25-31 January 1916: The Wandsworth Fiction Ban

On 26th January, the meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council received a deputation from the Clapham and District Fabian Society and the Clapham branch of the Women’s Freedom League.  The reason behind this was the ongoing ban on lending fiction and juvenile [by which they meant children’s] literature from Wandsworth Libraries.

The head of the deputation, Frederick Kettle, presumed that the ban was in order to save money, “something like £5000 a year”. In his view, this saving was being used to fund lower rates, and the money would have been better invested in a War Bond and the rates kept at previous levels.  Savings in rates did no good to renters, as the landlord paid the rates but kept the rent at previous levels – and was unlikely to invest the difference in a War Bond.  The main issue was not whether or not rates were raised or lowered, however, it was the effects of the lack of fiction – “the closing of the fiction departments was a serious thing for the working man in a district like Clapham”.  The principle was wrong:

Poor people had husbands or sons at the front and they got solace of mind by reading novels, instead of continually thinking about the hazards of the war. Young girls, further, were deprived of getting books and were tempted to buy penny novelettes and cheap melodramas…  He was an educationalist…  He had examined the papers of school children and there was an evidence that the children were unfamiliar with the use of a library

Mrs Corner, representing the Women’s Freedom League, also spoke in support of the re-introduction of lending fiction, “from a woman’s view”. She backed up Mr Kettle’s point about what young women were reading, and said that “they were at an age when what they read mattered much” – reading cheap novels meant they were “developing a taste for bad literature just at a time when they should be developing a high standard of morality”. She clearly felt that women were particularly at a disadvantage due to the ban, as she further pointed out that “The novel to a woman was what a pipe was to a man” and that the ban was not currently necessary – “if the time should come when it was absolutely necessary for them to be deprived of it [fiction], they would not make any protest”.

The Council agreed to look again at the ban, and at their next meeting decided to keep it in place.  They had saved £572 from the book buying fund in the year ending March 1916, as well as £190 on bookbinding and £168 on staff costs, so in the interests of economy the ban was maintained.  Further representations were made in June by the Putney Municipal Alliance – only to be declined again.  Fortunately, fiction became available again after the war.

Wandsworth Borough Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/16

Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm

17-24th August 1915: Wandsworth Battalion Send Off

The Wandsworth Recruitment Committee met on 20th August, to a report from the Mayor that the Battalion would, in all probability, be taken over by the War Office in the next day or two.  The War Office did not provide for the provision of bands for Service Battalions, so the Mayor has purchased the necessary instruments and the musicians in the regiment had undertaken the relevant duties, turning out a very successful band.  At the previous meeting the Mayor had reported on attempts to get the War Office to agree to a modified Cap Badge design, he had now had these authorised and would be able to supply them shortly.

Wandsworth Battalion Cap BadgeThe standard badge of the East Surrey regiment had the coat of arms of Guildford on it, Mayor Dawnay’s proposed version had the Wandsworth coat of arms and the borough motto “We Serve”.

Wandsworth Battalion send offFarewell Route Marches had already taken place, with Putney and District on 18th August, Clapham and Balham on the 19th, Streatham and Tooting on the 20th and Wandsworth still to come on Saturday 21st.  The Wandsworth Route March was to include a Tea and Send-Off before the march, which would go from the Drill Ground, Buckhold Road, past the Town Hall, Wandsworth High Street, Broomhill Road, Merton Road, Penwith Road, Earlsfield Road, Windmill Road, Trinity Road, Huguenot Place, East Hill, High Street and Buckhold Road to the Drill Ground.  The public were invited to the Drill Ground and handbills had been circulated by the boy Scouts along the route.  One of these handbills is in the Battalion correspondence file, asking residents to put up decorations and give the Battalion a resounding send-off.

As the Battalion was recruited and ready to do, this was the final meeting of the Battalion recruiting Committee and there are various summaries and accounts pasted in to the volume.  A list of subscriptions given for the Battalion includes a lists of names and amounts given, with “List 5” stating the total donated by local people as £862 16s 5d.  Amounts range from Sir William Lancaster giving £10 10s (his second donation) to a Mrs Hatfield giving 2s6d.  By List 6 the total was £1224 16s 11d and by List 7 it had reached £1251 9s 3d, including the Mayor having given a second donation of £200 and a third of a further £100.  The summary states that the War Office authorised the Mayor to raise a Battalion 1350 men and 36 officers, all Wandsworth men, in May and recruiting had commenced on 28th June.  10 recruiting offices had opened, with the very first recruit being an employee of the Council.  An additional company had been raised for Depot purposes, bringing the full strength of the Battalion up to 1600 men.  57 of the 230 applications for commission were nominated and 32 approved and gazetted by the War Office.  The correspondence file includes some details of those who applied, although only the first twenty or so rather than the whole 230.  The summary in the minutes finishes by noting that 113 Battalions had been authorised by the War Office to be raised by individuals and organisations, but Wandsworth held the record in completing a Battalion in such a short time.

Battalion Correspondence, ref: MBW/2/31/2

Battalion Minute Book, ref: MBW/2/31/1

A full history of the Wandsworth and Battersea battalions, written by Paul McCue, is available for loan from Wandsworth Libraries.

