Laura Probert: 100 years since Dame Janet Stancomb-Wills became Ramsgate’s first lady mayor

Dame Janet Stancomb-Wills

In early  November 1923 The Thanet Advertise & Echo  published a special women’s supplement to honour the occasion of Dame Janet Stancomb-Wills becoming Ramsgate’s, and indeed Kent’s, first lady mayor.

Miss Rachel Weigall MBE, JP who was living in West Cliff Terrace Mansions, Mrs Hatfeild, later to become the first lady mayor of Margate, and Mrs Larkin, Mayoress of Ramsgate, all sent in contributions. Readers were requested to order copies in advance due to high demand.

Armistice Day that year coincided with the mayor-making ceremony to which the new mayor solemnly processed wearing her robes for the first time. So many people wanted to attend the ceremony in St George’s Church -we have to remember that this was only five years after the end of the First World War – that half of them had to stand outside.

That evening Dame Janet unveiled a plaque in St Laurence Church.

It was going to be a very busy year!

Dame Janet came out of her mayoralty a year later with “flying colours” as the East Kent Times reported in November 1924. At a banquet Dame Janet said “ it was only since she had assumed office that she had realised what it meant to be the civic head of a town. Dressing up in the robes was only one part of the picture.”

She then announced that in commemoration of her year in office she was giving Jacky Bakers’ farm to the town. She also donated a further £1,000 towards the cost of providing tennis courts and cricket pitches.

Dame Janet hoped that “In providing the ground for the young people of the town a new lung had been added to the borough which would be appreciated not only by those alive now but by their children’s children.”

In thanking Dame Janet, deputy mayor Councillor Larkin, said “one of the great appeals of the former Mayor’s character was that one never quite knew what she was going to do next.

“She had done so many things for Ramsgate that it was perhaps not altogether surprising that her year in office was to be commemorated in such a gracious way. It made one feel that her year had not been so distasteful to her as one might have expected. Ramsgate was the first Kentish Borough to choose a lady mayor and it had been a fine experiment.”

Dame Janet hoped the name Jacky Bakers would always be associated with the land as it had been known by that name for at least 200 years.

Dame Janet also had the Winterstoke Gardens laid out for the public use and gifted the maternity unit and nurses home at Ramsgate General Hospital. She provided land for schools – Ramsgate also has a primary named after her- gifted St. John’s ambulance Brigade with a motor ambulance, and was responsible for modernising the fire brigade’s equipment.

She rescued the borough finances when depletion of the population caused near bankruptcy to the town, helped administer Prince of Wales trust fund for general distress and also the Canadian government fund, during war time. It was for her war effort that she was made Dame of the British Empire in 1918 by the King.

Dame Janet died on 22 August 1932 at East Court in Ramsgate aged 78. 

On September 23rd this year a large crowd gathered at East Court for the unveiling of the Blue Plaque to Dame Janet.

One hundred years later it is great to see that Dame Janet’s legacy lives on. Dame Janet School continues to thrive. In October the Winterstoke Chine steps became part of the King Charles III coastal pathway, and Barratt Homes paid the first instalment of £28,247 for improvements at Jackey Bakers, which covers improvements to the playing fields, play area and pitches but not the pavilion.

23 for 23 – A  walking guide featuring leading Ramsgate women

Additional details with thanks to Ramsgate Town Council

4 Comments

  1. the playing fields were a wonderful legacy to the people of Ramsgate, but have now been totally under valued over ther years by TDC. As for Barret homes supporting some regeneration to the playing fields, all they are interested in is building homes on land that should have been preserved and protected as a green field site.

  2. We need tdc to provide new parks and recreation while there are still a few fields left on our once lovely island ,we need another dame janet

  3. And we shouldn’t have fields being used to grow pumpkins for decorations at Halloween. Which is only one day, but a lot of people don’t seem to know that.

    • Would not be so bad if they actually ate the pumpkin but they seem to throw most of it away. Such a waste.

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