Leisure in 1916: Sport


The sports column of a hundred years ago has a familiar look to it. Football and rugby are the standard winter fare and most of the club names we know today are present in 1916.

With the suspension for war in 1915 of the Football League, clubs were free to make their own playing arrangements and the London Combination is typical of the temporary regional leagues of the time. Match statistics of this period do not count towards official records; teams often fielded guest players or failed even to muster a full starting eleven, while home advantage conferred nothing more than a choice of ground to play on.

From a local perspective, there is the obvious absence of Charlton Athletic, the club having chosen in 1915 to temporarily dissolve itself. The Arsenal, retaining the definite article until 1919 and going by the nickname of the ‘Reds’[1], were in their third season away from Plumstead; and Millwall were in just their seventh season south of the River.

As the examples in the cuttings show, controversy raged (or perhaps just murmured) then as now on the field, but it was off it where emotions ran highest. Many argued that all those fit enough to play top-flight football ought to be at the Front; the Government, however, saw recruiting possibilities where large groups of competitive young men gathered. In fact, just over half of those playing in the London Combination at this time were ‘in khaki’ and footballers had their fair share of killed, wounded or missing in action[2]. The Government also held that sport kept up working-class morale and, as with fish and chips during food rationing, it escaped serious restriction for this reason.

[1] The exact shade of red of the players’ ‘jerseys’ is the subject of some dispute. The view has grown up in recent years – perhaps fuelled by Arsenal’s distinctive ‘redcurrant’ strip to mark the club’s final season at Highbury in 2006 – that it was plum, as apparently shown in contemporary colour tint photographs. However, amateur Arsenal historians Mark Andrews and Andrew Kelly now argue that such a dark shade owes more to photographic paint than any firm historical evidence, and that the actual colour was always a bright red or the more enigmatic ‘mulberry’. One thing is certain: the iconic white sleeves did not appear until the early 1930’s as an innovation of then manager, Herbert Chapman.
[2] Clapton – now Leyton – Orient provide an interesting example. In 1914, the entire playing staff enlisted en masse into the 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, commonly known as ‘the Footballers’ Battalion’. Three of the club’s players were killed at the Somme: one, Company Sergeant Major Richard McFadden, earned the Military Medal for “bravery in the field”, thus cementing his pre-war hero status gained by having rescued a drowning boy in the River Lea and twice rescuing people from burning buildings.


Articles shown include:

Association Football, London Combination Notes. Kentish Mercury, 29 September 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes. Kentish Mercury, 6 October 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes, Kentish Mercury, 20 October 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes, Kentish Mercury, 17 November 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes, Kentish Mercury, 24 November 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes, Kentish Mercury, 1 December 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes, Kentish Mercury, 15 December 1916, p.2

Association Football, London Combination Notes, Kentish Mercury, 22 December 1916, p.2


Blog Written By: James

Blog Maintained By: Megan


The Well Hall Estate: A Family Tragedy


Angela Waters had married Thomas Seal in the Maidstone area late in 1890.  She was born into a blacksmiths family in Maidstone and so both the Seal and the Waters families seem to have roots in the Kent area.  By 1911 Angela and Thomas had moved to Plumstead where they were living with four of their seven children, two sons and two daughters.  Thomas Seal was recorded at this point as a carter but he was able to get a job at the Arsenal and in 1915 was working in the Giro Department there.  As a result the family had a much sought after house on the Well Hall Estate in Brome Road.  The two girls, Ethel (12) and Gertrude (9) were registered at Deansfield School in 1915.

Jack Thomas, born on the 10th September 1900, enlisted in July 1917 joining the Royal Navy and serving at several different places.  At the moment I cannot establish whether Arthur George, his older brother, had also enlisted or whether he was working at the Arsenal.  Jack served for nearly two years his last service date given in his World War 1 Record is March 1919.  For two periods of his service he was based at HMS Pembroke* at Chatham which was the training base.  But the records also tell us that he never returned home when he left there.  On 24th March 1919 he was found dead in a train on arrival at Gillingham Station.  The result of the subsequent inquest held at the Royal Naval Hospital, Chatham is recorded in his papers as follows:

‘…the Coroner, sitting without a jury, returned a verdict of “death from haemorrhage from bullet wound in chest, self-inflicted.  There is no evidence to show the state of the deceased’s mind at the time”.’

