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Worker of the Week

Bridget Sweeney with two of her children Susan and Sheila

Worker of the Week: Bridget Sweeney

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our Research Assistant, Laura Noakes, has come across during her research. Laura is working on a project to create a database of the 30,000 people that worked at Gretna during World War One.

This week’s Worker of the Week is a sad one. I started researching Bridget Sweeney because of a birth certificate:

This is the birth certificate of Margaret, Bridget’s daughter, who was born in 1919. As you can see, Bridget was working as a cook in Newfoundland House, Eastriggs. This was one of the hostels for munitions workers at H. M. Factory Gretna. You can find out more about Bridget and Margaret’s birth here.

Bridget had been born in Ireland in 1897. She grew up in Donegal and her father worked as a farmer.[1] By 1919, at age 22, Bridget gave birth to daughter Margaret in Gretna. Bridget’s occupation on Margaret’s birth certificate is a cook. This shows the diversity of jobs at H. M. Factory Gretna. Cooks and domestic staff who worked at the hostels where munition workers lived were a crucial part of the factory’s mechanisms. Munition workers worked long hours in the factory, and many relied on the staff of the hostels for those home comforts!

Another interesting thing about Margaret’s birth certificate is that there is no father named, and it appears that Bridget is single. In 1919, single unmarried mothers were frowned upon by society. Bridget subsequently gave birth to three more children: Mary in 1921, Shelia in 1924, and Susan in 1926.[2] On Susan’s register of birth, for the first time a father is noted. This father was Robert Harkness, a farmer, and Bridget’s husband. According to Susan’s register of birth, Bridget and Robert married in September 1925. Shelia’s middle name was also Harkness, which leads me to think that Robert was also Shelia’s father as well. However, I can’t find the register of marriage between Robert and Bridget online, and in Robert’s register of death in 1961, he is recorded as ‘single’ rather than a ‘widower’[3] and in Bridget’s register of death, she is also recorded at single.[4] This makes me think that the two didn’t get married.

Bridget with two of her children

Bridget’s second oldest daughter Mary sadly died in 1944 aged just 22, in ICI Factory Powfoot, which produced munitions during World War Two. Her cause of death was listed as ‘burning (gunpowder ignition) suddenly.’[5]

Bridget’s story also has a sad ending. At age 29, after having four children in quick succession, she died in the Crichton Royal Asylum of ‘Exhaustion from Delirious Mania and Broncho-Pneumonia.’[6] The Royal Crichton in Dumfries was founded in 1838 by Elizabeth Crichton and was one of the last and grandest psychiatric hospitals in Scotland. Interestingly, and in another connection with H. M. Factory Gretna, Arthur Conan Doyle’s father Charles was treated there, as was Dora Marsden, feminist and suffragette.[7]


How Bridget ended up in the Crichton is still a historical mystery…


If you enjoyed this blogpost, you might like this booklet (available from the Museum online shop):

Lives of Ten Gretna Girls booklet


[1] ‘Bridget Sweeney’ 1901 Irish Census for Lackenagh, Rutland, Donegal, retrieved from

[2] ‘Susan Anderson Harkness’ Birth Register 1926 retrieved from; ‘Shelia Harkness Sweeney’ Birth Register 1924 retrieved from; ‘Mary Clark Sweeney’ 1921 Birth Register retrieved from

[3] ‘Robert Harkness’ 1961 Statutory Register of Death in the County of Dumfries,  retrieved from

[4] ‘Bridgit Sweeney’ 1926 Register of Death in the County of Dumfries, retrieved from


[5] ‘Mary Clark Sweeney’ 1944 Statutory Register of Death in the County of Dumfries, retrieved from

[6] ‘Bridgit Sweeney’ 1926 Register of Death in the County of Dumfries, retrieved from

[7] and

Agnes Ross McNaught.

Worker of the Week: Agnes Ross McNaught

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our Research Assistant, Laura Noakes, has come across during her research. Laura is working on a project to create a database of the 30,000 people that worked at Gretna during World War One.

This week’s Worker of the Week post comes from another family research enquiry. I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, family enquiries are SO valuable for learning more about the workers of H.M. Factory Gretna, and this one is no exception.

Agnes Ross McNaught was born in and grew up in Edinburgh. Her father, Patrick, worked as an Iron moulder throughout her childhood.[1] Iron moulder’s were ‘foundry workers who made moulds for casting iron.’[2] Although iron moulder’s were employed in a number of different industries, the industrial, physical and highly skilled nature of Patrick’s occupation is clear, and provides a link between his work, and his daughter Agnes’ later work at H.M. Factory Gretna.

