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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Walking Tours! Get in Touch with Brighton and Hove’s Feminine Side…

I am really happy to have just started working in partnership with Visit Brighton.  New tours, new information – all accessible here:  http://www.visitbrighton.com/things-to-do/history-women-brighton-p1187231?purgepage=true  Or carry on reading…

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Get in touch with Brighton and Hove’s feminine side on a walking tour with Royal Pavilion and Museums guide, Louise Peskett. Discover an alternative view of the city illustrated by the stories of the incredible, outrageous, and brilliant women of its past.

Join me on a gentle 90 minute walk:

History Women Brighton – Women soldiers, music-hall stars and rebellious princesses come alive on this stroll from central Brighton’s oldest church through the Lanes, Pavilion Gardens and Brighton’s Cultural Quarter, finishing at the Theatre Royal.

History Women Hove Starting in central Hove’s St Ann’s Well Gardens and proceeding through the area’s grandest squares to the seafront, this walk follows the footsteps of some of Britain’s first women doctors, suffragettes, social campaigners and artists, and takes in a pioneering women’s hospital and game-changing girls’ school.

History Women Kemptown – Hear how worlds as diverse as policing, fashion, education, and corsets were influenced by women who once lived in this atmospheric and historic suburb of Brighton! Starts at St George’s Church.

Victorian Working Class Brighton – During the nineteenth century the Queen’s Park/Hanover area developed as a vibrant and lively working-class district. Join me to discover traces of these long-gone communities in old shops, pubs, slipper-baths, the work-house, and school. Starts at St Luke’s Church.

The Royal Pavilion Estate – A visit inside the Royal Pavilion is a Brighton ‘must-do’ but what about the outside? This hour’s walk around the Royal Pavilion Gardens and surrounds explores the creation of this beautiful green space, the history of the Gardens, its adjoining gates and buildings, and its First World War legacy.

No group too small. Too long? Too short? Let me tailor a walk to your requirements.

All walks available in French. TEFL trained, I am experienced in guiding in simple English to language students and people without fluent English. All levels catered for. Language students welcome!

Don’t want to walk? I offer the above walks – and more – as seated, illustrated lectures. Let me visit your group and enjoy the stories from the comfort of a chair. Full list on my website www.historywomenbrighton.com.

All walks will go ahead at pre-set times during the Brighton Fringe in May 2017 as usual and, hopefully, if the weather forecast looks good, in Spring.  Check here or drop me an email if you’d like to be on my mailing list.  See you soon!

Sisterhood in the Stone Age

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What was life like for our grandmothers one and a half million years ago?  How did they cope with (ahem, cough, cough) ‘women’s things’ in the days before Always With Wings and TV adverts made us believe that menstruating women suddenly turned into  rollerskaters and white jeans wearing disco dancers?  It wasn’t until I was asked at the last minute to prepare a talk on the subject of menstruation in the Stone Age recently that I thought I’d better do some reading around it…   The event, called ‘Women. Period’, held at Hove’s Regency  Town House, promised to reveal how our foremothers dealt with ‘the curse’.   It looked at attitudes towards (and some of the names given to)  Aunty Flo’s Monthly Visitor around the world, as well as showing a fascinating animated instructional film aimed at young women produced by Walt Disney in 1946, ‘The Story of Menstruation’.   Other delights included a look at some…. well, interesting gadgetry our Victorian sisters would have to struggle with during her ‘Lady Time’.   Harnesses?  Rubber straps?   It’s a good job rollerskates hadn’t been invented.  As, just the previous week, I’d seen a young woman in a shop visibly cringe while buying a box of Tampax  and wondered for the millionth time why, in the twenty-first century, while taboos drop like flies around sex and other bodily functions that used to raise a blush, periods should still be such an embarrassment, this fun and interesting event wasn’t before time.    Incidentally, since the event I’ve come across a fascinating article in the Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/menstruation-study-finds-over-5000-slang-terms-for-period-a6905021.html) , looking at some of the amazing euphemisms for the time-of-the-month from around the world.  Tops for me had to be ‘Der Er Kommunister I Lysthuset’ (‘There are communists in the fun house’ – Thank you, Denmark) and, oddly, from France, ‘Les Anglais ont debarqué’ (The English have landed’)

