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December 8, 2016

Meet Jessie Knight, Britain’s First Professional Female Tattoo Artist

Before Jessie Knight became Great Britain’s first professional female tattoo artist and had a very successful career from the 1920s through the 1960s, she worked for her father in his sharp shooting circus act.

Her job being to stand before him so that he could hit a target that was sometimes placed on her head or on an area of her body. Which of course was fine until one night it all went horribly wrong when he accidentally shot Jessie in the shoulder?

And it was this that prompted Jessie who was born in Cardiff, to give up show business and leave her fathers act to concentrate on becoming a tattoo artist. But instead of learning the art from her Father, (who was also a tattooist in his day) she went to work at Charlie Bell’s in Chatham, Kent, England.

It was in and around the year 1936 – that saw her move onto and set up her own tattoo shop in Aldershot, Hampshire, England. Later to move into the back of an amusement arcade in the army garrison town – tattooing there throughout the Second World War.

In 1955 Jessie took out second place in the ‘Champion Tattoo Artist Of All England’ competition held in London, with a large back design of a Scotsman tossing a caber, complete with tents and spectators in the background of the tattoo, which was judged by reporters from the long gone ‘Sunday Pictorial’ and ‘Sunday Dispatch’ British newspapers of the day.

1960 saw another move, and this time Jessie made the journey to the navy town of Portsmouth (also in Hampshire) and tattooed there until 1963 before retiring to go and help her brother Lenny, who had just left service as a steward on the ‘RMS Queen Mary’ to open a hotel in the city of Cardiff in Wales, where Jessie spent a very happy retirement in her homeland.

Jessie Knight at work on a client, who is expressing how getting a tattoo really feels. Or possibly just hamming it up for the camera, since only a really tough lady would be getting inked during WWII.

Women did get inked during more conservative times, when no one would think they’d do such a thing.

Picture of a satisfied customer. Her swallow tattoo was part of a military event in Aldershot, Hampshire, England, where Knight opened her first shop. She later moved into the back of an arcade and conducted her business there.

Knight won second place in the "Champion Tattoo Artist Of All England" contest, held in 1955 in London.

Knight shows off her own work. She officially retired in 1963, but according to a client of Knight's from the 1960s in the online forum Tattoo News, she tattooed until at least 1965: “Before she did my eagle on my chest in 1965 she lit a match and showed my the flame and I asked her why she was doing this and she told me I do this to show you that I have a steady hand even at my age. She never used a plastic format like they did in Canada because the [tattoo] on my chest was done free hand which is quite amazing.”


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