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.

26 October – 1 November 1915: Recruiting Women

On 26th October, local Councils were sent a memo from the Local Government Board, relating to recruiting and local committees. This was proposing the creation of “starred” men, who would be considered exempt from military service, and a mechanism for ensuring that men who were not in essential occupations, but might otherwise be unable to serve, would be able to gain exemption. Further proposed was the creation of Local Tribunals for the area covered by each Council, these were made up of a group of local Councillors who could allow or deny applications for exemption – the Heritage Service holds records for both the Battersea and Wandsworth Local Tribunals so we will come back to these in future weeks.

The memorandum also encouraged local authorities to support recruitment as far as possible “by stimulating local enthusiasm, by lending accommodation, by facilitating the employment of women in place of men who enlist and in other ways”. Both local borough councils had already provided accommodation for recruitment and for local troops – as well as trying to provide benefits for serving soldiers such as discounts at the local baths.

This was not the first time employing women had been proposed, the Board of Guardians for the Wandsworth and Clapham Union meeting of 11 March 1915 reported on a circular received which said: “There are some posts in which the employment temporarily of women in place of men may be practicable”. At their meeting of 28th October they approved the appointment of a set of Female Relieving Officers, although it is not clear if this was an innovation or not. Wandsworth Borough Council minutes of 16th June record an earlier recommendation to avoid making new appointments during the War, and to try to hire staff who were retired or ineligible for active service. In fact, the Council had already been doing so and authorised heads of Council Departments to fill vacancies by temporarily hiring women.

Clapham Library c1910It is quite hard to trace where the plan to hire women to fill Council posts is recorded – Council and Committee minutes only name senior staff, most of whom were ineligible for active service anyway, and few wages books which might record staff survive. The ones which do survive are both for libraries, Putney Library and Clapham Library. Putney’s wages book does give insight in to the story of Lieut Mills, but it is not obvious if they were hiring women to fill vacancies – they do not appear to have taken on any extra staff at all. The Clapham Library wages book gives slightly more information. The permanent staff were all men, but from the week ending 22nd May 1915 to the week ending 23rd October 1915 a Miss H M Inkster was employed as a temporary assistant. She returned for a further 6 months between November 1916 and May 1917, and has been rather difficult to trace further information about, despite the relatively uncommon surname – she does not appear to be related to the Inkster who was Librarian of Battersea (and who had instigated a policy of hiring women when the library opened in 1890) and the records do not note her first name. Another temporary assistant, Miss F R Richards, was taken on the week ending 5th June and stayed until the week ending 30th October 1915. Both Miss Inkster and Miss Richards were being paid 18s per week, it’s hard to establish if this was more or less than a mal equivalent, as the Clapham Librarian was on £2 1s 4d a week and the various staff listed were all on less than 18s per week – perhaps due to a different rate of pay for temporary staff, the wages book does not say. A junior assistant, Miss C K Wray, is taken on in November earning 9s a week, 2s a week less than A R Browne, who was also working at the Library. A second new junior assistant was taken on in May 1917, a Miss J M Wilkinson – presumably continuing the policy of hiring women.

Elsewhere in the borough, the libraries were coming in for criticism for a different policy – that of refusing to lend fiction. The Wandsworth Borough News devotes half a column to this, referring to it as “Bumbledom in Excelsis” – although the column also refers to being served by a “pert young lady librarian”, so the hiring policy was clearly being implemented across the borough. The fiction ban was in place as an economy measure, and the Borough News recommended all those who would like to see if over-turned to make representations to the Council as soon as possible. The ban, despite deputations, remained in place until 1918.