women-period

Then there was me, an absolute Stone Age novice, trying to surmise how things went 2.5 million years ago.  I have to say a big thank you to my colleague at Brighton Museum, Su Hepburn, the original guest for the evening, who handed me her notes on this.  Su found out that the main difference between Stone Age women and us is that they menstruated far less.   Today’s modern, industrialised woman can expect a total of 450 periods in her life compared to perhaps 50 for our Stone Age ancestors.  One of the reasons was that girls started to menstruate much later.  It’s thought that menarche occurred at the average age of 16 rather than 12 today.  Women also gave birth earlier (at 19 rather than today’s early to mid 20s) and had more children (up to about 6 live births per mother).  Also, it’s believed that breastfeeding would continue until the child reached 5 (in comparison, the last NHS Infant Feeding Survey revealed only 1% of babies were being breastfed in this country after 6 months).  Of course, we can’t be completely accurate with facts and figures when we’re talking about people’s lives in 10,000 BCE, and the term ‘Stone Age’ covers over 3 million years during which time people progressed – in this country, at least – from being wholly nomadic to having the opportunity to live in relatively settled and more hierarchically organised communities, enjoying a more varied diet.  It’s generally thought, however, that our ancestors would have had less body fat and could have been deficient in things that keep us healthy today.

What’s certain, though, is that women’s lives were busy and often brutal.  Not only was there the average 6 children to think about, the relentless breastfeeding, and, with a typical life expectancy of 40, not so many grandmother figures around to help with childcare, their lives also consisted, according to Rosalind Miles in the ‘The Women’s History of the World’ (1989), of food gathering, hunting smaller prey, instructing children, making garments, cooking, tool making, possibly weaving grasses and other materials to make containers to store and carry food, erecting and pulling down living quarters as they moved to follow harvests and food sources.  Although the term ‘hunter-gatherer society’ puts the emphasis on the hunting part of the equation as the most important and difficult contribution made by men, the ‘gathering’, far from the passive picking at berries and leaves it connotes, required enormous skill and great knowledge of what was edible and what to do with it.  Ensuring that food was provided for the family every day, not just on the days when animals had been successfully hunted, required climbing trees, digging, grinding, travelling long distances and carrying things back.  And it’s thought that women did their share of hunting too, either in their own right or alongside the men.

So, although it probably didn’t come round on a monthly basis, how did our grandmothers manage all this while they were menstruating?  Grasses, animal skins, moss, leaves?  Practicality-wise, they must have come up with something that allowed them to roam long distances, climb trees, and do everything else necessary for survival.  Anthropologists from more recent times have observed hunter gatherer people easily fashioning slings and bags to transport children and foodstuffs.  Who’s to say our fore mothers didn’t come up with an early type of sanitary belt, of the type women who went to school in the ’70s and ’80s remember being shown in the sex education lessons as an alternative to the new-fangled adhesive pads?   (In my class two girls actually fainted at the sight of the elastic trusses we’d just been told we’d soon be wearing for most of our adult lives.  They saved the concept of tampons for another lesson completely)  For readers born later, this early Kotex advert shows what I’m talking about…

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These women would have had to figure out a way of transporting their babies as they worked, so why not use the same technology?  As Rosalind Miles says ‘it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the women capable of bringing the infant human race forward into the future could also have found the way to deal efficiently with their own bodies’.

A clue to how women may have been seen at this time could come from the many so-called ‘Venus’ statues dating from the period found by archaeologists in Europe.  These figures, as shown in the image at the top of this post, appear to be representations of women.  Around 150 of them have been found, mainly around areas thought to have been occupied by Stone Age settlements, both open-air sites and in caves.  They’re usually small – the most famous one, found in Willendorf, Austria in 1905 (below), and dating from 25,000 BCE, is only four and a half inches tall.  Most are lozenge shaped and have scant facial features, yet large breasts, big bellies, and sometimes prominently displayed genitals.

willendorf-venus-1468

Many suggest that they could have been painted red originally.   As obesity wasn’t commonplace at the time, it’s been suggested that the full bellied figures represent pregnancy with the red colour perhaps symbolic of menstrual blood or childbirth.   Their purpose is unknown.  Maybe they were made as an appeal to, or celebration of, fertility.  Maybe they symbolised abundance and hope for longevity, survival, and success.  The statues suggest, however, that the people investing time and resources to their creation understood and had awe and respect for this side of womanhood.  Or could they have been made by women themselves?  In the days before mirrors, the statues could have been a good attempt at self depiction.  Women readers, the next time you’re naked, look down at your body and you’ll recognise the sloping of the breasts and the tummy, as well as the lozenge shape as your body tapers to your feet.  Could they even be some of the first examples of women’s art?

