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 Women athletes between the world wars (act. 1919–1939), by unknown photographer, 1922 [Mary Lines (front, holding flag) and Hilda Hatt (to her right)] Women athletes between the world wars (act. 1919–1939), by unknown photographer, 1922 [Mary Lines (front, holding flag) and Hilda Hatt (to her right)]
Women athletes between the world wars (act. 1919–1939) comprised the first generation of women in Britain to participate in official organized athletic events. One of the pioneers was the future MP who, aged fifteen, won what was termed the North of England 100 yards championship in Manchester in 1919. Possibly the first woman in England to race wearing shorts and spiked running shoes, she was the daughter of Sergeant-Major Leslie Burton, a 400 metres hurdles finalist at the 1908 Olympic games.

The first international competition was staged in Monte Carlo at Easter 1921. An England team of seven athletes—all of whom attended physical education classes at the Regent Street and Woolwich polytechnics—met with great success, notably Mary Lines [see below] and Hilda Hatt [see below]. While travelling home by train through France, the group formed the first exclusively women's athletic club, which came to be known as London Olympiades. Earlier in 1921 a women's section was formed at London's Kensington athletic club. Sophie Eliott-Lynn [see ] was an early member of the Kensington club, as was Vera Palmer [see below], and in 1923 the women went their own way to become Middlesex Ladies.

The success of the Monte Carlo meeting led to the creation in Paris on 31 October 1921 of the Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale (FSFI) and that organization remained the international governing body for women's athletics until the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) took over in 1936. On the previous day, 30 October 1921, the first unofficial international match between France and England was staged at Stade Pershing in Paris. Mary Lines was again the star of the proceedings, England winning by 52 points to 38.

The next logical step was for England to establish its own national governing body. The Amateur Athletic Association (AAA), founded in 1880, wanted no truck with women's athletics. Vera Palmer recalled, ‘The men didn't want anything to do with us. They were afraid of a lot of fierce looking women interfering!’ She added: ‘In the early days the medical profession were totally against us. They said “these people are leaving their womanhood on the track. It is possible that none of them will ever have children”’ (interview conducted by Gwenda Ward for AAA News, 1989). Harold Abrahams, the 1924 Olympic 100 metres champion, who later became a champion of women's athletics, expressed the opinion that women were not built for the violent exercise that was the essence of competition, and thought them awkward on the running track.

Following the AAA's rejection, Major W. B. Marchant, the Regent Street Polytechnic's director of physical education, and coach Joe Palmer, the men who were responsible for training and organizing the team for Monte Carlo, set up a meeting early in 1922 and the Women's Amateur Athletic Association (WAAA) was founded to co-ordinate and control women's athletics in England. The Scottish WAAA was founded in 1930 and the Welsh WAAA in 1952.

Both the IAAF and International Olympic Committee (IOC) continued to resist the inclusion of women's events in the Olympic athletics programme. A request by the FSFI in 1919 had been refused, and after another rebuff in connection with the forthcoming 1924 Olympic games the FSFI defiantly organized in August 1922 what it first referred to as the ‘Women's Olympic games’ but later renamed, after objections by the IOC and IAAF, the ‘Women's World games’. Although only five nations (Britain, Czechoslovakia, France, Switzerland, and the USA) were represented, the occasion at the Pershing stadium, in Paris, proved an enormous success with over 20,000 spectators attending the one-day event. English athletes dominated with five victories.

