Skip to main content

To search our directory of workers at HM Factory Gretna either enter any name, place of birth or place of death in the search box or if you know what their job was from select from the drop-down menu.

Photo of Caroline Primrose

Caroline Primrose

Women’s Police Service
Birthplace Dumfriesshire Dumfries ScotlandPlace of Residence at HM Factory Gretna Women’s Police Barracks No. 1 Date of Birth: June 2, 1879 Date of Death: July 5, 1943


Caroline Margaret Primrose was born on 2nd June 1879 *at 54 Irish Street, Dumfries** to William Primrose , solicitor, aged 43 *, and Caroline Elizabeth (nee Moses) **wife, aged 26. 

Her father was employed and subsequently also an employer in the family firm of solicitors following in his father’s footsteps. At his death in 1925 aged 88 he had served for 64 years and his father also called William (Alexander)  .between them serving for over a century. Described as an old Dumfries family and having been an Honorary Sherriff Substitute. 

Her mother, although born in Leamington Warwickshire, lived in Brampton, Cumberland , the only daughter of a draper with 6 children who employed domestic servants and sent their daughter away to Culchech School, Bowden, Cheshire now closed. She was there aged 16. Clearly only families with money would send their children to school at this age.

According to the 1881 census the household comprised of:- William 42, Head of Household, Caroline Elizabeth 26 Wife, Caroline Margaret  1 Daughter, Mary McMath 31 servant, Agnes Henderson 30 servant, Isabella Seaton 21 servant.

 By 1891 Caroline Margaret, a scholar aged 11,  was living at Primrose Hill, Maxwelltown, Dumfries. Maxwelltown  was a separate township to Dumfries until 1929 when they merged.   It is likely that she  attended the local Drumsleet school that could accommodate  127 pupils although in 1884 only had an average of 57 attending

By 1891, still at Primrose Hill – clearly named after the family and described as having at least 14 rooms with  “ a handsome cottage residence in good repair having 2 acres of ornamental ground attached.’ 

There are numerous other  properties  listed on the Valuation Rolls for Dumfries at the time as being owned by William Primrose.

The 1891 household comprised William 53 head, Caroline Elizabeth 35 wife, Caroline M 11 scholar, William K ( Kenneth) 8 son, Alexander  f ( Fergusson)1 son, Margaret Lenwood 27 nurse, Elizabeth Edgar 34 cook, Mary Torrance  31 servant. Caroline must have had to get used a variety of people in her house as staff appear to change at least every 10 years, 

According to the  1901 census for Scotland when Caroline was  21 the family were still living at Primrose Hill, Caroline being described as “ At home “

Her father was 63, head,  her mother 46, wife, brother William Kenneth now 18 was a law apprentice we can assume  in the family firm, Alexander now aged 11 is missing from the census so could have been away at school. Three domestic servants are listed, Mary Henry 30, Ellen Crosleie 29, Margaret Muir 21 and Elizabeth Moses 82 Mother in Law.

The 1911 census clearly states that the property had at least 14 rooms with 1 or more windows.

Now at Primrose Hill are William aged 73  still described as a solicitor and employer so still practicing, Caroline Elizabeth, 56, wife, Caroline Margaret , 31 with no occupation listed. Brother William K , now a solicitor aged 28 still single and living at home, No brother Alex, who by now is 21. The household still employed 3 servants – Margaret Dunbar, 29, Johann Beattie, 22, Jeannie McDonald 18 and they had a visitor Jane Margaret Lumley aged 59.

In 1907 William Kenneth had joined the 5th Dumfries and Galloway Battalion of the Kings Own Scottish Border Regiment territorial service as a 2nd Lieutenant according to the Territorial Gazette of 1908. His service lasted until May 1914. This qualified him to be able to use The Connaught Club , Marble Arch, an address that appears on a passenger list for o Caroline’s transatlantic journey on the “ Laconia” from Liverpool to Boston in May 1931 for her nearest relative. We also know that he served in the Army Service Corps as an acting Sergeant.

