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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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

4-10 January 1916: Battersea Battalion send-off

Letter from War OFfice Dec 15On 29th December 1915, the Mayor of Battersea was informed that the time for the Battersea Battalion to be mobilised was likely to be early January, and on 3rd January it was confirmed by telegram that the Battalion would move to Aldershot on the 6th.  The 10th (Service) Battersea Royal West Surrey Battalion was to leave from Waterloo along with the 11th Battalion.

 

 

 

Battalion telegram Jan 16The telegram, a copy of which is in the Battersea Battalion file, gave the details of the mobilisation. A battalion consisted of up to 1000 men, so arrangements were detailed.  3 troop trains were to leave from platform 11, at 1.20pm, 2.30pm and 3.10pm going to the Aldershot Government siding (more information about the sidings can be found here – search the page for “Aldershot”, as there is a lot of other information there too).  The first train was to carry 14 officers, 500 men, 4 horses, 6 four-wheeled vehicles and 12 tons of baggage.  A further 16 tons of baggage belonging to the 10th battalion went on the second train, with 5 officers, 105 men, 5 four-wheeled vehicles and 1 two-wheeled vehicle, plus 7 officers and 395 men of the 11th Battalion.  The final train carried 28 officers and 505 men of the 11th Battalion, along with 22 tons of baggage and 6 horses.  The parties who were loading the train were expected to be there an hour beforehand, and all other personnel half an hour beforehand.

Battalion Parade Jan 16Letters were sent out so that local Battersea residents could give the Battalion a send off, the South Western Star reports it as “All the borough seemed to have assembled in the neighbourhood of the Municipal Buildings to wish them godspeed”.  The battalion depot was the Lower Ground Hall of the Town Hall, and lots of final packing had been done that morning, with the battalion itself due to depart at 10.30am.  Enough people had come out to cheer the battalion on that the footpaths were lined all the way to Wandsworth Road, with the balconies and windows of the Town Hall packed with spectators. The procession was led by a band, then the battalion mascot – a sheepdog gifted by Dr Oakman of The Priory, Battersea High Street – before the officers (on horseback) and the men on foot.  The Mayor spoke words of encouragement, and then the men marched to Waterloo, cheered along the way by the crowds, on their way to Aldershot – where they were to stay until May.

Battersea Battalion correspondence, ref: MBB/8/2/15

South Western Star available on microfilm

21-27 September 1915: The Battersea Milk Depot

Amongst the items of business discussed at the Battersea Borough Council meeting of 22nd September 1915 were Council prosecutions.  These included two prosecutions for the management of brothels (one on Lavender Road and one on Middleton Road [now Buckmaster Road], see this post for how this sort of offence was handled), a prosecution for selling sausages mixed with boric acid and one for selling watered down milk.  A look through the prosecutions brought by the Council in 1915 shows that the majority related to food and drink, and especially to the watering down of milk.  In June alone four shopkeepers were prosecuted for it and of the 15 prosecutions brought since April 1915, 9 were for watering down milk, 2 for selling margarine wrongly labelled, 3 for brothel keeping and one for adulterated food – the sausages mentioned above.

The standards for food, and especially milk, were a particular concern of the Council because of their impact on public health.  The Health Committee were responsible for the maintenance of the Council’s Milk Depot at 28 York Road, as well as for the prosecutions, and in the same meeting were reporting on the expenditure of the Depot.

Milk depot – we are aware that the expenditure on the Milk Depot has exceeded the income for several years past.  The depot, however, was not established with the object of making a profit but primarily for the purpose of reducing the infant mortality, and there can be no doubt that the depot has been a great success from a health standpoint.  We do not consider that it is possible to reduce to cost of production of sterilised milk or to increase the income from the sale thereof, without impairing the value of the work for which the depot was instituted.  We, however, think that it is possible that a saving might be effected by the sale of dried milk as supplied at the Infants’ Milk Depots in Leicester and Sheffield in partial substitution for sterilised milk and we recommend:

That the Council try, as an experiment, the sale of dried milk for the feeding of a certain number of infants

The Depot opened in June 1902, following the model of similar depots in France.  The first such depot in the UK opened in 1899 in St Helens, followed by Liverpool, Ashton under Lyne and Dukinfield in 1901 and then Battersea, with others to follow.  All the depots were municipal, run by local councils to deal with public health issues in their areas.  The aim was to provide safe milk, which could be used for babies and young children when breast feeding was not possible – a 1910 publication on Infant Mortality, written by the former Medical Officer of Health for Battersea, was very clear that breast feeding was considered the best option for ensuring the good health of infants.  Milk was bought from approved farms, mixed with water, cream, sugar and salt and then sterilised before it was issued in varying amounts depending on the age of the child in need of it. Older babies were given unmodified milk, which was also sterilised.

The Milk Depot 1910The Battersea depot had a daily output of 1421 bottles for 211 customers in September 1915.  A 1910 report on Infant Mortality (available here, via the Wellcome Library) showed that the mortality rate for infants using the Depot was lower than the mortality rate for the rest of the borough, this was referenced in the recommendation put to the Council above.  The Depot was gone by the 1930s, but the Council’s responsibility for public health continued, the Heritage Service has photographs of the Borough milk inspector in the 1950s and the Council still have duties today.