The Iron Moulders, a stained glass window by Stephen Adam, c 1878. Photo credit:

By the outbreak of war in 1914, Agnes was thirteen years old. Even at the end of the war, Agnes wasn’t legally an adult—she would turn eighteen in January 1919. This wasn’t altogether an unusual occurrence in munitions factories. Angela Woollacott has noted the predominance of teenage girls working in munitions, and Chris Brader argues that this was even more prevalent at H. M. Factory Gretna—with more under eighteen-year-olds working at Gretna than at other Government establishments.[3] This just goes to show that Agnes was one amongst many teenagers who left their homes and came to work at Gretna during the war. It must’ve been such a shock to the system to leave everything and everyone they’d ever known and travel to a town like Gretna or Eastriggs to live with other girls who were probably also young, single and working class.

Could Agnes have been doing work like this?

Like many other munition workers, and those who experienced the trials of living through World War One, Agnes didn’t speak much about her time at Gretna in her later life. Her granddaughter, Carol, stated that ‘this was certainly true of my granny, and she passed away in 1986 before The Devil’s Porridge museum was initiated and the questions could be asked.’

Because we don’t have an extant list of workers at Gretna, it is hard to say exactly what time of role Agnes did during the war. Carol stated that:


“My grandmother Agnes Ross McNaught worked there and as a young girl she was sent to Gretna from her home in Edinburgh and probably was there for most of the war years I believe that she would have been 14 or 15 years of age at the time.”


Despite this, knowing about Agnes’ time at Gretna helps us to build up our knowledge and understanding of workers at H. M. Factory Gretna. After the war, Agnes returned to Edinburgh and married in 1922.

A massive thank you to Carol for telling us about Agnes’ time at Gretna.

[1] Agnes Ross McNaught, 1901 Census for Violetbank, Edinburgh retrieved from;


[3]  Angela Woollacoot, On Her Their Lives Depend, (University of California Press, 1994), p. 37-8, and Chris Brader, TimberTown Girls: Gretna Female Munitions Workers in World War 1, (PhD Thesis, University of Warwick) p. 21.

The inside of a cigarette case from 1918.

Worker of the Week: Herbert Womersley

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our Research Assistant, Laura Noakes, has come across during her research. Laura is working on a project to create a database of the 30,000 people that worked at Gretna during World War One.

After receiving photos of J. C. Meldon’s pocket watch a few weeks ago, we were delighted to have another photo of a worker’s  momento from their time at H.M. Factory Gretna. This time the photos were of a cigarette case, given to Herbert Womersley.

Engraved upon this cigarette case were the words ‘H. M. Gretna 23.2.18’

Herbert was born in Warrington, Lancashire in April 1899. He trained as a chemist in soap manufacturing, but from a young age his passion was entomology. Entomology is the study of insects, and Herbert wasn’t the first person in his family to be interested in the subject, his father, Fred, was an amateur lepidopterist.

“The American Soldiers in Presence of Gas” (Reeve 37283), National Museum of Health and Medicine, Otis Historical Archives.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Herbert joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, before transferring to the Chemical Corps. He served at the Front, and was involved in some of the earliest chemical weapon attacks on German soldiers. At some point between this and the end of War, Herbert ended up at H. M. Factory Gretna.

After the war, Herbert Womersley emigrated to Australia and made his lifelong passion a career. He became a renowned entomologist. Several insect genera and species were even named after him!

Herbert’s entry in the ‘Who’s Who of Australia’ in 1944

When photos of Herbert’s cigarette case were recently shared with us, we were able to find his name in the Mossband Farewell magazine. The Mossband Farewell was a put together by the staff at the end of the war, and at the end of the magazine there was a list of staff and addresses. A ‘H Womersley’ is listed, as part of the operating staff, and his address is in Warrington.

The page in the ‘Mossband Farewell’ where Herbert is mentioned.

From this it seems Herbert worked in the Mossband section of the Factory. Mossband and Dornock were the two administrative sites at H.M. Factory Gretna. Dornock was where the mixing of acids, nitrocotton and nitro-glycerine was done, and in Mossband the compounds were brought together to make cordite.

Herbert Womersley and his wife Alice in the front yard of their home in Adelaide, South Australia

However, one part of Herbert’s story remains a mystery! We couldn’t figure out the significance of the date engraved on the cigarette case—23.02.18. Maybe further research will shed light on why this date in particular was commemorated on Herbert’s cigarette case.

