A glass of wine and a dose of crime: Tales from Brentwood neighbour, England’s first woman criminologist

Nancy Savill aged four.

Nancy Savill aged four. - Credit: Sylvia Kent

Enjoy Brentwood More’s history columnist, author and vice-president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent recounts the fascinating tales of her neighbour, who happened to be England’s first professional woman criminologist.

Nancy Savill aged 94

Nancy Savill aged 94 - Credit: Sylvia Kent

Everyone has a tale to tell! Journalists rarely need to travel far to find a good story. When I came to live in the village of Herongate, just down the Ingrave Road from Brentwood town, I called on my new neighbour and discovered she was a well known name in Scotland Yard. No, not a convict, but the honourable Nancy Crofton Savill, who, as a young woman had been England’s first professional woman criminologist (1905-2003).

Nancy’s father, Henry headed the famous Essex Savill property firm. One of Nancy’s forebears was Archibald Cameron, doctor to Bonnie Prince Charlie. Cameron lost his head on Tower Hill after the 1745 rebellion.

“Our family came to Essex in 1905, the year of my birth. My father settled at Bell House, Coxtie Green (now Peniel Academy), later moving to Crown Cottage, Navestock. My sister Margaret and I never attended school.

“My father was educated at Harrow. He was given a ‘fag’ for a while, who was a young lad called Winston Churchill. Father cared not for education for girls, although he did employ some Irish ineffectual governesses to teach us, but primarily, we were self-taught,” Nancy laughed during our interview for my first book Brentwood Voices published in 2001.

Nancy loved Brentwood. The Savills were well connected in Essex, wealthy enough to enjoy a leisurely life. In 1909 this photograph was taken of Nancy and her friend Viola Quennell whose family consisted of doctors and lawyers who’d lived in Brentwood for generations. Nancy’s sister married into the Quennell family and moved to Ireland.

“I suppose we were lucky children. We had our own ponies. I remember trotting into Brentwood along the Ongar Road to visit Austen’s toyshop, which, before the Great War, was in St Thomas Road.

Most Read

“Golliwogs and teddies were my favourites and I still have Teddy upstairs which, like me, is almost 100-years-old. Exercise was part of our regime and we played tennis on our courts.

“A big treat was when my father’s friend, Horace Bentley - whose family started the famous car firm - took us to dine at the Savoy - then drove us home in a Bentley (of course) to Bell House. He enjoyed staying with us over Christmas, a charming, amusing man.

“I took a history degree at King’s College, London and loved my job studying crime at Scotland Yard. My tutor was Professor Leon Radzinowicz and I travelled daily from Brentwood station. By then I lived at Herongate with my mother and housekeeper Edith Diment with Teddy Teal, our butler-cum-chauffeur. He taught me to drive my first car, a huge Angus Sanderson.

“With the declaration of war, I became Herongate’s billeting officer, casualty officer, fire officer, information officer, mortuary officer in the WVS Ambulance Corps. When the warden asked if each officer had arrived at the emergency scene, he looked flummoxed when I nodded ‘yes’ five times!”

In later life Nancy served on both the Essex and National Executive Committees of the Women’s Institute – and presided over the Herongate and Ingrave Preservation Society.

Nancy was kind next door neighbour, with a dry wit and sense of fun. I picked up much horticultural knowledge her and her gardener, Charlie Humphreys and the wine wasn’t bad either!

Copies of my books, including Brentwood in 50 Buildings, can be ordered from my blog www.sylviakent.blogspot.com or from Amazon, Waterstones and WHSmith.