The History 51 Battalion meets up

Talking shop, History 51's first meeting. On 9 February we invited all those who had expressed an interest in History 51 to attend an open afternoon at the Hypatia Trust in Penzance. Several were not able to make it but we still had a room of 18 people (all women) eager to share their passion, thoughts and ideas about how their own experiences could be brought to bear on this seminal project.

I think everyone would agree that the local rug hookers really made our meeting, they turned up in force!

We enjoyed all sorts of conversation, from setting up our own tour businesses, ornamental pets, herbal medical knowledge, women war artists to keeping hens, rug hooking, fishing ancestors, women in sport, Cornish migration, slavery and anti-slavery, medieval business women, husbands, teenage parents and weaving.

I don’t think I have been in a room full of more articulate people in my life!

What did we talk about?

The promise of tea and cake on the horizon got our humors working and any residual nerves at the thought of that classic ice-breaker, 'going around the room and telling each other a bit about ourselves', were soon forgotten. We enjoyed all sorts of conversation, from setting up our own tour businesses, ornamental pets, herbal medical knowledge, women war artists to keeping hens, rug hooking, fishing ancestors, women in sport, Cornish migration, slavery and anti-slavery, medieval business women, husbands, teenage parents and weaving.

History 51 is not a project just for women. It is about women

While I was listening my most immediate thought was how differently a room full of men or a mixture of men and women might have discussed their heritage. Here, it was personal experience and observation that informed the opinions of those present. History 51 is not a project just for women. It is about women and as such it is of importance to all of us, boys and girls, men and women.

It struck me that the study of history and the practices of heritage are inescapably 'male structures'. The development of social history, of which women's history is traditionally considered a part, was formatively a movement led by men.

In the effort to equalise the treatment of men and women in history, I believe it is essential we recognise this because otherwise women's history, as a fundamental field of study in its own right, will never be more than a niche subject destined to be a minority topic.

This is why we are called History 51. Women make up more than half the world's population but women themselves don't see themselves as worthy a topic of study as do men (cue: generalisation).

...we will be documenting and sharing information about the ordinary, as well as the extraordinary; and about bad women as well as the good women who never seem to make history.

History 51 Battalion

So the project's aim to provide current and future generations of people growing up and living in Cornwall and Scilly positive female role models was considered possibly its most important. This means we will be documenting and sharing information about the ordinary, as well as the extraordinary; and about bad women as well as the good women who never seem to make history.

Why a battalion?

... an organised group of people pursuing a common aim or sharing a major undertaking.

There was a strong sense of purpose about our first meeting. There was also a strong sense of the need for an organised approach and so, inevitably, I could only think of military metaphors. Women do need to fight to get their stories and opinions heard and so I thought it was appropriate that we behave like a battalion, an organised group of people pursuing a common aim or sharing a major undertaking.

What next?

Talking heads at History 51 meet up.

Each person was given a folder with an information pack aimed at familiarising contributors and correspondents with History 51 and answering questions I predicted they may have. This pack will be emailed to all those who were not able to attend and is available via the link below.

Download History 51 Contributor Pack (PDF, 611 KB)

Next steps are to start recording who is interested in what and sharing this information amongst the group. The great thing about History 51 is that even those running the project are getting stuck into some new research and exploration. I am dusting off my old medievalist's gloves. Polly Attwood, Hypatia Trust Director, is thinking about looking at the Cornish connections to Transatlantic Slavery and Jo Schofield, Hypatia Trust Events Co-ordinator, is looking at the women of the Godolphin family.

The online database for the Cornish Women’s Index is being developed and will be due for testing early next month and then it will be time to organise some training. I am also contemplating using screencasts and Google Hangouts for live online training.

Our events co-ordinator, Jo Schofield, is currently scouting venues for our workshops. We already have one in Liskeard Museum confirmed and another almost confirmed in Fowey. Firm dates will follow some time in March.

Next we will be buying the equipment needed, making sure that History 51 is regularly promoted online and in the press, and commissioning some quirky bookmarks or postcards to be widely distributed across Cornwall and Scilly, and beyond.

Help us tell our story

History 51 poster (click to download 3.4MB PDF) Now we have got over the euphoria of winning a £10,000 Heritage Lottery grant it is time to start the hard work.

We need volunteers who are interested in contributing to a pioneering and creative project. You don't have to have any particular experience but just have a love of finding out and capturing interesting information on women. Most volunteers will work on the Elizabeth Treffry Collection in Penzance, but we are also looking for others to use collections and resources from elsewhere.

The kind of tasks we need help with are:

  • researching the life stories of women who have lived, worked or come from Cornwall or Scilly
  • photographing and scanning historical documents and artefacts
  • creating art, music, poems or literature inspired by Cornish and Scillonian women
  • work on our social media channels and blog (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube)
  • writing short Wikipedia-style biographies
  • entering information into the Cornish Women's Index (a free online database of words and images)
  • participating in informal and fun workshops scheduled for venues across Cornwall in 2013.

