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.
Sarah Evelyn SpencerMember of the Women’s Police Service
Sarah Evelyn Spencer 1875 – 1969
Sarah Evelyn Spencer was born on 26th June 1875 at Broxholme, Lincolnshire to Henry Spencer born at Crooks, Sheffield in 1841 and Sarah nee Smith born 1840 from Lincolnshire. Her father was an auctioneer and valuer. She was the 3rd of 8 children to be born to Henry and Sarah between 1872 and 1884 and the only one of two to be born in her mother’s native Lincolnshire.
Sarah’s parents married at Riby Church, Lincolnshire on 26th July 1871 when they were both 30.
Their first son, Henry Arbuthnot was born on 23rd August, 1872 at East Retford, Kathleen Mary arrived on 10th December 1873, Sarah Evelyn , 26th June 1875, Edward Smith 1877, Neville Coupland 1878, Alice Muriel 1881, George Frederick 1883 and finally Constance 1884.
The 1881 census is interesting as we find 5 year old Sarah Evelyn living in Wharfe St , Bawtry with her maternal grand parents Edward and Ann Smith, retired farmer, both 70. There were 3 younger siblings at home at the time. Kathleen , 7, is also away from the family home residing with her aunt and uncle, two younger cousins and a 21 year old governess at Mardon Hill, Babworth.
The family census return for 1881 places them at Gringley Villa, Clarborough , Retford. Henry 40, a seed merchant auctioneer ,Sarah the mother, plus Henry Arbuthnot 8, Edward 3,born Lincs Neville 2 and 1 month old Alice, both born Clarborough. The household also afford a 21 year old general servant, an 18 year old nursery governess and a 40 year old nurse. The Gringley Villa site has now been redeveloped so we are unable to see what the property looked like.
We know from reports in the Retford Times, Sheffield Telegraph, Leeds Mercury and Boston Guardian of July 1887 that a new nursery governess, distantly related to Sarah’s mother by marriage, had been hired to care for the youngest four children.
Tragically, Blanche Markham was killed by a train one morning. The reports say that she always took the children out after breakfast, that they crossed the railway line adjoining the Spencer land , climbed the stile at the other side and went or played in the lane. On this occasion according to Neville , 9 or 10 at the time, Miss Markham did not cross the stile , she had lost something and returned to find it. He didn’t hear anything as he was “ jumping ditches”. It is not clear where another brother and a sister were but Constance the baby aged 3 was heard saying that she wished Markie wasn’t dead. A passer by found the body and raised the alarm. Blanche had been hit by an excursion train from Cleethorpes and dragged along for quite a distance. She was taken back to the Spencer residence where an inquest was opened. The Retford Times reports a verdict of suicide.
In 1891, Sarah Evelyn was 15 , a boarder at The Grove, Lincoln which appears to have been a boarding school. It is not clear whether Sarah had spent the 10 years since 1881 with her grandparents or whether she had returned to the family home thus being resident at the time of the terrible tragedy with the train.
The family census return lists them at 157, Grove road , Clarborough, This could still be Gringley Villa. Henry is now 49 , still an auctioneer and seed merchant, Sarah is 50, Henry Arbuthnot has followed in his father’s footsteps and is an 18 year old auctioneer, Kathleen, 17 is a scholar as are 13 year old Edward, 12 year old Neville, Alice Muriel 10 and George 7.Florence Snell, 21 is the cook and domestic and Mary Snell , 18 is the nursemaid. It is not clear where 4 year old Constance is at this time.
By 1901 Sarah Evelyn 25, is a school teacher, assistant, living at 35 and 36 Sussex Street , Brighton with her sister Kathleen , 27, who also works at the school along with all the other residents of this property. It is possible that they were both working at Roedean School .
In 1901, the family have moved to West Villa, Retford. Henry still an auctioneer and employer , now 59, Sarah , 60. Edward is 23 and a solicitor, Alice Muriel is a 20 year old student, Constance is 16 as is Edith Heal the maid. The family also employ an 18 year old cook.
Three years later Sarah Evelyn’s father died. His death certificate tells us that he died of an intestinal obstruction aged 63 at West Villa, Retford.
Brother Neville was missing from the 1901 census. His service record tells us that he attested on 29th December 1899.We know from Forces War Record that he was in South Africa on active service in 1902 with the Sherwood Rangers Imperial Yeomanry. He died in 1905 as a result of injuries sustained .He was shot through the lungs, invalided home and is buried in Retford Cemetery.
