Women’s Work

The only person I’d heard of before visiting the fantastic exhibition ‘Women’s Work: Pioneering Women in Craft, 1918 – 1939’ was Enid Marx.  What a joy, then, to stumble upon so many women with local connections who were busy shaping our modern world through craft just after the First World War.  And in so many different ways.  Take the modernist designers, Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher (below),

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for example, whose jazzily designed textiles printed by hand, often using hand blocks, gained the attention – and custom – of Coco Chanel among many others.

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Then there are the sumptuous designs of weaver, Alice Hindson, including beautiful bags, textiles, including this dress…

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…and some of her student designs…

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I also loved the vibrant pottery of Denise Wren, which included quirky, small animals, lamp bases, bright vases, and this ‘pot with “stormy sunset” glaze…

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Another happy discovery – the work of Catherine ‘Casty’ Cobb, a pioneering silversmith, whose work often incorporated found objects – i.e. upcycling before the word was invented – and included an unusual cruet set made of ivory shot through with silver pins, as well as this bold, yet very chic necklace…

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Quoting from the Ditchling Museum booklet “Respected as teachers as well as makers, the craftswomen were championed by female entrepreneurs and gallery owners and various networks were formed.”  This is one of the things that emerged for me from the exhibition – the women weren’t just artists, they were businesswomen.  Far from being impoverished artists starving in garrets or suffering for their art, they got on with taking their skills out there, starting successful businesses and producing incredible work – even if it wasn’t going to be as upheld in future years as it should be.  Well done to Ditchling Museum for shining a light on these women and helping to give them the recognition they deserve.

What I liked about the exhibition (another thing I liked) was the cards that gave visitors the chance to write down and display the names of other craftswomen who aren’t given the recognition they deserve.  This was mine…

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Eastbourne’s Tirzah Garwood who so often falls in the shadow of her husband, Eric Ravillious, yet produced spellbinding woodcuts, particularly of people, animals, and domestic scenes.  Tirzah deserves a post of her own (and will probably get one as I’m going to be talking about her on Thursday as part of my Pioneering Women of East Sussex talk for one of the Eastbourne WIs).  Watch this space.

In the meantime, do go and see ‘Women Work’ in Ditchling to make some fantastic discoveries and learn about some women who should be household names.

It’s on until 13th October and open Tues to Sat 10.30am – 5pm, and Sunday and bank holidays 11.00 – 5pm.20190721_17024115637419160645829877111653378084.jpg

 

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Wonderful Women of Kemptown – Guided Walks July and August!

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So the flyer says ‘notorious’, but the women of Kemptown are pretty wonderful too.  The first British woman to swim the Channel, the first (and, surely, the only) woman to be awarded a blue plaque for services to witchcraft, a woman who changed the way we shop and one of Britain’s top female novelists who managed to be a rip-roaring success without ever giving an interview, what’s not to love?  On Saturday morning 20th July and Tuesday evening 6th August, I’ll be holding guided walks around this lovely area, looking at the buildings and streets with links to these woman and more.  Both walks fully accessible and lasting around 90 minutes.  Start point outside St George’s Church, 93 St George’s Road, Brighton, BN2 1ED (below).  We’ll wind things down on Lewes Crescent.  Cost £8/£7 per person.

More details:

Saturday 20th July, 10.30 a.m

Tuesday 6th August 6.30 p.m

If you’re interested in joining me email me at historywomenbrighton@outlook.com or call 07758 296563

st georges church KT

 

New Tours for May!

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As usual I will be doing Notorious Women of Brighton and Notorious Women of Hove walking tours during the Brighton Fringe Festival throughout May.  There may well be a couple of pop-up Notorious Women of Kemptown Walks too, dates to be confirmed!

Here are the details:

Notorious Women of Brighton

Wilful princesses, Music Hall stars, headstrong courtesans, entrepreneurs, Brighton has always attracted women who dare do things differently. Hear some of their stories and other female claims to fame.

