Monday, 19 September 2016

The Well Hall Estate: The Coal Club

Original post: ww1greenwichwomenatwar.org/2016/09/19/the-well-hall-estate-the-coal-club

Ellen Stewart of 57 Congreve was a prime mover of the coal club established in 1917 after a particularly cold winter in 1915/16.  The Pioneer newspaper of 16th November that year stated: “Many were the days when tenants of both houses and bungalows [the hutments] at Well Hall had to go to the Station yard to beg and pray, and maybe, if father went after a night’s work, swear for a bucket of coal.’  The Easter had been particularly bad and men had to load all sorts of receptacles with coal and trudge with it through the snow because the coal man rarely left the main road when the weather was bad.  It was reported that some far-seeing members of the community – Mrs E Stewart and Mr J. Mills and Mr W.B. Peake – had got together in June and planned a coal club.  The Estate Office in Well Hall Road was used as an office and it was open twice a week in the evening to take contributions.  The club was going to offer coal at 1s 10d a cwt.* rather than the commercially available 2s 2d – about an eighth cheaper. They had managed to get a large supply by November and this could be bought by the 700 members in batches of 5cwt or more.  It’s not clear how the coal would be transported to individual houses.

Sadly the newspaper article stated that poor health had meant that Mrs Stewart could not continue with her role, but there were other women – Mrs Lewis and Mrs Flack –  who were helping.  This is a wonderful example of the cooperative community that were brought together on the estate.  Even if not everyone was involved, there was clearly a spirit of self-help among enough of the residents to provide support for local people, and some of this came from the women of the estate.

Earlier in the year Mrs Stewart who was involved in the Well Hall Pioneer Circle spoke to the group about ‘women’s place in nature’ based on the writing on eminent sociologists. She was clearly interested in ideas of the time, but sadly its been difficult to find out a thing further about her earlier life.

*A cwt. was shorthand for the term hundredweight which was 112b, about 50Kg.  1s 10d would be about 6p in today’s decimal money.

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