Friday, 30 May 2014

Battersea and Wandsworth's 'Big Society' in the First World War

The ‘Big Society’ was alive and well during the First World War and responded to the challenges posed by it. The civic organisations and volunteers worked with local authorities on a wide range of fundraising and social welfare programmes.

This was the central theme of my short talk at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability event as part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival on Thursday 29 May. The Hospital is celebrating its 160th Anniversary, and in the last couple of years has been working on its archive. Here is a summary of my talk.

The Liberal Reforms 1906-1914

Dieing in 1914 Colonel Holland, a  member of the Hospital Board of Managers, specified in his will  that no gifts were to go to socialist and suffrage organisations. He was probably reflecting the views of all those who had opposed the Liberal Government’s reforms from 1906 as interfering with market forces and as  being  socialist measures.

Those reforms are an important back drop to the First World War stemming from the concern exposed in the Boer War from 1899 to 1902 about the poor health of the nation, and the challenge posed to the Liberal’s hold on working class voters by the Labour Party. The Liberals developed a new approach based on tackling the inequalities created by free market capitalism. The best known reforms were the introduction of Old Age Pensions and National Insurance, but were a range of other initiatives, such as labour exchanges, children’s health, diets and protection, greater wages protection for low paid trades.  This reform programme had not been easy. There had been a fierce battle over Lloyd George’s People’s Budget of 1909 designed to further reduce poverty. The budget of 1914 increased levels of direct taxation on the wealthy and invested more money in educational, health and social services. Although many of the details were criticised by those who wanted more, the welfare reforms did lead to a reduction in poverty by the start of the War, but continuing in-built health problems meant that many men were deemed unfit to serve in the War.

Charitable and Voluntary Organisation

The National Insurance Act was administered in partnership with the friendly societies and trade unions which provided their own benefits. The provision of health and social services was very complex, with charitable and mutual organisations at the heart of their provision: hospitals, dispensaries, homes for unmarried mothers and their infants, orphanages and almshouses for the elderly.

In Battersea as elsewhere a key role in setting up particularly the mutuals lay with the working class activists and their middle class supporters, while charities tended to be those initiated by the middle and upper classes.  The Battersea parish vicar Erskine Clark was particularly instrumental in setting up Bolingbroke Hospital. Other hospitals included Battersea General, or the Anti-Vivisection. Putney Hospital had only opened in 1912. The Annie McCall Maternity Hospital Hospital was being undergoing extension works when the War started and the South London Hospital for Women would be completed in 1916. Hospitals  were funded by voluntary donations, often raised at special events organised by local organisations.

The Work of the Medical Officers of Health

The War put increasingly enormous strains on local authorities and on charitable and mutual organisations involved in health and social welfare.
It was the duty of the local authority Medical Officers of Health to monitor the implementation of the various Acts, births, deaths, infectious diseases, infant mortality, report statistics, and to carry out a range of inspection work from factory conditions to unsanitary houses, check for adulteration of food, and initiate legal and remedial action when needed. Every year they presented an annual report to their local authority. Their staffing resources began stretched with enlistment and with new demands imposed on them by the War. The military authorities required inspections of premises used to billet soldiers and disinfection of bloody and infested clothing and bedding in their hospitals. Wandsworth’s birthrate dropped during the War, and in 1918 the death rate exceeded the birth-rate for the first time, partly due to the influenza epidemic in the autumn.

Military Hospitals

As the first casualties were brought back from the Front there was a need for special hospital provision and medical treatment. Several hospitals for wounded soldiers were set up including the 3rd General London at the Royal Victoria Patriotic School building. Women and men not eligible or fit for military service replaced orderlies who were needed at the Front. By August 1920 it had treated 62,708 patients from all over the British Empire.
The Military also took over the The Tooting Home for the Aged and Infirm off Church Lane from the Wandsworth Board of Guardians, and from April 1916 part of the Wandsworth Asylum for the Springfield War Hospital for severe or protracted cases for the care and treatment of soldiers and pensioners suffering from neurasthenia or loss of mental balance.

The Poor Law

The system of Poor Law administered by Boards of Guardians was continued providing a minimum level of support for the destitute, mainly living in workhouses and some receiving outdoor relief to stay in their homes. The Board, whose members were elected by the public, was largely funded from the rates. It was feared that the families of those who rushed to enlist would suffer financially, while the jobs of many might be adversely affected by the needs of the war economy leading to distress. 