Starts – outside St Nicholas Church, Dyke Road, Brighton, BN1 3LJ

Sunday mornings – 5th, 19th, 26th May, 2nd June at 10.30

Tuesday evenings – 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th May at 18.30

Notorious Women of Hove

Hove has been home to women whose ideas have shaken up our world – from some of Britain’s first woman doctors to suffragettes, social campaigners to boundary-shifting entertainers.  Come and walk in these women’s footsteps and hear their inspiring stories.

Starts – outside the Garden Café, St Ann’s Well Gardens BN3 1RP

Saturday mornings – 4th, 18th, 25th May, 1st June at 10.30

Thursday morning – 23rd May at 10.30

Thursday evenings – 16th, 23rd, 30th May at 18.30.

All walks fully accessible, and last 1h30 – 2h.

Tickets £8, £7 concessions.

Available from the Fringe Box Office brightonfringe.org, 01273 917272 or in person at the Brighton Fringe New Road Box Office opposite the Theatre Royal on New Road, Brighton BN1 1EB or the Brighton Fringe Spiegeltent Box Office, Old Steine, Brighton, BN1 1GY.

Remember – if none of these dates suit you, please contact me to book a private tour.  I offer walking tours and lectures to groups, large or small, in English and French, at a time convenient to you.  Contact me on historywomenbrighton@outlook.com or call 07758 296563.

 

See you there!

 

 

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Thank you to everyone who joined me during the Fringe festival for my Notorious Women of Brighton and Notorious Women of Hove walking tours!

I’m pleased to say that I’m venturing east to talk about the wonderful women of Kemptown twice this summer.  I haven’t done this walk for a couple of years and I’m excited to be bringing out the stories of the many women linked with Kemptown who have achieved great and shocking things.  Among some of the women I’ll be talking about are an intrepid explorer, a romantic novelist, a fashion designer who revolutionised how we shop, a map-maker, some of the first women doctors in Britain and a prudish queen who made women cover up their cleavages in her presence.  A mixed and fabulous bag.  All this and a lovely gentle stroll through the squares, back streets and twitters of one of Brighton’s quirkiest areas.

Here are the dates and times.  Please contact me by email on historywomenbrighton@outlook.com if you’re interested in coming along.  All walks last approx. 90 minutes.

Saturday 14th July 10.30 a.m

Saturday 11th August 10.30 a.m

Meeting place St George’s Church, St George’s Road, Kemptown, BN2 1ED (brilliant and cheap café inside the  church if you get there early)  Picture below

Price £8 ppn / £7 conc.

See you there!

st georges church KT

The Amazon of Stepney and Brighton

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Here I am braving the snow in London last weekend on the trail of Brighton heroine Phoebe Hessel.  I was actually meant to be on the trail of the ‘Troxy’ where I was going to see Belle and Sebastian in a few short hours.  But then I stumbled upon Hessel Street in the back streets of Whitechapel, bells rung, and my weekend turned into a women’s history pilgrimage.

Phoebe Hessel’s story is neatly encapsulated on her gravestone standing in Brighton’s St Nicholas Churchyard: ‘In Memory of Phoebe Hessel, who was born at Stepney in the Year 1713.  She served for many Years as a private Soldier in the 5th Regt. of foot in different parts of Europe and in the Year 1745 fought under the command of tbe DUKE of CUMBERLAND at the Battle of Fontenoy where she received a Bayonet wound in the arm

The gravestone goes on to recount that Phoebe’s life, ‘commenced in the time of Queen Anne’, extended to the reign of George IV.  That means she saw the reigns of no less than five British monarchs, and lived to the age of 108.

If living to this age isn’t impressive enough the really flabbergasting words on that gravestone are ‘soldier’, ‘served for many years’, and ‘fought’.