Fiona's grandmother, Jane, who worked as a typist at HM Factory Gretna.

Worker of the Week: Jane Ann Jackson

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our Research Assistant, Laura Noakes, has come across during her research. Laura is working on a project to create a database of the 30,000 people that worked at Gretna during World War One.

Another week, another fascinating family enquiry. This time our worker was a typist at H.M. Factory Gretna, demonstrating just how many different jobs there were at the factory!

Jane was born in Low Moorhouse outside of Carlisle in 1897. She first worked as an understairs maid in a local “big” house. On her one day off a month she cycled to Carlisle to take typing classes. She worked at H. M. Factory Gretna from 1916 for the buyers, and we know this because of the excellent testimonial she was given upon leaving her position:

Interestingly, at the same time Jane was working at Gretna, her brother Jack was serving in World War One as a signaller with the Cameron Highlanders. He was awarded the Military Medal for keeping the lines of communication open during the battle of Passchedale. At the end of the War, he was a member of the occupying forces that marched into Germany.

John wrote extensively about his time during World War One, and his memoirs have recently been published. They provide a fascinating portrait of war and John’s extraordinary experiences.

John Jackson’s book, available to purchase here:

After the war, John worked on the railway between Carlisle and Glasgow. He married and lived in Carlisle, before passing away in the 1950s.  Jane met and married her husband in 1922, living at first in Gretna. The photo below is of them standing outside their house in Gretna. Later, they moved to Dumfries.

The Jackson family’s multiple connections to the war effort are probably representative of many others across the country; with sons’ off to fight and daughters’ working to help produce materials essential for the front. It’s interesting that Jane’s jobs as a typist involved the constant writing of letters ordering materials needed at H.M. Factory Gretna whilst her brother was awarded the military medal for making sure communications were kept open at Passchedale. Both siblings roles revolved around communications!

A massive thank you to Fiona Jackson for the invaluable information she provided on Jane and John.

Fob watch with an inscription which reads "H.M. Works. Gretna. Presented to J.C Meldon Esq JP. By workers on Hill No. 2 July 1916."

Worker of the Week: J. C. Meldon

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our Research Assistant, Laura Noakes, has come across during her research. Laura is working on a project to create a database of the 30,000 people that worked at Gretna during World War One.

This week’s worker comes from another enquiry from a member of the public, and is a fascinating one! James Charles Meldon was born in Dublin in 1873, the son of Charles Meldon, who was a barrister, nationalist politician, and M.P. for Kildare.

The Meldon family has an impressive national pedigree.[1] Meldon is a variation of Muldoon, or in Irish, Ó Maoldúin, which means ‘descendant of the servant of St. Duin.’ The Ó Maoldúin’s were rumoured to be of royal descent, they were styled as the kings of Lurg in ‘The Annuals of Loch Ce’, which chronicles Irish affairs from 1014-1590. However, the Ó Maoldúin clan was defeated in battle by the MacGuires in about 1400, losing most of their power, although they retained some of it in Ulster. Remember this family information, it is definitely important to James Charles Meldon’s story!

In 1894, James married Harriette Cololough in St Joseph’s Church, Kingstown.[2] By 1901, the Meldon’s were living in Wellington Road, Dublin, alongside two of James’ sisters, their four-year old daughter Eileen, and two servants.[3] From this glimpse into the Meldon family at the time, it appears the family are living a comfortable middle-class life. It’s in the 1901 census we also get the first mention of James Charles’ job: an electrical engineer. This was a relatively new profession—the first electrical engineer is generally considered to be Sir Francis Ronalds, who created the first working telegraph that operated over a substantial distance.[4]

James advertised his business in local papers, and it appears that he was very successful. By 1911, he’d left Dublin to live in Greystones, Wicklow. In 1912, he was involved in the town of Dundalk’s switch to electric lights; his shop there was described as a ‘veritable fairyland of brilliant light.’[5] In 1917, he was the consulting engineer at the at The New Picture House, Greystones.

But what was James Charles Meldon’s connection with H. M. Factory Gretna? Well, that’s still a little bit of a mystery. The Devil’s Porridge Museum was recently approached by a member of the public who had in their possession a beautiful presentation gift given to J. C. Meldon ‘by workers on Hill No. 2’ at H.M Factory Gretna in July 1916.