Up to this point Caroline has been “at home”, it is not clear how she occupied her days or what her interests might have been  but the Primrose family are clearly monied. Her father is at some point High Sherriff Substitute for Dumfrieshire. The suffragette movement was active and it is unclear whether Caroline was a sympathizer or an activist in this movement. The Christian Science Movement begun in Boston in 1879 and reached London by 1891 and Glasgow by 1901.  Younger brother Alex joined the Navy and served from 1914 to 1920.

In 1914  , aged 34,Caroline’s family story becomes more interesting. 1914 sees the start of trans Atlantic travels , initially for brother William K who sailed on the SS Minneapolis from London on 16th May 1914 to final destination Boston, Mass, via Ellis Island . He claimed to be emigrating, to intend making the USA his permanent home. ( It is unclear but there are indications that there are family connections to Canada through the grandparents. The 1891 census for England shows an elderly  Careline M Primrose , born Canada visiting an address in Cambridge St, Hanover London. This would be either Caroline’s great grandma or great aunt.  )

William only stayed in the US until July, arriving back aboard the Devonian travelling 1st class paid for by himself and still a solicitor although  later it becomes evident that whilst in Boston he has been appointed to a role in The Christian Scientist Movement – it is unclear whether or not this was a paid role but it is a  calling he followed until his death age 97 in McNieel House , Edinburgh, a Christian Scientist Retreat.) 

 This is the first indication of family interest in Christian Scientist Movement which was founded in Boston Massachussets in late 19th century and reached London by 1891 and Glasgow by 1900. Caroline, brother Alex, his wife and Caroline E , mother , also became practitioners and travelled to Boston HQ on numerous occasions.

In 1916 The Leeds Mercury, 5th September 1916 reports the arrest and court appearance in London of William Kenneth Primrose for absenteeism. It clearly states in the newspaper that he went to Boston to visit The Christian Scientist Headquarters , was there appointed as “ assistant to the manager of Christian Scientist Publications” He was bailed for £100 and told by the magistrate that he was wasting his time and theirs. Mr Tennant who accompanied him back to England in July.*

In a 1927 Manifest document for William K aboard the ? it clearly states that he had lived in the USA from 1914 to 1921 which we know was untrue because of the reports of his arrest and subsequent ships passenger listings. 

It is unclear what knowledge of her brother’s arrest the rest of the family had as Caroline and her parents were at Primrose hill, Dumfries at the time. Her youngest brother Alex was serving as firstly a Lieutenant then a Captain in the City of Edinburgh Royal Engineers for which he was awarded an OBE.

It is likely that Caroline Margaret responded to a call posted in national and regional papers including The Scotsman on 26th January 1917 placed by the Ministry of Munitions for Women Police Officers for various locations across the country including Dumfrieshire and Cumberland. Applications had to be in person at St Stephen’s House , London, training of 3 weeks would be given , again in London. 300  were needed for this “patriotic role”. The photograph that appeared in The Daily Mirror and the Sheffield Telegraph 27th January 1917 of ladies signing up certainly corroborates the view of Chris Brader in Timbertown Girls that the Women Police at HM Gretna were middle and upper class and aged up to 45. Miss Caroline Margaret Primrose now aged 36 fitted the profile perfectly. At 5 feet 1 Inch tall with brown hair and blue eyes * Money was clearly required to afford the trip to London and to stay there. We can assume that she stayed at Gretna for the duration of 1917 and much of 1918 Hansard of 8th December 1919 stating that there were no longer any Women Police left at H M Gretna.

Wikipedia tells us that there was a railway station at Maxwelltown near her home until 1939 with connections in Dumfries to Gretna so it is possible that she commuted to HM Factory for her war work. 

She is not a signatory of a letter sent to Mr Winston Churchill from the WPCs demanding more money to be in line with the male counterparts in November 1918 held by Devil’s Porridge Museuem.

This is the only Occupation listed anywhere for Caroline , Occupation , profession or calling being a requirement on ship passenger lists where she appears many times. Her calling eventually became Christian Scientist Practitioner.

