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Photo of Dorothy Gladys Watson

Dorothy Gladys Watson

Member of the Women’s Police Service
Birthplace Hertfordshire Bishops Stotford England Date of Birth: March 5, 1896 Date of Death: December 29, 1976


Dorothy Gladys Watson (Kirk)1896-1976

Dorothy Gladys Watson was born on 5th March 1896 at South Street, Bishop’s Stortford to James Henry Watson, Master Grocer born in Kent and Maria Jane nee Burrs , formerly Webb, born Marten, Warwickshire.

Dorothy had a long career in the Women’s Police Force and was the seventh to join Colchester Borough Police and probably the second to hold the rank of Sergeant. Several of the ex Gretna WPS ended up working together. Norah O’Sullivan and Sarah Evelyn Spencer also joined the  Colchester force , Mabel Read joined the Hove Force when Dorothy was there and Mary Jude from Wisbech, ex sergeant from Gretna   married Dorothy’s widowed father in 1929 ( Acknowledgement to The Essex Journal, Spring 2021) I cannot find any evidence to corroborate the last fact nor a date of death for Dorothy’s mother. 

Dorothy was the 5th of 8 children born to Maria between 1882 and 1904. Maria had an earlier marriage to Arthur William Webb and he was the father to  Florence Isabella Webb 1882, Harold Arthur Webb 1884, Herbert Sydney Webb 1886 and Belle Webb 1888. It is unclear  when Arthur Webb died or moved on nor what their ages were at marriage as the marriage registration simply states “ full age” . Maria’s birth year is questionable throughout as it varies from document to document ranging from 1859 to 1864. ( marriage registration, census ages).

The 1891 census clearly shows Maria as head of her household aged 31, widow, Grocer ( birth year 1859/60). The family are at South Street which is where Dorothy would be born. It seems that Maria’s new husband moved into her home rather than the other way around. Belle is 3, Harold 7, Herbert 4, Alice Morris and Frances Buldock are visitors and are dressmakers , Henry Watson is a boarder and grocer’s assistant aged 21, born Dedham, Essex. This is  James Henry her future husband. Herbert Tyler also a boarder and grocer’s apprentice .Emily Prior an 18 year old domestic servant makes up the household, Missing is Florence Isabella.

Like Arthur Webb, James Henry Watson became a Grocer. He married Maria in 1895  and gained four step children. Dorothy Gladys was the first child of this marriage born in March 1896 followed by Winifred Violet in 1898, Ruth Gertrude in 1900 and finally Evelyn James Watson in 1904. 

The 1901 census places the family at South Street , Framlingham, James now 35 a Grocer manager. Maria is listed as 39 which would date her birth as 1862. Florence Webb at 18 is a draper’s assistant born at Bishop’s Stortford, Herbert Sydney 14 is an ironmonger’s apprentice  ( the census gives Henry S but there isn’t a Henry and the age links to Herbert). Dorothy is 5, Winifred 3, Ruth 1 born in Framlingham. There is also a boarder at the house, a corn merchant’s clerk plus a 13 year old female domestic servant.

By the time of the 1911 census the family have moved to Mildenhall and must have moved  after  1904 as Evelyn James was born at Framlingham. Father James Henry, 45 is now a beer merchant, Maria is 47 putting her birth year as 1864, the Webb offspring were dispersed at this time. Herbert had been an apprentice draper in Kensington according to the 1901 census.

Dorothy at 15 is listed as a school teacher , this is more likely ,given her age, to have been a pupil teacher. Winifred 13, Ruth, 10 and Evelyn James 7 are all at school. In a 10 room house there is also a 21 year old school teacher, boarder , Alice Chapman . James and Maria had been married for 16 years and all their children had survived.