It was common for presentations to be made to fellow workers, or bosses when they were leaving and/or when they performed particularly meritoriously at their job. In the DPM’s collection, we have a silver platter given to a William McDonald as well as a souvenir given to J. C. Burnham. ‘The Hill’ mentioned is shorthand for the Nitro-Glycerine Hill, which was where Nitro-Glycerine (a crucial ingredient needed to make cordite) was fed into the cordite making process by gravity. This suggests that J. C. Meldon was involved, in some way, in this particular area of the factory. The date engraved on the watch also gives us some more clues about Meldon’s time at the Factory. July 1916 was not long after the factory started production. Coupled with his career as an electrical engineer, could Meldon have been involved in the construction of the factory, perhaps installing electrics? The ‘JP’ at the end of Meldon’s name stands for Justice of the Peace. A Justice of the Peace is a judicial officer, appointed from the local community, who sits in the magistrates court and decides on minor offences. J. C. Meldon was appointed a JP of the city of Dublin in January 1915.[6] Although this was a lay position, which is a position that doesn’t require legal training, in a way J. C. Meldon was following in the footsteps of his father, who was a lawyer, by becoming a Justice of the Peace

On the other side of the watch, Meldon’s illustrious family history is celebrated.

This is the Meldon family Crest and motto. The motto, pro fide et patria, is Latin for ‘For Faith and Fatherland.’[7] The coat of arms is a variation of the Muldoon coat of arms.[8] The hand is a symbol for faith sincerity and justice, and the crescent moon above it is a symbol of one who has been honoured by his Sovereign.

When we recently shared photos of this lovely gift across our social media, and received the following information from a Facebook follower:

It’s a half hunter Waltham watch. American manufacture, retailed by Stokes of Dublin. The serial number will give the date of manufacture, probably 1915/16. Could be 15 carot gold case. Or possibly gold plated can’t see the marks on the cover clearly.

 That is all we’ve been able to uncover about J. C. Meldon’s time at H. M. Factory Gretna, and the lovely presentation gift given to him from workers there. Whilst we don’t know the details of Meldon’s involvement with the factory, the gift, coupled with his job as an electric engineer, suggests that he was involved in some way with the construction of the factory. His family background and historic connections to Irish royalty make J. C. Meldon’s connection with Gretna even more fascinating, and we wouldn’t know any of this without the help of the member of the public that reached out to us to share photos of the watch! So, a massive thank you, and do feel free to reach out to us if you know of any connections with H. M. Factory Gretna in your family history!

[1] See:;;

[2] ‘Marriages Meldon – Cololough, The Belfast Newsletter, November 27th 1894, p. 1.

[3] Irish Census 1901 <>

[4] B. F. Ronalds, “Francis Ronalds (1788–1873): The First Electrical Engineer? [Scanning Our Past],” in Proceedings of the IEEE, vol. 104, no. 7, pp. 1489-1498, July 2016, doi: 10.1109/JPROC.2016.2571358.

[5] ‘Electric Light in Dundalk’ Dundalk Examiner and Louth Advertiser,

[6] The Wicklow Newsletter and Arklow Reporter, January 9th 1915.



Dame Rebecca West.

Worker of the Week: Dame Rebecca West

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our Research Assistant, Laura Noakes, has come across during her research. Laura is working on a project to create a database of the 30,000 people that worked at Gretna during World War One.

This week’s worker is a little different, because the person I’m highlighting never actually held a job at H. M. Factory Gretna. However, as a journalist and prominent feminist Rebecca West played a critical role in establishing wartime perceptions of munitions workers at Gretna. West visited the factory and wrote an article about the cordite makers in 1916.

Rebecca West was actually born Cicely Fairfield, and was the youngest of three daughters. During her childhood her anti-socialist journalist father abandoned the family. Cecily trained to be an actress at the Academy of Dramatic Art, and it was there where she found the name Rebecca West—a heroine from an Ibsen play. However, after leaving she became a journalist.

West soon became immersed in the women’s movement. She was involved from the start in The Freewoman, a feminist journal founded by suffragettes Dora Marsden and Mary Gawthorpe. The nineteen-year-old Rebecca wrote prolifically for the publication, on topics as diverse as ‘The Position of Women in Indian Life’,[1] anti-suffrage activist Mrs Humphrey Ward,[2] and book reviews.[3] In doing so, she established a name for herself as a perceptive and cutting writer. The Freewoman, although not particularly successful (it struggled financially and only lasted eleven months), really made its mark by the open discussion of women’s sexuality and free love. Because of this, W. H. Smith refused to stock it, and Mrs Humphrey Ward (one target of Rebecca’s pen!) complained to The Times. Even feminists criticised the journal—Millicent Fawcett tore it up![4] Rebecca’s entry onto the world’s stage was thus tinged with controversy and boundary pushing, both aspects she would encounter throughout her life.

