Hidden History - Women in Industry

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Cutting patterns at Flawns, Porthmeor Road, St Ives, 1958 (credit: St Ives Archive)
Cutting patterns at Flawns, Porthmeor Road, St Ives, 1958 (credit: St Ives Archive)

The Hypatia Trust and its History 51 project, to promote women's heritage in Cornwall, is delighted to support this fabulous event on 25 October at the Western Hotel, St Ives, to celebrate the women of St Ives's historical textile industries.

Please come along to this free event and support Cornish women's heritage in St Ives.

St Ives is well known for its fishing, mining, artists and tourists, but for about forty years it was the home of a vibrant textile industry based in former pilchard cellars near to The Island.

The industrial manufacture of textiles is not usually associated with a seaside town in Cornwall. The majority of the employees were women who went into the factories when they left school at the age of fourteen. Maybe for this reason the work that they did has almost been forgotten. The Town Council, by the 1970s, had removed all traces of industry from the centre of St Ives and transferred it to new industrial estates.

And the buildings themselves were demolished to make way for luxury accommodation to expand the tourist industry.

St Ives Archive is part of the wider History 51 project in Cornwall initiated by the Hypatia Trust with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to celebrate the role of women in a number of key aspects of Cornish life.

What better project for St Ives than to highlight and bring to life the story of these factories and the people who worked there?

On Friday 25 October at the Western Hotel, Royal Square, St Ives, between 11.00am and 3.00pm volunteers from the Archive will be hosting an event and workshop to which as many employees as possible are invited from the various textile companies located Downlong between the 1930s and 1970s: Crysede, Hamptons, Flawns, Berketex and Fryers.

Members of the public and visitors to the town are very welcome to see this display of St Ives hidden history.

Let's make one giant net for St Ives!

One of the key events will be an opportunity for everyone to assist in the making of a ‘camouflage net’ of memories. These nets were originally made at home, during the war, by young women and children, based on the nets that were made by their fishermen relatives. Camouflage nets had strips of material inserted into them (scrimmed) so that they could be draped over objects that needed to be hidden from the air.

On this occasion, strips of calico with individual memories and images will be sewn into the net, and these will be a lasting reminder of this chapter of St Ives history. As the original nets were used to hide objects, the new net will remind us that women’s working lives are also often hidden.

The Archive will present this fascinating history through personal memories, photographs, memorabilia and a display of the fashions of the time. One of the companies, Flawns, was owned by John Lewis, which has been very supportive in providing images and information from their extensive archive.

The day will be filmed and refreshments will be served. It is hoped that the resulting camouflage net will be on permanent display, ensuring that this important period of St Ives history is never forgotten.

Women making camouflage nets at Hamptons factory on The Island, St Ives, during World War 2 (credit: St Ives Archive)
Women making camouflage nets at Hamptons factory on The Island, St Ives, during World War 2 (credit: St Ives Archive)

History 51 Roadshow dates

Did you come to Heartlands on 26 May for our very first History 51 Roadshow event Wise Women? If not, this short video gives you a flavour of the energy and enthusiasm the Hypatia Trust has for promoting women's heritage in communities across Cornwall and Scilly. And the huge amount of interest shown in it. Remember women's heritage belongs to all of us, it's about the history of the majority of our people!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5GkamI_C4A

Roadshow dates

We have planned four more History 51 Roadshow events. The dates and subjects are as follows. We are still on the trail of an event in North Cornwall and one on Scilly. We have a small amount of funding to publicise, promote and organise the events and those who volunteer to help run the event will have their expenses paid.

Sea Women in Fowey

Women in Cornwall were not left on shore while the men went to sea, nor were they absent from the many maritime industries and trades that were vital to the Duchy's economy and culture. Special guests Dr. Helen Doe, a maritime historian and Dr. Leonie Hicks, a medieval historian, will talk about women and the sea across time, including Jane Slade, the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier's first novel, The Loving Spirit. There will follow an afternoon tour of the the ancient and picturesque port town of Fowey, still an active harbour for the China Clay industry.

Date: Saturday 7 September 2013.

Venue: Fowey Library.

Places: FREE but places limited. Booking will open soon.