Thomas’s next of kin is given as his mother, Angela.  He is buried in New Cemetery, Gillingham, which means perhaps that unusually, given the circumstances of his death, he has been allowed the honour of a military grave.  We will never know if this was of any consolation to his mother and father who must have been doubly shocked at his death having perhaps assumed in the first months following the Armistice that he had apparently survived the war.

*HMS Pembroke was a training ship based in RN Chatham.  It was bombed by a Gotha in 1917 Sept and 136 naval ratings were killed.




Blog Written By: Lynne

Blog Maintained By: Megan

Conscientious Objection


These cuttings offer an insight into the lot of the First World War conscientious objector. Voluntary recruitment and, from October 1915, the Group System or Derby Scheme[1], had failed to deliver sufficient new recruits to the Armed Forces; the Military Service Act of January 1916 sought to overcome the shortage by means of compulsory military service for men of fighting age[2]. The Act made provision for exemption under clearly defined categories – poor health, employment in a reserved occupation and financial hardship among them – but conscientious objection was altogether harder for the State to define and conscripted men to prove.

Conscientious objectors appealing their conscription – the newspapers carry weekly accounts of hearings at local tribunals – fell broadly into two categories: those with a moral or religious objection to violence, such as the Quakers; and those, typically Socialists and Anarchists, with political objections. If the tribunal reports are anything to go by, moral and religious objectors were regarded with a certain grudging respect, if incomprehension, once the tribunal panel was satisfied that the appellant held a genuine commitment to his stated views. This would typically be through long-term involvement in a religious group, thus conveniently overlooking the possibility of an atheist or agnostic having any moral objection. Those in the latter category were regarded with far more suspicion[3] questioning, as they did, the very basis upon which the war was being waged. Socialists challenged the pervasive propaganda of German barbarity, claiming fellow working-class German conscripts as brothers, united in their twin misfortune of having to suffer disproportionately in a war of the political classes’ making, and filling the pockets of bourgeois armament manufacturers in so doing. Anarchists and libertarians, meanwhile, drew attention to the uncomfortable similarity between the derided ‘Prussian’ militarism and that which had stealthily taken root in Britain, in particular objecting to conscription – an entirely new concept in British life in 1916 – as an unwarranted interference by the State in the freedom of the individual. Perhaps not as overtly subversive as the internationalist-leaning Socialists, those contesting conscription on libertarian grounds were, nevertheless, questioning the authority of the State and, by extension, the values it stood for.

Irrespective of the category of objection, failure to secure an exemption from military service resulted in the appellant being handed over to the military authorities; if the non-cooperation continued, prison, hard labour and solitary confinement lay in wait. For those persuaded (however dubiously) to wear Uniform, the consequences of non-cooperation were, if anything, worse: failure to follow orders whilst in Uniform was insubordination, punishable by execution and, especially for those quickly deployed overseas – where martial law reigned supreme – death by firing squad was a real possibility.

Nor should it be forgotten that as well as facing down the full might of the State and military establishment, conscientious objectors endured a social stigma too. For example, men remaining in Britain for ‘legitimate’ reasons were, depending on their precise categorisation, often issued armbands to wear in public, so saving them the shame of being mistaken for cowardly, shirking conscientious objectors, who were not. Even the radical and socially progressive Suffragettes were not above sending white feathers to shame men into patriotic action.

In light of such intense social, military and political pressure it is both admirable and ironic that conscientious objectors, so derided in 1916 for their apparent cowardice, should stand bravely in defence of their beliefs.

[1] A scheme of Lord Derby’s to address the shortfall of voluntary recruitment with a renewed appeal either to sign up voluntarily or, a step towards conscription, accept an inducement – a day’s Army pay – for ‘attesting’: that is, committing to the Army reserve on the understanding that the attester was in effect on stand-by, ready to go to war at the Army’s behest.
[2] That is: every British male subject who, on 15 August 1915, was ordinarily resident in Great Britain and who had attained the age of 19 but was not yet 41; and, on 2 November 1915, was unmarried or a widower without dependent children, unless he met certain exceptions. [The Long, Long Trail, Military Service Act, 1916].
[3]Rightly as it turned out: a key belief among the Bolsheviks who seized power in Russia in 1917 was the international brotherhood of the working classes. Considering themselves to have more in common with the German working classes than either their own or the German aristocracy, they quickly withdrew from a war they saw as a dispute between branches of the same extended Royal family and from which they claimed bourgeois owners of capital were making a fortune at the expense of the proletariat.
Article: Woolwich Conscientious Objector Arrested, The Pioneer, 1 September 1916, p.1
Article: Mr Samuel French, The Pioneer, 8 September 1916, p. 2
Article: Conscientious Objectors, The Pioneer, 8 September 1916, p.2

