23-29 May 1916: The Price of Milk

Home supplies were raised at the meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council on 24th May 1916.  A letter from Lady Denman suggesting that restrictions on keeping chickens and other fowl should be lifted for the duration of the war to encourage people to keep their own was met with the response that no such restrictions currently existed, before the meeting moved on to the price of milk.

A letter had been received from Acton Urban District council, forwarding a resolution which they intended to pass to the Local Government Board:

That in the interest of Public Health and Child Welfare, this Council view with grave concern an increase in the price of milk, particularly at a time when Local Authorities are being urged by the Government to exercise every precaution in the care of infants, and respectfully urges the Government to take such steps as may be necessary to control the price of milk in the interests of the children of the nation.

The Public Health Committee recommended that no action be taken, and the Council agreed with them – although Councillor Hurley did say he did not see why milk should be 6d a quart and that the Council ought to concur with the resolution. Ironically, several of the adverts on the page reporting the meeting in the Wandsworth Borough News were for local dairies, Morgan & Sons of East Hill and C H Cookson of Creswick Dairy Farm, Earlsfield Road among them.  Cookson’s claimed to be the only dairy farm in Earlsfield where cows are kept on the premises.

The Council also raised strong objections to the suggestion that Conscientious Objectors could work for them in posts vacated by men serving with the Armed Forces. The Committee on work of National Importance had suggested it as a possibility for Tribunals to determine what work COs could take, and had supplied a list of potential posts.  They hoped that the Council would employ people who had gained exemption based on getting a job considered of national importance – a suggestion to which the Council “strongly protested”.

Wandsworth Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/16

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm.

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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