The first county championship (Essex) was staged in August 1923, as were the first full-scale WAAA championships. They were held at the Oxo sports ground at Bromley in Kent and the outstanding performer was again Mary Lines. The championships were always staged in the London area during the 1920s and 1930s, except for 1927 when they were held in Reading. One of the WAAA's functions was ensuring that athletes were modestly dressed. A letter to team members going to the Women's World games in 1922 from Sophie Eliott-Lynn, joint secretary of the WAAA and herself an international athlete, advised:
Will you please provide yourself with close fitting black knickers reaching to not more than four inches from the ground when kneeling, a loose white tunic of stout material belted, with elbow sleeves, reaching to 10–12 inches below the waist. The use of stockings is optional. (Cowe, 23)
The growing popularity of women's athletics was evident in August 1924 when the News of the World promoted the International Women's games at London's Stamford Bridge, drawing a crowd of 25,000 and competitors from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, and Switzerland. The following year, at the same venue, home athletes won eight of the ten events on the programme against Canada and Czechoslovakia. A further edition of the Women's World games was staged in Gothenburg in August 1926 when the British team collected fourteen medals, four of them gold.

Women's events were added to the Olympic programme in Amsterdam in 1928, but it was such a grudging concession by the male-controlled Olympic authorities (just five women's disciplines were admitted: 100 metres, 800 metres, high jump, discus, and 4 × 100 metres relay) that the WAAA—with the support of the athletes—refused to send a British team. The British representative had indicated that they would support the inclusion of women's events only if there were a full programme, and if those events were organized by a committee of women. The next Women's World games, at Prague in September 1930, which yielded only four medals, included a solitary gold, won by Gladys Lunn [see below].

During the 1920s British athletes set world records in a wide range of events, many at curious distances which became no longer contested. Records established in the more standardized events during that decade and ratified by the FSFI included 100 yards times of 11.6 by Mary Lines (1922) and 11.4 by Rose Thompson (1923), 25.4 for 200 metres by Eileen Edwards [see below] (1927), 60.8 for 440 yards by Edwards (1924), 2:26.6 for 880 yards by Lines (1922), 49.8 for 4 × 110 yards relay by Doris Scoular, Florence Haynes, Edwards, and Thompson (1926), 1.55 metres high jump by Phyllis Green [see below] (1926), and 5.57 metres long jump by (1927). Among performances which were not ratified by the FSFI but acknowledged to be genuine were 59.2 for 440 yards by Marion King (1929), 2:24.0 for 880 yards by Edith Trickey (1925), and 1.58 metres high jump by Green (1927). Outside official competition was the maverick figure of who, in 1926, reputedly ran the marathon distance from Windsor to Battersea in 3:40:22, although over eighty years later this achievement had not been fully authenticated.

As no women's events were on the schedule for the inaugural Empire games in Hamilton, Canada, in 1930, the next big international challenge came in 1932. The WAAA decided to send a team to the Olympic games in Los Angeles even though the total of women's events was only six: the 800 metres had been dropped (until 1960) but the 80 metres hurdles and javelin were added. Five women became Britain's first female Olympians in athletics events: Ethel Johnson (1908–1964) of Bolton United Harriers, Gwendoline Porter (b. 1902), who had clocked 11.5 for the 100 yards in 1924, Eileen Hiscock [see below], Nellie Halstead [see below], and seventeen-year-old Violet Webb [see below]. They left Waterloo Station on 13 July, sailed for five days from Southampton to Quebec and then travelled a further 3000 miles by train, before arriving in Los Angeles on 25 July. One medal was obtained: a bronze in the 4 × 100 metres relay by Hiscock, Porter, Webb (who replaced the injured Johnson), and Halstead.

The 1934 season provided a twin challenge as two major events were staged at London's White City stadium. The Empire games in early August, with women admitted for this second edition, brought gold medals for Hiscock, Lunn, long jumper Phyllis Bartholomew, and the 440 yards medley relay team of Halstead, Hiscock, and Elsie Maguire. A few days later in August 1934 the fourth and final FSFI Women's World games brought the home athletes down with a bump as not a single victory was gained. In the absence of an American team it was the Germans who dominated, winning nine of the twelve events. Britain's medal tally was one silver and four bronze.