In July 1916 Dorothy , following in her paternal grandfather’s footsteps , joined the Police.( Parents marriage registration). She responded to a call to join the Women’s Police Service, WPS, supplied by the Ministry of Munitions and set up by Mary Allen and Margaret Damer Dawson.  Various newspapers of the time show lines of middle class ladies joining this cause . Many were from teaching backgrounds . ( Chris Brader, Timbertown Girls ) . We know that following her training, probably in London, Dorothy was sent North to Gretna and is listed in Mary Allens’ memoirs as a sergeant at the Gretna Unit. We know from the Valuation rolls of the period that she lived at the Women’s Police Barracks, Eastriggs House as did Mary Jude who meets up with her again in Colchester. 

Step brother Herbert attested in 1916 and survived the war. Harold eventually became a journeyman butcher and in 1939, married with at least 2 young children was unemployed and living in Manchester.

Dorothy’s time at HM Factory Gretna was quite short because it seems that she was rapidly promoted in January 1917 to sub inspector in charge of the Wood Lane and Hurlingham Unit in London. ( Essex Journal/Spring 2021 page 8). This Unit consisted of bomb packing factories owned by W E Blake Explosive Loading Co. Mary Allen reproduces a letter from the factory dated 16th November 1918 :

Dear Madam

We wish to take this opportunity of expressing our admiration of the able manner in which the women police, under the command of sub-inspector Watson, carried out their duties on the occasion of the recent disastrous fire which occurred here

We wish to draw special to the tactful and efficient manner in which many painful duties were performed, not the least being guarding the factory during the night following such an experience

Signed pp J Blake, Director, CS.[Company Secretary}”

Two men and eleven women died in the fire and they were all buried in a single grave. 

In 1919, Dorothy left the WPS and joined Hove Borough Police where she encountered ex Gretna colleague, Mabel Read. On 4th July 1919 Dorothy was offered the post giving her address as Colchester, on a salary of £2 7s 6d a week. ( Essex Police Museum )

Mabel and Dorothy investigated a fraudulent medium in 1921 by posing as clients. Apparently Dorothy was told that she was going to India , would marry a fair man in Government service and would come into money. Mrs Taylor, the medium was fined £2. However, the prediction for Dorothy did actually mostly materialise. 

On 3rd April 1925 , Dorothy moved back to Colchester as a policewoman where she stayed until 12th April 1937 when she was promoted to sergeant on a salary of £4 10s 0d per week. She is described as 5’6” tall with fresh complexion , blue eyes and fair hair. In this 12 year period it seems that Dorothy became involved in the Christian Scientist movement or maybe had a taste of it whilst at Gretna. Her colleague, Caroline Primrose at Gretna ,was very involved in this movement and in previous research I discovered that in post police life Caroline  and her brother travelled the world and the country lecturing  and writing for the movement’s magazine. 

Apparently she gives he religion as C of E  although a letter in her file courtesy of Essex Journal form the Chief Constable of Hove reads as follows:

“ I think it only right to tell you that she is a Christian Scientist-I don’t know if you look on this as being a crank, but I have no trouble in regard to it, as she conforms to the regulations of this force, in that if she is unfit for duty through illness, she attends the police surgeon.”

On 21st August 1937, aged 41, Dorothy married David Miller Kirk , “ Jock”at Christ Church, Paddington. She stated her age as 34 but was actually 41. Jock’s address was given as 32 Queen’s Gardens., London W2 and Dorothy as 16 Balkerne Gardens, Colchester. 

‘Jock’ was born in Larkhall, Lanarkshire on 14th May 1908 considerably younger than Dorothy. He was the son of James ( George) a colliery hillman in 1901 ,  and Janet nee Miller.

He joined the Colchester Borough Police as a probationary constable on 9th November 1934 ,described as 5ft 11 ½ ins tall and had come from the V Field Battery, Royal Artillery, Mhow, India. Mrs Taylor’s prediction had partly come true. 

Police regulations in 1937 required Women Police officers to resign  on marriage but it seems that Dorothy kept this one secret. The 1939 register shows Dorothy , Police Sergeant as still living at Balkerne Gardens but her husband is living as a lodger  with Cyril and Ruth Roslin at 140 Butt Road, Colchester, now a Detective Constable as well as a reservist for Royal Artillery. 

