Earlier this year I had the pleasure of meeting Erin Williams, the great great great grand-daughter of Rebecca Lipscombe - the second Birmingham lock-up matron and one of the original two female police officers.
Rebecca Lucy Allen was born on the 23rd May 1856. Records show that she had her only son Gabriel Allen in the Birmingham workhouse in 1877. There are no details recorded for his father in the baptism record and their abode is recorded as the workhouse.
Rebecca went on to marry Thomas Lipscombe in 1891 and they lived with Gabriel, who retained the surname Allen.
In 1902 Birmingham City Police approved the recruitment of a lock-up matron for the Birmingham lock-up on Steelhouse Lane. The first matron resigned in 1904 and Rebecca was her replacement.
By 1917 following much campaigning by local women's organisations, the first two female officers were recruited in Birmingham. This was Rebecca and her colleague Evelyn Miles, who were both working as lock-up matrons at the time. It is interesting to note their ages - they were 60 and 54 respectively when they began their new careers! This however is not uncommon for early policewomen, who were often respectable married women past child bearing age.
Rebecca reverted back to being a lock-up matron in 1918 - it isn't clear whether she volunteered to be a policewoman or was put forward, but either way she went back to her original role a year later where she remained until the mid 1930s. The last entry on her record is from when she was 77 years of age.
Gabriel's family emigrated to Canada and I tracked down one of his great grandchildren Leslie Williams living in British Columbia. Leslie was kind enough to put me in contact with her daughter Erin who was about to embark upon a world tour and she subsequently visited us in Birmingham.
The pictures above are:
- Erin standing outside what used to be the front door of Birmingham Police's HQ in Newton St, holding the picture of Evelyn and Rebecca taken in that same location on their first day on patrol;
- Erin standing in the kitchen of the lock-up, holding the below picture, believed to be of Rebecca in her role as lock-up matron, sitting in that same kitchen;
- Erin and I outside the front door of the lock-up.
Breakfast at the lock-up, c1920, the matron is believed to be Rebecca Lipscombe