Following the WAAA championships in July 1936, a team of eleven was selected to represent Great Britain in the women's athletics events at the Berlin Olympic games. The British women's team manager was Muriel Cornell (née Gunn), the former world record holder for the long jump, who never had the chance of Olympic glory herself. The distinction of becoming the first British woman athlete to win an Olympic medal in an individual event fell to the ‘baby’ of the 1936 team, sixteen-year-old Dorothy Odam (later Tyler) (b. 1920), runner-up in the high jump (although under the later ‘countback’ rule to decide ties she would have been declared the winner). There were silver medals also for the 4 × 100 metres relay team of Eileen Hiscock, Violet Olney, , whose brother Godfrey won silver in the 400 metres and gold in the 4 × 400 metres relay, and Barbara Burke (b. 1917).

The final pair of major international tests prior to the outbreak of the Second World War were held seven months apart in 1938. It took six weeks to travel to Australia for the Empire games in Sydney in February, and the one English victory came from Odam, still only seventeen, although Burke—this time representing South Africa—won the 80 metres hurdles. At the first European championships for women, in Vienna in September 1938, the British team failed to win any medals.

Although the WAAA jealously guarded its independence from the AAA, and continued to hold separate outdoor championships until 1988, the two governing bodies did join forces to stage combined national indoor championships at Wembley's Empire Pool from 1935 to 1939. The WAAA meanwhile relaxed its rule against races over 1000 metres to allow the mile to be part of its championship programme for the first time in 1936. At the last WAAA championship before the outbreak of war, at the White City on 22 July 1939, Evelyne Forster of the civil service took nearly two seconds off Lunn's 1937 mile record, bringing the time down to 5:15.3, which stood until 1952. The five minute barrier for the women's mile was broken in Birmingham in May 1954, less than a month after the first men's sub-four-minute mile.

The first star of British women's athletics between the wars was Mary Lines [married name Smith] (1893–1978), who was born at 20 Cedar Road, Fulham, London on 3 December 1893, the daughter of Edward John Lines, estate agent, and his wife, Emily Florence, née Smith. She was briefly (1907–8) a pupil at James Allen's Girls' School, Dulwich. From 1910 she was a member of the Young Women's Christian Institute and gymnasium at the Regent Street polytechnic, and won a 100 yards race for polytechnic women at Tottenham in July 1914. In 1911 she was employed as a dressmaker but was a Lyon's Corner House waitress when, aged twenty-seven, she joined the London Olympiades club, where she was coached by Joe Palmer. She was the star performer of the England team which she captained at Monte Carlo in 1921. Like most of her fellow pioneers, she happily participated in a wide variety of events, and at these inaugural Monte Carlo games she won the 60 metres, 250 metres (setting world bests in both), and long jump with a British best, contributed to victories in both sprint relays, and finished second in the 800 metres with another British best performance. Later that year, in Paris, she set world records of 11.8 for 100 yards and 43.8 for 300 metres in a France v. England match.

Mary Lines's athletics career lasted for only three more seasons but during that time she established countless records and won numerous national and international titles. Her most prestigious successes came at the first Women's World games in Paris in 1922, where she took the 300 metres in 44.8 and long jump with a British record of 5.06 metres. She also anchored the 4 × 110 yards relay team to a world record 51.8, and finished second over 60 metres and third in the 100 yards. Other world records which fell to this versatile athlete included 11.6 for 100 yards, 12.8 for 100 metres, 26.8 for 220 yards, and 2:26.6 for 880 yards in 1922; 35.6 for 250 metres and 62.4 for 440 yards in 1923; and 17.6 for 120 yards hurdles in 1924. Between 1921 and 1924, her final season, she set a total of thirty-three world records or best performances. On 14 December 1935 at Wandsworth register office she married Victor Stanley Smith (d. 1947), a table water manufacturer's accountant, who was the divorced husband of Jennie Annie, née Lawrence. Latterly she lived in Gerald Road, Worthing. She died on arrival at Worthing Hospital on 13 December 1978, from shock and multiple fractures after being knocked down by a car. An inquest heard that she had been hurrying across a road in the dark to post her Christmas mail.