Rug Tales in Helston

A practical, fun-filled workshop led by Diane Cox of the Mesdames Myrtles rug hooking group. It will show us how biographies of women in Cornwall needn't just be written but they can also be made. Mesdames Myrtles have been creating stories of seven women as part of History 51 and it is hoped some of these may be on display. So if you want to have a go at rug hooking and find out more about it, this is an event for you.

Date: Saturday 12 October 2013.

Venue: Helston Museum.

Places: FREE but places may be limited.

Women in Industry in St Ives

Women working at sewing machines at Flawns, St Ives (St Ives Archive) St Ives is not normally associated with industry. But did you know it was until the 1970s a hive of activity for hundreds of women especially in dress-making and military clothing. An open day organised jointly with St Ives Archive. Following an overwhelming response to the archive's call for women who made clothes for department stores such as Flawn's we hope to show you displays, conduct interviews, share photographs and even have a go at knitting string vests!

Date: Friday 25 October (11-3pm).

Venue: The Western Hotel.

Places: FREE. Drop-in basis.

Woman with a Cause in Liskeard

Emily Hobhouse was a pioneering campaigner who brought to the world's attention the horrors on both sides of the Boer (or South Africa ) Wars. Hobhouse is a national hero in South Africa but hardly known in her native Cornwall and indeed was reviled by several town worthies from Liskeard who attempted to discredit her. This workshop will introduce you to several important issues about how we understand history, and more importantly, what we remember. Our very own Eleanor Tench will give a keynote address after which we will have a small debate. Afterwards you will have the chance to be a historian by working on primary sources from Emily's time and understanding for yourself why she is so poorly represented in Cornish history. Organised jointly with Liskeard and District Museum, there will also be opportunities to visit the brand new exhibition on Hobhouse both before and after the event.

Date: Saturday 16 November 2013 (9.30-1pm).

Venue: Liskeard District Museum (for the exhibition) and Public Hall (for the talk, debate and activity).

Places: FREE but strictly limited. Booking will open soon.

Researching Emily Hobhouse

In the autumn, I will be doing a workshop for History51 on Emily Hobhouse. Although my current research is during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the role of women was starting to change, and many of my protagonists were strong supporters of women’s rights, this is one of my first forays into looking at a woman as a primary subject. Hobhouse2 Although I knew the basics of her story, and knew a lot about one of her most influential mentors, Leonard Courtney, I am learning a great deal about Emily. This includes using her friendship with the Boer leaders to try to support Gandhi's work while he was living in South Africa. She was also to use this influence in an attempt to convince the Boers to alter their attitudes towards black South Africans. Although her meddling was to cause a rift, she was remembered as a hero by the Boers. Her ashes are interred at the Women's Memorial in Bloemfontein, that she helped design. The significance is that she is one of only 3 people to be honored in this way; remembered alongside their first president and their greatest general. This gives a very stark contrast to her native Cornwall, where none of the local newspapers published an obituary upon her death.

However, I was thinking earlier about her return to Cornwall. As the daughter of a vicar, from a ‘good’ family, she had been comfortable but not rich. However she lost almost everything during the Great War. The money to purchase a small property was raised for her by her friend, Mrs Steyn, wife of President Steyn. My feeling is that there is a reasonable comparison to be made in the Boer veneration of Emily and the veneration of  Oskar Schindler, although not an exact comparison. She was fighting to save the Boer civilians from incompetence rather than deliberate malice.

I also wanted to ask if anyone knows enough about St Ives in the 1920s to say why Emily chose there to live. My best guess at the moment is that it was the most cosmopolitan place in Cornwall at the time, and a woman with a reputation for being difficult, who had become a national anti-hero despite being proven right, would be more welcome there, than in many other places. Or at the least less unwelcome. However, my knowledge of the history of artistic communities can be written on the back of a stamp, so if you think I’m wrong in this, please let me know.

As I continue on this journey through Emily’s life, I will be sure to keep you updated. I will also be speaking at the Institute of Cornish Studies conference this autumn. Their theme this year is ‘Daughters of Cornwall’ which should prove very interesting.

Further reading:

B. Roberts, Those Bloody Women: Three Heroines of the Boer War (John Murray, 1991).

T. Pakenham, The Boer War (Futura, 1982).