All copies of The Freewoman have been digitized in a brilliant project. See: The Modernist Journals Project (searchable database). Brown and Tulsa Universities, ongoing.

After critically reviewing one of his books, Rebecca met and became the lover of the famous novelist H. G. Wells in 1913. Wells, who was married and already notorious for his extra-marital affairs, was twenty-six West’s senior. Rebecca soon became pregnant, and gave birth to her soon Anthony just before the outbreak of war in 1914. So, not only was Rebecca a feminist with socialist leanings, but she was now an unmarried mother who was having an affair with a married man! Scandalous.

During the First World War, like many journalists, Rebecca wrote positive propaganda pieces on the war effort in order to boost morale. One of these was on cordite workers. Published as part of a series called ‘Hands that War’ for The Daily Chronicle, Rebecca detailed the work of the Gretna Girls in her trademark witty prose.[5] She wrote:


Every morning at six, when the night mist still hangs over the marshes, 250 of these girls are fetched by a light railway from their barracks on a hill two miles away. When I visited the works they had already been at work for nine hours, and would work for three more. This twelve-hour shift is longer than one would wish, but it is not possible to introduce three shifts, since the girls would find an eight-hour day too light and would complain of being debarred from the opportunity of making more money; and it is not so bad as it sounds, for in these airy and isolated huts there is neither the orchestra of rattling machines nor the sense of a confined area crowded with tired people which make the ordinary factory such a fatiguing place. Indeed, these girls, working in teams of six or seven in those clean and tidy rooms, look as if they were practising a neat domestic craft rather than a deadly domestic process.



Rebecca had to wear ‘rubber over shoes’ to enter the factory, because of the danger of explosions. Like Arthur Conan Doyle, who also visited the factory during War, she likened the cordite paste to a food! She said ‘it might turn into very pleasant honey-cakes; an inviting appearance that has brought gastritis to more than one unwise worker.’ This quote made me smile for a number of reasons. Firstly, it implies that some workers actually ate cordite, and were ill because of it. Secondly, The Devil’s Porridge Museum was named after Arthur Conan Doyle’s phrase, could it have easily as been named the Honey-Cake Museum after Rebecca’s?

Above all, Rebecca’s article emphasises the ‘extraordinary’ nature of the work being done and how ‘pretty’ the girls are who are doing it. Rebecca’s emphasis on both the femininity of the workers and their work ethic belies her feminist sympathies—she is refuting the idea that women working strips them of their womanly identities whilst also emphasising their wartime contribution. West also doesn’t shy away from the danger inherent in the work; she describes an accident that happened just days before her visit: ‘Two huts were instantly gutted, and the girls had to walk out through the flame. In spite of the uniform one girl lost a hand.’

The reason why I think Rebecca’s article is so interesting is because it gives us a contemporary glimpse into the lives of munition workers at Gretna, from the mundane (being so tired that they spend the whole day in bed—I can relate) to the extraordinary (‘this cordite factory has been able to increase its output since the beginning of the war by something over 1500%’). The article has Rebecca’s point of view firmly planted on it, but it doesn’t completely depersonalise the Gretna Girls, unlike the many documents and reports written by factory higher ups do. It also shows the inter-connectivity between journalism and wartime propaganda, the importance of munitions production, and the notability of the women who were making munitions. Plus, I still can’t get over Rebecca’s suggestion that some women actually ate cordite!

If you want to learn more about Rebecca’s life, I really recommend the book Rebecca West: The Modern Sibyl by Carl Rollyson.

[1] Marsden, Dora (Ed), The Freewoman, Vol 1, No. 2, 30 November 1911, p. 39. Available:

[2] Marsden, Dora (Ed), The Freewoman, Vol 1, No. 13, 15 February 1912, p. 249. Available:

[3] Marsden, Dora (Ed), The Freewoman, Vol 1, No. 17, 14 March 1912, p. 334. Available: ;

[4] Lorna Gibb, West’s World: The Extraordinary Life of Dame Rebecca West (Pan Macmillan, 2013); Ray Strachey, Millicent Garrett Fawcett (John Murray, 1931), p. 236.

[5] For more on this series, and the discovery of a brand new article recently found in the archives, see: Kielty, D (2017) “Hands That War: In the Midlands”: Rebecca West’s Rediscovered Article on First World War Munitions Workers. Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, 36 (1). pp. 211-217.