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

15-21 June 1915: Deaths of Council Staff and a Putney Teacher Joins Up

The meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council on the evening of 16th June had to deal with what course of action to take in the event of staff being killed whilst on active service.  Three deaths had been officially reported to them so far, these were listed as Private William George Daborn (2nd class clerk, Rating Department), Sergeant F Beard (store-keeper, Tooting Depot) and E Smith AB (road sweeper).  Sergeant Frederick Beard was with the 24th County of London Regiment, Private Daborn with the 23rd County of London Regiment and E Smith was an Able Seaman.  With a name like Smith it’s obviously difficult to find more information about him, but he may well have been this man as the date of his death fits.  The Council decided that on the notification of each death they would pass a resolution of Condolence to the families and appreciation of the service of the men.  It was also decided that dependants of employees killed whilst on active service would continue to receive allowances from the Council for 26 weeks.

Advice received from the Local Government Board and discussed at the meeting was that the Council should avoid appointing new members of staff whilst the war was ongoing.  Instead they should try to re-employ retired staff, or those who weren’t eligible to join the Army.  The meeting noted that Wandsworth Council was already doing this, and further recommended that heads of departments should be given the authority to fill vacancies by hiring women.  Concerns over how to fill vacancies presumably tied in to the fact that the Council was very much encouraging local recruitment, the battalion correspondence file contains a list – produced on 21st June – of staff in the Borough Engineer’s department who were apparently eligible for military service.  One hundred members of staff were listed, with approximate age and how they were employed, with notes including whether or not they had already been rejected for military service or not – see the images below.

 List of WBC staffList of WBC staff detail

Elsewhere in the borough, an entry in the school log book for Putney St Mary’s school on 15th June records that Frank Jefcoate, a student teacher who had been absent at teacher training college, would not be returning to school as he had recently gained a commission.  Jefcoate later transferred to the Royal Air Force and was killed in a flying accident in Egypt in February 1919 (the log book also records this), having been mentioned in Dispatches and awarded an MBE.

20-26 April 1915: Wandsworth Council and the Forces

Wandsworth Borough Council held their regular meeting on 21 April, which included considering a list provided by the Officers and Servants Committee on employees of the council who were serving with the Forces or who had transferred to work in the arsenals or some other war-based work.  The difference between Council “officers” and Council “servants” seems to have been largely down to the type of role they held and how senior it was.  Clerks seem to have counted as “officers” and road-sweepers as “servants”, although other references to staff make a distinction between permanent and temporary staff.  The actual list is not included with the Council minutes or the minutes of the Committee, although the Council would have had to have kept careful records of staff who had joined up as they had promised to keep their jobs for them and to pay them the difference in their salary  (for example, the salary books for Putney Library show them doing just that for William Mills) and when the Wandsworth Battalion was formed later in the year the file shows that the council produced a list of men who were eligible for military service but had not joined up.  The Committee was concerned over being able to continue the full work of the Council, given that many staff were now serving, and proposed to the rest of the Council that a list of staff who were considered essential should be created.

The Council also decided that a section of the Wandsworth Cemetery should be set aside for members of the Forces who died in the 3rd London General Hospital or any of the other hospitals in Wandsworth.  The War Office was to contribute to the cost of each interment.  Wandsworth Cemetery is officially recognised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as a war cemetery, there are five war plots from the First World War, with 477 graves Commonwealth War Graves across them and other parts of the cemetery.  A further 115 war graves were added during the Second World War.  There is more information and full details of all graves on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site.

Wandsworth Council minutes, ref: MBW/1/15

6-12 October 1914: Rifle Ranges and Recruits

Wandsworth Borough Council met on 7 October. It was recorded that sixty-six members of Council staff had either joined up or been called up, and the Council confirmed the decision made in September to grant all those men a leave of absence and to make up the difference in their salaries so they were not out of pocket.

At a previous meeting the Council had decided to allow the Wandsworth Rifle club to open their ranges on Sundays. At this meeting the Club had applied for permission to drill at Garratt Park, where the range was, for about an hour on Sunday mornings and permission was duly granted. Other Rifle Clubs were following suit – Streatham Rifle Club asked for permission to set up a range on Lonesome Shoot, Greyhound Lane to open between 9am and 11.30pm. Again, permission was granted on the condition that firing ceased at 11pm. Balham and Southern Rifle Club granted permission to the Balham and Wandsworth Branch of the Home Defence League to use their range at the Borough Engineer’s office on Balham High Road and the Council agreed to keep the range open for the same hours as Lonesome Shoot.

Other institutions in the borough were also losing staff to the Forces – several members of Battersea Grammar School staff had joined up, as had over 90 Old Boys by the time the Michaelmas term magazine was written. Several of those pupils were named in the write up of each house, although perhaps L Backlake would prefer not to have been immortalised in his school magazine as a “bit of a slacker at times” who had joined the Queen’s Westminster. Of the ninety plus former pupils in the Forces, ten were in the 23rd County of London, based just down the hill from Battersea Grammar School and the territorial force mentioned a few weeks ago. A School Cadet Corps had been formed and encouraged all pupils to join up, the magazine points out that many boys were almost old enough to join the Territorial force of the New Army and that others would also be before the war was over. Presumably by the time the magazine was published they had realised it wouldn’t “be over by Christmas”.

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

Battersea Grammar School magazine, ref: S21/2/12/5

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