Blog Written By: James

Blog Maintained By: Megan

Eda’s Diary: Going Shopping (Part 2)

In summer 1916 a meeting of the tenants of Well Hall and the Eltham hutments was reported in the Pioneer.  The tenants were concerned about the lack of shops for this large housing area.  The parade at Well Hall was even further away for the residents of the hutment and if shopping was to be done in Eltham or Woolwich then the cost of the tram fare made shopping more expensive, and this on top of what were felt to be high rents.  The chairman of the Well Hall Residents Association, Mr J. E. Mills, stated that the situation was ‘growing rapidly worse’.  He seemed to be claiming that the shops were taking advantage of the high demand and were increasing their prices – he referred to this as ‘bloodsucking’ – and others referred to the shops closing earlier than before the war and having fewer assistants.  Mr Mills also said that the tenants needed to do something themselves to change the situation.

The proposal from Mr J.P.Pittuck was for the formation of their own co-operative store beginning with three main departments – grocery, bakery and butchery; they wanted to fulfil something that the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society had failed to do but this would not be easy.   If the tenants were in favour then capital would need to be raised from the tenants.  Mr Pittuck went on to say that women’s help was necessary to the success of the scheme both its formation and management as they were the shoppers.

I do not know what happened about this proposal.


Blog Written By: Lynne

Blog Maintained By: Megan

The Well Hall Estate: The Architects

Since this project is about women, where do women feature in the design of the houses of the estate?  It does seem as if there is not one women to be seen amongst the architects on the scheme!

Those who are named are all men and there were very few women in the profession at the time.

The estate was designed by architects at the Office of Works, a central government department, where Frank Baines was Principal Architect.  (One source claims that the scheme was intended to be designed by the Woolwich Arsenal Engineering and Building Staff – how different it might have been then!)  Apparently Baines was elated at the news from the Ministry of Munitions that his office was to design the scheme.  Through his training he had been influenced by the ideas of the arts and crafts and garden city movements and had doubtless gathered around him architects of a similar persuasion.  It is likely that as these architects were in their thirties their earlier training and experience had been influenced by the arts and crafts style which was very much in vogue.

One account says that after Baines had visited the site he ‘set up a competition’ between four architects on his staff – Phillips, Pitcher, Bowden and Parker – and within hours they had all produced designs.  The “winning” design was done by Edward George Phillips who had not visited the site but who studied the annotated Ordnance Survey map that Baines had used on site, carefully identifying and taking into account all the existing geographical features.

Phillips and Pitcher went on to design the housing and the layout (Pitcher was the senior architect under Baines with responsibility for new build schemes).  Frank Baines would then have approved and ’signed off’ the final design as the principal architect and it is therefore his name to which the estate is credited.  Bowden and Parker were mainly responsible for the execution of the scheme. Although the Office of Works did not normally undertake housing schemes, apparently these four architects had all had prior experience of domestic architecture.  Throughout the period of design and construction all the architects were working long hours and a seven day week responding to the demands of building at such speed and adjusting plans to the shortages in some of the building materials.

The Greenwich Heritage Centre has a number of the original large-scale plans of the estate.  They include layout plans, one for each side east and west) of the estate.  On these the roads are numbered rather than named and then there were detailed designs for many of the groups of houses including plan views, elevations and cross sections.  These are all works of art in themselves drawn with a high level of technical skill.  They are credited to the Office of Works rather than to the individual architects. However, we know that Pitcher started work on the houses facing Well Hall Road; Phillips the details of the first layout and elevations and Bowden and Parker the detailed working drawings for the first contract.  These latter were ready within ten days.

And why no women?  Women were beginning to make inroads into the architectural profession during the late nineteenth century and the first woman member of their professional organisation, the RIBA, was in 1898.  She was Ethel Charles who did have some links with the design of houses for the working class, but was not working in the public sector. The garden city movement did have an appeal to middle class women, but there are many aspects of the wider garden city movement that are missing from the Well Hall estate especially in the provision of communal facilities.


