30 March – 5 April 1915: Wage Increases and the Wonder of the Telephone

Following on from local arguments (see here for more information) about what the women in the Tooting workroom should be paid, the Tooting and Balham Gazette reported that when the Queen had visited the workroom she had expressed the opinion that 10s a week “seemed scarcely sufficient renumeration…in view of the increased cost of living”.  This apparently caused her to intervene and increase the number of hours offered, as the paper reported that the pay may be raised by up to 15%, whilst the number of hours possible increased from 40 to 46 hours a week.  The newspaper also reflects on the overall effect of the war on Tooting:

Remarkable as it may appear at first sight to be, the war has been something of a blessing in disguise for Tooting.  It was anticipated a few months ago that in the early part of the present year a great deal of distress would arise in Tooting owing to unemployment through the war.  Quite the contrary has been the case, and, as a matter of fact, just now there is a scarcity of labour, and many employers, especially traders, are very much agitated in their minds as to how they are going to “carry on” owing to the lack of workers and assistants.

The newspaper also reports on a recent recruiting rally held at Tooting, with a military band – apparently a successful rally as the recruiting sergeant was very pleased with the results and informed the paper that over 800 recruits had passed through his hands since the outbreak of war.

On a more day to day note, there is a report on a recent meeting of the Balham and Tooting Traders’ Association, which mainly focused on the paper presented by Mr T Ball on “The Telephone as a Useful Adjunct for the Little Shop”.  Printed immediately beside this is an advert for Tom Ball & Co, 161 Balham High Road, asking “Have you rung up Streatham 1795 yet?” and explaining how the telephone is part of their service to the customer.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mr Ball’s talk was mainly enthusiastic about the possibilities created by having a telephone in the shop, summing up that telephones can: “save you time; save your money; bring you business; save life; bring you pleasure”.  Perhaps the 30% of the Association who were not yet on the telephone took note.

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9-15 March 1915: Kitty Bellenger and the Central (Unemployed) Body

On 12th March 1915, the Battersea Town Clerk wrote to try to find some work for Kitty Bellenger – the carbon copy of the letter does not give details of who he was writing to, but it seems likely that it was to the Central (Unemployed) Committee, rather than the local section.

According to the 1911 census, Kitty would have been 17 at the time the letter was written.  She was the oldest child of Walter and Agnes Bellenger and had four living younger sisters and brothers.  In 1905 Kitty was a pupil at Mantua Street School in Battersea, the school registers are available via Ancestry and state that her previous school was “Wandsworth Union”.  That means that the family had spent some time in the workhouse and that Kitty had gone to school there.  She left Mantua Street school in 1906, the registers do not show which school she moved to but she was still listed as at school in the 1911 census so that was not the end of her education.  Kitty’s father, Walter, was a house painter – an area in which work was declining during the war as Battersea Council’s disputes over wages demonstrated in previous weeks.  She had been visiting the Labour Exchange 2 to 3 times a week trying to find domestic work, without any success.  The Town Clerk had already sent papers recommending her for work on 24 February, but this had obviously not proved successful or he would not have been writing again three weeks later.  There is not record of whether or not Kitty was eventually successful in finding work – the letter book finishes at the end of March and she is not mentioned again, so perhaps we can assume she was finally successful.  Kitty went on to marry William Matthews in Battersea in 1922 and lived in a flat on Lavender Sweep in the 1930s.

Between 1 July 1914 and 31 March 1915, 479 women were helped to find work by the Battersea section of the Central (Unemployed) Committee.  Of these, the largest number found work in dressmaking – 177, with a further 39 found work in tailoring and 23 in needlework.  17 women were found “mantle work”, this presumably referred to the Veritas Gas Mantle factory in Garratt Lane.  Gas mantle were pieces of fabric designed to provide a bright white light when heated by a flame (see here for a fuller description).  Despite the reports of a drop in business in laundries, 18 women had been found work there, 55 women were charring (cleaning) and 29 had been employed as domestic and general servants.  Only 12 had been found no work, others were waitresses, cooks, nurses, factory hands and clerks.

Central (Unemployed) Committee letter book, ref: MBB/8/3/3

15-21 December 1914: First meeting of the Battersea Recruitment Committee

The first meeting of the Battersea Recruitment Committee took place on Wednesday 16th December. The formation of the committee had been a little controversial when discussed in Council the previous week, and one of the first things the committee did was to define their object so that their purpose was clear to the public (in many ways, committees have not really changed).

