I realise that I come from a very sheltered background, but to me a knocker was always a thing on your front door. How was I to know that it’s a rude word in several contexts? It came about when Marlborough Town Council was asked to suggest names for the roads on a new estate. A colleague came up with the splendid suggestion that, in the centenary year of the ending of the First World War, it would be appropriate to name them after people who returned, as against those who never did, whose names are on the war memorial.
I thought immediately of Elsie Knocker, only to be told by Wiltshire Council that it was not the policy to use both Christian name and surname in naming roads after people. That struck me as silly. There are such roads all over the place, including a Vera Lynn Road in the East End; a Lynn Road would mean nothing to anyone. Sense was restored after an appeal to Jane Scott, the leader of Wiltshire Council, so we’re getting Elsie Knocker Grove.
So, who was Elsie? She was born Elizabeth Shapter in Exeter on June 29, 1884, the youngest of five children. During her childhood she acquired the nickname, Elsie. Her mother died when she was four and her father, a surgeon, died two years later. When her four older siblings were adopted by an uncle, who had no capacity to take on a fifth, the family solicitor acted on an advert in a newspaper placed by a couple who wanted to adopt a child, preferably a boy. Elsie was who they got.