Clapham Library Wages book, ref: MBW/5/6/17

Putney Library Wages book, ref: MBW/5/6/16

Local Government Board circular, in Battersea Battalion Recruitment file, ref: MBB/8/2/15

Wandsworth Borough News, 29 October 1915, available on microfilm

10th-16th August 1915: Wandsworth Battalion Recruits

Enlisting Flyer & ProofRecruitment of the Wandsworth Battalion had progressed well, in July the Recruiting Committee of Wandsworth Council had produced 15,750 handbills and posters which had been distributed throughout the borough.  The proof copy and the finished version are below.  This had resulted in over 900 men having signed up by the end of July and by 4th August, when they paraded at the Ram Brewery, there were 1020 men.


Now that the battalion was recruited, other concerns began to take over.  Subscriptions had been taken to support the battalion and equipment had to be acquired.  Bourn & Tant, Army, Navy & Hospital Contractors wrote offering to supply good with immediate delivery.  These included:

  • 2000 pairs of woollen gloves at 1/3½ per pair
  • 3000 navy mitts with thumb at 1/6½ per pair
  • 10,000 Best Fleecy Pants or Vest at 22/9 per dozen
  • 10,000 Army Grey Shirts at 2/4½, 3/6, 4/4½ each
  • 10,000 Khaki Shirts at 2/11, 3/9, 4/4½ each
  • 4000 Cashmere socks 6/11 a dozen
  • 4500 knitted socks 10/11 a dozen

The file does not record what, if any, of this list was ordered.  There is a copy of an appeal by the Mayoress to the ladies of the borough to not forget their own and to knit men’s socks.  “The Colonel writes: ‘Socks, Socks, Socks, we want 2000 of them, and presently gloves; at 6am the rifles handle very coldly, and finger ends get chilled.’

Not only did the men have to be equipped, but order had to be maintained in a battalion where all the men were local and might be expected to enjoy local amenities.  The correspondence file contains a list of the pubs in Wandsworth at the time, attached to a copy of a letter written to all the licence holders from the Adjutant of the Battalion.

I am instructed by the Commanding Officer to bring to your notice the fact of the absence of insobriety among the men during the formation of the Wandsworth Battalion

This reflects the very greatest credit upon the way in which Licence holders in this district have conducted their establishments, and I am further instructed to thank you for the great forethought you have shown in conducting your business, in regards to soldiers, which greatly assists in maintaining the character of your local Regiment.

Local pub landlords had perhaps been requested to not allow soldiers to get drunk in order to help keep the battalion popular locally, although no such suggestion is recorded in the minutes or the correspondence.  The letter even emphasises that it is their local regiment, presumably to keep them on side and remind them that slightly lower profits could be contributing to the war effort.

Both the equipment suggestions and the implied worries over insobriety suggest that raising a battalion in short space of time was no small task.  Wandsworth may have been one of the quickest to raise a battalion to full strength, but recruitment was not the only, and perhaps not the hardest, task involved in doing so.

Insobriety letter - recruitment file List of pubs - recruitment file

Members of the Wandsworth Battalion

Wandsworth Battalion minutes, ref: MBW/2/31/1

Wandsworth Battalion correspondence, ref: MBW/2/31/2

8-14 June 1915: The Wandsworth Recruiting Committee and the beginnings of the Battersea Battalion

The meeting of the Executive Sub-Committee for the Wandsworth Battalion took place on 14th June 1915, held at the Town Hall in Wandsworth.  This was the third meeting which had taken place, but the first for this particular sub-committee.  One of the first matters for discussion on their agenda was the appointment of a Colonel for the battalion, and they had two possible candidates.

The first candidate was Captain Burton, a 47 year old bachelor who was currently a non-gazetted Major.  Since the outbreak of war he had spent nine months in the Paymasters Office and had then been appointed second in command of the 12th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment (Rotherhithe).  He was currently residing in the Charing Cross Hotel but would qualify for the position by living in Wandsworth.  Captain Gethen was 64 and had lived in Tooting Bec Gardens for twenty years.  He was a retired stockbroker, having also organised and recruited an 85 strong Mounted Detachment in the Boer War and was currently in charge of the Clapham Volunteers and an experienced Quartermaster.  The post went to Captain Burton, at which point the minutes begin to refer to him as Major Burton instead.  This was subject to confirmation by the War Office and the Major taking up residence in the borough.