Did this lack of a woman’s perspective make a difference to the housing designs?  Did the women newly arrived on the estate complain about or take delight in the arrangement of the rooms or the style of the kitchens?  Indeed, what did they think of their new homes and their new local area?  Are there any clues out there from individuals who have family stories or other accounts?


Blog Written By: Lynne

Blog Maintained By: Megan


Eda’s Diary: Going Shopping (Part 1)

Shopping features quite regularly in Eda’s diary, mainly food shopping.  It is apparent that Eda, her mother and her brother all shopped for food.  We know that queuing could take most of a day and that Tom had been kept off school to queue.  Eda’s mother shopped in Woolwich probably when she finished work.  She referred to David Greigs which was a chain of grocery shops that had started in the late nineteenth century in south-east London and in the diary it is mentioned as a place for bacon.  There were two branches in Woolwich, one on Hare Street and one on Powis.  The other meat mentioned was beef which was bought at the butchers on Well Hall Parade – Hurdidge’s at No.16.  On 25th February, the first day of rationing, Eda said that the shop was full of meat.  A month earlier she had referred to more horses being slaughtered for meat to feed the nation.

The parade at Well Hall contained several other shops useful for daily needs.  The photos show it early in the century before the estate was built, and then a number of years later when we can see the tram lines in the road.  The first shop on the right is The London Drug Company, a chemist’s shop, but just out of sight was a greengrocers.  Interestingly, although now closed, it is clear that this shop was still a greengrocers until its closure; one of only two shops to continue in the same type of use, the other being the newsagents at No 11.  Beyond the chemist can be seen the canopies of Moore’s, a draper’s shop and then there was a confectioners.  The extract from the Street Directory of 1919 shows the rest of the shops which end with No.19, another grocers.

Another shop explicitly mentioned by name was the Maypole.  There was certainly a branch of this dairy in Woolwich and it was one of the places where the family obtained the much sort after margarine.  The family must also have shopped at the Royal Arsenal Cooperative from which they obtained useful dividends.  What Eda doesn’t mention is shopping in Eltham itself.

The purchase of only one or two non food items is mentioned; Tom’s ‘war’ boots being one of them.

I wonder where the other families shopped.  When the woman of the house wasn’t working, was Woolwich still an important destination because of the tram link, the range of shops and the market?  Did some of the women shop in Eltham itself?  With food in short supply and in the days before domestic fridges, was shopping a daily activity?


Blog Written By: Lynne

Blog Maintained By: Megan

The Well Hall Estate: Edith Nesbitt

Edith Nesbitt, perhaps best remembered as the author of ‘The Railway Children’, had lived an unconventional life at Well Hall where she had moved in 1899, part of it as a ‘menage a trois’ with her husband and his mistress.  She was a committed socialist having been a founder member of the Fabian Society and, as a member of the Labour Party, would have had sympathies with the aims of the Pioneer Circle.  She and her husband Hubert had also been used to hosting parties at their large house and grounds and also to hosting children’s picnics.

Hubert Bland had died in 1914 and the war years at Well Hall were not easy because of a shortage of money and the expensive upkeep of the Well Hall house and grounds, as well as the general privations of the war.  Edith took in lodgers and from the autumn of 1915 converted part of the grounds to a poultry farm although this eventually failed as the chickens were killed by foxes and rats.

She also began to sell garden produce – flowers, fruit and vegetables – cheaply from a stall at her front gate to the local Arsenal workers, presumably those living on the Well Hall estate and in the hutments, as they travelled to and from Woolwich.  Eventually, in June 1916, her future second husband, skipper of the Woolwich Ferry, Thomas Terry Tucker, built a small hut at the gate to provide shelter and warmth in winter time and the sales continued.  It was Thomas Tucker who rowed the boat for visitors at the 1916 garden party.

In 1915 perhaps just as building works on the Well Hall Estate were beginning she wrote to a friend about her garden:

‘the garden is beginning to look like Spring –

‘The stream of the Kidbrook runs fuller and deeper,

Bronze buds in the lilac, red buds in the creeper…’ ‘

(Quoted from Julia Briggs’ biography, Edith Nesbitt: a Woman of Passion)

A reminder of the still rural nature the area.

Edith Nesbitt eventually left Well Hall in 1922, living the remaining few years of her life in Dymchurch, Kent where she is buried at St Mary’s in the Marsh.


Blog Written By: Lynne

Blog Maintained By: Megan