27 July – 2 August 1915: Patriotism and Can They Believe It’s Not Butter?

The meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council on 28th July was a largely uncontroversial affair, with the reports in the Wandsworth Borough News mainly covering Council decisions without any debate. Economy was driving many of the decisions made by the Council, as well as patriotism, with a decision to dispense with all members of temporary staff who were eligible to serve with the Armed Forces. An appeal by the Central Charities Committee of the Social Welfare Association for London to consider filling temporary posts with Belgian employees was met with a decision to do so only when the Belgians were not eligible to serve with the Belgian Army.

The decisions were partly fuelled by the need to save money but presumably also the enthusiasm for the local battalion, the newspaper reported that after 4 weeks nearly 900 men were wearing the uniform of the new battalion and it was expected to reach full strength in the next few days. Young’s had placed the Ram Brewery yard at the disposal of the regiment as a parade ground and Council support for the battalion included free use of the baths, as well as offices and support for the recruiting staff. A recruiting rally at King’s Hall, Tooting had produced 30 new recruits, all of whom were given a half-sovereign by the proprietor as a “reward for valour”.

A desire to help the troops was also behind another appeal in the Borough News, that of a Mr R Stanley Grint, Ilminster Gardens. Mr Grint was appealing for any bowls which were no longer required, or for funds to purchase new bowls, which could be given to the “Tommies” at the 3rd London General Hospital on Wandsworth Common. The hospital is perhaps the source of this advert in the paper:

Intelligent young men wanted age 17 and under 19 to serve for duration of War at a Military Hospital as Hospital Orderlies. Home Service. Pay 8s 2d per week, all found. Address: Sergt Major, Borough News, Wandsworth.

Finally, the paper did have one controversy to report on – the decision of the Wandsworth Board of Guardians to stop using butter and start using margarine instead. This a “war measure”, prompted by economy, but led to much argument over the merits of both substances. Miss Hill had been very against margarine, but had recently tried “Maypole” and claimed her family did not know the difference, whilst Mr W H Smith said that margarine was often supplied instead of butter in the best restaurants and he saw no objections to it. Other board members argued about the nutritional value, and if all officials should have the same restriction or merely the inmates and patients. Mr Couzens refuted the argument that some prefer margarine by stating he had tasted it last Tuesday and should certainly not prefer it to butter. Eventually the arguments for either, and the claims not to know the difference, resulted in the decision to use margarine.

Wandsworth Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/15

Wandsworth Board of Guardians minutes, ref: WCU

Wandsworth Borough Newa available on microfilm

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

19 November 1914 – Guest Post: She married an alien….

Of all the Wandsworth families shattered by war, there was one group which could expect little sympathy from their neighbours. These were the British wives and children of German husbands arrested and interned for the duration.

When war broke out there was a thriving German community in London. The 1911 census records 53,324 Germans in England and Wales, and about half of these were living in London[1]. Wandsworth was not by any means the largest centre of German settlement – in the East End and around Tottenham Court Road there were enough Germans to have established their own clubs, churches and even a German Hospital at Dalston – but here too there were Germans living in every part of the borough.

On 5 August 1914 the Aliens Restrictions Act was introduced in a single day. This required all German nationals to register immediately, usually at the nearest police station, and shortly thereafter the government started to round up German males of military age. German women were able to return home via a neutral country, but many German nationals had British-born wives and children, who had no wish to be sent to a hostile country. Technically the wives had become German nationals the moment they married, even when their husbands had arrived in England as infants, and themselves spoke little German.

The earliest date of internment recorded for a Wandsworth man is for Thomas Jacob Diener. By 8 August 1914 he had been picked up from his job as a waiter at the Waldorf Hotel Aldwych, leaving his 22 year old wife Lily and their baby daughter Margaret in Sheepcote Lane Battersea with no means of support.

Reciprocal arrangements between the combatant countries were reached to make provision for these families when the breadwinner was interned, and in the UK these were administered through the local Boards of Guardians who administered the Poor Law.

Wandsworth Board of Guardians received a letter dated 19 November 1914 letter from HC Monro, the Secretary of the Local Government Board (LGB) :

“The German and Austrian embassies are said to have placed funds at the disposal of the American embassy for the benefit of their distressed nationals, but they have said it cannot be used for British-born wives of interned persons and their children. The Government has decided that the Boards of Guardians should administer the Funds for these people, but from a special LGB fund.

It is only payable if

–           the husband is an interned alien

–           the wife is of British birth

–           the wife has insufficient resources

A uniform rate of 10s a week should be paid per woman, with 1s 6d for each dependent child, regardless of the husband’s former earnings. This is the London rate, a lesser amount being paid outside London.

The women are to be informed that this is not Poor Law relief.

It should be recorded separately and submitted to the LGB for the Treasury to reimburse the LGB. The register should include the name and address of the wife, names and ages of the children, maiden name of wife, place and date of internment of the husband, and his last address. The Boards should also seek reimbursement for any additional costs, eg if anyone is placed in an institution. The police should provide details, but if in doubt refer to the Prisoners of War Information Bureau, 49, Wellington St, Strand.”[2]

Wandsworth Board of Guardians then maintained a register of all those who applied for help. They received 182 applications from families who had no means of support because the husband had been interned, living all over the boroughs of Wandsworth and Battersea.

How Lily managed to keep herself and her baby until the support arrangements came into effect in November remains a mystery. While the relief fund kept her going through the war, Thomas disappears from UK records after the war. Like 84% of German internees still interned at the Armistice, he will have been repatriated at the end of the war, never to see his family again.[3] Lily remarried in 1940.[4]

Only six other families applied for funds in 1914, but as the war intensifies in 1915 we will see that the pressure to intern more aliens becomes irresistible.