According to the National Army Museum’s helpful ‘Timeline of Women in the Army’  https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/timeline-women-army ‘women have been a formal part of the army for 100 years’.  But it’s only since 2016 that they’ve ‘been able to serve in ground combat roles alongside male colleagues’.  This gives Phoebe, who served enough in ground combat roles to sustain a bayonet wound, and was understood to have embarked upon her military career aged 15, a full 288 year start!   Of course Phoebe knew that, so simply got round the problem by disguising herself as a man – a ruse she was able to pull off for 17 years, until that unfortunate bayonet wound meant she was forced to reveal a little more of her body than usual, probably giving the army surgeon something of a shock.  Another version of her story has her revealing her situation to the colonel’s wife.  Yet another version (because the story of a woman soldier who fought amongst men was so incredible it’s picked up a lot of mythology along the centuries) has her committing an offence and needing to undress to be whipped, whereupon, her body finally bared, she cried ‘strike and be damned!’  However it happened, when it was revealed that, although playing a full combative role alongside the men in the various battles and skirmishes around Gibraltar and the Caribbean, Phoebe was a member of the ‘weaker sex’, there was no option but to discharge her.  The fact that she was dismissed unpunished on full pay, though, sounds as if they were reluctant to see her go.

Stories abound as to why Phoebe made the choice, aged 15, to pull on a pair of breeches and commit herself to the dangerous, brutal and perhaps short life of a soldier.  Some sources say she fell in love with a soldier, Samuel Golding, and wanted to accompany him when he was called away to his regiment.  A less romantic explanation has her being taken along by her soldier-father when her mother died and there was no one to look after her.  Possibly, poverty played a role.  After all, the options available to a woman born in 1713 without wealth weren’t extensive.  With neither education, a career, nor a decent marriage being on the table, how long could many women hold out before having to face the choice between begging bowl or brothel?

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(Above: St Dunstan’s Church, Stepney, where Phoebe was baptised ‘Phoebe Smith’ on 13th April, 1713, almost 305 years ago to the day).

After her discharge from the army Phoebe lived in Plymouth with her husband, one Samuel Golding.  They had nine children, all of whom died.  Moving to Brighton to marry a fisherman by the name of Thomas Hessel, Phoebe was widowed a second time.  Now aged 80, scraping a living selling fish and trinkets around town, the shadow of the workhouse lurking, Phoebe must have looked back wistfully on her days in the army.  The website eastlondonhistory.com has her ‘Clad in a brown serge dress, with a spotless white apron and a hooded black cloak, her only concession to her increasingly great age […] a stout oak walking stick‘.  But after the life Phoebe had lived, the wars she’d – literally – fought, the loss of two husbands and nine children, I don’t imagine her as slipping easily into the role of timid old lady.  Somehow, George, Prince of Wales (the later Prince Regent and George IV) in Brighton often to visit his Marine – and later ‘Royal’ Pavilion, got to know the story of the old woman pedlar who told tales of fooling the army and living the rough and tumble of military life.  Always happy to be distracted with a good story, the Prince decided to pay the formidable Phoebe a pension of half a guinea a week from 1808, thus saving her from penury.   (I wonder if he’d have made this decision if he’d known she was going to live to 108?)

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Above: Pictures of Phoebe are hard to come by.  I found this tiny one in Hove Museum, possibly from a book about old Brighton characters.)

In fact, Phoebe has a second reason for going down in Brighton folklore.  One evening, the story goes, there she was in the Old Red Lion (a pub that still exists) in nearby Shoreham-by-Sea and overheard a conversation that revealed one of the participants to be none other than Samuel Rooke, a notorious highwayman who’d been terrorising the roads around Brighton for many years.  Phoebe’s testimony lead to the capturing of Rooke and his accomplice and their subsequent hanging in Hangleton Bottom.  A grisly end to Rooke but a relief to the people of Brighton and another reason for the town to hold this amazing woman to their hearts.  No wonder, she was invited to attend the town’s celebrations of the coronation of King George IV in 1820 at the grand old age of 107.