More information about these figurines can be found here: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/prehistoric/venus-of-willendorf.htm, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_figurines, http://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/play/3d-models/venus/

Here in Brighton we have one of Britain’s earliest Stone Age monuments in the Whitehawk Camp, dating from 5,500 years ago (predating Stonehenge by 1000 years).  There’s lots of information on the Brighton and Hove City Council website here:  http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/content/leisure-and-libraries/parks-and-green-spaces/whitehawk-camp

And here’s a link to the 10 minute film ‘The Story of Menstruation’ produced in 1946 by Walt Disney.  It was commissioned by the International Cello-Cotton Company (now Kimberley-Clark).  It was part of a 1945 to 1951 series of films that Disney produced for American schools.  Inducted last year into the American National Film Registry due to its cultural importance, it’s believed to be (according to Wikipedia) the first film to mention the word ‘vagina’, and, as part of its advice, urged women not to shower in water that was too cold or too hot and to ‘avoid constipation and depression, and to always keep up a fine outward appearance.’

 

 

 

Tour Postponement

 

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September’s edition of Brighton magazine, Queens Park Living  kindly gave me the fantastic opportunity to tell everyone about a guided walk I developed last year, looking at the fascinating Victorian working class legacy of the Queens Park/Hannover/Parish of St Luke’s area.  I said that I’d be doing this tour on Saturday  10th September.  Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, I’m now having to put this tour back.  Many apologies to anyone who read the article and  was interested in coming along.   Please watch this space for alternative dates or contact me at historywomenbrighton@outlook.com and I’ll make sure to let you know as soon as I’ve found a new time.  Sorry again everyone and hope to see you on this new tour soon!

Hove’s Animal Lover

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Lord and Lady Dowding and friends.

Happy birthday to the Bodyshop, a female-fronted, local company who, this year, is celebrating its 40th year. Started in 1976 by Littlehampton born Dame Anita Roddick, its first premises was a small shop in Brighton’s North Laine, from where it didn’t take long for its ethically produced skin and beauty products to carve a niche for itself, as well as fill every teenager’s bedroom with the scent of coconut hairgel and Dewberry perfume. Although the company was taken over by L’Oreal in 2006 ,Anita Roddick is rightly remembered as a fearless entrepreneur who brought fairtrade and products not tested on animals into the mainstream and showed that business can have morals.

But 20 years before our high streets started to be populated by those well-known green facades, another company was prioritising animal welfare, and at the helm, another pioneering woman with Brighton and Hove connections.

Beauty Without Cruelty, a company still supplying cruelty free cosmetics today was founded in 1963 by the trustees of an animal welfare organisation of the same name. The original driving force of the cosmetics arm was Kathleen Long, an animal welfare activist who, with Noel Gabriel developed the first line of revolutionary cruelty-free products. When Kathleen died in 1969, one of the trustees, Lady Muriel Dowding, who in her later years relocated to Hove, came to the rescue and, under her energetic leadership, the company grew and flourished.

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Muriel Dowding, born in London in 1908, was an intriguing, committed woman, who according to her obituary in The Independent newspaper in 1993, ‘didn’t allow anything that might help the plight of animals escape her attention’. At one time she was vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and president of the National Anti-Vivisection Society. At the helm of the Beauty Without Cruelty campaigning organisation, she worked tirelessly to make people aware of the unsavoury, animal derived ingredients in their everyday products – whale oil in lipstics, for example, and civet in perfume. Hard to imagine in our better informed days, but in the 1950s and ’60s most consumers would have been unaware of the ingredients in their everyday face soaps and shampoos. Muriel’s work to increase awareness created an unprecedented demand for an alternative. The Beauty Without Cruelty cosmetics brand, like Bodyshop, offering people an easily obtainable and cheap alternative to the mainstream, enjoyed a particular heyday in the 1960s when the colourful nail varnishes and eye shadows gained celebrity followers such as popular model, Celia Hammond. Similarly, at a time when a fur coat was the must have fashion statement for the wealthy, Muriel would organise fake fur fashion shows to demonstrate, as her brand outlined, that cruelty need not be a by-product for beauty.

Muriel was also no stranger to unconventional ideas in her personal life. A committed spiritualist she met her second husband, Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding, one of the architects of the Battle of Britain, when, knowing he shared her views, she asked him to contact her first husband, Jack Maxwell Whiting who had gone missing in action over Denmark in 1944. Following their marriage in 1951, Sir Hugh, already a vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist joined Muriel in her work to prevent animal suffering. Apparently, the house the animal loving pair shared in Tunbridge Wells, became a sanctuary for stray animals and the two became notorious for putting on lavish Sunday lunch parties to show people how tasty vegetarian food could be. Muriel’s obituary published just after her death in Hove in November 1993 notes that she was ‘ a warm, open-hearted character with a larger than life personality and sometimes uncompromising opinions.’ It paints a picture of a committed woman who threw herself wholeheartedly into the cause she believed in. She remained director of Beauty Without Cruelty until 1980.

