18-24 January 1916: The Military Service Tribunals and Tooting

The Tooting and Balham Gazette of 22nd January 1916 carried several columns by the owner/editor of the paper, A J Hurley, on the lack of a Tooting representative on the Wandsworth Military Tribunal.  Hurley was one of the councillors for Tooting, and last year was vocal about the levels of pay in the Tooting workrooms in the paper, so often used it as an extra platform to promote his area with the Council.  The Prime Minister and the President of the Local Government Board had given assurances that the Tribunals would be made up of men with local knowledge – but there was no representative for Tooting on the Wandsworth Tribunal, although Hurley described it as “that densely populated portion of the borough which has given such a huge proportion of its male population to the service of the country”.

Appeals to the Tribunal made from Tooting men had been rejected “by men who possess no local knowledge of Tooting” – although as this post on the Battersea Tribunal shows, many appeals were rejected by that Tribunal.  Representations were made to the Local Government Board and the Tooting Recruiting Committee unanimously agreed that Alderman Mellhuish should represent the ward.  The Mayor interviewed the Alderman and obtained his consent to serve, but the Council’s General Purposes Committee rejected it.  TheGazette also objected to the timing of the Tribunals – they were held during the day, usually in the mornings – as it was bad for workers and for employers, suggesting that members of the Tribunal “were only prepared to meet at times convenient to themselves” and that they should be prepared to make a sacrifice for the war effort and meet at other times of day.  Cllr Hurley also said that if he were Mayor, “my resignation…would have been both prompt and emphatic”.  At a Special Meeting of the Council on 9th February, Alderman Mellhuish and Cllr Garrett – one of the Balham Ward councillors – were added to the members of the Tribunal, so the Gazette’s campaign was a successful one.

Elsewhere in the local papers, the main Tooting-related story this week was the story of Robert Lubbock – reported in the Wandsworth Borough News. Robert was 17 and ineligible for military service due to poor eyesight so was the mess-room steward on a Government employed ship, currently moored in a semi-tropical harbour.  One of the fire-men fell overboard into shark infested waters, Robert and one of the ship’s apprentices dived in to try and save him.  According to the paper “The Fireman was unfortunately killed by a shark, but happily both boys got back to the ship unharmed”, and the paper was clearly proud of the local boy’s efforts.

Tooting and Balham Gazette and Wandsworth Borough News both available on microfilm.

Minutes of the Wandsworth Military Service Tribunal, ref: MBW/2/30/1

6th-13th July 1915: Recruitment, No Holidays for Staff and Tooting Library clock

Recruitment continued across the borough this week, the Tooting & Balham Gazette carried an advert encouraging the men of Wandsworth to “Enlist at Once” and “Don’t Delay”.  Cautiously, it was advertised as being for Three Years or Duration of the War.  The paper also reported several successful recruiting meetings being held, including on both Tooting and Wandsworth Commons.  The Tooting Common meeting was due to have been addressed by Corporal Dwyer, the youngest VC in London, but the large crowds were disappointed as he was recalled to his depot the morning of the meeting and not granted permission to attend. Such meetings were not the only methods being employed to encourage recruitment, a meeting of ladies resident in the Borough had been held at Wandsworth Town Hall to organise women to encourage eligible men to join up.  The meeting was attended by the Mayor and Mayoress, with Lt Col Burton there to explain the scheme.

The effects of recruitment were clearly being felt across the borough, according to the other stories reported in the paper.  Staff employed by Wandsworth Borough Council were being told that the depletion of staff meant that no holidays were to be granted this year.  Instead, men were to be paid extra wages.  The Wandsworth Officers and Servants Committee, which took care of staffing matters, does not refer to this in its minutes for June and July 1915, being more taken up with temporary appointments and how to deal with the pension contributions of employees killed in action.  Presumably an action such as refusing holiday and increasing pay instead would have been decided by the Committee or the Council, so perhaps the newspaper was mis-reporting the decision not to give holiday pay to employees on active service.