Phoebe’s story is so fantastic that these days we could be forgiven for wondering exactly how much of it’s true.  Were her tales of derring-do just the fabrications of a good saleswoman who wanted to lure more customers?  Did she really live to the age of 108?  How did she manage to have a military career for 17 years without anyone noticing she was a woman?

Well, the Northumberland Fusiliers, successors to the 5th Regiment of Foot, obviously saw enough truth in her story to restore her grave in St Nicholas Churchyard in the 1970s.   As did London Borough of Tower Hamlets, who commemorated their famous daughter with not one but two streets in her honour.

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(Above: Amazon Street at the end of Hessel Street in the Borough of Tower Hamlets, London.  Phoebe Hessel was also known as ‘the Amazon of Stepney’).

Me, I think if only half of Phoebe’s story is true, then it’s incredible enough to make her a true Brighton heroine.

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A great article to read about Phoebe Hessel is here:  http://eastlondonhistory.com/2010/11/18/phoebe-hessel-amazon-of-stepney/

Phoebe was far from being alone in dressing as a man to have a military career.  The lives of Hannah Snell (http://www.hannahsnell.com/) and Dr James Barry,  who made a  double pronged attack on professional bastions excluded to women by qualifying as a doctor as well as being a soldier. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Barry_%28surgeon%29)

I will be talking about Phoebe Hessel throughout May on my Notorious Women of Brighton walking tours that start near her grave in St Nicholas Churchyard, Brighton.  See Talks/Walks section for details.

 

Come Walk With Me on International Women’s Day!

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This is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the ‘godmother of rock ‘n’ roll’, the ‘original soul sister’.   Born in 1915, the daughter of Arkansas cotton-pickers, she was playing guitar in church from the age of six.  She gained fame as a gospel singer and guitarist whose ability to blend the spiritual with rhythm (as well as an uncanny gift with the electric guitar) that heralded rock ‘n’ roll.  This amazing woman was to go on to influence Elvis Presley, Little Richard (whose first public performance outside a church was with her), Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash (who claimed she was his favourite singer), Aretha Franklin and even Meatloaf.

She played the Brighton Dome in January 1964 as part of the American Folk, Blues, and Gospel Caravan.  A little earlier she’d played a now legendary performance at a disused railway platform in south Manchester for Granada TV.  As it had started raining minutes before the outdoor show, it being Manchester after all, she’d decided at the last minute to change her opening song to ‘Didn’t It Rain’.  Fantastic footage of this is here:

 

In the audience were Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, just to name a few of the people who were going to run with that raw electric blues sound.

Isn’t this fantastic?

And doesn’t it feel slightly naughty?  The bit on the footage above where Sister Rosetta just casually slaps on the electric guitar, pulling it over her coat and starts  playing… Maybe it’s just me, having been brought up by a blues and rock ‘n’ roll mad mum on Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones…  Anything electric guitar related belongs in the male domain, right????  I had a real frisson seeing a woman give it as good a go as the men.

I’ll be talking about Sister Rosetta tomorrow at Brighton Museum.  She’s just one of the women with links to the Royal Pavilion Estate whose story I’ll be dipping into tomorrow.  As part of International Women’s Day, Brighton Museum have asked me to run 2 mini versions of my Notorious Women of Brighton Walking Tour around the estate.  These start at 11 and 2 and will be completely free.  As is entrance to Brighton Museum for a packed day of talks and activities in celebration of International Women’s Day.  As well as Sister Rosetta I’ll be talking about women who have made great strides (and shocks) in the worlds of business, theatre, medicine, and the military.  And hey, it’s the Royal Pavilion Estate after all, I may throw in a couple of princesses and queens.  Come and join me (but remember your snow shoes), we’ll have a lovely time!  More details about the Museum event here:

https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/events/event/international-womens-day/

See you there!

 

 

 

 

Bonnets by the sea!

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Like bonnets?

There’s a great event at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, tomorrow!