I suppose you could say that, coming to live in a Hove nursing home towards the end of her life, Muriel only qualifies very slimly for a place in the Brighton and Hove Historical Women’s Hall of Fame, but as our city’s past is bursting with women who pioneered new ideas and stood up for their views, however unconventional, Lady Muriel Dowding, has found the perfect home.

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The Queen of the Australian Gold Fields who made Hove her Home

NPG Ax5458; Alice Ann Cornwell (later Mrs Stannard Robinson) by Herbert Rose Barraud, published by  Eglington & Co

by Herbert Rose Barraud, published by Eglington & Co, carbon print, published 1889

One week to go before my first ‘Notorious Women of Hove’ walk and I’m still marvelling at the incredible number of Hove related women who’ve made their mark on the world. Given that I’m supposed to be planning a nice one and a half hour amble rather than a full day’s trek, I’m having to make hard decisions about which of the pioneering doctors, surgeons, educators, suffragettes, poets, singers, social campaigners and plain, old-fashioned trouble-reapers to include and which I can only give a cursory mention to? One woman I definitely want to tell people about is Alice Ann Cornwell (above) who came to live in Palmeira Square in the early 1900s. Hardly a house-hold name, Alice’s list of achievements is impressive: industrialist, gold-miner, entrepreneur, newspaper proprietor and, ultimately, the originator of the Ladies Kennel Association.

Born in Essex in 1852, Alice spent most of her childhood and teenage years in New Zealand. She returned to England in 1877 and showed great promise as a musician, training at the Royal Academy of Music and composing music and songs. Finding out that her father, now a gold prospector in Australia, was in financial trouble, however, she abandoned her music career in order to help him. Once back in Australia, Alice took a practical course of action: she decided to study geology and mining. Unafraid to get her hands dirty, Alice often rolled up her sleeves up and got involved in the hard and dirty work of mining itself. Women weren’t as rare in the mid to late nineteenth century Australian goldfields as you might imagine. The 1854 census of the Ballarat goldfields in Victoria, where Alice worked, revealed 4,023 women compared to 12,660 men living on the ‘diggings’, with five percent of them single.

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Whether these women were wives of miners or mining themselves, it was far from being an easy life. Intensely hot summers, freezing cold winters, lawlessness, little, if any, infrastructure or facilities, the remoteness and lack of transport meant that in some of these communities minor illness or pregnancy could be death sentences. A woman by the name of Ellen Clacy wrote these vivid observations of life on the Victoria goldfields in 1852: Night at the diggings is the characteristic time: murder here-murder there- revolvers cracking-blunderbusses bombing-rifles going off-balls whistling-one man groaning with a broken leg…..Here is one man grumbling because he brought his wife with him, another ditto because he left his behind, or sold her for an ounce of gold or a bottle of rum. […] In the rainy season, he must not murmur if compelled to work up to his knees in water, and sleep on the wet ground, without a fire, in the pouring rain, and perhaps no shelter above him more waterproof than a blanket or a gum tree…..In the summer, he must work hard under a burning sun, tortured by the mosquito and the little stinging March flies…..” Despite these hardships, Alice worked hard and struck gold. So much gold that soon she was able not only to sort out her father’s hardships but make an excellent living for herself too. With her business-mind swinging into action, Alice quickly established a company that was floated on the London Stock Exchange. Fantastically wealthy, shrewd, and with a big personality to match, Alice was soon a celebrity, dubbed the ‘Lady of the Nuggets’, even, in 1888, inspiring a novel, ‘Madame Midas’ by Fergus Hume.

madame midas

Back in London with her fortune, Alice turned her mind to other business opportunities. In 1887 she bought the ailing Sunday Times and, installing her fiance, Frederick Stannard Robinson, as editor, managed to quadruple circulation. In 1894 she founded the Ladies Kennel Club. This organisation, still going strong today, describes Alice as ‘formidable’ on their website. She set up the organisation ‘in defiance of the gentlemen of the Kennel Club of the day’ with the aim to put on dog shows ‘run by Ladies for Ladies’. Unusual for the day, its offices were staffed entirely by women. Cats got a look in too, as Alice later became involved with the National Cat Club, as well as the International Kennel Club. Widowed in 1902, Alice settled in Hove where she bred pugs until her death in 1932. Despite making huge strides in worlds only sparsely populated by women, a New Zealand newspaper, the Otago Witness, chose to focus more on her looks in an 1889 profile: ‘Miss Cornwell is, if not a prepossessing woman, at least not unhandsome. Her face and features somewhat irregular and undefined, it is true, harmonise well with her symmetrical and well defined picture.‘ I’d like to think that ‘formidable’ Alice Cornwell was too busy to let this bother her.

