Newhaven's Women at War
In 1911, there were 1,842 women, aged between 15 and 64, living in Newhaven and Denton.
At the beginning of the First World War, many jobs and professions were only open to men, so the work undertaken by Newhaven women was somewhat limited. Women, however, could work in the teaching profession, mainly in Infants’ or Girls’ schools. Miss Scanes was the headmistress of the Girls’ School in Newhaven, Miss Chadwick the headmistress of the Infants’ School and Miss Goff was the headmistress of the Railway Road Infants’ School. Women also worked in shops or in the family business. Some younger women worked as domestic helps, helping the mothers of large families. Women were employed at Newhaven Union (the Workhouse) as nurses and laundresses. Mrs Caroline Bloomfield was the Matron of the Workhouse, her husband being the Master. Mrs Gertrude Alice Sanderson was the Post Mistress, at the main Post Office (and Telegraph and Telephone Office) in Meeching Road and Mrs Alice H Ettridge looked after the Telephone Exchange. Her daughter Hilda was a telephonist there. Madame Marie Lemmonier was the ‘Directoress’ of the French Convent School and ‘Lady Superior’ of the Convent. There were 78 women living at the Convent, including 11 teachers (4 for music), 31 pupils and 15 servants. There was one male gardener/domestic servant. Miss Gwedolyn Lines, who lived at Milton House, 1 Meeching Rise, was a music teacher and organised many concerts for the troops based at Newhaven during the First World War.
The majority of married women didn’t work, either as a matter of choice or because their employers required them to leave work when they married. Women earned considerably less than men. However, some women in Newhaven did run small businesses. A number of General Shops were run by women, including Mrs Howell at 5 Bridge Street, Miss Ayling at 4 Elphick Road, Miss Stevens at 15 South Road and Miss Ellis at 45 South Road. Miss Bowlden of 4 Fort Road, Mrs Fenner of 30 High Street and Miss Lander of 1 Sussex Place were all confectioners, whilst Mrs Bailey, of 5 Meeching Avenue, was a wardrobe dealer. Mrs F Markwick ran Newhaven Laundry at 6-8 Fort Road and Mrs Holloway was the proprietor of the Downs Laundry at 44 Meeching Road. Mrs Pilfold, of 22 South Road, was also a laundress. Mrs Wolfram, of 34 South Road, was a dressmaker, a job popular with other Newhaven ladies as you could work from home. The Misses Balcombe and Lelliott ran refreshment rooms at 4 High Street. Some of the pubs in the town were run by women. The New Bridge Inn, for example, where Mrs Fanny Richardson was the Licensee and the Lewes Road Tavern, where Mrs Annie Wood was the Inn Keeper, helped by her daughter Margaret. Mrs Fryer ran the Cook & Co Ale and Stout Stores at 21 South Road. However, despite all these female entrepreneurs, the majority of businesses in the town were still run by men.
As the war progressed, more and more jobs were taken by women. When conscription was introduced in 1916, one of the first questions asked at exemption hearings was whether a woman could do the work in question. The following pages give an idea of the work undertaken by Newhaven women during the First World War. If you have any stories or photographs of Newhaven women in your family, who did war work, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us with details.
By Jenny Flood.
Details of the occupations of women in the town were taken from the Blue Book (Local Directory) for Lewes, Newhaven Seaford and District for 1914-1915, a copy of which can be found in Newhaven Museum. Details were supplemented by the 1911 Census . Statistics from the 1911 Census were taken from www.visionofbritain.org.uk