Elsie May Foulds, Mayor

Today is International Women’s Day and so we look back at Elsie May Foulds, the only woman to serve as Mayor of Keighley in the years of the Borough Council from 1882 to 1974. She served in the post from 1966 to 1967.

Elsie had been born Elsie May Richards in 1895 (according to Ancestry.co.uk). She played a part in both the first and second world wars. According to the Keighley News of Saturday 5th January 1963: “(She) put a couple of years on her age at the beginning of the 1914-18 war in order to join the Red Cross, and nursed throughout the war. When the war ended, remembering her experiences, she saw a chance of helping those who had suffered. Since 1921 she has been one of the (British) Legion’s keenest workers. A native of Devon, she joined the ATS southern command at the start of the 1939-45 war and was senior leader in the recruiting office until she came north to work in welfare.”

Elsie became the second wife of George Croft Foulds, when the couple married in Skipton in July 1944. George had served in the military in World War One and was a Captain in the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division. In civilian life he became a director at I. Foulds and Sons Ltd., a tannery in Parkside (George was the grandson of founder Israel Foulds), and at Fleece Mills Co. Ltd. George died on 4th July 1951 at the family home in Thornton-in-Craven, he was 67.

In 1958, she stood as the Conservative candidate for the relatively safe seat of the North West Ward on Keighley Town Council. Her candidacy was described in the Keighley News of 7th June 1958: “Standing for the Conservatives will be Mrs. Elsie M. Foulds, widow, of Oak Cottage, Devonshire Park, Keighley, a well-known figure in local British Legion circles. She is chairman of the North of England section of the Legion; a member of the national finance board; a representative on the appeals tribunal and was local Poppy Day organiser in 1957. A member of the Keighley Soroptimist Club, she is also interested in children’s homes.” The by-election was held on Thursday 26th June 1958, and Elsie defeated the Labour candidate (W. E. White) by 1,221 votes to 766.

Her unique position as a woman on the council was observed in the Keighley News of Saturday 5th July 1958: “Coun. Mrs. Elsie M. Foulds was the only woman on the Keighley Town Council when it met on Thursday… The mother of four grown-up children, Coun. Mrs. Foulds is an enthusiastic social worker and holds a number of responsible positions. She is chairman of the women’s section of the British Legion for the whole of the North, she serves on the War Pensions Committee, and she has been a representative on the Pensions Appeals Tribunal since 1946, when she was appointed by a Labour Lord Chancellor, although she herself is a Conservative, for her wide experience of this kind of work… As a newly-appointed member of the Housing and Health Committee of the Council she is very anxious to see that adequate housing is provided for all Keighley people.”

She was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for her work as Vice-Chairman of the Women’s Section of the British Legion in the New Years Honours List for 1963 (announced on 28th December 1962). The honour was acknowledged in the Keighley News of Saturday 5th January 1963: “One of the country’s most prominent workers for the women’s section of the British Legion is Coun. Mrs. E. M. Foulds of Skipton Road, Keighley, who this week has been made an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list. She is widely known nationally as well as locally. She is the chairman of the women’s section of the West Riding and at one time was the chairman for the whole of the northern district… Coun. Mrs. Foulds helped to organise the Poppy Day appeal one year in Keighley but she has helped to carry out similar duties in many parts of the country.”

On Tuesday 24th May 1966 she was formally appointed as Mayor of Keighley – the first woman to hold this post, and, in fact, the only woman to hold the post during the period of Keighley Borough Council. According to the Keighley News of Saturday 28th May: “At the mayor-making ceremony in the Town Hall, Mrs. Foulds said the appointment of a woman as Mayor had been long overdue and she hoped she would be the forerunner of many others… The retiring Mayor, Ald. Frank Jeffrey, proposing Mrs. Foulds as Mayor, said she had always been very forthright in her manner, and fellow councillors admired her for that. She had given long service to the town… Only seven women had been on Keighley Council, and Mrs. Foulds was the longest-serving of them.” The role of Mayoress was filled by County Councillor, Mrs. L. Hardaker.

Elsie’s year as Mayor ended when she formally handed over to successor Alan Greenwood on 23rd May 1967. During this time, she and the Mayoress had attended 257 official functions. The occasion was written up in the Keighley News of Saturday 27th May 1967: “Tributes were paid to retiring Mayor Mrs. Foulds by Ald. F. Jeffrey, Coun. Boocock and Ald. Welch. Ald. Welch said Mrs. Foulds had ably demonstrated that a woman could carry out the duties of the office as ably as men, and better than many of her predecessors. Both she and the Mayoress had won the affection of the townspeople – something the men could not hope to achieve. Ald. Jeffrey said Mrs. Foulds had fulfilled her promise to cut down the length of council meetings, and had made a great impact on the town generally. Replying, Mrs. Foulds joked, ‘You are in for a long wait at the next council meeting and councillors will go on repeating what has been said because I won’t be there to keep you in order!’.”

Elsie’s parting words were summarised in the newspaper’s coverage of the civic luncheon held to celebrate the new mayor’s appointment: “Mrs. Foulds said it had been a great honour to have been Mayor, and she was sure her choice of Mayoress had met with the approval of everyone. Together they had experienced a most wonderful and happy year… Concluding, she hoped the council would go ahead with their work but warned them: ‘Unless you cease your personalities in the Council, and unless you cease your with your schoolboy politics, you are never going to make your mark in Keighley.’.”

Portrait of Elsie May Foulds taken from the programme for the Keighley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society’s 1966 production of “Guys and Dolls”. The Mayor served as President of the Society for her year in office. The programme is part of the Joy Rundle Collection, donated by Jane Eaman and Mark Rundle. Researched and collated by Tim Neal.

Author: Admin Tim

Tim is a committee member of the Keighley and District Local History Society, with responsibilities for archiving the physical and digital collections, and managing some of the social media channels. He moved to Keighley about 15 years ago and joined the Society to learn more about the area.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.