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

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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

22-28 September 1914: Meetings of the local Councils

September 23rd saw meetings of both Battersea and Wandsworth Borough Councils.

Local fundraising efforts for various Relief Funds were clearly well underway, Battersea granted use of the Grand Hall for a concert in aid of the Mayor’s fund and an entertainment for the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund as well as allowing the Lower Hall to be used for a concert for the Belgian Relief Fund, for swearing in Special Constables, as a space to mobilise the Boy Scouts and as a depot for the benefit of the war Distress Fund. Hiring the Grand Hall was £2 5s, the Lower Hall was 15s, although the Boy Scouts got it free. Free use of the Baths in the borough was granted to Territorials either resident in Battersea or whose HQ was in Battersea, and also to any Belgian refugee boys.

Battersea also agreed to bear the expenses of the Committee set up to administer the Distress Fund in the borough, and turned to the more complex question of how to deal with staff who had joined the Forces. Information on service pay and allowances was proving difficult to get hold of, but the Town Clerk was assured it would be available soon. The Council decided to pay their staff full pay up until 24th September, then to pay the difference between service and Council pay. Staff joining up not only caused discussions over pay, but how to fill their vacancies – Deputy Town Clerk Edwin Austin was called up for service with the Territorials, and the appointment of a temporary replacement was agreed. [Edwin Austin later became Town Clerk and was known for his fondness for cycling]. The Medical Officer of Health was also off to join the Forces, having been offered a position with the Royal Army Medical Corps. There were also administrative issues raised by the War, a number of councillors expressed concern over the use of firms with German sounding names, and a resolution was passed that any payment made to those firms would have to be referred to the Finance Committee. The South Western Star reported that enquiries were to be made, and that disagreements arose over whether Ferranti Ltd was Italian or possibly German – they were actually a British firm.

Meanwhile, about a mile and a half West, Wandsworth Borough Council were dealing with many of the same issues. They too decided to pay their staff the difference between Forces and Council pay, and guaranteed them a return to their old job when the War was over, with no loss of position or benefits. The Mayor and Town Clerk were given responsibility for taking decisions on how to handle the issue of vacancies. The Finance Committee agreed to fund offices and staff for the Borough War Relief committee, premises were provided in a building on the corner of Huguenot Place and Melody Road. The premises were meant to be leased for a year, with a secretary provided for six months. They also had to deal with the prospect of an increase in the local rate – the Board of Guardians had increased the amount required, which some councillors blamed on the Metropolitan Asylums Board and called for an increase in directly elected membership of the board to curb spending. Other councillors were concerned by the effect of the war on people if it went on for months, would an increase in the rate be too hard for them? The necessity of finding more money prevailed, however, and the rate was increased to 4s. Permission was granted for local rifle ranges to open until dusk on Sundays for the duration of the war, so that those who wished to join the Forces could practice drilling and shooting. This was also reported in the Wandsworth Borough News and the next column reported the results of the Novices’ Competition at Wandsworth Rifle Club – noting that membership was increasing every day due to the War, which explains the application for longer opening hours.

Battersea Borough Council Minutes, 1914-15, ref: MBB/1/15

Wandsworth Borough Council inutes, 1914, ref: MBW/1/14

South Western Star, Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm

25-31 August 1914: Local Relief Funds, a “Hapsburg”, adverts and pyjamas

23 members of the Putney Ward Committee for the War Relief fund met in Putney Library on 27 August 1914, with apologies from a further 5. Like last week’s all-borough Committee meeting, this was clearly still a popular cause. The first item of business was actually a resignation – perhaps a rather unorthodox start, but Mrs Cooper-Rawson gave her involvement with organising the work of the local Red Cross as her reason for not being able to act as a committee member. Largely the meeting was concerned with membership and set-up – we’ll return to it in a few weeks when they start dealing with requests from local people.

The Wandsworth Borough News carried several stories relating to the war and opportunities throughout the borough. Adverts encouraged Wandsworth recruits to report to 6 Beamish Road, 467 York Road or 157 Tooting High Street, and the 23rd Battalion London Regiment advertised for “good, smart recruits” for the Territorials. Collections for the local relief fund by the Free Churches of Wandsworth had taken place and a man claiming to be Rudolf Francis Karl Josef Hapsburg, Crown Prince of Austria was arrested and charged for not registering himself as an enemy alien. His real name was Christian Paul Klave and he had previously claimed to be a Russian count whilst running a dogs’ hospital in Streatham. The Tooting Local Relief Committee had a dispute over their appointed Chairman (Alderman W Hunt), including one objection to having a Chairman at all – an issue not fully resolved by the end of the meeting. Perhaps in response to this, there was also an unsuccessful motion to exclude the Press from future meetings.

The Borough News also carried adverts encouraging people to take account of the war in their shopping. S Frost & Company announced “normal prices again in nearly all Departments”. Daniel Neal & Sons encourage the “many who are deterred from reasons beyond their control from answering Lord Kitchener’s Call” to still exercise, and more to the point to buy new football boots. Advertised under the guise of practicality as “For the soldier lads – a garment that will be needed both for the Front and in the home” was a pattern to allow people to make pyjamas for soldiers – “In suggesting garments for these brave men, so no one would dream of leaving out the pyjama suit. This is one of the most necessary of all the garments required”. Proposed material was flannel, flannelette or wincey, with the suggestion that silk might not be so practical. The pattern could be obtained from the News offices, and the finished result would hopefully resemble the picture below.

Advert from the Wandsworth Borough News

Advert from the Wandsworth Borough News

Minutes of the National Relief Fund – Putney Committee, ref: MBW/2/32/3

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm.

Tag: Putney, Wandsworth Borough News