This week also marks the centenary of the unveiling of the clock at Tooting Library and the memorial plaque to Rev J H Anderson.  Rev Anderson had been rector of St Nicholas Tooting and a local councillor, including having been Mayor of Wandsworth in 1904.  He died in 1913 and it was felt that he had made such a contribution to the area that there ought to be a permanent memorial to him – public subscriptions were collected and the clock made by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, to a design by W & E Hunt, architects.  The clock and tablet were unveiled by Sir William Lancaster, the donor of the library and also a former Wandsworth mayor, with speeches from Councillor A J Hurley (also the proprietor of the Tooting and Balham Gazette, and perhaps the reason why the unveiling is so well covered), the current Mayor Archibald Dawnay and Rev Anderson’s son.  The clock is clearly visible in this 1960s image of Tooting Library.

Tooting Library 1968

Tooting and Balham Gazette available on microfilm

Officers and Servants Committee minutes, ref: MBW/2/9/2

13-19 April 1915: Sober Tooting

The Tooting & Balham Gazette reports this week on the recent meeting of the Tooting Ratepayer’s Association.  The meeting started off with some discussion on the increased cost of living, raised by Councillor Cusden (who owned grocery stores, see here for more information), he pointed out that provisions and foodstuffs had risen in price by 20 to 25 per cent but wages had not.  The overall feel of the meeting seemed to be that the competition between firms was keeping costs lower and it was the small traders who were doing worst out of the situation.

The chief item on the agenda was more controversial, as it was the proposed closing of public houses until the termination of the war.  Councillor Hurley, honorary secretary of the association, had placed it on the agenda as it seemed to be a burning issue of the time.  Councillor Cusden felt that total prohibition was out of the question.  A small section of the community should not be allowed to dictate to everyone else and “a man was a much entitled to have a glass of beer as another man was to have a cup of tea” – he quote a figure that £160 million a year was wasted on drink and expressed the opinion that it was no more wasted than on tobacco, there should not be any more slur on beer than on tea or cocoa.  Crime had reduced and the best thing that had happened was the reduction of pubs’ opening hours.  The Chairman of the Association – W H Smith (not he newsagent) argued that the Chairman of the Middlesex Sessions had said the drop in crime was remarkable and could only be put down to a reduction in drunkenness, and he claimed that 80% of those in workhouses and infirmaries were there due to drink.  If 60,000 people a year died of fever, steps would be taken to stamp it out and as a teetotaller he clearly felt that steps should be taken to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed. Councillor Hurley pointed out that drink problems were decreasing, he had never seen such a sober crowd as that on Easter Monday and only saw one drunk person in Tooting.  Mr Edwards, though himself teetotal, felt that the licenses of many of the local public houses were amongst the most respected men in Tooting, and involved in the well-being of the community.  In the past, according to Councillor Hurley, the area had been known as “drunken Tooting” which he considered a gross slander.  Councillor Cusden said that it was “sober Tooting” today and that those who were drunk were visitors from other areas.  A resolution was eventually passed that the Ratepayers Association did not support prohibition but were in favour of the continuation of reduced opening hours.

The issue must have been of some concern to the community, as there was a lengthy letter in the paper from an M Arran of Coteford Street relating to “The War and Drink”, which picked up on allegations that drunkenness was impeding the supply of munitions due to the condition of some of the workers.  The letter suggests that the Government ought to have foreseen the shortage of munitions and that the workers are not to blame, even if there was a small minority who over-indulged in alcohol.  His proposal was that spirits should be prohibited, except for medical purposes and that wine should be duty free as it was of great value.  Beer, however, “is a matter requiring much more drastic and revolutionary action”.  This action was to take the form of the nation becoming its own brewer, so that a purer beer could be brewed, which could then be available in improved pubs.  Those pubs would be “light, airy, comfortably and beautifully appointed, where a man can take his wife and children, where he may drink beer, wine, tea, or anything else he likes…Given these conditions and drunkenness would disappear”.

The reduction in pub opening hours had come in under the Defence of the Realm Act, pubs were only allowed to open from noon–2pm and 6:30pm–9:30pm.  You can find out more about the reduction in openings hours and the Carlisle experiment of government owned pubs in this National Archives blog post.

Balham & Tooting Gazette available on microfilm in the searchroom.

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.

