipes into the earth?

The one I smoked, the other a soldier

Of Blenheim, Ramillies, & Malplaquet

Perhaps.  The dead man’s immortality

Lies lightly represented with my own,

A yard or two nearer the air of day

Than bones of ancients who, amazed to see

Almighty God erect the mastodon,

One laughed or wept at what earth had to bear

Detail of "Digging"

Detail of “Digging”

The finished version of the poem can be seen here.  Prior to the war Thomas had mainly written criticism, rather than poetry, the outbreak of the war and the influence of his friend Robert Frost meant that he began writing poems in autumn 1914. He often sent drafts or material for typing to Eleanor, getting her to comment on it as well as to type it up – the commentary was a service he provided for her as well.  Drafts of his poems within the collection include “Lob” and “Lights Out”, the latter we’ll come to in a future blog.

Letters to Eleanor Farjeon, 1915, ref: D112/1/3

Letters quoted are numbers 114 &115 and available on microfilm in the first instance.


17-23 November 1914: Expansion of the Projectile Engineering Company

Wandsworth Borough Council met on 18 November. Most of their business was routine, although there were some war related items on the agenda. A resolution had been received from Hammersmith Borough Council to urge the London County Council to discontinue teaching enemy aliens and their children at evening continuation classes at the expense of the ratepayers. Wandsworth concurred with the resolution and a report later in the meeting made clear that the LCC’s Education Committee had already given instructions for teaching to stop. This was just part of the general concern over aliens (ie all non-British people), see last week’s blog for more anti-German feeling.

A much smaller note in the Council minutes is in the report from the Highways Committee, which lists approved building applications. Amongst the applications for new sheds and re-doing the drainage of properties was an application for a new factory on Stewarts Road, which was in the Clapham North part of the borough, from the Projectile Engineering Company Limited.

The Projectile Engineering Company was tucked in the land behind the houses on Stewarts Lane, underneath what is now Carey Gardens. It had opened in 1890 and doubled in size during the war, this application was for a small new building, which appears from maps to have been a replacement for an existing building. In January 1915 an application was submitted for a much bigger building, which involved taking over some of the neighbouring streets and the site of which is the southern building that can be seen on this 1930s map.

There is not a huge amount of information available about the Projectile Engineering Company. It was a munitions factory which was a leading supplier of shells during the Boer War and was obviously doing a lot of business during the First World War. During the Second World War the firm hired women to work in the factory – possibly they did the same in the First World War. The firm was bought by GKN Sankey Ltd in the 1960s and the factory ceased production in 1965, some records of the company are with the Sankey records in Wolverhampton. A painting of the outside of the site in 1938 by the artist Clive Branson is at the Tate Gallery.

If anyone does have more detailed information about the company then please do let us know. We have a partial copy of the company history “Fifty Years of Achievement”, but would like to have a copy of the full version.

Drainage plans: CNW 4, no. 241 and 250

The Borough in 1914

Between 1900 and 1965, the area now in the borough of Wandsworth was made up of two separate, and quite different, boroughs – Battersea and Wandsworth.  Wandsworth encompassed Putney, Wandsworth, Tooting, Balham, Clapham and Streatham, and the borough of Battersea went from Nine Elms through Clapham Junction and the area between the commons as far down as Nightingale Lane.  At the outbreak of war, the Mayor of Wandsworth was Archibald Dawnay, who had been mayor since 1908 and was to continue in post until 1919.  He was a civil engineer who ran a successful firm of constructional engineers, including a large steelworks at Battersea.  Battersea’s mayor was John Archer, elected in November 1913 he was London’s first black mayor and outside of the Council ran a photographic studio in Battersea Park Road.  Archer was a member of the Progressive Alliance, many of whom would later be part of the Labour Party and Dawnay was a Conservative.

Both boroughs were part of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union, which ran the workhouse – known as the Swaffield Road Institution – and the free hospitals in the borough, including St John’s and St James’ Hospitals.  There was no National Health Service and National Insurance and pensions were still very recent, having been introduced in the wake of the 1909 budget – sometimes called the “People’s Budget”.

Education was only compulsory for primary school, although there were several grammar and other schools providing secondary education in the borough, including Sir Walter St Johns School and Battersea Grammar School.  Battersea Polytechnic opened on Battersea Park Road in 1891 providing higher education within the borough – it later became the foundation of the University of Surrey.

Both Wandsworth and Battersea contained numerous industrial sites along the river and throughout the boroughs, which were major local employers.  These included breweries, steel works, biscuit factories and bakers as well as railway works.

Many properties were owned by private landlords and rented out, several families could be sharing one house and the Councils inspected these to check for any problems, although this would largely have been in response to complaints.  Often houses would have been small and little better than slums.

Voting in parliamentary elections was restricted to men, usually the head of the household, and paying a certain amount of rent each year.  Poor men and all women were unable to vote for parliament, although they could vote in some local elections.  Restrictions on voting had not changed since 1884, despite well-publicised campaigns.

Battersea was the smaller of the two boroughs, with a population in 1914 of 167,338.  According to the 1911 census Wandsworth had a population of 311,360, which was almost double the size of Battersea and bigger than the 2012 borough, which had a population of 308,310.  Wandsworth did include areas that it doesn’t today, which is one of the reasons it was larger.

This is only a very brief overview of the borough, for more information please do contact the Heritage Service – we hold books, maps and archives which will give much more detail than could fit in a blog post!