The Government moved  immediately into action to set up machinery to deal with these problems before they emerged. The aim was partly not to overwhelm the resources of the Poor Law Guardians and push up rates. In addition it was recognised that those who enlisted in the army and navy needed not only to have ‘comforts’ such as tobacco and books, but also basic clothing. The Mayoresses took a leading role in encouraging this, especially for sewn items.

Prince of Wales National Relief Fund

The Prince of Wales headed a National Relief Fund, under rules administered through the Local Government Board. Each Mayor was asked to set up a local authority area Relief Fund Committee to raise money for this national Fund. They were also allowed to set up their own relief funds for local needs. Both John Archer as Mayor of Battersea and Alderman Dawney, the Mayor of Wandsworth were quick off the mark. Ward committees were set up made up of local volunteers, representatives of organisations and ward councillors to monitor the needs of their area, take remedial action, and request funds for that action. There was a complex mix of central control by the Local Government Board and delegated flexibility down to the Borough and Ward Committees. The surviving minute book for the Wandsworth Relief Fund gives a fascinating picture of the work undertaken, but as is the nature of minutes, it only provides a framework of what happened. This is supplemented by detailed reports for the ward Committees in the Wandsworth Borough News. Tooting was the ward which experienced the most distress, and the issues involved became very emotional and fraught at times. The wives of men serving in the forces claims were dealt with through the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association. Many local organisations, political, educational, workers, cultural and sport raised money for the Relief Fund.

Voluntary War Workers Associations

The voluntary effort became such a complex operation that Councils were encouraged to set up Voluntary War Workers Associations, which responded to requests for comforts from a central Director General of Voluntary Organisations. The Battersea Committee started in January 1916.
The work of the Relief Fund Committees and the voluntary workers in Battersea and Wandsworth deserves to be fully researched and written up. But the fundraising for the Prince of Wales Fund and those set up locally by Mayors was not the only demand on the public. There was also fund-raising for Alexandra Rose Day,” for non-military hospitals, The Belgian Refugees Relief Fund and Russian, French, Belgian, British and Serbian Flag Days.

Maternity Services

With so many fathers serving in the forces the issue of maternity and children services became an important issue to be addressed. Organisations like the Women’s Co-operative Guild had been lobbying for a long time on the need for improved provision. In the new circumstances they were able to persuade the Government to act. The Battersea socialist Caroline Ganley played an important role in this. Local authorities were required to set up maternity homes, and this became a new challenge for the Medical Officers of Health.

Food Crises and Rationing

Many of the anti-poverty gains before the War began to be eroded as the cost of living went up. Britain’s food supply was vulnerable as so much was imported especially the all important wheat from the United States and Canada used for the basic food staple of bread.  In April 1916, Britain only had six weeks of wheat left. As food prices rose Battersea Trades & Labour Council organised a a local Food Price Campaign and lobbied the Government.

Then in 1917 the German submarines began attacking merchant ships sinking large numbers. The Government had to bring in a measure of price controls,  with the establishment of local Food Control Committees, again operating as partnerships at the local level. To increase food production open spaces were turned into allotments and chickens etc. were kept in back gardens. In 1917, the government took over 2.5 million acres of land for farming. The Women’s Land Army was set up to work and conscientious objectors were also sent to work on the farms. Allotments societies were set up in both Boroughs. There survive minutes of meetings about co-ordinating and promoting allotments. The Government introduced rationing from January 1918.

Disruption to Services and Organisations

Administration of local services was disrupted by the initial rush to enlist. Then were then military recruitment campaigns supported by the local authorities. They lost employees to the armed forces. Because forces pay was lower the two Councils adopted schemes to make up the difference and give it to their dependents, with a guarantee that the men could return to the jobs when the War ended. Many of those jobs had to be covered by recruiting those not eligible or rejected for the forces. The costs rose and this led to political disagreements over the level of rates, leading to a split in the Progressives running Battersea Council, and also disagreements on the Board of Guardians. 

Civic society organisations were adversely affected in many ways. Most saw members enlist, often as groups from their workplaces, e.g. 10% of Garton’s workforce, and later be conscripted, and with many being killed.