Major Burton was to be present when officers were interviewed for the battalion, and several candidates were present at the meeting, including one for a captaincy and five for lieutenants and second lieutenants.  The candidates were interviewed, but no decisions were to be made for the present (further interviews take place next week).  The candidate for Captaincy was a Captain Hallett, who had lived in Clapham for twenty years and was 54, having retired from the Royal West Sussex Regiment in 1892 after 11 years as an officer.  The applicants for Lieutenants included:

  • Second-Lieutenant Hoare, of Nicosia Road, aged 30 ¾, who had previously been in the ranks of the Seaforth Highlanders and was now in the 4th Royal Irish.
  • R H Harker, Haldon Road, who was 28, married with two children and was sub-commandant of the Wandsworth and Earlsfield Athletic Volunteer Force. He had been recommended by Lieut-Colonel Haskett Smith as knowing the 1914 drill and having drilled a full company on several ocacsions.
  • Mr Courtenay Bishop, a 36 year old widower with one child who was resident in Victoria Road, Clapham. He was an engineer with the 1st Battalion Surrey Volunteer Force.
  • Second Lieutenant Greene, currently held an appointment with the 7th Dorsets but had been on active service in Northern France with the 15th County of London Regiment (Civil Service Rifles). He was 22, spoke French and had previously been a civil servant.
  • Mr GW Buchanan was the director of a building contractor who lived in Trinity Road. He was 31 and an instructor for the Signalling Company of the 1st Wandsworth Battalion Home Defence Corps, who had also previously spent 7 years with the London Scottish.

This was a busy week across what is now Wandsworth as the regular meeting of Battersea Borough Council took place, with the first reference in the minutes to the borough also being asked to recruit a battalion.  The Mayor was authorised to raise a local unit of infantry and the Recruiting Officer was requesting offices in the Lower Hall of Battersea Town Hall to use as offices and a store.  It may sound as if Wandsworth had been asked to recruit a battalion before Battersea, but this was the first Battersea Council meeting since 12 May, whereas Wandsworth’s Council meeting was on 19th May so the Council were able to authorise arrangements faster – the request to Battersea had already been in the local paper.  Battersea’s connections with the Forces also included the headquarters of the 23rd County of London regiment on St John’s Hill, a connection marked in the meeting’s minutes by an invitation to all members and staff of the Council to a memorial service for the fallen of the 23rd in St Mary’s Church, Battersea, to be held on 12th June.

Wandsworth Recruitment Committee minutes, ref: MBW/2/31/1

Battersea Borough Council minutes, ref: MBB/1/16

23-29 March 1915: Recruitment, Allotments and Suffragists

We’ve been focusing on Battersea slightly more over the last few weeks, mainly because the records for Battersea have more detail in them for February and March 1915.  There was still plenty going on across the rest of the borough, including a meeting of Wandsworth Council on 24th March.

One of the items considered by the Council was a letter from the Executive Committee of the Metropolitan Boroughs’ Standing Joint Committee, which raised concerns over the local government election due to take place in November 1915.  They were worried that men who were away on active service with the Forces would be unable to stand as Councillors or Aldermen and wanted the Local Government Board to remove all disqualifications, including the one relating to residency.  The Council agreed to make representations agreeing with the letter.  It wasn’t just their own numbers that they had cause to discuss, a letter from the Local Government Board pointed out the importance of releasing men as far as possible from other occupations to join the Forces.  Councils were encouraged to hire older men to replace recruits or “where conditions allow, women workers”.  Wandsworth Council responded by putting notices in all their offices encouraging men to join up and specifically pointing out that wages would be met.  Not only that, but they recommended that no other men who were of an age to join up should be taken in to the Council’s service.

