Caroline Ganley is a Battersea heroine who remained true to herself, her politics and her commitments unlike her predecessor John Burns.
A profile of CAROLINE GANLEY M.P for Battersea 1945-1951.
Battersea Labour Party has had two prominent women members and parliamentary candidates. Charlotte Despard stood in 1918, assisted by Caroline Ganley who was a mainstay of the party machine and acted like Charlotte’s election agent. Caroline became a local councillor and was MP for Battersea from 1945-1951. From Charlotte, born in 1844, through to Caroline, who died in 1966, to local Party stalwart Lily Harrison who was Lady Mayor in 1953 who remembers Caroline, there is a wonderful continuity.
Caroline Selina Blumfield was born 1879 in Devon. She was an only child and her father died before she was born. She went to live with her grandmother. Caroline was 11 when her grandmother died. Her mother, who was in service, put Caroline in an orphanage in Ottershaw Surrey. In 1901 Caroline met and married James Ganley who was a tailor cutter and was a nephew of her mother’s through marriage.
She had a daughter Ada and they lived in lodgings in Meath Street Battersea by 1904 where her two sons Charles and John were born. There was no bathroom which was a considerable problem and so they moved to 5 Thirsk Road in 1910 which did have more accomodation and a bathroom. This was her home for the rest of her life. Her mother had became a midwife and was on hand to help Caroline with babysitting.
James used to attend branch meetings of the Garment Workers Union and Caroline and the children often went along. It was there that she heard people express what she felt, as well as hearing socialist speakers on Clapham Common. Labour politics were in flux at that time. The Labour Representation Committee was formed to get Labour representatives into Parliament and was made up of members from a trade union, the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party. The ILP was not then strong in London. Caroline joined the Social Democratic Fedration which was a league off London Working Men’s Clubs with Marxist tendencies. She also became a member of Battersea Women’s Socialist Circle. Later she became convenor of the Battersea Labour Party Women’s section. As convenor of the Women’s section in the eighties I was chuffed to learn this.
In 1909 Caroline was catapulted into speaking publicly for the first time as she was the only member and chair at a meeting where Charlotte Despard was the invited speaker but was unable to stay for questions so that Caroline had to respond. One Sunday a few years later James returned from Trafalgar Square to tell her that he had volunteered her as the only women speaker on the platform at a demonstration there against the visit of the Czar!
She became active in pacifist and suffrage campaigns, campaigning against the endemic poverty she saw in her hometown and arguing in favour of women’s right to take an active part in public life Caroline rarely took the easy route. When war was declared in 1914, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (the UK’s main suffrage body) announced that campaigns for suffrage would be suspended whilst women supported the war effort. Caroline, a committed pacifist, rejected this stance and became involved with the British Committee of the International Congress for Peace and Freedom, a group of anti-war suffragists. This position was extremely controversial as pacifism was viewed as anti-patriotic. Caroline and other anti-war suffragists were savagely criticised for their stance.
During the war Caroline wrote a strong letter to the Sunday Chronicle proposing that Servicemen’s wives allowance should be paid through the Post Office and thanks to to her this was duly accepted and became the practice.
By 1918 Caroline had become a member of the Labour Party and was secretary of Bolingbroke Ward. John Burns had represented Battersea in the House of Commons since 1892 but had never joined the Labour Party. By then the constituency was divided into north and south. Caroline was requested to approach Burns formally on behalf of the party to ask him to join so that the selection process of candidate in the election could get underway. This was just after the war had ended in Novemeber 1918. After ignoring two letters she had to call upon him at home. He told her he had vowed thirty years previously never to join another body. So they found another candidate in Charlotte Despard. Caroline admired Burns and when he died in 1943 she wrote to The South Western Star suggesting a memorial to him resulting in a portrait of him being commissioned.
In 1919 Caroline Ganley, Mrs Duval and Mrs Hockley were elected as councillors and with the help of finance from Charlotte Despard the Battersea Labour Party was instituted.
As chair of the Health and Child Welfare Committee she was instrumental in getting the Maternity Home in Bolingbroke Grove estasblished which was her proudest legacy. Battersea Council was at the forefront of welfare provision as well as pioneering direct works housing and had its own electricity supply.
She was among the first 131 women appointed as JPs in 1920.
She was elected to represent north Battersea on the London County Council which Labour came to control in 1934.
Caroline went on to become Chair of Lavender Hill Branch of the Women’s Co-op Guild. In 1942 she was to become the first woman President of The London Cooperative Society. It was through her nomination of the the Co-op Party that she won the Labour Party candidature in 1935 in North Paddington. After 8 years as prospective candidate in Battersea South she won the seat in 1945 aged 65 alongside Douglas Jay in North Battersea. She was one of the 24 women elected, 21 of whom were Labour! She was one of the oldest women elected to parliament and one of the first with only an elementary education.
During her time in Parliament, Caroline was one of the strongest supporters of creating a national healthcare system, and fought to see through the reforms through that led to the creation of the NHS. She maintained a very high level of attendance at the House of Commons and was meticulous in her casework and surgeries.