Some Questions

Three questions emerge from this preliminary review:

·        Did the experience of introducing the pre-War reforms mean that the Civil Service was better to take speedy action on the central war-time initiatives?
·        Did the attention paid to health and social problems during the war dampen down discontent and help prevent a more revolutionary climate at the end of the War and immediately afterwards?
·        With so many members killed in the War what the effect on the viability of civic society organisations in the 1920s and 1930s?

Monday, 19 May 2014

Why I will be voting Labour to Control Croydon Council

Labour faces a serious problem on 22 May in the Croydon Council elections. It appears that both disillusioned Tory and Labour Croydon voters may be voting for UKIP in the Euro and  the Council elections. A key reason appears to be lack of faith in any politicians.

I can understand why people are thinking of voting UKIP in the Euro election  - to send a message to the three main parties that there is a range of concerns about the way the EU operates. However, Croydon Council’s elections are entirely different. Councillors make real decisions that affect the lives of thousands of residents through the way services are delivered and the way the Borough is developed for the future. They need experience and a common agenda. UKIP offers neither.

So on what basis should voters make their minds up? If they:
·         believe in fairness and social justice
·         believe in standing up to the power of the developers
·         want a Council that will use its limited powers to try and alleviate some of the 
         worst effects of the decisions it has inherited within the requirements of Central     Government to continue to make cuts

then there is only one choice. 
And that choice is Labour.

Tory Council Tax Scaremongering

The biggest threat to Labour is the Tories Council tax scare-mongering. The latter reached an all time low with their wrap around four page advertisement in the Croydon Guardian edition of 7 May. Its headline: ‘Labour Spending Plans = 27% Council Tax rise’ looked like a Guardian story until you noticed that in tiny print it said ‘Advertisement’. The Council Tax scaremongering is of course a gross distortion of the truth as Council Tax rises are capped. For this financial year it was 2%. In any case Labour has promised zero Council Tax increases until at least 2016. As have the Tories. Even if the cap remains at 2% per annum for 2016/18, the maximum increase could only be just over 4% (accumulative).

The advertisement was cleverly timed coming out just before people started completing their postal votes. Labour was warned in the Council meetings earlier in the year that the Tories would be scaremongering. Coupled with the Council Tax rebate, paying us back what they had taken with their increase last year, the Tories hope they are on to a winner with electors.

Labour has rightly taken its position given that the further reductions imposed by the Government on Council Tax relief will be hitting those on low income the hardest. The New Policy Institute has shown that due to reduced relief from 1 April around 650,000 families in England and Wales face an effective rise in Council Tax  of around £60 a year. In contrast, the average Council Tax payer will see an increase of £12 this year, just a fifth of that amount.

The issues in this election are far more serious than how much Council Tax may or may not go up in the future. There will be continuing cuts whichever Party in the power. The questions then become:
·         how are such cuts to be made?
·         to what extent the ruling Party will try to protect those in the poorer    
·         how to use the Council’s limited powers and influence to try and modify many
        of the developments that are taking place being driven by the property 
        development industry?

Community Benefits of Property Development
Pressures from developers to reduce what wider community benefits they have to pay for will continue. The issue is which Party will be most effective in standing up to them. It cannot be the Tories whose Leader has said the Council will pay for the new road for the Cane Hill Hospital development instead of the developer, sending a signal to all other developers that Croydon Council under the Tories will not expect them to deliver extra community benefits. A Labour controlled Council is also more likely to refuse to use CPO powers to help developers than the Tories who have adopted powers to help Westfield/Hammersons.

Redevelopment of Council buildings and sites 
will continue. The issue is whether through the CCURV partnership with John Laing  which Party will protect open space and ensure redevelop for social purposes. It certainly will not be the Tories who have approved building on Queens Gardens.

The Beddington Lane Incinerator
This scheme is going ahead (unless delayed by judicial review judgement). Croydon Council is a member of the South London Waste Partnership  Joint Committee. The Tories originally opposed the plan and then voted in support. Labour has opposed and can use its representation to argue for very tight monitoring of traffic, emissions and consider whether to leave the Partnership and find other solutions to disposing of Croydon’s waste. 

Fairfield Halls Trustees 
are dominated with those involved in the property industries. The Tories wanted to have more control over the Board, but were prevented from doing so. A Labour controlled Council can work to try and ensure that people involved in the arts and the community are added to the Board.

