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 These nets were originally made at home, during the war, by young women and children, based on the nets that were made by their fishermen relatives.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)

Rug Tales in Helston

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The History 51 Roadshow, organised by the Hypatia Trust, is going to Helston Folk Museum on Saturday 12 October.Download the Rug Tales poster and share it with your friends (PDF, 1.4 MB)

Rug Tales will be a FREE, practical, fun-filled workshop led by Diane Cox of the Mesdames Myrtles rug hooking group (and well-known We Are Not Doormats). Mesdames Myrtles have been creating seven rugs inspired by the History 51 project representing different historical Cornish women. This workshop, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, will demonstrate 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.

So if you want to have a go at rug hooking and find out more about it, this is the event for you.

Rug hooking is an ancient art, largely passed down through the generations by women. It is a wonderful way to make beautiful new things from old remnants and clothes, and to have fun choosing the colours you love. You don't have to be arty, already skilled or able to draw!

Date: Saturday 12 October 2013

Time: 10am-4pm

Venue: Helston Folk Museum (Old Butter Market, Market Place, Helston, TR13 8TH. Tel: 01326 564027)

Cost: FREE

Booking: Email: curator@hypatia-trust.org.uk or telephone (if leaving a message please leave your name, a return phone number or email address) on 01736 366597).

You don't have to be arty, already skilled or able to draw!

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What's going on?

  • Learn the ancient technique of rug hooking -- a skill for life
  • Hear Diane Cox talk about this important part of women's heritage
  • All materials provided and a chance to buy your own beautifully crafted rug hook at the end so you can carry on at home (£15 on the day)
  • Bring your own sharp scissors if you  have a pair
  • Bring any old cloth fabrics whose colours you love, e.g. old T-shirts
  • Be inspired by the stunning collections of Helston Museum
  • Tea, coffee and refreshments provided
  • Bring your own lunch or break and have lunch in the ancient Cornish town of Helston

Places limited, book now!

Email: curator@hypatia-trust.org.uk or telephone (if leaving a message please leave your name, a return phone number or email address) on 01736 366597).

Olly Pickford's Cornish Land Girl rug in the making (credit: Olly Pickford)
Olly Pickford's Cornish Land Girl rug in the making (credit: Olly Pickford)

Another fruitful playday

The latest from our friends at Mesdames Myrtles rug hooking group. [Thanks Diane and all for the updates and photos. Keep 'em coming Ed.] We now have 7 females under way.....my domestic lady, a balmaiden, a fishwife, a dairymaid, a flower picker, a midwife and a land army girl.

As yet, Alice de Lisle has not been attempted but do not despair..she will, eventually! [If you can wait until June we will have information and some contemporary pictures to send your way--not of her but the kind of clothes she would have probably worn.]

Myrtles playday: Ancestors in rugs

The Myrtles are back with an update before their next playday and a sneak peek at some of their work. Here's Diane Cox: The Myrtles are having another Playday this week to work on our individual figures of Cornish women. Here is a pic of mine in progress....she will represent domestic tasks and also several of my husband's female ancestors,all ordinary working class women from the Newlyn area.

I am enjoying how much this project has stimulated my mind, and how I have discovered many little gems of information along the way, and met some wonderful people too!

Inspired by Newlyn ancestors (credit: Diane Cox)

Mesdames Myrtles, Penzance (rug) hookers

An example of Myrtles rughooking work (credit: Diane Cox)

Guest blog post by rug hooker, Diane Cox, History 51 Contributor

The Mesdames Myrtles hooking group has been together for many years in different hooking groups, but formed 2 years ago as a small group who wanted to stretch ourselves creatively and have unusual projects on the go! We spent an afternoon throwing names around and the Myrtles just seemed to fit! We are all in the Penzance area.

After the initial meeting at the Hypatia Trust we met to discuss how we would approach a visual response to acknowledging unsung Cornish women.We had a great afternoon chatting,but it became obvious that we all had differing ideas,and so the decisions made afterwards were...to visit Helston museum to get a feeling and a sense of ordinary women's lives,and that the whole subject was so enormous that the project wouldn't be as easy as we initially thought !

Yesterday we had our visit,and were so impressed by the museum..a real gem!

Over lunch we threw ideas about,and it seems right that we do one communal project,with the option of each of us,should we wish,responding with other more personal pieces.

We all agreed on 2 things...we wanted to emphasise the hard work and sometimes sheer drudgery of domestic work over the centuries,with the aim of showing how women have held everything together,and that we need to simplify our ideas for them to be effective in a textile work.

Work by Diane Cox

We realised that a written piece and a piece that is purely an image have to be approached totally differently!

So,we are having a creative day next week to play with ideas and hopefully end the day with the beginnings of our communal piece!

View a gallery of Diane's rug hooking work

[Thank you Diane and Mesdames Myrtles for your guest post, we can't wait to hear more about your progress! Ed]

Violetta Thurstan, a modern day Renaissance woman

Violetta Thurstan (1879-1978) Born: 1879, East Sussex Died: 1978, Penryn, Cornwall

War Heroine, Nurse, Author, Weaver-Dyer

Born in East Sussex, Violetta was schooled in Germany and trained as a nurse in London. During WW1 she worked on the front line for the Red Cross in Belgium, Denmark and Russia. She was awarded the Russian Cross of St George and the Military Medal.

Between the wars she developed her interest in textiles and was Director of the Bedouin Industries for the Egyptian Government.

In 1937 she joined the Spanish Civil war on prisoner release but was later expelled. Eager to offer her skills in several languages, during WW2 the 60 year old lied about her age to join WRNS in Naval Intelligence, declaring herself eleven years younger.

She made her life in Flushing and Penryn from 1950 until her death, where she dedicated herself to teaching, weaving, writing, and travelling, leading the Catholic Women’s League on pilgrimage to Rome in 1958. In 1973 she helped establish the Cornwall Crafts Association, which remains of great importance to Cornish arts and crafts today.

Sources:

Melissa Hardie, 'Anna Violet Thurstan (1879-1978) aka ‘Violetta’' for Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Violetta Thurstan archive, Elizabeth Treffry Collection, Hypatia Trust.

Somerfield, Muriel and Bellingham, Ann (1993) Violetta Thurstan – a celebration; family records, Royal London Hospital Archives; personal diaries: Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Likenesses:  Sculpture, photographs (Elizabeth Treffry Collection).