Biography, General, Politics, Women's History

Lucy Frances Nettlefold, OBE (1891-1966) – Cross-Fertilisation: from Commerce to Committee – Pt 1


In 1960, upon her retirement from the London County Council (LCC), Nancy Frances Nettlefold encapsulated the rationale of her very busy life:

” …to do the work efficiently, necessarily involves being exceedingly overworked because it is through serving on all sorts of bodies that cross fertilisation takes place and thus that member has helped the co-ordination…”

However, before she could cross-fertilise her ideas with her work experience many furrows required ploughing. Working for ‘the Public Good’ meant Nancy Nettlefold had rough land to drill. This meant confronting the widely held and socially inherent attitude of female sexual discrimination, surviving two World Wars, grappling with governmental red tape and addressing the likely procrastination of committees in local government: she worked on the F1 Hybrid of Post-War Britain.

Yet from Suffragette to Servant of the State, Nancy was committed to her causes.

The Law Years

Newnham College, University of Cambridge

At the age of 12, Nancy decided to read Law at Newnham College, Cambridge. This ambition was realised, in 1910, after she received her first LLB from the University of London. This first degree was completed in an acknowledgement of the fact that the University of Cambridge did not, then, award Law degrees (or indeed any degrees) to its female graduates.

1910 – 1914

It is a tribute to her determination that in 1914 Nancy went down from Cambridge with a Double First in The Law Tripos: in Part I she was second between the male and female Lists, and fourth in Part II. The year 1948, when the University of Cambridge began awarding degrees to women graduates, finally saw Cambridge award her an MA (Cantab).

With Marjorie Bebb and Co., fellows in the cause, Nancy Nettlefold had campaigned against the Law Society’s interpretation of ‘person’ as not including ‘woman’. This meant ‘person’ was used to preclude the practice of Law by women. Sadly, Marjorie Bebb and her fellow litigants were unsuccessful in demanding through the courts the right to be classed as ‘persons’ and hence allowed to practice. However, in 1919, The Sex Disqualification Act was passed, so women were then allowed to practice Law in their own right.

1914 – 1917

Despite her two Law degrees, Nancy decided to take her Articles, becoming an Articled Clerk with Rider Heaton and Co. of Lincolns Inn. This period  ended in late 1916, with World War 1 still being waged. Then in 1917 she was off to South Africa, accompanying her recently married sister.

Commerce and Governance

JS Nettlefold Ltd

When she returned to Britain, the War that should have been over by Christmas of 1914 was still raging. In need of more grist for the mill, Nancy was assigned to The Ministry of Food. Modestly, Nancy felt her most important contribution to the War Effort was the protection of the provision of the daily loaf of Bread for the Home population. This was secured by the protection of home grain production together with grain purchase, from abroad.

Her position was on the wholesale imports side. It was here she first came to know Mr Arthur Salter, later Lord Salter, when he worked in the Ministry of Shipping. A lifelong friendship developed between Nancy and Lord Salter. When he was working with the United Nations (UN) she was an occasional but welcome guest at dinners, where her incisive intellect, as a woman, was a point of note.

1918 – 1920

First World War Remembrance

At the end of the First World War, Nancy was twenty-seven and her position as Deputy Assistant Secretary of The Ministry of Food was, at that time, the highest Civil Service post ever held by a woman. But by 1919, with her father’s health failing, her attention turned to JSN Ltd, Wholesale Distributors for the GKN ironmonger goods.

It was no surprise that the constraints of the family firm prevailed upon her, for her brother Hugh was still an active service member abroad, whilst her sister Joyce remained in South Africa. As Director and Company Secretary, Nancy Nettlefold joined the family firm of J S Nettlefold and Sons Ltd of 54, High Holborn.

Some years later, Hugh also joined the firm: following his demob, he went to Cambridge before coming into the firm. This meant that initially(unitl Oswald Nettlefold died in 1924) Nancy was alone with their father, having the full benefit of his comprehensive business understanding.

The business had always got along well because “…there was confidence between the employers and the employed”. Nancy and Hugh became co-Directors and were instrumental in JSN’s successful top down restructure and eventual move to a new location.

1928 – 1929

Euston Road, London

In 1928 Nettlefold House on London’s Euston Road was established as the headquarters of JSN Ltd. It was described as an ‘acme’ of modern commercial business premises. The business was busy and successful, with both siblings having independent areas of business responsibility. Nancy spent time at the end of each week personally debriefing each individual salesman. Having her finger firmly fixed on the business pulse,  she had the confidence of all her teams.

World War 2

Hugh Nettlefold enlisted, leaving Nancy alone. She was well equipped for the job, given her previous War Ministry experience. During this second war experience, she spoke of ‘tiger hunting’ down the corridors of the bureaucracy, solely in order to fulfil the much increased demand for raw materials required for the essential supplies and placed on the firm by the War.

1944 – 1945


By 1944, both Nancy and Hugh were exhausted. He had served in two World Wars and had recently survived a critical operation;  she had carried the firm’s Home Front War Effort with all the extra effort of the facilitation of governmental supply chains. Hence, a merger with GKN Ltd was decided upon.

1944 – 1948

Retirement didn’t mean leisure time. For an additional four years (until 1948) at GKN Ltd, Nancy worked on the JSN-GKN merger, marking only a slight cessation of her commercial working life. However, during this period Nancy brought into sharp focus her peculiar and hard earned mixture of work experience and clear intellect on matters of Council, Committee and Government. Her retirement from JSN Ltd was somewhat protracted and ran until 1948. During that time she restructured and integrated the firm with GKN.

Continued … Pt 2

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