Policewomen on the Railways 1917 – 2017

by Martin McKay

In 2017, the BTP celebrated the centenary of the first Policewoman to work on the railways. The BTPHG were keen to help and assisted in providing material for the BTP website and also for an event that was held at Wood Street, City of London, in November. There was a display of artefacts, books and photos depicting the history of railway, dock and canal policing, whilst the rest of the exhibition concentrated on women in railway policing from the early days right up until modern times. It included photographs from every era and the work of individual officers was portrayed.

Speakers who addressed the gathered audience included Sara Thornton, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), Sophie Linden, London Deputy Mayor for Policing, Charlotte Vitty, Chief Executive of the BT Police Authority (BTPA), Chief Constable Paul Crowther and Detective Superintendent Gill Murray.

Sgt Margaret Hood

Paul Crowther opened by saying, “The very first female officer was employed by the Great Eastern Railway Company at Liverpool Street Station in London. Margaret Hood was sworn in May 1917 and she played a key role in apprehending female pickpockets. The national press at the time called the hiring …. an ‘interesting experiment’. A century later BTP are proud to report that this ‘experiment’ was a resounding success.”

The significance of the employment of Margaret Hood, was not that just she was a uniformed female police officer, but that she was sworn in as a Constable with the same powers as her male counterparts. This made her one of the first in England.

However, uniformed women patrolling the stations was not new to the railways in 1917. The Women’s Police Service was one of two mostly voluntary organisations that had been formed at the beginning of World War One to assist whilst young men were sent to the battle front. Indeed, the initial impetus for the creation of the WPS was concern that British men at railway stations were attempting to recruit Belgian refugee women as prostitutes. An article about the WPS, from January 1916, states: “In London, the big railway termini are constantly patrolled, and the authorities have expressed their thanks for the valuable assistance given at the time of departure or arrival of troop trains.” A photograph on the Imperial War Museum website shows WPS volunteers liaising with a railway policeman at Euston Station in 1916. Perhaps this was partly what led to the idea of recruiting women to the railway police.

We next meet Margaret Hood back at the Guildhall in the City of London in September 1917, she is now a Sergeant, and is there for the swearing in of a further eight women constables. An article in the Great Eastern Railway Magazine records the event describing it as ‘eight more of the Company’s policewomen were sworn in’, so it is unclear whether this indicates there were more than just theses nine officers. They certainly look smart in their uniforms, with white topped naval-type hats.

It is not known how many other railway companies started employing female officers – we have reports of female officers on the Great Central Railway and London Underground – but we do know that the first four North Eastern Railway (N.E.R.) women police constables were sworn in on 20 December 1917. It states in the N.E.R. Magazine that they were ‘endowed with exactly the same status and power as their male colleagues, … and [were] capable of carrying out the full duties of police officers.’ These women wore blue, ankle length skirts and tunics with a collar and tie. Each had a wide brimmed hat and a whistle and wore their duty armbands on their left wrist. By August 1918 their numbers had increased to seventeen, and one of the original policewomen was now Sergeant Roberts.

Contrast that to their municipally employed colleagues, such as the Metropolitan Police, where women officers were employed from 1919, but were not sworn in as Constables until 1923*. Or in Manchester, where full status female officers were not sworn in until 1940, or the City of London in 1949!

Recent contact from a relative of Elsie Rogers has led to an interesting story about two ladies who joined the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Police in 1918. In an excerpt from her daughter’s recollections it is mentioned “During the war, Elsie nursed officers in a London hospital, but before the war ended, she and Ada [Baker, her life-long friend] joined the Railway Police and operated on the London to Brighton line. She enjoyed this posting very much.”

Police Inspector Elsie Rogers with LBSC colleagues

A photograph of Elsie came as a big surprise. She is pictured with several other LBSC colleagues and it is apparent she is wearing an Inspector’s uniform. This is the first known instance of a female Inspector in the railway police.

Policewoman Ada Mary Baker

 

Perhaps, just as interesting are the details recorded about of her friend, Ada Baker, in the original employment book. She was stationed at Willow Walk, London, joining in September 1918 and resigning in December 1919, following her marriage. Of note, however, is that in the column marked ‘occupation’ she is described as ‘Police Constable’, with no specific mention of ‘Woman’; and her wage (£1 4s per week) is the same as her male colleagues! It would take the better part of a century before both those items were true again.

For the bulk of the twentieth century female constables were described as Police Woman (abbreviated to PW) and later Woman Police Constable (WPC). It was not until the mid-1990’s that the gender-neutral term Police Constable was applied to all officers.

Similarly, equal pay and conditions was not the norm until the mid-1970’s. The Equal Pay Act of 1970, started the ball rolling enforcing ‘equal pay for equal work’. However, at that time it was not considered that policewomen did equal work. The BTP took their lead from the Home Office forces, where women were not obliged work night-duty or perform patrols and many worked in separate departments. Within the BTP it seems to have varied across the country, with some working nights and the same shifts as the men, others not, but still not getting the same rate of pay. In 1973, with the Sexual Discrimination Act 1974 looming, the Metropolitan Police disbanded the women’s police department and regularised conditions and job opportunities for all officers, and in 1974 awarded equal pay. Other forces, including BTP, gradually adopted the same policy over the next couple of years.

One instance, of many, that showed female officers were playing their full part long before the introduction of equal pay and conditions resulted in the awarding of the Whitbread Shield for meritorious police work. In 1967, Woman Sergeant Roberta ‘Bobby’ Staniforth attended Stechford Station following a fatal train crash. She established and ran a temporary mortuary where the 9 bodies were brought to be searched for purposes of identification, securing evidence and safeguarding valuables. Her calmness and efficiency in carrying out this gruesome task earned her the commendation of senior officers from the local police and fire brigade.

Just one example of that ‘interesting experiment’ that became a resounding success.

 

This article originally appeared in the BTPHG Year Book 2018

Sources include:
100 Years of Women in Policing by John Owen
Railway Policewomen in the First World War | Safe and Sound
The Old Police Cells Museum
Metropolitan Women Police Association
*The original Year Book article stated that Metropolitan Policewomen were first sworn in as Constables in 1928, however, the MWPA record the date as 1923.

Special thanks to the families of Margaret Hood and Elsie Rogers, for their information and photographs.