Councillor Foot raised the matter of a petition submitted to the London County Council by residents of Roehampton, asking that the LCC obtain allotments in the area and asked the Council to support it.  According to the Wandsworth Borough News, the petition was read out and the reasons for it included that no house or cottage occupied by the working class in Roehampton had sufficient ground to grow vegetables.  Rents and the cost of living were high, but wages lower than that paid to the more metropolitan worker.  Councillor Foot felt that the Council should support the petition as it was to use ground for productive purposes, and Alderman Cresswell seconded him – noting that Southfields allotments were greatly appreciated.  An amendment was put forward after debate to make no order in the matter, and this was the motion which won.

The Borough News also reported on a meeting of the Wandsworth Committee of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage, which had been held at the Town Hall – also on 24th March. Lady Frances Balfour spoke, and remarked that since the outbreak of war, the question of suffrage had been scarcely mentioned.  The suffragists felt that this was not a time to press their claims, but she thought that “they would never have to refute that old and curious fallacy that women have nothing to do with war”.  Women were assisting in keeping soldiers well supplied, and working in factories making ammunition and explosives, as well as hundreds of nurses volunteering for service.  Details of the activities of members of the Wandsworth branch were also given at the meeting, although the paper mainly reports on the headline speaker.

Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/15

Wandsworth Borough News, 26th March 1915

23 February-1 March 1915: Wages arguments

Following his concerns in last week’s Tooting and Balham Gazette, the Wandsworth Borough News reported on 26 February that Councillor Hurley had been the subject of a letter of complaint to the Relief Committee.  The full Relief Committee met a few days after the paper was printed and the Mayor read aloud a letter from the secretaries of the Women’s sub-committee.  The letter accused Cllr Hurley of disturbing the workers and “assuming an offensive tone towards the supervisor”, and said that the women who were cleaning the floor had volunteered to do so and had not done the full working day.  Cllr Hurley did not take kindly to the suggestions that he was stirring up trouble in the workroom, particularly when the vice-chair of the Workroom Committee assured the Committee that the women had volunteered and there was no hardship, visitors to the workroom were welcome as long as they “behaved in a proper way…it would be very difficult to manage over a hundred women if people come in saying they ought to revolt”.  The Mayor told him off for interrupting to declare that this was not true.  Eventually, after a lot of arguing, the matter was referred back to the Women’s Employment sub-committee.

The argument over pay was not reserved to the Women’s Workroom in Tooting – Battersea Borough Council were also considering it at their meeting on 24th February, as reported in the South Western Star.  A letter from the Battersea Trades and Union Council had been received by the Highways and Works Committee, asking that labourers should receive an increase of one half-penny per hour (approximately 10p today).  The Committee had referred it up to Council without comment, and many of the Councillors argued that it should go back to Committee in order for them to fully discuss the reasons behind a proposed wage rise.  Councillor Lane pointed out that the Council had not given a payrise when the London master builders had done so in 1913 and that there was likely to be a slump after the war “the moneyed classes were reaping huge profits from the swollen prices of commodities and the working classes were entitled to their share of the profits, they being the people who suffered most”.  Councillor Mutter noted that Silkstone, a more expensive type of coal, had gone up in price by 4s a ton, while the cheaper type had gone up by 10s a ton, meaning that poorer people had a larger price hike to deal with.  His knowledge of Silkstone apparently caused much amusement in the chamber, but he made clear that he felt the wage rise should be considered.  The decision was referred back, whilst the same Committee’s decision to grant a payrise requested by the London District Committee of the Associated Blacksmiths’ and Ironworkers’ Society was agreed.  It didn’t go through smoothly, as some councillors felt that the timing was not right and that it should also be referred back to the Highways and Works Committee, but it was adopted.

The rise in the cost of fuel was not only used as a justification for a payrise, it was also causing budgetary problems for the Baths and Washhouses Committee.  Free entry to Council baths had been granted to members of the Territorial Forces, which now had to be withdrawn and replaced with half-price entry as the cost of fuel had increased.

South Western Star and Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm.

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