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

2-8 March 1915: How the war affected local business

The work of the Central (Unemployed) Committee has been mentioned before, as has the effect on the war on local businesses.  The letter books of the Committee stop at the end of March 1915 – meaning that, although the Town Clerk may have continued to chart the detrimental impact on the area, we hold no records which directly note the figures.

On 5th March the Town Clerk wrote his regular Battersea Businesses report – the letter book is a carbon copy, so only picks up what he wrote, not what we assume was the standard typed form he was filling in.  The report covers whether or not staff were working full-time and if any dismissals had been made.

Two businesses were clearly doing their best to work to normal capacity.  Gartons Glucose Works had lost about 100 men who had signed up to fight, all the vacancies had been filled as far as possible and staff were working full time.  A wholesale furniture works on York Road reported that all staff were full-time and there had been no dismissals.  The Asbestos Patent Firelight Co, based in Battersea Square, actually had a shortage of men – despite noting difficulties in getting hold of raw material, they reported no dismissals and that all were working full-time.  May & Baker, a chemical manufacturing company, may well also have been having difficulties getting hold of material, but they didn’t report it and were also working full-time.

Two of the companies reporting were definitely suffering as a result of the war.  The John Bull Laundry on Gideon Road, one of many laundries around Battersea, had kept on all their staff but at ¾ time and were reporting a 30% drop in business.  The Easey Wallpaper Manufacturing Company were also working at ¾ time, although their business had dropped by 50%.  Men who joined the army were not being replaced, the numbers joining are not noted and it is difficult to establish how big an enterprise this was.

Much of the rest of the letter book records trying to find places for individuals, so there will be another post about employment problems next week.

Central (Unemployed) Committee letter book, 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