Mabel Alice Read being awarded a medal.

Worker of the Week: Mabel Alice Read

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a new weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our Research Assistant, Laura Noakes, has come across during her research. Laura is working on a project to create a database of the 30,000 people that worked at Gretna during World War One.

Hello, and welcome to the very first edition of our new weekly series! This blogpost really demonstrates just how valuable sharing stories with us (and any Museum ) is!. A member of the public recently got in touch with us, enquiring about a lady named Mabel Alice Read.

 Mabel had been very briefly mentioned in our blog about Women Police Officers at H.M. Factory Gretna. The Women’s Police Service (WPS) was formed in 1915 by Margaret Damer Dawson, and one of its largest wartime units patrolled H.M. Factory Gretna and nearby towns. Over 150 women officers worked at Gretna, and we know very little about most of them.

Previously, Mabel’s name appeared on a valuation roll record from Gretna. However, a member of the public reached out to us and shared that Mabel was the focus of an article of the Policewomen’s Review that mentioned, not only her time at Gretna, but also her later work as a policewoman!

The Policewoman’s Review, Vol III, No, 32., December 1929. Document source: East Sussex Record Office, ESRO ref ACC 6572/3

In this article, it is written:


“Miss Mabel Alice Read was appointed Police Woman at Hove in July, 1919. She had previously been trained in the Women Police Service, and had practical experience in Government Munition Factories at Gretna.”


Although this mention of Gretna is only brief, this article gives us a real insight into Mabel’s professional development as a policewoman. It is clear that after the war, Mabel continued her policework in Hove in earnest. In a report written in October 1921 that summarised her duties, she states that she dealt with: ‘Wayward girls…drunks, women, prostitutes…illegitimate baby cases…lost children’ amongst other duties.[1] This list suggests that Mabel’s policing was very much gendered—she dealt with women and children a lot of the time. This was a crucial aspect of early policing for women, and one of the arguments that proponents of women in policing focused on: that women police officers were better placed to deal with enquiries and issues by women members of the public. Mabel herself asserts this in here report: ‘In cases of attempted indecent assault when I have obtained statements the mother or relative of the child have expressed gratitude at the sordid details being collected by a woman instead of a man.’[2]

Despite this, the Chief Inspector’s praise of the Hove Policewomen was faint. He argued in a letter that ‘a very considerable portion of their time appears to be occupied in typing or other internal administration or filing in the Detective Department’ and stated that he, an assistant inspector, and an inspector agreed that they ‘know of no result effected generally by the women patrol.’[3]

A really interesting case that Mabel was involved in happened in 1928, when she went undercover to ensnare a clairvoyant, Leoni Ward. Mabel visited Ward, who told her ‘that a dark man was in love with her and was about wherever she went, but that he was no good to her. She would marry the dark man and would have two children. The boy would be a great man, the girl a clever musician. Ward also said that Miss Read would travel and see the Sphinx, but must not touch it, as an evil spirit would harm her. She could see Miss Read “standing on a marble slab dressed in white, with pearls and diamonds all down the front.”’[4] At Hove Police Court, Ward ‘was fined £2 for “using palmistry and clairvoyance to deceive.”’ This was against Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1834, which prohibited ‘every person pretending or professing to tell fortunes, or using any subtle craft, means, or device, by palmistry or otherwise, to deceive and impose on any of his Majesty’s subjects.’[5]

Palmistry always puts me in mind of Professor Trelawney

It was great to find out more about Mabel’s post-Gretna life and her role as a pioneer policewoman. Thank you so much to the member of the public for bringing Mabel to our attention. I am very excited to go through the records the Devil Porridge Museum has on women police officers when the COVID-19 situation allows. Hopefully, I’ll find out more about Mabel and her fellow officers. If you are doing research on anyone connected to H.M. Factory Gretna, do get in touch on our social media pages or email me at We’d love to hear from you!


[1] Copies of correspondence and reports concerning the work and duties of policewomen in Hove, ESRO Reference: ACC 6572/2, Oct 1921, East Sussex Record Office

[2] Copies of correspondence and reports concerning the work and duties of policewomen in Hove, ESRO Reference: ACC 6572/2, Oct 1921, East Sussex Record Office

[3] Copies of correspondence and reports concerning the work and duties of policewomen in Hove, ESRO Reference: ACC 6572/2, Oct 1921, East Sussex Record Office

[4] ‘”Evil Spirit” Warning”, The Berks and Oxon Advertiser, 27 April 1928, p. 7.


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