The Library Service
The management has been contracted out, first to JLIS which then sold out to Carillion. The Tories saw no objection to this. A Labour controlled Council is more likely to exercise tough monitoring over the delivery of the contract. And may be able to find a way to end it.

If we want the following Labour is more likely to deliver:

·         Establishment of ward, area and neighbourhood committees of Councillors and 
         residents and business representatives to encourage more participation in the 
         decision making process
·         Altering  the current welfare reform strategy of the Council away from the 
         emphasis on changing behaviour and dicktat control to mitigating the effects of 
         benefit  cuts and increasing opportunities to solve the resultant problems.
·         A halt on moving homeless families outside the Borough to areas where their 
         family and friends networks, schooling and work would be severed.
·         A tougher regime against private sector landlords who have poor management    
         and repair record.
·         A larger new building and house purchase programme.
·         A promise not to sell off any of the Council's cultural assets and donated 
·         A condition on future tendering that all bidders must wave commercial
         confidentiality so all information is publicly available.
·         The establishment of a partnership with organisations on cultural and heritage 
         strategy, and re-vitalisation of the Clocktower as a cultural and learning centre.
·         An aggressive approach to identifying and taking action to bring empty housing 
         back into use.
·         Encouragement of the formation of Friends of Parks and Open Spaces.
·         Re-formulation of the Scrutiny process to ensure that proper enquiries are 
         undertaken with organisations and individuals invited to submit their analyses 
         and views.
·         Return to Warehouse Theatre the Section 106 monies the Council steered 
         towards itself in agreement with the developer as part of the strategy to close 
         the Theatre.
·         Require developers to provide a higher proportion of affordable social housing.
·         Develop an alternative diverse economic strategy that is not dependent on 
         property and retail developers.
·         Oppose more mega-storey buildings.
·         Stop using its powers to assist the land assembly for academy and free schools 
         and other developers.
·         Stop the eviction of tenants in arrears caused by the adverse effects of the 
         bedroom tax and stop housing homeless families outside London or parts of 
         London far from school, work and family networks.

Let’s be clear the Tories will not do any of this.

Is Labour Capable of Delivering?

I have no illusions that a controlling Labour Group from 23 May will find it easy. It will not be able to as the Government further tightens the financial screw. But it can do many positive things  as listed above.

Day One Action

It has been suggested to me that Croydon Labour does not have the management skills to sort out the Council; or to establish a robust vision for Croydon i.e. they do not know how or what they are going to do in power. The job to be done is horrendous. As someone who has been critical of the strategy and tactics used by Labour in opposition, I can understood this pessimism. But the adoption of a more open and inclusive approach to policy and decision making and scrutiny and monitoring could ensure that expertise from within the community can be encouraged to assist. But the first urgent task is to send the Chief Officers a clear signal that it is not business as usual, but a change with

May 23 should see a meeting at which the Chief Officers are told  them that they are expected:
·         The support the implementation of the new set of aims and priorities and the 
         manifesto pledges
·         to operate with more openness
·         to ensure more effective delivery, monitoring of contracts
·         to protect Croydon residents vulnerable through poverty, poor housing, health
         and other social and economic inequalities.

They should also be old to bring the first Cabinet meeting:

·         a list of all decisions Labour opposed in opposition with a view to their possible 
         rescindment and replacement by decisions taking a different path. e.g. 
         permission as CCURV partner to building on Queen’s Gardens; 
·         the details of the budget changes Labour outlined in its amendment to the Tory
         budget for 2014-15 with a view to implementing them
·         a timetable for the first Committee cycle consideration of all policy and 
         implementation changes required
·         a report on all contracts with property companies and consultants with a view to 
         reviewing how to end the tight network of overlapping interests between the 
         Council and property developers
·         a list of all Council appointments to outside bodies to choose new 
         representatives and to set out a new brief for those representatives
·         a review of Councillor allowances with a view to a significant reduction

Another major reason for voting Labour in the Council elections is that it will send a message to the ConDem coalition Government that the public do not support the whole package of austerity measures. The more Labour Councils there are the more likely there is that the weight of local authorities can be used to press the case for an easing up of austerity measures against local authorities ability to provide the services that their residents need.

But can Labour win control?