Also among the honours at the 1921 Monte Carlo fixture was another London Olympiades member, Hilda May Hatt [married names Bryant, Barrow] (1903–1975). She was born at 18 Silwood Street, Rotherhithe, London, on 28 April 1903, the daughter of Charles John William Hatt, auctioneer's clerk, and his wife, Sarah Elizabeth, née Walker. Educated at the Gordon school, Eltham, and the Woolwich Polytechnic trade school, she was working as a clerk when she attended gymnasium classes at Woolwich Polytechnic. At the 1922 Women's World games she tied first for the high jump, and she won the high jump at the WAAA championships in 1923. The hurdles became her main event: she won the 120 yards at the WAAA championships in 1925 and 1926, at 75 metres in 1927, and at 80 metres in 1929, by which time she was referred to as a veteran. She competed in international fixtures up to 1930. She became a smallholder and married, at Folkestone register office on 3 January 1952, a farmer, Frederick William Bryant, of Dawlton farm, Elmsted, Kent, the divorced husband of Florence May, née Harris. Widowed, she married, on 14 December 1968, Ronald Ernest Barrow, packer in a paper mill, the son of Arthur William Barrow, cement labourer. She died at the Linton Hospital, Coxheath, Maidstone on 10 June 1975.

An early record-breaking runner was Vera Maud Palmer [married name Searle] (1901–1998), who was born at 88 Dunedin Road, Leyton, Essex, on 25 August 1901, the daughter of Albert Joseph Palmer, commercial clerk and assistant secretary of Chelsea Football Club, and his wife, Maud Mary, née Joint. She worked as a clerical officer and was a founder member of Kensington Ladies (later Middlesex Ladies). She won WAAA titles at 220 yards in 1925 and 1926, and at 440 yards in 1924, 1925, and 1926. She set two world records at 250 metres—35.4 in Paris in 1923 and 33.8 at Stamford Bridge in 1925—and gained a silver medal at that distance in the 1926 Women's World games. That was her final season of competition. On 30 October 1926 she married Wilfred Edwin Searle, tailor and vice-president of Middlesex Ladies, with whom she had two daughters. She then began her long career as an administrator by serving as WAAA honorary secretary from 1930 to 1933. Among numerous other appointments she was WAAA vice-chairman from 1959 until she was voted in as chairman from 1973 to 1981, and later served as president until the merger with the AAA in 1991. She helped found the Women's Cross Country Association and was instrumental in setting up competitions for veteran women athletes. Although many changes occurred during her periods in office, she was noted for her conservative views, particularly in relation to allowing young girls to race at longer distances. Awarded the OBE in 1979 for services to athletics, she died at Roedean Manor, Roedean Road, Tunbridge Wells, on 12 September 1998, of pneumonia.

One of the foremost sprinters of the 1920s, Eileen Winifred Edwards (1903–1988), was born at 44 Dartmouth Road, Willesden, London, on 31 March 1903, the daughter of Sydney George Edwards, of independent means, and his wife, Laetitia Henrietta, née Cartwright. She first came into prominence, as a member of London Olympiades, in 1923, winning the WAAA 220 yards title. The following year she collected her first individual world record, clocking 26.2 for 220 yards at Stamford Bridge, and she followed that with world records at the slightly shorter 200 metres with times of 26.0 in Paris in 1926 and 25.4 in Berlin in 1927. She was equally successful at shorter and longer distances. At the 1924 WAAA championships, held at Woolwich, she was timed at a world record—breaking 11.3 for 100 yards, but the mark was not ratified due to a slight downhill slope and possible wind assistance. Probably her greatest sprint performance came in a handicap race in 1927: off scratch she finished second untimed but in an estimated 11.0 when the official world record for 100 yards stood at 11.2. Three years earlier she had set a world record for 440 yards of 60.8, beating the previous record holder, Mary Lines. An ideal distance for her was 250 metres and she achieved world records of 34.0 in Brussels in 1924 and 33.4 when lifting the Women's World games title in Gothenburg in 1926. She did not compete in 1925, opting instead to tour South Africa with the England hockey team. She came back better than ever and in 1927, now representing Middlesex Ladies, she repeated her 1924 WAAA 100/220 yards double. During her running career she accumulated no fewer than eighteen world records or world bests to her name. She went on to run a riding school at Stoborough, Wareham, Dorset, and died at Wareham's Christmas Close Hospital on 14 February 1988.

