Old Town Hall

During the Great War the Town Hall had a number of important functions. As the most important civic building in the city, and thanks to its location in the old market place, important occasions such as military processions, a royal visit and proclamations all took place outside the Town Hall. However, the most important war work of the Town Hall took place inside the iconic building.

Passed in January 1916, the Military Service Bill introduced conscription to the armed forces for the first time in British history. Conscription made it a legal obligation that every single man and childless widower between the age of 18 and 41 enlist to military service, or apply for exemption. By May 1916 the bill was extended to married men and in April 1918 the upper age was raised to 50.

Men called up for military service or their employers could appeal to a civilian Military Service Tribunal on the grounds of their work being of national importance, business or domestic hardship, medical unfitness, or conscientious objection. In Carlisle these tribunals were held in the Town Hall, and were presided over by a panel of local worthies including the Mayor of Carlisle, City Medical Officer Dr Barnes and military officer Major Fuller.

Carlisle’s rural surroundings and the city’s railway and industry war work meant that there were many examples of Carlisle’s men applying for exemption from the draft on the grounds of the importance of their work. Munitions workers were not automatically exempt from conscription and solicitor Thomas Strong was a frequent visitor at tribunals, appealing for exemption of the workers at East Cumberland National Shell Factory. Many of these appeals were not successful and skilled young men were sent to war, meaning that their jobs were filled by an increasing female workforce, or those men exempted for service on other grounds who did not possess the necessary skills.

Farmers were under increasing pressure to ease food shortages by increasing produce. The introduction of conscription was in direct conflict with these pressures, as all able bodied men were expected to sign up for military service. Farmers in the region, as across the country, were accused of protecting their sons and labourers from the draft. Farmers were frequently called to tribunals to appeal for exemption for themselves and their workers, often having their exemptions overturned by the military and having to reapply. In May 1917 the military announced it would no longer recall agricultural workers to tribunals, this was welcomed by the farmers who had lost valuable time preparing and presenting their cases before tribunals.

There were also in Carlisle a number of conscientious objectors, who refused to enlist in the armed forces due to personal, political or religious objection to the war. Some of these appeals resulted in imprisonment, at first in military prisons, one such being Carlisle Castle. Others successfully achieved exemption or were drafted into non-combative roles. One such example being Seymour Hutchinson, a Quaker, chemist and bake house manager at Carr’s biscuit factory. Quakers, a Christian group that dates back to the 17th century, believe that there is ‘that of God’ in every person and so do not advocate or support war. Conscription during the world wars put this faith to the test and when questioned Seymour Hutchinson outlined his beliefs.

“I feel that war is entirely contrary to the spirit of the New Testament and it is on those grounds that I could not take part in an army whose sole intention is to wage war”

Seymour Hutchinson’s Appeal at tribunal on 24 March

Many Quakers, Hutchinson included, did not object to undertaking a non-combative role. Carr’s supplied ration biscuits to the army and Hutchinson declared that he had no objection to feeding soldiers. When questioned as to whether he would object to assisting wounded soldiers he responded that he did not and had been keen to join the Friends Ambulance Unit, however his employers would not release him from his work at the factory. Despite a further appeal from Carr’s, Seymour Hutchinson was ordered for non-combative service and joined an Ambulance Unit.


To find out more about some of Carlisle's other Great War sites, return to map