It is important to note here that in 1918 Women over 30 were given the right to vote if they owned their own property, were married to a property owner or were graduates who could. .

In 1919 the first female MP was elected to Parliament.

Also in 1919 , Caroline’s younger brother Alex  then aged 29, sailed on 22nd October from Southampton heading for Boston via Halifax, Nova Scotia abord the White Star Line  SS Lapland. He arrived on 30th October.  

It seems that,  following the war, Caroline did not return to the family home, in 1922 she was living at 22 Dublin Street , Edinburgh. This is the first of her many addresses as an independent woman and living with at least one companion. Dublin St is in Edinburgh New Town. Others at the address were :-

Lillias ( Lillian) R Crow, Joseph P Sanderson and Caroline M Primrose now aged 42 . Both she and Joseph S were listed as newly qualified electors. 

In 1923 Caroline was still living in Dublin St but shoring on the list as no longer qualified as an elector according to the Electoral register.

She clearly moved just around the corner in 1924 as she was listed on the electoral register at 32 Abercromby Place. Also residing there were Jospeh P Sanderson again, Mrs Jeannie Sanderson ( his wife or mother or sister), Caroline M P 44, Elizabeth G Raser and Ralph C Smith. Declared again as no longer qualified to vote.

This was also the start of the move south of the family with  brother  William K settling at Seymour St, London form at least 1921. Caroline’s mother moved to 89 Holland Park, London following the death of her husband and Caroline settled in 1925 at 103 Chelsea Gardens. Brother Alex was to also settle in Wimbledon in 1928 according a Passenger list for Cunard “Herengeria” from new York to Southampton.

1925 was a significant year for the family, William the   father dying in January as described earlier, brother Alexander sailing from London to New York giving his address as c/o The Junior Army and Navy Club, Whitehall,) Caroline crossed the Atlantic in October  leaving Liverpool bound for Montreal but heading for Boston to visit a friend, Miss Belcher. The passenger list clearly states that she intended to make the USA her permanent residence as did her companions Alice Lydia Hunter, Christian Science Practitioner , 46 and Ethnie Christiana Money, 43. They crossed the US/Canada border at St Albans Vermont giving her mother as nearest relative of 4 Trevobir Rd , Earls Court. 

In December 1925, brother Alexander, accountant, married Anita Reed, Artist at St Paul’s C E Church Vancouver although the record of their marriage  gives both their religions as Christian Scientists.   

In 1927 there is evidence that Caroline sailed back from Boston on the Laconia with brother William. This is the only listing of her travelling with family. On other occasions she is with female companions por alone. Her mother was also in Boston in 1927 for 2 months.

In 1928 all men and women over the age of 21 were given the right to vote. Emmeline Pankhurst’s funeral took place at St John’s Church, Smith Square previously attacked by suffragette Annie Kenney who placed a bomb under a pew during sermon and it took a direct hit on 10th May 1941 from an incendiary bomb.

Returning to London in 1927 It is not clear whether or not Caroline and her companion/friend were involved/sympathisers with the suffragette movement but their London addresses were in the vicinity of much of the action. Caroline had 4 London addresses between 1927 and 1939 according to census returns.  These were perhaps rented rooms are apartments.

In 1939 , listed on the 1939 register for England, she and Alice Lydia Hunter resided at flat 41 Tufton Court. This was on St Stephen’s Square as described earlier next to Romney St where Social reformer and MP Eleanor Rathbone lived for many years until it was bombed in 1939 and she subsequently moved to 5 Tufton Court where there is now a Blue Plaque in her honour. 

Caroline is listed as RW, OW and SJ on the 1939 electoral register indicating that she had an occupation qualification to vote or a residence qualification as owner and she was listed as a special juror according to Wikipedia this  was reliant on whether a person lived in a larger house ,a role that was abolished in England in 1949 but remained in the City of London until 1971. It is unclear whether Caroline owned or rented her residences.