High-jumping history was made by Phyllis Adine Green [married name Nicol] (1908–1999), who was born at 12 Rye Lane, Peckham, London, on 8 February 1908, the daughter of Henry Ernest Green, undertaker's manager and a member of Peckham Harriers, and his wife, Rose, née Hanvey. As a long-haired, slightly built 17-year-old pupil at Peckham High School for Girls in south London, she set her first world best of 1.51 metres at London's Stamford Bridge in June 1925, and equalled that mark in Brussels a month later. She raised it by half an inch when winning the WAAA title at Stamford Bridge on 11 July 1925, becoming the first woman to clear 5 feet (1.52 metres). At another London venue, Chiswick, she improved her world best to 1.55 metres (5 ft 1 in) in 1926 and her highest ever jump was 1.58 metres (5 ft 2¼ in) at the 1927 WAAA championships off a grass take-off at Reading. That equalled the world metric record but it was not ratified, as the imperial measurement was 3/16th of an inch less than the listed record. She never competed again. Green, a member of London Olympiades who used the basic ‘scissors’ style in the high jump, was also a talented long jumper: on the day she cleared 1.51 metres for the first time she leapt 5.24 metres to break the British record held by Mary Lines. In 1926 she won both the high jump and long jump at the WAAA championships—the first such double and one which was not repeated until 1955. In 1927 she jumped 5.52 metres, only 5 cm short of the world best. ‘I have always jumped from the time I learned to walk’, she told a reporter in 1925. ‘I never went round an obstacle—I always jumped over it.’ She worked as a clerk, and married, at Ewell Congregational Church, on 5 October 1946, George Manson (Robin) Nicol, a Presbyterian minister, who was the divorced husband of Mary Paterson, née MacGillivray, and was the son of George Nicol, also a Presbyterian minister. She and her husband became missionaries in Malaya. As a widow she lived in 11 Conaways Close, Ewell, Surrey, and died in Epsom General Hospital on 26 November 1999.

Captain of the British team at the 1926 Women's World games was Florence Ethel Birchenough [married name Millichap] (1894–1973), who was born on 13 January 1894 at 63 Rothschild Road, Acton Green, Middlesex, the daughter of Arthur William Birchenough, schoolmaster, and his wife, Elizabeth Annie, née Buckley. In 1917 she joined the Regent Street polytechnic to do gymnastics and obtained the teaching diploma of the British Association for Physical Training. She was a member of the team of polytechnic women at Monte Carlo in 1921. The pioneer in British women's throwing events, she was pictured demonstrating the discus, the javelin, and the shot put in Sophie Eliott-Lynn's Athletics for Women and Girls (1925). She won the javelin event in the international fixture against France in October 1921, but her strongest event was the discus, in which she was WAAA title-holder for five years (1924–8). Between 1921 and 1927 she set British records in all three throwing events. At the Gothenburg games in 1926 she came fifth in the discus. She married on 20 August 1932 Henry Jack Millichap, a local government clerk, son of David Henry Millichap, butcher. They had one son. A founder member of the WAAA, she was a long-serving official of the association. She died at the Whittington Hospital, Islington, London, on 3 July 1973. Birchenough's rival in throwing events Mary Edith Louise Weston [later Mark Edward Louis Weston] (1905–1978) was born at Oreston, Plymstock, Devon, on 30 March 1905, the daughter of Stephen Weston, leading stoker on HMS Vivid, and his wife, Susan Ann, née Snow. Weston took Birchenough's WAAA title in the shot in 1925, and again in 1928, and achieved victories in the shot, discus, and javelin at the WAAA championships in 1929. Owing to a genital abnormality, Weston's gender was incorrectly identified as female at birth, and she was brought up as a girl. Following corrective surgery, Weston's birth was reregistered in 1936 as male. Renamed Mark Edward Louis Weston, he married, on 8 July 1936, at Plympton register office, Alberta Matilda, daughter of Robert Bray of the Royal Military Police. They had three children. He became a physiotherapist and died in Freedom Fields Hospital, Plymouth, on 29 January 1978.