5-11 January 1915: News of the Christmas Truce

Although Christmas is over, news of Christmas from the trenches was still filtering back to those at home in Wandsworth. Arguably the Christmas Truce is one of the best known events of the war in 1914, and the Tooting and Balham Gazette carries a copy of a letter from Tooting solider Harold Macbeth, who was somewhere in France with the Queen’s Westminster Rifles. Macbeth was born in Tooting in 1890, the youngest of John and Annie Macbeth’s five children and in the 1911 census gave his occupation as an insurance clerk. He wrote to Annie on 29th December 1914:

My Dear Mother

I am snatching an opportunity to thank you for your last two letters, both of which I received in due time. We were again unexpectedly relieved on Boxing Day, when we were afoot by 5am. Such a Christmas Day! We were on top of the trenches in front of the barbed wire fraternising with the enemy, a Saxon regiment, quite a decent lot I should think but nothing like the Queen’s Westminster Rifles physically. Cigars and sweets were exchanged and I conversed with one in “Pidgin” French for quite a long time. He gave me quite a good cigar and I returned with compliment with a Woodbine (Ikey) and some few of the caramels you sent. They hoped with us that the war would soon be finished but, of course, we didn’t talk shop. We are boarded in a big store, and there is no room to write properly, and too much noise to concentrate attention. I am hopelessly behind with correspondence, having had no chance to acknowledge the various parcels and letters received at Christmas time. I helped Walkington from the firing line. It was a bullet wound, not shrapnel as in paper. Glad you heard from Wilson, whom I also helped. Please explain and apologise to any friends you may meet about unanswered letters. Hoping you are all well. With love, from your affectionate son,


The newspaper comment that “Tootingites were ever in the forward line when fighting – whether politically, municipally, or Imperially – was afoot”.

The same issue also reports on the first private to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal – Private Frederick William Joynt, who was 20 years old and had already been in the Army for four years. A fellow Tooting man told his parents that the last he remembered seeing of Joynt was of him running out under heavy fire to bring in a wounded lieutenant. The newspaper has actually reported Joynt’s name wrongly, his middle name was Arthur and it is possible to find his medal card showing his DCM award and that he served with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on the Ancestry website, as well as to establish that he survived the war and was listed on the absent voters register for Bickley Street in Tooting in 1919. Sadly Harold Macbeth did not survive, he was killed in September 1916 and is buried in Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval.

Tooting and Balham Gazette available on microfilm in the Heritage searchroom

Access to www.ancestrylibrary.com is available on all library computers

1-7 December 1914: The Home Defence League, absent Councillors and the Cinema

On 2nd December Wandsworth Borough Council had their regular meeting – not quite the last of the year as they met fortnightly and therefore held another on the 16th. The meeting included the first leave of absence of a Councillor being agreed by the Council, Councillor James Allsop was granted two months owing to his absence on His Majesty’s Service at Pembroke Dock. The length of time granted was presumably an indication that the general feeling was still that the war would not last much longer.

An application from the Home Defence League gave a slightly different picture. The Balham and Wandsworth Branch applied to the Council for the loan of six of the Council’s picks and spades for trench digging on weekends. After some debate, the Borough Engineer was authorised to lend the League as many as could be spared and might be required. The minutes do not record where the trenches were to be dug, or why. The Tooting and Balham Gazette report that the discussion on the loan was a high point of a meeting otherwise described as “dull and uninteresting”. The Gazette was also keen that the League received more publicity and that efforts were being made to get the Government to recognise such voluntary organisations. The local branch of the League had some 2000 members by December 1914, the newspaper comment wished to know how many of those members were actually eligible for active service and if they were being encouraged to join up.

The Armed Forces were also a focal point of the upcoming films at the Tooting Pavilion on Mitcham Road. For the first part of the week the film was “The Three Musketeers” but it was to be followed by a special exclusive called “The German Spy Peril”, dealing with the ways and means of acquiring useful information for Germany. Apparently this was a popular theme, as there was also a reference to the Scala Theatre, London, showing a series on the “Fighting Forces of Europe”.

1914 Wandworth Borough Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/14

Tooting and Balham Gazette available on microfilm