West Watford History Group

History of West Watford

Rats and Sparrows

Although not specifically relating to West Watford, but Watford in general and local areas as well, including Abbots Langley and Rickmansworth (and clearly other parts of the country), the following is an extract from 150 Years Policing in Watford District & Hertfordshire County  by Nik Pringle and Jim Treversh that, although on the surface appears at first rather amusing, also serves to demonstrate the harsh realities of living through wartime. 

During the two World Wars, the Governments were very concerned with the preservation of food supplies and by prevention of waste, less money needed to be expended for the import of food and the obvious risk of getting shipping past the enemy. In order to try and prevent waste, pests needed to be culled. This gave rise to correspondence initially from the Home Office and then to the Superintendents from the Chief Constable.

The Under Secretary of State, Home Office, 6th June 1917

Sir,

In view of the importance of taking all practical measures at the present time for protecting the National food supply, the Board of Agriculture have recommended that certain measures be taken for the destruction of rats and house sparrows.

The Board of Agriculture issued a leaflet detailing the following rewards to be made:

 

  • Rats tails 1/- per dozen
  • Heads of unfledged house sparrows 2d per dozen
  • Heads of fully fledged house sparrows 3d per dozen
  • House sparrow eggs 1d per dozen

 

 The leaflet also encouraged the setting up of Sparrow and Rat Clubs to encourage the population in the destruction of the pests.

The Chief Constable sent copies of the leaflet to all Divisions and asked for a report in the returns and payments made.

One reply from "C" Division (Watford) showed -

 

  • 195 Rats tails 
  • 248 Fledged house sparrows
  • 154 Unfledged house sparrows
  • 252 Sparrows eggs

 

Abbots Langley had set up its own Sparrow and Rat Club, making payments at the nationally advertised figure and additionally offering prizes of 10/-, 6/- and 3/- for the best individual returns each month. 

At Rickmansworth, the Rickmansworth Welfare Committee ran a Club offering payments of 6d a dozen for sparrows, 3d a score for sparrows' eggs, rats tails at 2/- a dozen and mice tails 3d a dozen.   The club had regular collectors from Woodcote Farm, West Hyde, Shepherds Farm, Parsonage Farm, Stockers Farm and Moor Farm.

The total Divisional returns for a three week period added up to:

 

  • 6,181 rat tails
  • 4,193 sparrows
  • 7,431 eggs 

 

Payment was made from the Police, who submitted accounts which were then sent to the Board of Agriculture and reimbursed.  Rural beat officers were expected to make payments from their own pocket and submit claims to the Superintendent on a weekly basis, to then be reimbursed on supply of the evidence. This could sometimes lead to hardship, especially towards the end of the week when household money was tight. As in other forms of Police duty, it was the Officers' wives who were expected to make these payments when their husbands were on duty and also complete the necessary paperwork and count the spoils. Most returns appeared to be made as the farm workers returned to the homes after a day in the fields, at about 7pm. approximately the same time as hungry Police Officers returned from an 8 hour tour of duty, when they would quite often find their wives preparing the evening meal only to be interrupted by having to count rats tails or the heads of sparrows!

 

As a footnote, the following is an extract from the Arborfield Local History Society of reports from the "Mercury" and the Home Front in WW1 :

From 26th May 1917, under BARKHAM:

SPARROW CLUB – A well-attended meeting of the Parish Council was recently held with the view of forming a Sparrow Club, for the diminution in number of sparrows, which consume so much corn. There were present the Rev. P. H. Ditchfield (chairman), Mr. Sturges, Colonel Badcock, Captain Goater, Mr. W. J. Hissey, Mr. Isaac, Mr. Blake,Mrs. Harris, etc.

‘Colonel Badcock reported that at the Remount Depôt they had destroyed a very large number of sparrows and rats. The subject was discussed by various speakers, and a committee was formed to consider the matter and to report to a subsequent meeting.’


While on the subject, it appears that Arborfield and Newland didn't have a Sparrow Club, much to the annoyance of the villagers of Swallowfield:

Jul 20th1918: SWALLOWFIELD – The Rat and Sparrow Club reported its successes in keeping down rats and house sparrows, earning 2/- a dozen rats’ tails. The Wokingham R.D.C. [instigators of the scheme in Spring 1917] and Parish Councils were to pay two thirds of the money, the rest to come from private subscription. £8 15s has been paid out in the past year, representing over 1,000 rats’ tails. On one occasion, 50 were brought in from Swallowfield Mill in one batch. 

In view of the undoubted success which has attended the formation of a club of this sort in Swallowfield, it is very discouraging to learn that in three quarters of the parishes in W.R.D.C the parish councils have not been public spirited enough to take any action in the matter. Fortunately for Swallowfield, two of the adjoining parishes, namely  Shinfield and Finchampstead, have been patriotic enough to take similar action. 

 

Extremely difficult to imagine anything like this happening today, but desperate times call for desperate measures. (Ed.)