18-24 April 1916: The Voelker/Volker Gas Mantle Works

We recently discovered a poster in our collections for the Volker Gas Mantle Works. It doesn’t date from this week in 1916, instead it is probably from earlier in the year or possibly even 1915, but as it was a recent find and this week was otherwise fairly quiet in the borough, we thought we would look at this company and what we can find about them.

Volker Mantles Poster

The Voelker Lighting Corporation opened a factory on Garratt Lane in 1895, making incandescent mantles.  Records at the National Archives suggest that the firm was dissolved before 1916, although this presumably just refers to the change of name.  Volker are listed in the street directories until 1925, then became Lighting Trades Ltd – although still gas mantle manufacturers.  The name change took place between the 1914/15 and the 1916/17 directories.

In search of more information about the company, we checked our drainage plans for their building at 57 Garratt Lane and found one from September 1914, where issues over their German name had clearly already arisen as there is a note – presumably requested during the application process, as it is dated October 1914 – at the end of the plans listing shareholders. It lists the directors, (Messrs: Asten of Surbiton; Mardon of Shaftesbury Avenue; Bowden of 121 The Grove, Wandsworth; Garland of 93 Pulborough Road, Wandsworth), and goes on to be explicit that all bar one of the shareholders are residents of the UK.  The only one who wasn’t was an American lawyer called Kellogg, who owned 7000 shares.  At the bottom of the document is a list of German sounding names who were on the list of shareholders when Voelker Lighting Corporation Ltd took over from Voelker Mantle Co in 1905, and an assurance none of them are currently on the shareholders list.

Fairfield 3 214 note

When was the name changed? An article in the Wandsworth Historian from 2006 suggests it was early 1916, a view backed up by the rate books.  Below are three entries in the Wandsworth rate books, the first is for the six month period ending March 1916, where the company appears as “Voelker”.  The next entry is September 1916, and if you look carefully then you can see that the “E” has been scored out.  By the March 1917 book, “Volker” is used.

Voelker - March 1916 rate book

March 1916 rate book

September 1916 rate book

September 1916 rate book

March 1917 rate book

March 1917 rate book

The rate books point to the name being changed as early 1916, and further evidence is found in the Wandsworth Borough News of January 14, 1916, where the works are advertising for staff.  Many of the staff were female, as the image from the book Wandsworth Past at the end of the blog shows, and the ad is for “Girls Wanted” at the Volker works.  This suggests that our newly found poster might be from the end of 1915, as by 1916 adverts were out with the Volker name on them – and rate books, maps (the 1916 OS map shows “Voelker”), and Kelly’s directories just took some time to catch up.

14 January 1914, Wandsworth Borough News

14 January 1914, Wandsworth Borough News

Rate books, refs: MBW/3/2/98, MBW/3/2/114 MBW/3/2/130

Drainage plans, ref: Fairfield 3, 214

Kelly’s directories

Wandsworth Borough News (available on microfilm)

1916 Ordnance Survey map

Wandsworth Past, Dorian Gerhold, 1998

1916 OS map showing the works (c) Crown

1916 OS map showing the works (c) Crown

Volker Works from Wandsworth Past

Volker Works from Wandsworth Past

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11-17 May 1915: Anti-German Riots and Zeppelin Drills

On Friday 7 May 1915, the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat.  This caused outrage across Britain, according to the South Western Star of the following week:

The most atrocious of the German outrages…has in Battersea and Wandsworth, as in every other civilised locality, occasioned intense indignation.  Murmurs of resentment were heard on Saturday, and the resentment gradually shaped itself into a keen desire for reprisals.

On the Monday night two shops had their windows smashed – Hamperl’s the butcher, 277 Garratt Lane, and Bleines and Son at 307 Garratt Lane.  Alois Hamperl had been a naturalised British subject since 1907 and had been married to his London-born wife for over 20 years, but half a brick and a stone were thrown through his windows.  Another stone had been thrown through the window of Peter Bleines, who was a baker and had become a British subject in 1900 – all 14 of his living children had been born in the area and he had been there for over 20 years.

What the newspaper refers to as “serious disorder” did not break out until the Wednesday night, when large crowds gathered in Wandsworth Road, Garratt Lane and Tooting High Street.  Eight arrests were made and all prisoners were charged and fined at the police court the following day.  The shop of Peter Jung at 48 Tooting High Street was wrecked, causing an estimated £200 worth of damage.  Jung was also a naturalised subject who had been living in the area for some years, as a German baker in Tooting it is very likely that he was one of the bakers who had offered to make bread for the local relief fund for free, but this did not stop his shop from being a target.  A large crowd gathered outside his premises – one policeman said it was 300, another 600 – from around half past seven and did not disperse until the combination of mounted police and rain cleared them away at 11pm.  The Jungs pulled down the blinds around 9pm, which prompted a “shower of bricks…completely smashing the shop windows”.

Peter Jung's Bakery, Tooting High Street

Peter Jung’s Bakery, Tooting High Street

On the same evening a crowd smashed windows on Stockdale Road, and on Thursday evening there were crowds on Battersea Bridge Road who then moved to Latchmere, but no damage was done.  The majority of arrests made were for obstructing the police and drunkenness, the newspaper does not record anyone who was charged with the damage caused.

