Aimee Powell & Miriam Grace Edwards as Lenny Ashwell & Mickey Meade

The Munitionette: The Life & Work of Lottie Meade

Posted on 5 December 2018

Of the four real-life women who inspired the Belgrade’s 2018 alternative Christmas show, Over the Top, munitions worker Lottie Meade is both the least well-documented and perhaps the most broadly representative of women during the First World War.

Unlike other characters in the production, Meade did not travel overseas or visit the Front Line, but was an ordinary working woman who took up a job in one of a growing number of munitions factories that sprang up in Britain after war was first declared.

The piecing together of the details of her life has been something of a collective fact-finding mission. On International Women’s Day in 2012, she became the first woman to be added to the Imperial War Museums’ Faces of the First World War collection on Flickr, a World War I centenary project which encouraged members of the public to contribute by researching and sharing facts about the relatively little-known figures it featured.

Miriam Grace Edwards and Aimee Powell

Born Charlotte Hudson in Marylebone in 1889, Lottie married young to Frederick George Meade, and by 1915, had already had five children (though the eldest of these died as a baby). The surviving photo of her from the IWM’s collection shows her in her work overalls, a headscarf covering her hair, and wearing a triangular “On War Service” badge that marks her out as someone playing her part in the British war effort.

Sadly, the munitions factories were extremely dangerous and often deadly, with the TNT (tri-nitro tolvene) used in the production of explosives poisoning workers through prolonged exposure. The toxic chemicals gradually turned people’s skin yellow, leading sufferers to be dubbed “canaries”.

On 11 October 1916, aged just 27, Lottie Meade died of multiple organ failure while her husband was away fighting, leaving behind four young children. She was one of at least 100 women killed by TNT poisoning during the war, and many more munitions workers who died of explosions and other accidents in the factories.

Miriam Grace Edwards as Lottie Meade

In Over the Top, Lottie Meade becomes Mickey Meade the Magician – a nod to the skill required for the work that hundreds of women like Lottie undertook. The character is played by Miriam Grace Edwards, a B2 panto regular who has also worked on several other shows at the Belgrade, including The Sisterhood and The Hundred Years’ War. She is an Associate Artist with Coventry’s Theatre Absolute, and recently performed in Latherland as part of Shop Front Festival.

Over the Top runs on our B2 Stage until Saturday 29 December. Tickets are available to book now.

You can also find out more about other inspirations for the show elsewhere on our blog, including Edith Cavell and Lena Ashwell.