In the early 1930s one of the world's foremost women middle-distance runners was Gladys Anne [Sally] Lunn (1908–1988). Born at 89 Cranford Street, Smethwick, on 1 June 1908, she was the daughter of Ernest Lunn, metal tube drawer, and his wife, Clara Elizabeth, née Hannibal. While working as a postwoman in the Birmingham area, she started running with Birchfield Harriers about 1927. Her first major successes came in 1930. At the Women's World games she ran from the front to win the 800 metres and at the WAAA championships—paced for the first lap by clubmate Dorette Nelson Neal (a future leading WAAA official and coach of note)—she broke the world 880 yards record with 2:18.2. The following year she set a world 1000 metres record of 3:04.4, improving to 3:00.6 in 1934, while at the mile she set world marks of 5:24.0 and 5:23.0 in 1936, and 5:20.8 and 5:17.0 in 1937. It was her misfortune that the 800 metres was not part of the women's programme at the 1932 Olympics, for she would have been a strong medal contender. At the Empire games of 1934 she completed a unique double, with gold medals in both the 880 yards and the javelin. Her tally of WAAA titles was remarkable: 880 yards or 800 metres in 1930–32, 1934, and 1937; mile in 1936 and 1937; cross country in 1931 and 1932; and the javelin in 1937. She rounded off her international career as England team captain at the 1938 Empire games. She joined the ATS in 1938 and served as an army sergeant during the war. Always a keen golfer, still playing into her late seventies with a handicap of fourteen, she collapsed on the ninth tee while enjoying a round at Great Barr golf club on 3 January 1988. She was found to be dead on arrival at Sandwell District Hospital from myocardial infarction.

Also a medallist at the 1930 Women's World games at Prague was Ethel Edburga Clementina Scott (1907–1984). She was born at 83 Inniskilling Road, Plaistow, London, on 22 October 1907, the daughter of David Emmanuel Scott, a merchant seaman born in Jamaica, and his wife, Jane, née Pilgrim. She was a member of the 4 × 100 metres relay team which came second at Prague, making her the first black woman to represent Britain in athletics. She became a medical secretary and died at her home, 20 Ventnor Gardens, Barking, on 7 March 1984.

At the Olympic games in Los Angeles in 1932, the captain of the pioneering British women's athletics team was Eileen May Hiscock [married name Wilson] (1909–1958). She was born at 147 Old Dover Road, Charlton, London, on 25 August 1909, the daughter of Arthur Hiscock, civil servant in the Post Office, and his wife, Edith Emily, née Jarman. In 1928 she became a typist at the Foreign Office. She was one of the four women who became Britain's first Olympic athletics medallists as a member of the 4 × 100 metres relay team which finished third at the 1932 games in Los Angeles. Four years later she upgraded to a silver medal in the relay at the Berlin Olympics. She ran for London Olympiades and won golds in both the 100 and 220 yards at the 1934 Empire games. She was a prolific sprint record breaker. Competing from scratch in a handicap race at London's Battersea Park in 1931 she was clocked at 11.0 for 100 yards, equalling the world record, but the time was not ratified. At 100 metres she set numerous British records and significantly she was the first Briton to break 12 seconds with 11.9 in a heat of the 1935 WAAA championships at the White City. No UK athlete bettered that time until 1956. When winning the 1934 Empire games 220 yards title on that track she was timed at 25.0, an unratified world record which stood as a British record until 1949. She won WAAA titles at 100 yards (1930), 100 metres (1933–5), and 200 metres (1933 and 1935). On 26 September 1936 she married John Hamilton Wilson, works manager and later laboratory assistant. She died of carcinoma of the colon at St Joseph's Hospice, Hackney, London, on 3 September 1958.