The same page of the newspaper also reports the first Zeppelin raids on the UK, on Southend.  The proprietor of a Lavender Hill business had his home in Southend, which was untouched, although perhaps the raid was what prompted St Mary’s School Battersea to hold their first and only Zeppelin drill on 14th May.  The school log book records the drill at 1pm, but gives no further details (although an earlier entry records the school fire drill as clearing the whole school in 1 ½ minutes), and they didn’t record holding any more Zeppelin drills.

South Western Star available on microfilm.

St Mary’s Battersea school log book, ref: S7/2/1

2-8 February 1915: Tooting Relief Fund and the Home Defence League

The Wandsworth Borough News of 5 February carried several stories relating to the effect of the war on the borough. The Tooting Relief Fund Committee, had an argumentative start to their work at a public meeting over the make up of the committee back in September 1914, and more than once feature in the local press with debates over their ongoing duties. The meeting reported in the Borough News included a local vicar expressing disappointment that the committee’s work appeared to be mainly giving out “doles” [money], as he felt they should be devising schemes to provide work instead. He approved of the workroom for women which had been set up at the Wesleyan Hall in Tooting, and claimed that it was Socialists on the committee who were doing nothing but give out money. That last remark caused protests that “if the Borough Council was composed of socialists then they would move Heaven and earth to provide work”. Another committee member asked if they were to allow people to starve if they could not find work? Official figures apparently showed unemployment in Tooting to be low, and reliable figures were needed to prove that unemployment work schemes were successful. Reverend French agreed that if work could not be found then the only way to help was by making payments, but if that was the case his time was more usefully spent elsewhere and he resigned from the committee, as did Reverend Bevill Allen, Mr Cooper Rawson and Mr W J Mellhuish.

The other slight controversy of the meeting was the receipt of a large quantity of flour from Canada, to be distributed among the poor. Two Tooting bakers had, at the request of Mr Shepherd, offered to make this into bread free of charge, but the committee objected to this offer as both the bakers were German. Councillor A J Hurley acknowledged that it was kind of them to offer to do it, but felt that there were plenty of English bakers who would have been equally kind had they been asked. He also wondered what the Canadians would think if they knew their flour was being baked by Germans? The matter was then dropped, with no record of which bakers eventually made the bread.

The newspaper also reports on the various home defence forces that had been set up around the borough. These were localised versions of what was the Home Guard in World War Two, and reports of their activities included the Athlete’s Volunteer Force: Wandsworth and Southfields division, the Southfields Defence Force and the Home Defence League, South West London division. The report for the Athlete’s Volunteer Force referred to the donation of 6 rifles to the Wandsworth Rifle Club by Sir Henry Kimber and to plans for divisions to be founded in Tooting and Roehampton. The headquarters of the Athlete’s Volunteer Force was Wandsworth Rifle Club, so presumably the two were closely linked. Southfields Defence Force was based at the London, County and Westminster Bank, Southfields Station. The paper carried their orders for February, including parades, exercises and recruitment – they were keen for existing members to encourage others to “be prepared to take their place to defend their hearths and homes against a ruthless enemy” and wanted to keep numbers at around 800 men. The Home Defence League was based at Trinity Road and had the same commanding officer as the Wandsworth Regiment of the Volunteer Training Corps, so presumably it was formalised later. It was divided into several platoons which each had instructions in different areas of the borough for drills, with the whole regiment due to parade for General Sir O’Moore Creagh on the upcoming Saturday.

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm in the searchroom

10-16 November 1916: the Garratt Lane German Baker

The South Western Star of 13 November reports on the case of a baker charged with wilfully breaking the window of the German baker, Bernard Borghorst, 860 Garratt Lane. Patrick Cronin was witnessed breaking the window by the police and claimed it was due to the insult he had received from Borghorst. Borghorst had dismissed him “on account of slackness, business having fallen off ‘owing to this trouble’”. Cronin claimed that he had been brooding over the insult and had he been a bigger man he would have pushed Borghorst in the oven “pretty quick”. Leaving aside the rather Hansel and Gretel like threat, the magistrate, Mr de Grey, supposed that Cronin did not like Germans, prompting the reply of “Of course I don’t, do you?”. de Grey responded that breaking windows was a bad example that encouraged Germans in their abominable behaviour abroad and that Cronin would be better off enlisting and fighting them like a man. He was then discharged from the court on the condition that he enlist.

The unfortunate Bernard Borghorst appears to have gone out of business in Garratt Lane, the bakery stops being listed in trade directories in 1915 and the property is unlisted until 1922 when another baker takes it over. Borghorst died at the German Hospital in Hackney in December 1922, aged 48, having moved to Hornsey.

The same edition of the newspaper reports a change in Mayor in Battersea. John Archer had come to the end of his term and was replaced by Thomas Simmons. The vote was straightforward enough, but the nomination by Mr Willis involved an altercation with Mr Watts, who had responded to a comment on “freedom and oppression side by side” in Belgium by saying there was “a lot of oppression about here”. Mr Watts had an ongoing disagreement with his party about committees, which presumably led to the reported comments – there was a further dispute with Mr Willis later in the evening. The article ends with the simple line: “Mr Watts was not elected on any committees”. Disagreements obviously continued, despite the desire of all present that the new mayor would preside over a meeting celebrating a declaration of peace.