Notorious Women of Hove – guided walk during the Brighton Fringe Saturdays 30th April, 7th May, 14th May, 28th May, 4th June at 10.30 a.m from the café in St Ann’s Well Gardens, Hove.  Thursday evening 12th May, Tuesday evenings 17th May, 31st May at 6.30 p.m from the same place.

 

A Celebration of Brighton’s ‘Mother of Modern Witchcraft’

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This incredible picture is of Doreen Valiente.   She lived in Brighton and is (so far) the only woman to be awarded a blue plaque for services to witchcraft.  An exhibition focusing on her, her practice, and the great leaps  forward she made in the understanding and acceptance of Pagan beliefs in the second part of the twentieth century has just opened at Preston Manor, near Preston Park, Brighton.  Fans of Preston Manor know that it’s no stranger to people with non-mainstream beliefs.  Members of the Thomas-Stanford family  took part in a well-documented séance in the Manor’s Cleves Room in 1897 after various hauntings started to be a nuisance.  After events such as strange smells, sightings of people on staircases and, most disturbing of all, an untethered hand that was seen going up and down a bedpost by a visitor, a medium was called.  It was discovered that an ex-communicated nun who hadn’t been given a proper burial and had lain outside for a few centuries was making her presence known.  Sure enough a body was found and the nun, at last, given a more respectable resting place.  It would be nice to think that Preston Manor was subsequently free from ghostly activity but unexplained creakings, bangings and odd events are still being reported today.  It’s no surprise that Doreen Valiente liked Preston Manor.  In fact, an early guidebook she owned is one of the exhibits.

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Lots of other things are on display – Doreen’s altar, her ‘book of shadows’ (a personal book of Wiccan religious texts and magic rituals) and, particularly stunning, some small wooden goddess carvings and a carving made by Doreen herself of the Roman god, Janus.  It’s a great opportunity to get a feel for the life of this fascinating woman as well as a chance to see some of the accoutrements of a modern-day witch.  The exhibition is very good on explaining the roots of ancient, pre-Christian beliefs and how these started to be discovered again, largely thanks to the work of Doreen. 

doreen 2 

Born in Surrey in 1922, Doreen began exploring her interest in the occult and experimenting with magic spells while still at school. Horrified, her Christian parents sent her straight to a convent but she left at fifteen, refusing to go back. In the early 1950s she became aware of the work of Gerald Gardner who, after stumbling upon a group of witches in the New Forest and becoming part of their coven, had set up a Museum of Magic on the Isle of Man. She started to correspond with Gardner and in 1953 – just two years after witchcraft stopped being illegal in this country- she was initiated into his coven. Doreen’s contribution to the understanding and accessibility of witchcraft and Pagan beliefs was decisive. Seeing that Gardner wasn’t as gifted with words as she was, she used her considerable organisational skills and creativity to rewrite his interpretations of the old ancestral religions and basic rituals which formed the core of the new Pagan religious movement known as Wicca. Doreen, who also has books of poetry to her name, was never afraid of talking openly about the subject and is considered the mother of modern witchcraft.  Her books ‘Where Witchcraft Lives’, an exploration of Sussex folklore, ‘An ABC of Witchcraft’, ‘Natural Magic’ and ‘Witchcraft for Tomorrow’, brought witchcraft into the 20th century and became essential reading for anyone interested in the subject. In later life Doreen helped establish The Pagan Front, later transformed into The Pagan Federation, which aimed to fight prejudice against pagans in society and the media. She would also come to serve as patron of the Sussex-based Centre for Pagan Studies, a resource facility for those wishing to learn more about the ancient religions of the world.

maquoid

The exhibition feels very much at home in the Manor’s dark-panelled Maquoid Room (above) with its creaking floorboards and hushed atmosphere. With Paganism being the seventh largest faith group in Britain, this exhibition is as important as it is fascinating.

‘Folklore, Magic and Mysteries: Modern Witchcraft and Folk Culture in Britain’ is at Preston Manor until Autumn 2016.  Admission free to the exhibition after paying for admission to Preston Manor.  For more information regarding opening times, etc, see here: http://brightonmuseums.org.uk/prestonmanor/plan-your-visit/

The Doreen Valiente Foundation, who look after Doreen’s legacy, are here:http://www.doreenvaliente.com/Doreen-Valiente-About_The_Foundation-3.php