Annie Justins was the fourth child in a family of six and the first to be born in Stratford-upon-Avon. Known as Nancy, her parents were Charles and Anne, owners of the Shakespeare Hotel in Chapel Street.
Stratfordian Fanny Rowley, reminiscing in 1950, gives a glimpse of this family-run hotel:
The hotel itself gave the impression of being a country house rather than licensed premises, when one saw the landlord and his family clustered with their guests in a laughing, happy-looking group at the front door. Nancy Justins...a dark-eyed merry-faced girl...was a particular favourite with everyone.
Annie’s father Charles died in 1897, and in the 1901 census her occupation is given as Book Keeper. Ten years later her occupation is Hotel Management. Annie and her mother ran the hotel until Anne’s death in 1910, and then Annie ran the hotel alone until 1920.
During the First World War Annie did her bit. The hotel’s Stock Book has a Spirits Received column that shows no diminution of alcohol ordered during WW1, so presumably the bar and restaurant were keeping up the spirits (in more ways than one) of both locals and visitors during the conflict.
Annie didn’t keep herself aloof, entering into the spirit of the times, starting with selling lottery tickets for St Dunstan’s charity for servicemen blinded in the war. In 1916 she and a friend provided a boot and shoe cleaning service to raise funds for Stratford Hospital. She subscribed to the YMCA Hut Fund, and appeared in a variety show at the Warwick Hippodrome on 15 June 1917. The show had singers, a comedian, and a juggler (who was also a ventriloquist) and was in aid of The Old Comrades Association of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. She was billed as ‘Miss Nancye Justins in Recitations’.
In 1915 Annie entertained royalty at the hotel, when the brother of the King of Serbia dropped in with his wife after a visit to Hall’s Croft. They were delighted to receive a book on the history of the hotel (published 1913, a copy of which is in the SBT Reading Room); it has a silver-embossed cover and photographs of the hotel at different times, along with a short history, probably written by Annie. In 1920 she sold the hotel for £54,500 (over two and a half million today).
She was elected to Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council as a Councillor for the New Town ward, and was subsequently elected to the Housing Committee, shortly becoming Madam Chairman. In 1928 she was elected Stratford’s first woman mayor, and was unopposed for a second term from 1929-30. She was lauded by the Herald for conducting meetings with ‘tact, judgement and business ability’. She was a founding member and Treasurer of the Stratford Amateur Players, being involved both on- and back-stage. Her life managing the hotel gave her an ease in interaction with all manner of people. By virtue of her standing, she became President of the Shakespeare Club, carrying the wreath to lay on Shakespeare’s grave during the Birthday celebrations of 1930. She later became the first woman Chief Magistrate of the Borough.
As a town councillor, she aimed to provide affordable housing in Stratford and was the main force behind the building of a new estate at Clopton. Justins Avenue off Birmingham Road was named for her, and she turned the first turf in 1929.
When she died in 1935 the town lowered its blinds, flew its flags at half mast, and lined the streets in her honour.