Britain's first Warranted Woman Police Officer

By David Sterry

In November 2017 our society was approached by a member of the Oxton Society History Group in Birkenhead, requesting information regarding the death of an Oxton lady, EDITH SMITH, who had died in Runcorn in 1923. I undertook the task of discovering more about who she was and the circumstances of her death here in Runcorn. Apparently, a granddaughter of Edith's had a copy of her death certificate so precise details of the event were known. Armed with the date of her death I adjourned to Halton Lea Library and looked up the Runcorn Weekly News of Friday June 29th 1923 which contained a very interesting headline:

Runcorn Weekly News

So, I was intrigued to find out more about this remarkable Lady who was born at Oxton in November 1876, one of six children raised by a Nursery and Seedman, James Smith, and his wife. In 1897 she married a Stationer and Tobacconist, William Smith, and whilst raising their children, she worked as the local Sub-Postmistress. Sadly her husband died in 1904 leaving her to raise their children on her own. However, by 1911, when the children were all settled in boarding schools, she had arrived in London where she was training to be a Midwife. Not long after this, she took a post as Matron in a nursing home in Grantham, Lincolnshire, where two of her daughters later married. It was whilst in Grantham that she achieved a degree of fame when she became Britain`s first Warranted Police Woman in 1915 serving as such for three years.

Collage of Edith Smith photos

and here is a photo of WPC Smith's Warrant card showing dates of issue and cancellation. Issued 15th. Dec. 1915, and cancelled 4th.Jan. 1918

Coroners report on Edith's death in Halton

As you will see, the Runcorn Weekly News story provides a substantial account of Edith Smith`s life and the events leading up to her death and burial in Halton cemetery

Old Alms houses in Halton

One of these Alms houses, located adjacent to Halton Castle, was provided for Edith Smith when she came to Runcorn to take up her post as a district nurse. They were demolished in the 1960`s

Burial Record

The above transcript of the local burial records reveals that she was buried in Halton cemetery in grave No. 151. The grave is unmarked but the picture on the right (or below), with my umbrella marking the position a headstone would have been placed, tells us where it is.

Unfortunately, a second tragedy occurred when Edith`s granddaughter Marjorie Weekes died in Runcorn`s Cottage Hospital aged 2 years, shortly after Edith`s funeral. Marjorie was subsequently buried in Edith`s grave on the 9th July 1923.

Site of Edith's grave in Halton Cemetary

At 2.30pm on the 6th June 2018, another Blue Plaque was unveiled at Oxton, Birkenhead, in the presence of Edith Smith's Granddaughter, Margaret Smith

Following the unveiling of the Oxton Blue Plaque, I was approached by Superintendent Louise Harrison of Merseyside Police with a view to my taking her and a colleague to visit Edith Smith`s grave in Halton Cemetery. This visit took place on Thursday 2nd August 2018 when they left a wreath in her memory.

During the two week National Heritage celebrations in September 2018, when the theme was “Extraordinary Women”, Bob Knowles of the Oxton Civic Society gave a talk to the members of the Runcorn & District Historical Society and guests, including Superintendent Louise Harrison and Inspector Victoria Holden of the Merseyside Police, on Edith Smith and her extraordinary life.

This inspired the two police women to pursue a campaign of fund raising aimed at the installation of a Headstone to be placed on the hitherto unmarked grave of Edith Smith in Halton cemetery.

Their campaign was successful, culminated in the staging of a memorial service celebrating the life of Edith Smith, at St Marys Church, Halton, Runcorn, on Friday 7th December 2018. After the service, the congregation marched down to Halton cemetery, led by Edith Smith`s Granddaughter, Margaret Smith, and an “army” of Police Officers, to visit her grave and to lay wreaths around the new headstone. The event was reported by BBC Northwest following the 6.00pm news later that day.

On 8th March 2019 a blue plaque was erected on St Mary's Church Hall, Halton village, on the site of the old almshouses.

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