As a reservist, Jock was recalled to the army  on the 1st December 1939 and by November 1943 was a major serving in Italy. There is a photo on file from a  public member tree of him taken in Sicily.

On 16th June 1944, a couple of days after D Day , he was killed in action in Normandy serving with 301 battery, 127 Field Regiment and is buried in Ranville War Cemetery, Calvados.

The newly widowed and not long married Dorothy caused a controversy  when she wanted to claim widow’s pension as described by Mary Scollan “ Sworn to Serve” 

“Woman Sergeant Dorothy Watson was already an experienced policewoman when she joined the Colchester Borough Police in 1925. She had joined the Women Police Service in 1916 as a 19-year-old, and been attached to the Ministry of Munitions throughout the First World War. After six years in the Hove borough police she applied to work in Colchester, which was much nearer to her home town of Bishops Stortford. Policewomen who married had to leave the force, but in August 1937 she secretly married a constable in the borough force named David Miller Kirk. Only when her husband was killed in action in June 1944 did Dorothy Watson officially admit what she had done. Because she had broken the rules, her application for a widow’s pension caused great consternation. The matter was referred to the Home Secretary but, when he learned that the Colchester watch committee was not taking any action against her, Sergeant Kirk was granted her own full pension rights and allowed to receive her late husband’s pension.”

The Police Act of 1946 reduced the number of Forces in England and Wales so on 1st April 1947 Dorothy and her Colchester Borough colleagues were transferred into the Essex County Constabulary. Dorothy decided to be known as Kirk from now on and her role was to supervise all the Women Police in Braintree and Clacton as well as Colchester divisions. 

Still seeking promotion , the police records tell us that in August 1948 she applied unsuccessfully for the job of staff officer to the HMI. 

In the spring and early summer of 1951 she took charge of all the women police in the county while her inspector was at Police College.

Nearing the age of 60, compulsory retirement age, in 1952 the Chief constable allegedly put her name forward for a suitable award for distinguished service but nothing came of this. Dorothy’s  term of service was extended for a further 6 months so on 4th September 1952 she retired after a total of 33 years and 62 days service and a pension of £350 a year.  She continued to serve as a Special constable with Colchester Constabulary until October 1960.

She was certainly a career police officer. It is not clear whether she and her husband actually lived in the same house during their shortlived marriage.

In addition to the tribute following the fire in the London factory Dorothy received three further commendations. 

In 1938 she was praised by the Colchester Watch Committee for “ her meritorious conduct during a  strike at a canning factory and also in a case of attempted suicide”

In 1942 the Chief Constable commended her actions “ leading to the arrest of two women for thefts from hotels and dance halls”

In 1945, the magistrates complimented her “very able manner in conducting enquiries about a case of abortion.”

She held the Defence Medal from WW2 and was one of the first ever recipients male or female of the Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal . This was only instituted in June 1951.

Her police records show that in 1944 she had to apologise to a firm of solicitors for giving the wrong legal advice to their clients in an eviction case. The clients were the tenants.

In 1951 she faced three charges of misconduct, “ for unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority”

In March a woman complained about her objectionable manner and incivility when interviewing. Charge was dismissed.

In June a woman in Colchester complained about her aggressive manner”. Charge dismissed.

Finally in November there was a complaint about her bullying manner in enquiries about a stolen wallet, for opening a woman’s handbag and going through private correspondence in it. Charge dismissed.

Dorothy Gladys Kirk died on 29th December, 1976 at Brook House, Montford Bridge, Shrewbury. Her usual address according to probate being 32 New Town Road, Colchester. Her estate was valued at £6930.



p. 8, essex-journal-spring-2021-21510112604.pdf (


Dorothy Watson/Kirk’s personal file at Essex Police Museum [ROS 4056]…/world-war-two/world-war-two/david-miller-kirk

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