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  • Writer's pictureGVHeritage Group

Bristol Clippies, Detectives & the Tramway Riots

Women were first used as conductors or "clippies" (as they were nicknamed) on the trams during World War One.  They began work in December 1916 as conscription was  gradually extended to even take in married fathers in their 30s and 40s.

The 'clippies' were a particular target for harassment by boys. In February 1917 a 14-year-old was fined £1 plus costs and bound over for 12 months after being found guilty of throwing sand at conductress Lily Barry on a tram in East Street, Bedminster.

By 1917, 250 women worked as tram conductors in Bristol and 14 drove lorries for the Tramways Company. The company would only employ ‘clippies’ aged between 18 and 25.

At the end of the war the 'clippies' refused to give up their jobs and new found freedom, and in April 1920 there was a near riot on Bristol's Tramway Centre where a crowd of 2,000 gathered to support 13 unemployed ex-soldiers. Around 30 trains were damaged and the Tramway Company caved in. The clippies were all sacked, offered £5 to go away and their jobs were given back to the men.

Before the war, ‘it was thought to be rather strange if women did paid work, without financial necessity,’ according to Frida Barclay Baron, who grew up in Bristol in the early 1900s. When the men returned after the war, women were expected to give up their jobs.

Bristol pioneering female policing There were voluntary street patrols by women on the lookout for other young women who were likely to get into trouble by hanging out with soldiers. By early 1917 there were even five or six women detectives working for Bristol Constabulary. The first uniformed women constables would follow in the summer, making Bristol one of the early pioneers of female policing.

Bristol Constabulary used women staff to work in its offices and supervise the custody of female prisoners. Now they appointed women detectives as well, usually for use in roles which were unsuitable for men. In a famous local case female detectives gathered evidence against a fraudulent fortune teller. They were also commonly used to catch out shopkeepers contravening food regulations.  The first uniformed women constables were appointed in 1917. The move followed lobbying by feminist campaigners, many of whom had been suffragettes before the war. 

Bristol was also home to a pioneering school set up in September 1915 to train voluntary women’s patrols and later, female police officers. First established at Queens Road, and later based at 6 Berkeley Square, The Bristol Training School for Women Patrols and Police was set up at the initiative of the National Union of Women Workers and funded by voluntary donations. 

By 1917 the school was being run by Dorothy Peto (pictured), who would later go on to head the women’s branch of the Metropolitan Police. The school also trained Britain’s first women military police and helped set up a training school to cover the whole of Scotland. 

Bristol Munitions The industrial scene had been transformed in just a few years by the need for munitions. Shell cases were being turned out at dozens of sites in the region, and all collected and finished at the premises of John Priest & Son – the company’s ironworks made fences and railings in peacetime – in Victoria Road, St Philips Marsh.

Other factories turned out glycerine, benzine, benzole and toluene for explosives. John Lysaght Ltd. made sheds, Nissen huts, metal containers of all sorts as well as wire – four million yards by the war’s end.

Women also helped to sort and deliver the 12 million letters crossing the English Channel each week.


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