 

Battersea Borough Council minutes, 1915: MBB/1/16

3rd-9th August 1915: A Year of War

This week marks a year of the war and on the evening of 4th August 1915 there was a meeting at Battersea Town Hall, in the Grand Hall. The correspondence relating to the meeting is included in the Battersea Battalion correspondence file and shows that several of the hoped for speakers were unable to attend. Mr W J West was away, but his apology mentioned that he had recruited 10,800 men. Also unable to attend was the Dean of Battersea and principal of St John’s College, Rev Canon H Wesley Dennis:

I write to express my regret at not being able to be present at your meeting tomorrow night to support the national declaration of our unflinching determination to carry on this terrible war to a conclusion which, please God, shall secure liberty and justice for generations to come.

He noted that over 560 past and present students of St John’s College were now serving with the Armed Forces, and that both his sons at the Front, so that his non-attendance was due to a clash of commitments. His letter was read to the meeting, as were letters from Captain R M Sebag Montefiore, who was the former London County Council member for Clapham and Arthur Du Cros.

Lord Hugh Cecil proposed the motion:

That, on this anniversary of the declaration of a righteous war, this meeting of the citizens of Battersea records once more its inflexible determination to continue to a victorious end the struggle to maintain that ideal of liberty and justice which is the common and sacred cause of the Allies.

The resolution was “enthusiastically carried” according to the South Western Star, and a second resolution in favour of conscription was also carried.

Local members of the 23rd County of London Regiment were named in the paper, as the regiment’s actions on 25 and 26 May had earned several medals.  They had captured three lines of trenches, and the full list of medals had just been published.  Lieutenant L S Clinton had been awarded a Military Cross for his fearlessness, as well as being promoted on the field.  Sergeant R H Oxman, Sergeant-Major T Hammond, Sergeant-Major A C Heggie, Sergeant A J Brian and Col-Sergeant F A Cooke were all awarded Distinguished Conduct Medals for bravery.

The newspaper also reports on the opening of the War Hospital Supply Depot at Springwell House on Friday July 30th. London County Council had bought the house in 1914 intending to pull it down and build a school, but were allowing the Hospital Supply Committee to use it free of charge. The depot was said to be similar to that at Cavendish Square, with the object of making items required by hospitals to treat soldiers, including splints, swabs and bandages, with a combination of “carpenter’s shop for the use of gentlemen” and rooms “superintended by a lady who is expert in the special work”. Members were expected to give as much time as possible to working in the depot and to contribute 1s or 6d per week. Already 50 women were volunteering and some had lent sewing machines and given material. Donations were solicited, and could be given by Mr Saunders, Hon. Treasurer, of the London and South Western Bank at Clapham Junction.

Last week’s meeting of Battersea Council agreed that the Mayor and Town Clerk were to administer the power granted to the Council under the National Registration Act.  The National Registration Act 1915 provided for a register of all persons between the ages of 15 and 65, who were not members of the Armed Forces.  More information about how it was used for recruitment can be found here.  As a result, posters had to be produced informing everyone of the deadline for registration – an example from our collection is below.

  National Register Poster, 1915

Battersea Battalion Correspondence, ref: MBB/8/2/15

South Western Star available on microfilm

13th – 19th July 1915: Battersea Council controversy and Edward Thomas plans to join up

The minutes of the Battersea Borough Council meeting of 14 July 1915 do not give much hint of a controversial meeting.  Amidst the usual business, four members of staff from the Highways department were given permission to join the Forces (W Franklin, labourer; J Connolly, roadman; R G Vollar, pavior; G W Sinden, labourer), as were W J Kelly, a second class clerk with the Borough Surveyor’s department and J Lee, whose permission came from the Baths and Washhouses Committee but doesn’t record his occupation.  There was also a decision not to pay an additional War Bonus requested by the London, Erith and Southall District Allied Engineering Trades Joint Committee.

The controversy, well reported by the South Western Star but only hinted at in the minutes, was over the reduction in labour required by the Highways Department.  The recommendation was for the Council to approve the road cleansing section going from 142 workmen to 100, pensioning 30 of the men and saving £1784 18s a year (roughly £76,857 in today’s money).  Mr Willis stood down as leader of the Progressives on Battersea Council, because they had wanted to refer all the reductions back to the Finance Committee and raise the money to keep the posts by further appealing to the ratepayers.  The Star refers to this as a “noble stand”.  After much discussion over whether other Committees were also cutting back, and if it was right to cut jobs – with one councillor protesting that it was taking bread out of the mouths of the poor and he could not agree as he was a “trade union leader” – the decision eventually went to a vote.  33 members of the Council voted in favour, and 22 against.  This caused uproar in the gallery, with people calling Mr Willis a traitor and a turncoat – although the Star acknowledged that Mr Willis was clearly affected by emotion during the proceedings.

Elsewhere the paper reports on the ongoing recruitment drive, saying that there were now 100 men in the Battersea battalion.  It also records that Wandsworth had instituted a “corps of lady recruiters… Battersea will go one better, it always does when in competition with Wandsworth.  Wait a little while and we shall have a recruiting procession in Battersea that will make Wandsworth despair”.

The recruitment drive across the country was clearly having an effect, as on 15th July the writer and critic Edward Thomas wrote to his friend, Eleanor Farjeon:

My mystery was this.  I have just seen the doctor and been passed by him + am coming up to town again on Monday to join the Artists Rifles…

Wandsworth Heritage Service holds Thomas’s letters to Eleanor Farjeon and we’ll be coming back to what he writes about his experiences in future weeks.

Battersea Borough Council minutes, ref: MBB/1/15

Edward Thomas correspondence, ref: D112/1/3

South Western Star available on microfilm