The life of Grace Jones

Grace Jones died a couple of weeks ago aged 113. She was born in December 1899, which made her the oldest person in the UK. Miss Jones who lived in Bermondsey, South-East London, and was the sixth oldest person in the world, had a fall a few weeks ago and was treated at St Thomas' Hospital. Since her birth, the world has seen over a century of change and Grace truly experienced a very diverse century during her lifetime.

During the 20th century the pace of change, which had quickened during the Industrial Revolution, speeded up even more. There was an ongoing explosion of invention and scientific discovery. Huge progress was made in curing disease and manipulating the body. The feeling of the 20th century is summed up in the 'Can do' motto of the US Navy construction engineers during the Second World War.

Communications technology made the world seem smaller and more cosmopolitan. 1914 brought the first cross continental telephone call, made by Alexander G.Bell which allowed people to make calls to other countries. Such developments meant that medical ideas could spread rapidly and services could be improved. These improvements would be much needed in the following years as the First World War took place.

The First World War strongly influenced the development of women's rights and this would have affected Grace as a young adult growing up in Britain. It opened up new employment opportunities for many women, who replaced the millions of men sent to fight on the Western Front and elsewhere. Jobs in munitions factories, transport and other key areas that had been dominated by men now became increasingly feminised, and under the Representation of the People Act (1918) the franchise was for the first time extended to women. Miss Jones was engaged during World War One but her fiancé died on active service.

There was a great explosion of scientific understanding and technological innovation. With the newly growing automobile industry, many changes took place, especially in the capital where Grace lived. The number of factories rapidly increased as the industry took shape. There was also considerable urbanisation which would have undoubtedly affected Grace's life.

There was more time for leisure and less time was spent on work as the years went on. However Grace Jones took great pride in her work as a seamstress and for the government during and after World War Two, until her retirement about 50 years ago. It is without a doubt that her services to the government were greatly appreciated at such a difficult time.

Since its launch in 1948, the NHS has grown to become the world’s largest publicly funded health service. It is also one of the most efficient, most egalitarian and most comprehensive. The NHS was born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth – a principle that remains at its core. It is this service that cared for Grace in her old age until her death.

To many, Grace Jones is merely a name - a senior who has died in old age. However, her life is a testament to such a diverse century, and the changes (both positive and negative) can only be imagined. A friend of Grace, Mr Hughes said, "we pay tribute to Grace for her wonderful long life, for her commitment to her faith, her family and her community, and we know that a woman of such strong Christian faith faced death with no fear. All those who met Grace knew they had met one of London's most doughty individuals and she will never be forgotten."

(Author: Bella Brown)