All the talk is that the Council elections will be won or lost in three wards where support for both main parties is close, and only a small number of votes could change which party wins those ward seats.  In marginal wards the election can be won or lost in the last couple of hours before the polling stations close. So encouraging potential voters to go to the polls, and if need be to get them there by car right up to one minute before closing time is crucial. The old sophiscated What also seems to have gone out of the window is the flexibility that wards organisers and candidates used to have to produce their own ward specific leaflets, to respond to developments in the local area in the local election campaign. So if Labour fails to take key votes by up to 50 votes it will be due to failure of organisation. Such failure could consign the Borough to another four years of Tory control, with increasing cuts to services for the less-well off, more money into the hands of private contractors, fewer and less efficient services, failure to stand up to developers, and the ever growing distorted, non-diverse and retail local economy driven by property developers. 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

John Archer - HSAP publishes pamphlet

History & Social Action Publications



Saturday 24 May 2014

Wandsworth Town Library, Garratt Lane
(Wandsworth High St end)

The book will be launched at 10.45am

Price £4
If you are not able to come, please order through Sean Creighton, History & Social Action Publications, 6 Oakhill Rd, Croydon, London, SW16 5RG. He will send you an invoice inc. postage. 020 8764 4301.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Importance of Celebrating our Heritage

The Importance of Celebrating
our Heritage

Sean Creighton, a historian of Battersea, and former community and political activist in Wandsworth, will lead a discussion on the importance of community history and why community and voluntary groups should see their own histories as important to conserve and use in their contemporary activities.



Wednesday 21 May. 10am

at Share Community

64 Altenburg Gardens
London, SW11 1JL

Members of Battersea community

and voluntary groups are welcome to attend 

From Gun Running to Philanthropy. Katherine Low and Her Family


From Gun Running to Philanthropy.
Katherine Low and Her Family

Talk by Sean Creighton
as part of 

Katherine Low Settlement 90th Birthday Party
108 Battersea High St, London, SW11

Sean Creighton, a historian of Battersea and the Settlement, will discuss the life of Katherine Low growing up in the slave State of Georgia, her father’s role in helping gun running through the Northern naval blockade of the Confederacy, the family’s subsequent life in Britain, Katherine’s involvement in the United Girls Schools Mission, which set up and named Battersea’s Settlement in 1924 after her, and her extended family links with the founding of the Girls Guides/Scouts in the United States.

11am. Ceremony to unveil Blue Plaque
commissioned by Battersea Society

Sean will also be running a bookstall particularly to promote the Wandsworth Heritage Festival 24 May-8 June. Full programme is at

Further details from

Monday, 12 May 2014

Tories Stoop to Blatant Scaremongering Over Council Tax

Croydon Tories have reached an all time low with their wrap around four page advertisement in a recent edition of Croydon Guardian edition, with its headline: ‘Labour Spending Plans = 27% Council Tax rise’.

This blatant scaremongering comes from the Party which put up the Council Tax in 2013/14, and as an election gimmick is rebating it back this year. The advertisement was cleverly timed to come out just as people were starting to complete their postal voting forms.

Suggesting that a 27% Council Tax rise is possible is a gross distortion of the truth. The Government caps rises in Council Tax. For this financial year it was 2%. Croydon Labour has promised zero Council Tax increases until at least 2016. So even if the cap remains at 2% per annum for 2016/18, the maximum increase could only be just over 4% until 2018 when the next local elections take place.

Note: I am not a member of a political party.

Amended version 15 May.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Local investment: Are private developers the only option?

Local investment: Are private developers the only option?

Croydon  Radical History Network presents a talk by

Andrew Fisher

author of the new book The Failed Experiment – and how to build an economy that works. Andrew will explore issues around democracy, local economic development and the public interest, from an economic and historic perspective, including a discussion on the Westfield/Hammerson scheme for the Whitgift Centre. The talk will be followed by discussion.

Tuesday 10 June, 7pm
Matthews Yard
off Surrey St, Croydon, CR0 1AA

Publication date 21 May. Order before 10 May to receive a numbered signed copy at £8.95 (full price £9.95). This special price includes free postage and packing. Numbered copies are limited to 500.

As the venue is free please come early and have a snack and a drink before the meeting starts.

For further information about the Network contact; 020 8764 4301.