‘Jane Austen: Curator’s Talk: Georgian and Regency Costume’ will see Martin Pel, Brighton Museum’s Costume and Textiles Curator and Dr Alexandra Loske, Curator of the exhibition ‘Jane Austen by the Sea’,  discuss the costume on display at the exhibition and show related costumes and works of art not usually on display.  Dr Loske promises ‘bonnets and more!’

This interesting little exhibition on the first floor of the Royal Pavilion explores Jane Austen’s relationship to the seaside both in her works and life.  Brighton itself is almost a character in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, of course, vividly described as the fashionable and rakish resort full of soldiers and fashionable ladies, a fitting place for Lydia Bennet to run away to.  Fans will also recall an action-packed visit to Lyme Regis in ‘Persuasion’.

Objects on display include George IV’s personal copy of ‘Emma’.  (He was a fan of her work.  She, unfortunately, didn’t return the compliment, disapproving of his treatment of his wife, Caroline of Brunswick.)  There’s also the manuscript of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, ‘Sanditon’, set in a fictional seaside town.

If you think Jane Austen had a low opinion of Brighton, the exhibition invites you to think again in the light of a long misunderstanding arising from a handwritten letter of 8 January 1799.  Curator Dr Alexandra Loske said: “For many years, Austen has been quoted as having written: ‘I assure you that I dread the idea of going to Brighton as much as you can do..’, but her sentence actually referred to Bookham, a village in Surrey, rather than Brighton.  We now know that Austen may not have felt as negatively about the town as has been thought.”

More information about the exhibition and related events can be found here:http://brightonmuseums.org.uk/royalpavilion/whattosee/jane-austen-by-the-sea/

Thanks to Dr Alexandra Loske for the images.

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Brighton Older People’s Festival

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Here I am talking corsets on my Notorious Women of Brighton Tour this morning.

I’m really happy to have been invited to do a handful of women’s history related tours and talks again for the Brighton Older People’s Festival again.  This year it runs from today for two weeks until Sunday 8th October and has plenty of events and activities for those in the 50+ age bracket.  I’m going to be doing a Notorious Women of Hove tour, looking at some of the fantastic women who’ve lived and worked in Hove (meet at 11 outside the café in St Ann’s Well Gardens) on Friday 29th September, and also a Notorious Women of Kemptown gentle stroll on Monday 2nd Oct (meet at 11 outside St George’s Church).

I’m also doing a couple of seated lectures this year.  The first one’s tomorrow at 2 in the café at the Duke of York’s Cinema and is a seated version of my Notorious Women walks, looking at women who’ve created waves in Brighton and Hove’s history over the years.  The second one, ‘Women Warriors’ is on Tuesday 4th October at 2 in the same place.  In this one I’ll be telling the incredible stories of some of the women who dressed as men to serve in the armed forces in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, starting, of course, with Brighton’s very own Phoebe Hessel.

Tickets for these events are all £2.  To book, call 01273 322940 , info@impact-initiatives.org.uk, http://www.impact-initiatives.org.uk

Another Year of Notorious Women

more not womenAnother year of doing my Notorious Women of Brighton walking tours for the Brighton Fringe comes to an end and I’m sorting out my files and notes after a truly tremendous few weeks of introducing people to some of the fantastic women in our city’s history.  OK, so all didn’t go exactly to plan.  There was the time on that first Notorious Women of Hove walk when a man tried (and failed) to chase us out of Adelaide Crescent, the time when a guitarist attempted to serenade us while I talked about legendary dipper Martha Gunn in St Nicholas Churchyard (in his head he was in Led Zeppelin.  In reality, more feeding time in a cattery).  There was the excitement of the woman taking her tortoise for a walk in Brunswick Square that almost brought the tour to a premature end (well, how could I compete with a cute tortoise frolicking amongst the spring flowers?), tales of the Hove man who takes his pet pig for a walk on Hove sea-front (much discussed and speculated upon but never seen) and the time I swallowed a fly and had to do some very indecorous coughing in mid sentence (sorry, if you were on that one).

