Jessie Knight becomes Great Britains first professional female tattoo artist

Before Jessie Knight became Great Britain’s first professional female tattoo artist 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

Not much is known of what happened to her in regards to the date of her passing away, but we know she had a ex-husband called Bill and her tattooing career spanned from the early 20’s to 1963, as well as knowing that she had a unique way of drawing on the skin with a matchstick, of which she dipped into her ink pot and used it like a pencil to make a black outline before tattooing the design onto the body.

Copyright…Paul Sayce.

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One comment on “Jessie Knight becomes Great Britains first professional female tattoo artist

  1. fairyhouse says:

    Well, I am so impressed, this is, as I understand from other members of my family, how it happened.

    We used to write to each other and draw cartoon pictures on the envelopes – god knows what the postman thought, who cares anyway!

    I did see her about a month before she died, she was still very much the same, but quite frail.

    I thank you very much for making my Aunt Jess known to all tattoo artist of this day.

    She also rode a horse like second nature and had an hour-glass figure when she was young, she was a beauty in her day.

    I am very proud of her and of the things you have brought to light after all these years.

    thank you Paul.

    Petula Tadman (Jessie Knight’s niece.)

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