The Committee decided it was not their job to force men to join the army and that they would nto approve of any employer discharging staff for that purpose – this seemed to be due to the fact that a recruit joining in this manner would “not be worth his salt”. What they did want to do was encourage the young men of the borough to remember that they were members of a “nation of freedom and liberty” and it was their duty to defend these things, this would prove that conscription was not necessary. The Committee were also anxious to ensure that dependents left behind did not suffer, this was to be done in as personal a manner as possible – as opposed to official – so that they would feel pride in the sacrifice their young men were making. With this in mind, the Committee planned to lobby the Government to give proper compensation to dependents of those killed or injured in the war. In a time before social security and a free NHS, the risks of losing the main wage-earner in a household still included ending up in the workhouse, so this could be a major concern.

The Committee also hoped to arrange recruiting marches in the borough, and planned to get local organisations involved in helping with recruitment. There were no plans for recruiting a local battalion yet, this not happen until spring 1915 so we will be coming back to the Recruitment Committee at a later date.

Elsewhere, the Town Clerk was writing to the Central (Unemployed) Committee to say they had posters about opportunities for women’s emigration but none of the application forms. F W Farmiloe Ltd, a paint & varnish manufacturers in Nine Elms Lane reported that business had decreased 40% and that 67 of their men had joined the Army, although they had also made 16 dismissals. Mr Holliday, a pawnbroker on Battersea Park Road, reported regularly that business was down, whereas for many of the manufacturing companies in the area – particularly engineering or chemical works, as noted last week – the reports stated that business was up and extra hands had been engaged.

Battersea Borough Council minutes, 1914-1915, ref: MBB/1/15

Central (Unemployed) Committee letter book, 1913-1915, ref: MBB/8/3/3

8-14 December 1914: the Board of Guardians meeting and Battersea businesses

The Wandsworth and Clapham Union Board of Guardians met on 10 December. The Board of Guardians were responsible for the management of the Union workhouse and infirmary, as well as an Old People’s Home at Tooting and a school. Much of the business of their meeting was taken up with the accounts, which were lengthy, including as they did payments to staff, suppliers, contractors, central funds and the poor themselves.

Staffing issues came up repeatedly, Ward Sister Williams was reported as having left for service with the Army Nursing Reserve. Two new probationary nurses were appointed subject to the approval of the Local Government Board. Presumably to help, rather than to take her place. Five new temporary clerks were taken on in place of those who had joined the Forces and, as with the Borough Councils, concerns over how to deal with the salaries of those who had joined the Forces were raised. The Local Government Board had written to the Board of Guardians to say that staff must be paid, and the Board decided that all staff who were serving before instruction was received from the Local Government Board would be paid half-pay. This would ensure that the difference between Army pay and their normal salary was made up. To attempt to minimise the risk of having a lot of staff on half-pay whilst replacements were having to be found, the Board also decided that any further staff who wished to join up must seek permission from the Board.

The Guardian for one of the Southfields wards, Mrs Margery Corbett Ashby, was absent from the meeting as her husband had joined the Forces. This was approved by her fellow Guardians until the termination of the War or until she was again able to take up her residence. Margery Corbett Ashby married Brian Ashby in 1910 and they had one son, born in 1914. On the 1911 census she listed her occupation as a lecturer in Suffrage and Politics, she had achieved a degree in Classics at Newnham College , Cambridge, which had not been granted as women were not permitted to receive degrees from Cambridge until 1948. She had been secretary to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and was involved with the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. For more information about her see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margery_Corbett_Ashby

The Board of Guardians was not the only organisation available to help those who fell upon harder times. The Central (Unemployed) Committee was a London wide committee which sought to find work for men and women in need, including offering them a chance to go to a work camp in Hollesley Bay and sometimes opportunities to emigrate. The Battersea Town Clerk wrote to the Committee with recommendations, requests and local information and some of his letter books survive. On 11 December 1914 he reported on the business of several Nine Elms firms, which the Committee used to find work for men and women in the borough. The figures show that in Mark Mayhew’s Flour Mills trade had improved and all staff were full-time with no dismissals. Dorman Long Engineers reported that all staff were full-time and they were very busy. Crosse & Blackwell had men on ¾ time, as did the London Provincial Laundry Company. Spiers Pond Laundry reported a decrease in business, although all staff were full-time.  Engineering was obviously a growth industry at the time, as was bread production, whilst other industries started to drop off.

Full papers of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union are available at London Metropolitan Archives.  Copies of minutes are also held at the Heritage Service, for 1914 ref: WCU/1/22  The Wandsworth Borough News is available on microfilm.

Central (Unemployed) Committee letter book, 1913-1915, ref: MBB/8/3/3

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!