She and James were the first couple to celebrate their Golden Jubilee in the House of Commons in 1951 not long before she lost the seat by 494 votes mainly due to the boundary changes which were favourable to Douglas. She was elected on to Battersea Council after an absence of 28 years in 53, 56, 59, and 62 and was awarded a CBE. When Battersea was inccorporated with Wandsworth she wrote a poem lamenting the passing of Battersea as a Borough. When Clem Attlee died she paid a moving tribute to him at an election meeting in support of Ernie Perry who became her successor in Battersea South. She was then 85- a formidable woman. When she died in 1966 one tribute to her in the South Western Star remarked ’Her mind was very acute and her ability to draw together the threads of the most rambling discussion was legendary. She was a great pioneer-the most outstanding woman the co-op has produced at a time when few women took part in public life.’
Another in the Clapham Observer wrote that ‘she had a strong claim to the respect and regard of many hundreds whom she had helped quietly and unobtrusively during her long career in politics. Caroline Ganley said: ‘Serve because you want to serve and not because of what you are going to get out of it’ which seems to be a variant of the Battersea motto. ‘Non mihi, non tibi sed nobis’.
She was such a hard-working and dedicated women in her political commitments to working class people and politics. There are very few ex MPs who have gone on to serve on their local council past retirement age with such passion and energy. She died in her beloved Bolingbroke hospital which she had been so instrumental in establishing. It has now become an academy school!
Caroline Ganley was certainly one of Battersea’s indefatigable and long serving politicians and should, at least, be honoured by a plaque in Thirsk Road. I beleive there is some film of her as it got mentioned in the obituary for Mike Marchant who
Caroline’s unpublished typescripted autobiography is held at the Bishopsgate Institute as well as other papers including her desk diary. Bishopsgate Institute – Ganley, Caroline – Ganley, Caroline …
Here is her poem on the demise of Battersea as a Borough – not great literature but very heartfelt and a sincere paeon to this very radical and progressive Borough - Battersea the Municipal Mecca The Latchmere Estate, Battersea – Municipal Dreams
On the Passing of Battersea as a Borough by Cllr Caroline Ganley.
This little portion of the world we have called Battersea
Has had a steadily progressing history:
It could not boast of many stately homes
But had citizens: warm, good-hearted people,
Who cared and shared with those in need.
And when the nation’s parliament did legislate,
Admitting children needed feeding to grow strong,
And mothers needing care to bring their babies to birth,
Sufficient folk were willing to enrol
Upon Committees, Councils and Societies,
To put opportunity to use
And bring results which they were proud to show.
The present century brought Municipal Buildings,
Which, through the years have met their use and need.
The war, South African, revealed a c3 nation,
Compelling feeding children in our schools,
And World War One enlarged perspective thought,
By giving votes to women, with conditions, but
They were encouraged to more public work.
The next election to the Borough Council
Gave power and wide responsibility
For greater care of mothers and their babies
In order to reduce infant mortality
And also save the lives of mother’s giving birth.
This Act well named Child Welfare and Maternity
Gave power, when passed in Nineteen and Eighteen,
To those authorities who did adopt and execute,
Battersea obtained two houses, facing Wandsworth Common,
Converted into use for hospital and service
And occupied within twelve months by mothers
Whose ante-natal care gave greater surety
For safe delivery in all their labour.
The Council’s fame was spread abroad
When special V.D clinic was allowed
And so made safety safer still.
The Borough’s Health was jealously safeguarded
By Officers and Councillors who proudly showed
So great a reduction in statistics vital
That Dr. Addison, Minister of health, when
Opening infant Welfare exhibition expressed his warm surprise.
House to occupy at rents that folks could pay
Made a continuous problem all through the years,
Succeeding Councillors contributed energy and brain
To make best use of Acts passed for this purpose,
But progress was slow, demand not satisfied,
Acts to relieve slum clearance, overcrowding,
Gave power but governments moved slowly in financial sanction.
An artist architect in that department,
Produced a block of flats which are a joy to see;
He also gave us beauty in our reference Library
A service which so many have appreciated
And, like the Coroner’s court, has met the need
Of many who were not of Battersea.
Amenities of life with Lena Ashwell Players
Pictures for children and Sunday Concerts too
Made good use of Halls in Town Hall Road
While Sunday afternoons and summer evenings
Attracted many folk to Park and Common Argument.
War came again and devastation
Laid heavy mark on roads and home and schools
And once again the Town hall call went forth
For Shelter Marshalls, Street patrols, First Aid and Fire Brigade.
That call was answered and for six long years
The common danger found the common friend,
How many leaving home in morning wondered would they return
Or if returning find their home still there.
The shattering thud of bombs, the rattling incendiaries,
The falling masonry, the crunching glass,
The hundreds rendered homeless, yet how amazingly
Was life maintained.
At last the skies were clear again
And then began the task of levelling the roads
And filling the gaps, but everything had changed;
Inventions, new materials, new outlooks, new Parliament
Established new conditions in health, in homes, in lives,
And though the change moved slowly, it still was very sure.
We were living longer; the race was to the young
And sympathy for older folk aroused a welfare care
An Old Folks Welfare group began with meals for lonely folk
Who were unable to get out and get them for themselves.
One man’s kind thought persuaded a great work
And coach rides, Music hall, and holidays
Became the order of the day. A home was planned
Where those who were so fortunate could end their lives days
In comfort and security and not in dreading fear.
And so this little portion we had called Battersea
Caring so well for babies, then their mothers,
Ends by attending to the parents old
And so completes the span of life before absorption,
Just made a slice of history which may not be sung,
But still have made a mark and had its influence,
And carries still its motto NOT MINE, NOT THINE , BUT OURS
Which must resound as such throughout the years
And keep the memory of Battersea alive.