He was a bank clerk when he joined the Yeomanry, We know he had a scar on his left ankle, was 5’ 8” and weighed 10 st 11 lbs. He was discharged “ at his own request” according to his service papers , in November 1900, no longer able to serve in connections with the war in South Africa. He seemingly must have suffered for almost 5 years before finally succumbing to his injury.
In 1911 widowed Sarah,(mother) 70 is living on Private means in an eight bedroomed house at London Road, East Retford with 26 year old daughter Constance and a 23 year old general domestic servant.
In a separate census return, Alice Muriel appears as a Piano and music teacher
Meanwhile, Sarah Evelyn now 35 is established as a music mistress at Roedean School, Brighton., sharing 2 rooms at 11, Princes Terrace , Brighton with Violet Rowbottom, a 24 year old form mistress , also at Roedean.
Wikipedia tells us that Roedean was founded in 1885 in Wimbledon to “prepare girls for entrance to the newly opened woman’s colleges at Cambridge University, Girton and Newnham Colleges.”
In 1898 the school moved to the Brighton site with a sister school being established in Johannesburg. It is for girls aged 11-18.
There is no obvious information on what happened to the school during WW1 although it is clear that it moved to Keswick during WW2 whilst the buildings were used by the Admiralty. Assuming that Roedean sent its girls home between 1914 and 1919 the staff were then free to contribute to the war effort.
We know from Mary Allens’s memoirs that in October 1916, Sarah Evelyn Spencer, known as Evelyn, joined the WPS as a constable. There was a massive nationwide call by Mary Allen and Margaret Damer Dawson for recruits to their newly set up WPS, the Ministry of Munitions Police service.
Mary Allen lists Evelyn Spencer as one of the 167 new recruits who were sent to H M Factory Gretna. This was the greatest number in any one place ( Timbertown Girls, Chris Brader p122). She also fitted the bill perfectly being middle class, mature at 41 , and in the teaching profession as many of the Women’s Police Service were.
We also know from the same memoir that Dorothy Watson who was only 19 , was one of the 167 sent to Gretna and she went in as a sergeant. This could undeniably have created issues although none appear to be documented.
Whilst serving at Gretna Sarah Evelyn appears on the 1918-19 valuation roll as being a resident of No 1 Women’s Police Barracks. Quite a contrast to Roedean and Brighton. We van assume therefore that Sarah Evelyn served from 1916 through to the end of the activity at the Factory. In May 1917 she would have been on duty for the visit of the King and Queen.
A recent Journal article,( Essex Journal, Spring 2021 page 8) states that Sarah Evelyn and fellow constable Norah O’Sullivan both joined Colchester Borough Police following their term of office in WPS at Gretna. The article’s author had delved into Essex Police Museum Archives for this information. There is no publicly available evidence that Sarah Evelyn was resident in Colchester for any length of time and certainly later evidence point to her having returned to teaching.
Whilst at Gretna, sister Constance married Major Harold Whittingham, a mining engineer. According to passenger lists the couple emigrated about 1920 to Toronto, Canada. Constance is the only sister who appears to have married.
In 1925, sister Alice known as Muriel died at Hove. Probate states that her usual address was the Limes, East Retford. She was 44 and it seems likely that she was visiting her sister Sarah Evelyn or Kathleen as Sarah and Kathleen resided together for many years in later life. Probate was granted to eldest brother Henry Arbuthnot Spencer, Auctioneer. Perhaps we can surmise that Sarah Evelyn had returned to her post at Roedean , now aged 50.
Swiftly on the heel of this death, Sarah, ( mother) died on 8th March 1926 aged 85. Probate granted to Henry A Spencer, auctioneer, Edward J Spencer, solicitor and George F Spencer , farmer.
The next evidence of Sarah Evelyn and sister Kathleen is the 1939 register, now 64 and 66 respectively. They are living at 13 Craneford Way, Twickenham. Sarah is a School teacher ( retired) and Kathleen on Private means.
A public member tree tells us that Sarah Evelyn died aged 94 in 1969 and a death registration list puts it in Quarter 3 1969 in registration district of Surry North, presumably at Twickenham where Kathleen also died in October 1970.