The family clearly became deeply involved with the Christian Scientist Movement. Both Caroline and her brother William wrote in Sentinel, the societies magazine and William travelled the country speaking and introducing guest speakers at meetings 

In this capacity at aged 73 in March 1928  her mother sailed from Liverpool to Boston Mass onboard “Carmania” giving a C/o address for her destination as Christian Scientist Publishing Society, Back Bay, Boston. Mass. On the passenger list she has an occupation of Household commercial. It states that she was also there for 2 months in 1927. 

Her companion travelling to the same c/o address was an Agnes MacMillan, born in Dewsbury , aged 35, owner of  a dress business  whose brother lived in Gilknockie, Park Road, Maxwelltown, Dumfries. Clearly connected from he rtime at Primrose Hill.Caroline E stated her relative in the UK as William K , son of 67 Seymour Rd, London.

All of the London addresses given so far are clearly well fashioned elegant residences of the time.

In 1931  Caroline aged 51 decided to make another transatlantic crossing leaving Liverpool on 16th May 1928 arriving in Boston on 24th May  aboard SS Laconia again. Her address at the time was 42 Walton St. London SW7 ( Chelsea) Here we discover that she was 5 ft 1 inch tall with brown hair and blue eyes. Could she be  on one of the photographs available in the DP archives? Her travelling companion on this occasion was Mrs Helene V Burness, 45 of 38 Murrayfield Gardens Edinburgh. They were going to stay with friend, Miss Evalyn Campbell, 506 Beacon Street, Boston Mass. Beacon Hill is a prestigious  part of town.  ( There is a Miss Eveylyn Campbell( actress) listed on Wikipedia as a Liverpool Born in 1865 English American actress real name Helen Petrie. Her mother died in Edinburgh in 1882  reported in the Boston Globe so this could be a link)

Caroline used her brother William K as her nearest relative with an address of Connaught Club, Marble Arch, but we know  from Electoral registers that from 1927 he lived at 67 Stourcliffe Street for many years.  

This was a relatively short stay in Boston for Caroline  as she returned on 22nd June 1931 onboard Cunard White Star “ Scythia”. She was intending to live in England and her address was 1a, Cranley Gardens, SW7, S Kensington. At this point Caroline stated her calling on the passenger listing as Christian Scientist Practitioner. This is the first official documentational evidence of her involvement in this movement.

Her brother Alex now a film distributor and wife Anita  had settled at 15 Eton Road, Hampstead where they would live until at least 1939 according to the 1939 register. They did not have any children, in fact the Primrose line seemingly died out with the death in 1979 of William Kenneth who was cremated at Warriston Crem, Edinburgh and not interred in the family grave/tomb in High Cemetery Dumfries with his father and grand parents  and Caroline’s companion was still Alice Lydia Hunter. 

Caroline did not enjoy the longevity of her father dying at 88 or her mother living until 91 or her brother William 97 or Alex 79 , she sadly died aged 64 on 5th July 1943 in Hampstead. As her brother Alex lived at Eton Road Hampstead it is possible that she was visiting him at the time. Her c/o address is given as Mrs Adams , Plas Llysyn, Carno, Montgomeryshire, Wales. Probate “ confirmation to William Kenneth Primrose and Alexander Fegusson Primrose and John Alexander Campbell, solicitor Llandudno”.

It seems that Plas Llysyn was the manorial residence of the village squire and   in the 1930’s  his widow Mrs Adams is described at by Judge Hywel Moseley.

It has been a hotel as photographed by famous photographer Francis Frith in 1955 and perhaps that is what it was when Caroline moved there in 1939. 

 Miss Caroline Margaret Primrose of private means would have viewed the above. Her younger brother Alex , William and her mother continued their trans Atlantic crossings travelling 1st class  occasions the destination always linked to Christian Scientist HQ in Boston.

Related by Category

Related by City - Dumfries

Related by County - Dumfriesshire

Related by Last Name - Primrose

Connections Business Directory | Leaflet | © OpenStreetMap contributors

Dumfries Scotland

Women’s Police Barracks No. 1

Translate »