Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Who worked at the Arsenal – Well Hall Estate

In November 1917 a local woman, Annie Wheeler, became a widow in difficult circumstances. Her husband, Station Sergeant William James Wheeler, a Yorkshire man by birth, was found dead with his throat cut, apparently by is own hand. Annie and he had several children. He had apparently been depressed and Annie at the inquest linked this to a blow to the head he had had five years previously since when he had complained of pains in his head.
Sergeant Wheeler was attached to Eltham Police Station but the family was living at 10, Congreve Road so we have to wonder whether there were some houses on the estate where non-Arsenal workers lived – perhaps those with some essential local jobs – or that Annie herself was a munitions worker. In 1919 Annie Wheeler was still living in Congreve Road.
A clue to another example of a non Arsenal worker is found in the minutes of the Housing of the Working Class Committee in November 1915 when the Office of Works referred to the letting of 175 Well Hall Road to a medical practitioner. However, three years later in 1918 this house was occupied by a plumber by trade – James Henry Broome and his wife, Grace – so it is not clear what happened about the proposal to have a medical practitioner on hand.
From the Deansfield Register of Admissions where the occupation of the parent is given in the Autumn of 1915, we can see that most fathers are working at the Arsenal; in all but a few examples it is the father’s name which is given. The exceptions include a few workers at the Dockyard such as John James Ketson of 31, Granby Road, a clerk in the Dockyard and David White of 39 Arsenal Rd. Three fathers are given as soldiers: Charles O’Garman of 2 Admiral Seymour Road and Robert Martin of the same address along with Charles Peart of 132 Well Hall Road. A further puzzling examples is David Rumsey listed as an invalid of 5, Dickson Rd.
In all these cases were exceptions made because of the important occupation of the man of household in whose name the tenancy would be? Alternatively, were their wives working at the Arsenal and this additionally influenced the decision to house the families? No doubt as research progresses we might find further apparent anomalies but the question remains as to how many of the women on the estate were working at the Arsenal as well as their husbands.

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