[1] Quoted in “The Enemy in Our Midst : Germans in Britain during the First World War” Panikos Panayi, Oxford, 1991, p.10

[2] WABG/207/01, Wandsworth Board of Guardians Aliens Relief Register, held at the LMA.

[3] Cf Panakos Panayi, “Prisoners of Britain : German combatant and civilian internees during the First World War, p 279

[4] Births, Marriages and Deaths Index, Jul-Aug-Sep 1940, Registration district:Kensington

Volume Number:1a, Page Number:481


Ann Stephenson

15-21 September 1914: The 3rd London General Hospital

The meeting of the Board of Guardians on 17 September noted that 37 of their staff had joined up so far. Those who had joined up were mostly going to the Royal Army Medical Corps or Nursing, with some others joining the TA, Army, Marines and Navy. Generally when thinking of the staff employed by the Board of Guardians you might think of those who ran the Swaffield Road Institution (formerly known as the workhouse), but the Wandsworth and Clapham Union also ran hospitals – St James Infirmary in Balham, St Johns Infirmary on St Johns Hill and the Tooting Home on Church Lane. Staff volunteering for nursing and the RAMC means we can divert slightly away from precisely what was happening in the borough this week and look at an institution that had been developing since the outbreak of war – the 3rd London General Hospital.3rd London General Hospital

The 3rd London was based in what had been the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum, a school for the orphaned daughters of servicemen on Wandsworth Common. When war broke out the building was requisitioned and work began to transform it into a hospital. From 1915 the Hospital began publishing a magazine, and both the Commanding Officer (CO) and the Assistant Matron wrote about their experience in setting it up. Four General Hospitals were to be set up in London and officers involved came from the staff of other London hospitals – for the 3rd London, they came from the Middlesex, St Mary’s and University College Hospitals. The CO writes in 1915 that when the order to mobilise came very little was known and “the only safe course appeared to be to act first and to get authority afterwards”. The school had to be emptied and equipment acquired, including getting the only X-ray machine on the market in London – normally these came from Germany but this was obviously impossible and it would be some time before they could get them from America. Much of the equipment ordered was for a Field Hospital and the 3rd London had different requirements so supplies were starting to run short. The CO describes being given 150 beds, which turned out to be bunks for temporary use in times of strike and not suitable for a hospital. By ten days after the mobilisation order 520 beds were ready – 350 of which were actual beds and the rest mattresses on the floor. Operating theatres were ready and most of the staff were there.

The staff coming to the hospital also had to ensure that the school was fully moved out. The chapel was turned into a store-house, and lockers cleared out into carefully bags to ensure that children’s toys were not lost. Huts were built to act as additional wards, and after eight weeks of work there was space for 520 actual beds. The staff came from a wide range of professions – teachers, actors, dentists, a retired professional boxer, painters, a theatre carpenter – and were all either unfit for active combatant service or were over the age of enlistment. Nurses were found local accommodation, with the help of Captain Dodson, who had formerly been the doctor for the Patriotic School.

The first patients arrived on 25 September 1914, so in this week in Wandsworth the 3rd London General Hospital was very much still preparing for what was to come.

Copies of the 3rd London Hospital Gazette ar at Wandsworth Heritage Service.

18-24 August 1914: The Board of Guardians meeting and the Local Relief Committee

Wandsworth Union workhouse J119

The Board of Guardians for the Poor were the management committee of the Wandsworth and Clapham union and its various institutions – also known as the workhouse. They were an elected body who met regularly to discuss management issues, including how their work was affected by the war and considering how to alleviate distress caused by the war. Their meeting of 20 August refers to the Local Committees being set up to deal with distress caused by the war.

This meeting was the first ordinary meeting of the Board to take place since war had broken out. So immediate were some of the potential effects of the war that the Board had held two Extraordinary Meetings in the past two weeks. They had concerns over whether or not they ought to stockpile food on 6th August, while several of their suppliers asked to be released from their contracts owing to foreseen difficulties in fulfilling them (all but the fishmonger were refused and were to be reconsidered). The second Extraordinary Meeting, on 13th August, again decided not to release suppliers from contracts so long as goods were reasonably available, and put up notices to remind everyone in their institutions to practice economy.

The meeting had a lot to consider – there was an argument over a mother’s complaint about the treatment of a child at St James’ Infirmary, which was extensively reported on by the Wandsworth Borough News. The News did not report any of the other discussions held by the Board, but their minutes had several updates following their Extraordinary Meetings. As with the Extraordinary Meeting, a big issue was how to deal with financial distress. Staff who dealt with Outdoor Relief (payments to those not in the workhouse, or Wandsworth Institution as it was then known) were recalled from holiday and they decided to co-ordinate with the local committees which councils were setting up to make sure that people were not receiving two sets of payments.

The Board meeting took place the day after the Wandsworth Committee was formed to administer the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund. That meeting was so well attended that the list of those present covers two pages of the minutes. Letters from the Local Government Board encouraging the temporary filling of vacancies were circulated to help prevent local financial hardship. A 45 person strong Grand Committee was formed, with sub-committees for each ward. The Putney ward committee alone had 40 members appointed. Each committee agreed to find volunteers for administration, with one secretary appointed by the Council, and were to have their first meeting on 27 August. It’s hard to know if the incredibly high attendance at this meeting was concern for the cause, interest in a high profile fund or enthusiasm for doing their bit for the war. Certainly attendance at the next Executive Committee meeting in September was not quite so high!

Photo – J119, Wandsworth Union, Swaffield Road

Minutes of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union Board of Guardians – full records of the Union are held by London Metropolitan Archives, copies of the minutes can also be found at Wandsworth Heritage Service

Minutes of the Wandsworth Local Relief Committee, ref: MBW/2/32/2

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!