Mary was born in Gloucester in 1932, the eldest child of Violet and James Gardner, she had one brother and three sisters.
Mary married and went on to have six daughters and one son. In 1966 Mary and her family moved to Birmingham where they would settle.
After bringing up her children, Mary decided to return to work and in April 1973 was appointed as a lock-up matron at the Steelhouse Lane lock-up in Birmingham. In 1975 she applied for a job as a Court Security Assistant in the adjacent Victoria Law Courts. She was successful but missed her police colleagues so returned to the lock-up in January 1976.
There was another Mary in the lock-up at the time so her colleagues nicknamed her Jacky, a name which she quite liked and stuck throughout her entire police career. Jacky’s role was to look after the prisoners, particularly the females and take care of their welfare needs whilst they were resident in the lock-up – which could be for a few days if you were unlucky enough to be arrested on a Friday night and not due in court until Monday morning.
Jacky was one of many individuals required to give evidence at the second enquiry of the individuals later known as the Birmingham 6 in February 1976. She was requested to give evidence at Birmingham Crown Court.
Jacky (right) along with Matron Tetley at a works Christmas party in 1983
Working as a matron could pose a number of health risks – not only from travelling up and down two stairwells all day, but also from assaults from prisoners and general slips, trips and falls in the old building. Jacky chipped a bone in her ankle when she fell in 1982, was assaulted by a prisoner in 1981, who took off her shoe to strike the matron and was kicked and kneed by another in 1985.
Jacky always made sure she took care of the prisoners she was responsible for and often stayed in contact with them. This is evidenced by a Christmas card in her file – on the card is written: ‘From Teresa who killed her boyfriend, 1984’.
The card is addressed to 'Jacky Matron' where she thanks her for the Christmas card she sent and wishes her a great Christmas and Happy New Year, sending her very best wishes to her and the other matrons and goes on to thank her for everything she did.
There were many distressing parts of the role such as suicidal or self-harming prisoners. In November 1985 Jacky had to give evidence at the inquest of a lady who took a huge overdose shortly before being taken into custody at the lock-up. She was medically examined twice and it was stated at the inquest that she was abusive to all who tried to help her, including Jacky, who kept the press cuttings of the case where she was named as a witness giving evidence. A case that clearly had a lasting impact on her.
Jacky also had to give evidence in the unfortunate case of a prisoner who fell whilst going to see his solicitor and banged his head, whilst in her custody, and who she accompanied to hospital where he later died. A verdict of accidental death was reached.
By November 1990 the lock-up was facing significant changes, as was the rest of West Midlands Police. An establishment review was undertaken and Jacky was put at risk along with her colleagues. Earlier in the year plans had been signed off to ‘civilianise’ the lock-up, bringing more police staff roles in to replace warranted officers.
An example of work Jacky did outside of the lock-up is transporting prisoners to other prisons – in early 1992 she went to Risley prison in Cheshire twice on escort duty. It was deemed necessary to have at least one full time matron available for ‘Risley’ duty as many female prisoners were sent there. Other roles at this time were ‘shift matron’ and ‘court matron’ during court hours. Lock-up matrons had existed in Birmingham since 1902 but the court matron role, which ensure female prisoners were taken care of during court appearances was introduced slightly later in 1919.
By September 1992 Jacky’s health was failing her and she was signed off by the force’s medical officer as being unable to continue in her role, seeing an end to almost 20 years at the lock-up.
Jacky was clearly a very popular part of the lock-up team – as can see by two huge tightly packed cards received in 1992 – one for her birthday and one when she was leaving.
Her daughters Patty and Vicky are immensely proud of their mother and recently visited the lock-up to once again see where their mother worked. By chance one of the officers who worked with Jacky was actually volunteering at the open day on the same day so they enjoyed sharing lots of stories about her.
Retired officer Phil Tucker is pictured with Patti (left) and Vicky (right)
There are very few records of lock-up matrons held by the West Midlands Police Museum so the records kindly shared by the Giacomantuone’s add a valuable insight into more recent parts of a role that existed for almost 100 years before it was modernised and turned into a Detention Officer.
Patty and Vicky are also in possession of their mother’s ‘matron’ epaulettes, an incredibly rare bit of uniform not used for years, but celebrating what was a crucial role in the welfare of prisoners for a long time.