Had some great reviews this year from the latest who enjoyed the ‘refreshingly female perspective’

http://thelatest.co.uk/brighton/2017/05/14/notorious-women-brighton-walking-tour/

and broadwaybaby, who said   “I’d really recommend you attend, as they remind you of why you should be proud to be part of this daring and unique city.”

http://broadwaybaby.com/shows/notorious-women-of-brighton/718466

The best thing for me, of course, is meeting you all.  If you came on one of the tours of either Brighton, Hove or the sneaky pop-up one I did of Kemptown, thank you very much for your comments, insight, extra facts, reactions and enthusiasm.  I was extremely happy to meet a woman who remembered meeting Hove heroine Margaret Powell, and very pleased when someone started to sing some of the hits of the Kaye Sisters (so I didn’t have to) while talking about Carole Kaye.  It’s your enthusiasm and your chipping in with additional facts that keeps things interesting for me and keeps me wanting to carry on finding out and digging up those stories of local women’s history, achievements, activities, derring-do, courage and – sometimes – misdeeds for us all to celebrate.

I will be doing another Notorious Women of Kemptown tour some time in the summer – either late July or August.  Many people who couldn’t make the pop-up date asked me to keep them informed if I decided to do another one.  If anyone else is interested in adding themselves to that list please drop me an email at historywomenbrighton@outlook.com .  If anyone caught the Brighton tour but didn’t manage to get onto a Hove one – or vice-versa – and can’t wait until next year, keep checking back as I occasionally slot tours in at different times of the year.  Or why not book me for a private tour?  All you need is a group of 5 or 6 people to ensure festival prices!

Thanks again everyone, see you soon!

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New Dates for 2017

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I’m delighted to be adding some new dates for Notorious Women of Brighton and Notorious Women of Hove walks to the Brighton Fringe Festival again this year.  This Spring will also see the return of Notorious Women of Kemp Town!  I’m doing a mixture of ‘official’ tours and ‘pop-up’ tours this time.   You can purchase tickets for the official tours from the Fringe box-office as usual or just turn up, but you need to let me know if you intend to come to a pop-up tour via this website as they will be weather and interest-dependent.  Details below…

Notorious Women of Brighton…

Wilful princesses, Music Hall stars, headstrong courtesans, entrepreneurs, Brighton has always attracted women who dare do things differently. Hear some of their stories and other female claims to fame.  Starts St Nicholas Church, Dyke Road, Brighton, BN1 3LJ.  1.5 hrs. £7.50/6.50

Fringe Tours -Sunday mornings 7th, 14th, 28th May, 4th June at 10.30am

Pop up tours – Thursday evenings 11th and 25th May at 6.30pm.

Notorious Women of Hove…

Hove has been home to women whose ideas have shaken up our world – from some of Britain’s first women doctors to suffragettes, campaigners to boundary shifting entertainers. Walk in their footsteps and hear their amazing stories on this tour. Starts in St Ann’s Well Gardens, BN3 1PL. 1.5 hrs.

Fringe Tours – Saturday mornings 6th, 13th, 27th May, 3rd June at 10.30am,

Tuesday mornings 9th, 23rd May at 10.30am, Tuesday evenings 9th, 23rd, May at 6.30pm

Pop up Tour – Wednesday evening 7th June at 6.30pm.

Notorious Women of Kemp Town

From Ladies to ladies, scientists to sportswomen, Kemp Town has inspired some incredible women. Hear how worlds as diverse as policing, fashion, education, shopping and the arts were shaken by local women on this gentle walk. Starts at St George’s Church, BN2 1ED. 1.5 hrs.

Three special pop up tours only – Tuesday evening 16th May at 6.30pm

Saturday afternoons 27th May, 3rd June at 2pm.

For official Fringe Tours book at brightonfringe.org, call 01273 917272 or just turn up on the day.

Pop up tours are weather and interest dependent.  Please let me know if you would like to come by emailing me at historywomenbrighton@outlook.com or calling 07758 296563.

See you there!