The anchor leg in the 1932 Olympic bronze-medal relay team was run by Nellie Halstead (1910–1991), an athlete of notable versatility. She was born at 2 Nursery Brow, Radcliffe, Lancashire, on 19 September 1910, the daughter of Charles Halstead, carter, and his wife, Florence Ann, née Burton. She won WAAA titles at 100 yards (1931), 220 yards or 200 metres (1930–32 and 1934), 440 yards or 400 metres (1931–3 and 1937), 800 metres (1935 and 1938), and cross country (1935 and 1936). She was a Lancashire mill worker (later a welder) who competed for Bury and Radcliffe athletic club until 1935, when she joined Bolton United Harriers. She established records galore, the most impressive coming at the quarter mile where she set world bests of 58.8 at the 1931 WAAA championships (winning both the 100 and 220 yards in the same afternoon) and 56.8 at the following year's championships, a time which stood as a British record until 1954. She would have been hot favourite to become Olympic champion in 1932 had there been a 400 metres on the programme (which only appeared in 1964); instead she had to settle for a bronze medal as part of the 4 × 100 metres relay team. Another long lasting British record was her 2:15.6 800 metres in 1935, unbeaten until 1952. That was in effect a world record as Zdenka Koubková of Czechoslovakia, credited with 2:12.4 the previous year, later turned out to be a man. Latterly she ran a cheese stall at Bury market. Halstead died at Bury General Hospital on 11 November 1991.

A third member of the 1932 team was Violet Blanche Webb [married name Simpson] (1915–1999). Uniquely in British athletics both she and her daughter became Olympic medallists. She was born the middle child of seven at 68 Cobbold Road, Willesden (the same London district as Eileen Edwards), on 3 February 1915, the daughter of Charles Webb, journeyman carpenter and himself an athlete, and his wife, Annie, née Prentice. She shone as an athlete from an early age. She was fifteen in 1930 when she ranked as the fifth fastest 80 metres hurdler in the country, and the following year she equalled the British record of 12.0 when winning in a match against Germany in Hanover. She was still only sixteen, and that was a world junior record, although such a category was not then recognized. As a member of Polytechnic Ladies she excelled as a member of Britain's first female Olympic team in 1932. She was placed fifth in the hurdles final in Los Angeles with a British record of 11.9, only 0.2 seconds behind the winner's world record, and as a reserve was drafted into the 4 × 100 metres relay squad which finished third behind the USA and Canada. Further bronze medals came her way in 1934: in the long jump at the Empire games (where she was a non-finisher in her hurdles heat) and in her main event at the Women's World games, equalling her record of 11.9—which she lowered to 11.7 in a post-Olympic meeting in Wuppertal in 1936. She worked as a shop assistant and married Charles Henry (Harry) Simpson, a clerk, at Willesden on 3 July 1937. Their daughter, Janet Mary Simpson (1944–2010), was a member of the 4 × 100 metres relay team which came third at the 1964 Olympics. Violet Simpson, who remained in the sport for many years as an official, died at the Mount Vernon Hospital, Northwood, on 27 May 1999.

