The Council’s War

Newhaven Urban District Council

During the First World War, the Newhaven Urban District Council offices were situated in the building to the left of the current Town Council offices. At the time, the building was shared with the Fire Station. The Council met at 8am on the last Wednesday of each month. Newhaven Urban District comprised Newhaven and Denton. The 1911 census shows 1,366 households within the district and a population of 6,665, of which 404 lived in Denton.

Frederick James Thyer was Chairman of the Council at the outbreak of the war, until April 1918 when Mr J. S. Funnell became Chairman. Mr Ernest Thomas Wellsted, a local solicitor, was the Clerk to the Council. Both Mr Thyer and Mr Wellsted also served on the Local Tribunal, which heard appeals against conscription. Sadly, Mr Wellsted died of emphysema on 24th January 1917, aged 46. He had attended the Local Tribunal hearing the previous week “although owing to a chill, he sat throughout wearing his overcoat”. Mr R. Hardy Topham succeeded as Clerk on 1st August 1917, at an annual salary of £160. Mr C. G. Mainwood acted as Clerk during the interim period.

Liquor Restrictions at Newhaven

In July 1915, Newhaven became one of the first towns in the country to be subject to the Liquor Restriction Order. The Chairman and Clerk to the Council were invited, by the Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic), to be representatives on a new local committee, which would deal with questions arising from the administration of the Order. The Order applied to an area within a radius of 1¾ miles from the Town Station. In this area, licensing hours were restricted and it became an offence to treat or be treated with alcohol, except with a meal. People could no longer buy alcohol on credit and there were instructions as to the extent to which spirits could be diluted.

Instructions in case of Bombardment

On 16th December 1914, the Imperial German Navy carried out a bombardment attack on the seaside towns of Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby, killing 137 and leaving 592 people wounded.

On 4th January 1915, a special meeting of the General Purposes Committee of Newhaven Urban District Council was held to consider draft instructions to the residents of Newhaven, about what to do in the event of an “enemy visitation” or “bombardment from the air or sea”. The committee recommended that 1,400 copies of the notice should be printed and distributed in the district. One of these notices is currently on loan to Newhaven Museum. It includes instructions to residents about where they should go, depending on whether they lived on the East or West side of the river. One instruction advises residents to “Make for the Hills”. The town was split into seven districts with a Special Constable appointed in charge of each district. Most of them were town councillors.

In the notice, residents are “strongly warned against acting on rumour”. Perhaps this is reference to an airship scare, which had happened back in September 1914. There was a report of an airship hovering above the town which “turned out to be a particularly brilliant star”.

National Registration

In July 1915, the National Registration Act came into force. Forms were sent to all men and women aged 15-65 asking for details of their birth, family, occupation and skills. Newhaven Urban District Council officers were enumerators.

On 10th September 1915, the East Sussex News reported that 25 million forms had been sent and only about a dozen people in the country had refused to complete one. A resident of Newhaven was one of those people. The paper ran with the headline

“Newhaven Woman Refuses to Register.
Clerk Threatened with Dustbin Lid”.

The Court heard that when Mr Mainwood visited the woman to get a form filled in, she “took up an ashbin lid and threatened him with it”. She also “threatened to throw a bucket of water over him”A fine of £2 was imposed, with an alternative of 21 days imprisonment. Mr Wellsted, Clerk to Newhaven Urban District Council, said he would write, rather than call on her, as “the prospect is not very inviting”.

Appeals Tribunal

Conscription came into force for the first time in March 1916 and with it came an appeals process. Men or their employers could appeal if they believed they were doing work of national importance, or if conscription would cause serious hardship because of their financial or business obligations or their domestic position. They could also appeal on the grounds of ill health or infirmity, or if they had a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service.

The Local Government Board wrote to the Council in February 1916 asking them to appoint a Local Tribunal of between 5 and 25 members. They appointed F. J. Thyer, R. T. Clark, J. S. Corbett, G. A. Richardson, W. Norman, S. Sargeant and J. J. Browning.

Appeals at Newhaven were from a wide variety of men, mainly on business and hardship grounds or from those who felt they were doing work of national importance.

In 1918, three of the Tribunal members resigned when the upper age limit for conscription was raised, as they “could not conscientiously sit in judgment” of men older than themselves.

Food Control Committee

In August 1917, the Council appointed members to the local Food Control Committee. The committee’s responsibilities included registering retailers for the sale of various foodstuffs, setting and enforcing meat prices and granting licences for bread to be sold above the price set by the Food Controller. It was also responsible for the issue of sugar cards.

At Newhaven, 9 of the 12 committee members were food retailers, including grocers, greengrocers, a confectioner, a butcher, the manager of the Co-op and all the bakers in the town. At a meeting in August 1917, Mr Clark felt that “it was not reasonable that there should be such a preponderance of food sellers on a committee controlling food selling”In response Mr Norman said “if it had not been for the tradesmen in Newhaven more than one family in Newhaven would, in the past years, have found themselves in the poor-house”. However, the constitution of the committee was also criticised in the London press and on 30th August, Lord Rhondda, the Government’s Food Controller, wrote to the Council suggesting that the constitution should be changed to ensure public confidence.

Christmas Gifts for Newhaven Servicemen

In November and December 1915, Mr F. J. Thyer, Chairman of Newhaven Urban District Council, launched an appeal to Newhaven residents for the provision of Christmas gifts for all Newhaven men serving in His Majesty’s Forces. People with friends or relatives serving in the Forces were asked to send full details of them, including their regimental number, to the Council.

A total of £51. 9s. 6d. was collected. Each Newhaven man serving afloat or abroad was sent a parcel containing ½ lb of tobacco, 60 cigarettes and a briar pipe. Those on service at home received ¼ lb of tobacco and 50 cigarettes. Gifts were sent to 153 men afloat or abroad and 93 men on service at home.

In response to the gifts, the Council received a large number of letters of thanks from servicemen, one in particular stating that “there were many men from many different towns in my Company, but I was the only one to receive a gift from the town with which I am associated”.

By Jenny Flood.

Photographs by kind permission of Newhaven Museum and Newhaven Fort.
Unless otherwise stated quotes are taken from the East Sussex News, copies of which are held at The Keep.