Mel Watman


M. Watman, Official history of the Women's Amateur Athletic Association (2012) · M. Watman, History of British athletics (1968) · E. Cowe, Early women's athletics: statistics and history (1999) · G. Pallett, Women's athletics (1955) · F. A. M. Webster, Athletics of to-day for women (1930) · F. A. M. Webster, Girl athletes in action (1934) · S. Eliott-Lynn, Athletics for women and girls (1925) · AAA News (1989) · The Independent (9 Oct 1998) [Vera Searle]; (2 June 1999) [Violet Webb] · Polytechnic Magazine (April 1921), 85, 92 · Young Women's Christian Institute candidate book, 1904–1925, University of Westminster Archives, RSP/2/6/24 · Worthing Herald (15 Dec 1978) · J. Edmundson, ‘Poly personalities, no. 26: Florence Millichap’, Polytechnic Magazine (June 1959), 247–8 · D. Radcliff, ‘Purbeck people’, Bournemouth Evening Echo (24 Feb 1988) [Eileen Edwards] · G. Rogers, W. Morgan, and T. McCook, Fleet and free: a hstory of Birchfield Harriers Athletic Club (2005) · Daily Express (10 Jan 1936) [Eileen Hiscock] · F. A. M. Webster, ed., The official report of the 10th Olympiad, Los Angeles, 1932 (1932) · M. A. Cornell, ‘Women's events’, The official report of the 11th Olympiad, Berlin, 1936, ed. H. M. Abrahams (1936) · J. Brant, E. Cowe, and P. Matthews, Progressive British records (National Union of Track Statisticians, 1992) · I. Matrahazi, ed., Progression of IAAF world records (2011) · private information (2012) [J. Brant, National Union of Track Statisticians; S. McMahon, Worthing Reference Library; C. Pullin, James Allen's Girls' School; W. Morgan, Birchfield Harriers]; (2013) [C. Bronnen, University of Westminster Archives] · b. cert. [Birchenough] · m. cert. [Birchenough] · d. cert. [Birchenough] · b. cert. [Edwards] · d. cert. [Edwards] · b. cert. [Green] · m. cert. [Green] · d. cert. [Green] · b. cert. [Halstead] · d. cert. [Halstead] · b. cert. [Hatt] · m. certs. [Hatt] · d. cert. [Hatt] · b. cert. [Hiscock] · m. cert. [Hiscock] · d. cert. [Hiscock] · b. cert. [Lines] · m. cert. [Lines] · d. cert. [Lines] · b. cert. [Lunn] · d. cert. [Lunn] · b. cert. [Palmer] · m. cert. [Palmer] · d. cert. [Palmer] · b. cert. [Scott] · d. cert. [Scott] · b. cert. [Webb] · m. cert. [Webb] · d. cert. [Webb] · b. cert. [Weston] · m. cert. [Weston] · d. cert. [Weston]


Bourne Hall Museum, Ewell, Phyllis Green collection · University of Greenwich, Beatrice Look archive  



Pathe news archives


photograph, 1922, Mirrorpix, London [see illus.] · photographs, repro. in Cowe, Early women's athletics · photographs, repro. in Pallett, Women's athletics · photographs, repro. in Webster, Girl athletes · photographs, repro. in Webster, Athletics of to-day · photographs, repro. in Eliott-Lynn, Athletics for women and girls

Wealth at death  

£1975—Florence Ethel Birchenough: administration, 31 Aug 1973, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · under £125,000—Nellie Halstead: administration, 14 Feb 1992, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · under £70,000—Gladys Anne Lunn: probate, 14 March 1988, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · £277,494—Phyllis Adine Green: probate, 29 Feb 2000, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · under £40,000—Ethel Edburga Clementine Scott: administration, 1 Aug 1984, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · £380,429—Violet Blanche Webb: probate, 16 Dec 1999, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · £24,001—Mary Lines: probate, 6 March 1979, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · £157 13s. 3d.—Eileen May Hiscock: probate, 14 Oct 1958, CGPLA Eng. & Wales