What you will get in return

  • free training
  • a chance to undertake brand new historical research
  • your name next to contributions on the Cornish Women's Index and website
  • VIP guest at the History 51 party in November 2013.

Find out more about the women in your area or your family

Are you doing local or family history research? History 51 could be the project for you. We are looking for local and family historians to contribute new information on historical women they know about.

We would love to hear from you and help you collect and record information about these women.

Please share and display the History 51 poster!

If you think your group or organisation would be interested in History 51, please share and display our poster with them. Clicking on the poster will download a PDF version you can print out.

Telling Our Story: Cornish Women’s History Celebrates £10,000 Heritage Lottery Fund Grant

Call to Women, part of the Judith Cook archive We are delighted to announce that the Hypatia Trust of Penzance, Cornwall, is one of the first groups in the UK to receive a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) All Our Stories grant.

This exciting project called History 51: Unveiling Women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, has been given £10,000 to encourage people to reconnect with the history of 51% of our population, and to champion historical female role models.

All Our Stories

All Our Stories, a brand new small grant programme – launched earlier this year in support of BBC Two’s The Great British Story – has been designed as an opportunity for everyone to get involved in their heritage. With HLF funding and support, community groups will carry out activities that help people explore, share and celebrate their local heritage.

Clearly the success of All Our Stories has reinforced the fact that we are indeed a nation of story tellers and that we want to explore and dig deeper into our past and discover more about what really matters to us. This is exactly what the grant will do for the History 51 project as they embark on a real journey of discovery. (Richard Bellamy, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West)

The popular series presented by historian Michael Wood and supported by a programme of BBC Learning activities and events got thousands of us asking questions about our history and inspired us to look at our history in a different way through the eyes of ordinary people.

This project gives a voice to the women of Cornwall and Scilly. So much research has illustrated how girls' voices become silenced as they grow to womanhood, and we hope that this project acts as a spur to girls and women everywhere, giving them the courage to be all they can be. (Polly Attwood, Director, Hypatia Trust)

One of our readers with Elizabeth Forbes's 'King Arthur's Wood'

Exploring women's lives and achievements in Cornwall and Scilly

The Hypatia Trust’s mission is record and promote the literary, artistic and scientific works of women in their communities. The Trust founded the Elizabeth Treffry Collection in 1996 to be the antidote to the domination of Cornish heritage by stories of ‘great men’. It now contains over 3000 books and archives that bear witness to the lives and achievements of the women who have shaped Cornish and Scillonian society and culture.

Following our success with the national Hidden Treasures Campaign in June we are absolutely thrilled to receive this award which will help more people be inspired by the women who have shaped Cornish history. (Melissa Hardie, Founder of the Hypatia Trust)

What History 51 will do

History 51 is inviting volunteers to come and explore the collection and to choose from a range of subjects and personalities that interest them, or to bring their own stories to be documented. They will receive free training to research, catalogue and author information which will help build an innovative online resource called the Cornish Women’s Index. Over the next year six free community workshops on themes such as writing, health and business, will be held across Cornwall where anyone can come to debate and learn more about the heritage of women.

This collection is so important to Cornish heritage but at the moment it is little known. I can’t wait to work with more people to help discover its treasures. If you love women and you love Cornwall and Scilly, come and join History 51! (Tehmina Goskar, Honorary Curator of the Elizabeth Treffry Collection)

The project will represent women from across the centuries. It was a woman, Alice de Lisle, who won the right to hold a market in Penzance in 1332, it was Dame Elizabeth Treffry who led the defence of Fowey against French raiders in the fifteenth century, Elizabeth Carne of Phillack was a celebrated geologist, writer and banker in the mid-nineteenth century and Violetta Thurstan, nurse and expert weaver and dyer, has been the subject of a major exhibition at Penryn Museum.

History 51 needs you! Get involved!

Do you want to take part or find out more? Register for History 51 Online. Or please contact Curator, Tehmina Goskar at the Hypatia Trust on 01736 366597. Go to full project details.

More information

The Hypatia Trust is based at Trevelyan House, 16 Chapel Street, Penzance, a charity that exists to further the understanding of woman and her achievements. For more information:

All Our Stories is a new, simple, funding programme for 2012 with grants available ranging from £3,000-£10,000 developed so everyone can get involved in their heritage. From researching local historic landmarks, learning more about customs and traditions to delving into archives and finding out the origins of street and place names All Our Stories will give everyone the chance to explore their heritage and share what they learn with others. This programme is now closed to new applications and decisions were made in October 2012.

Heritage Lottery Fund. Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic, places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported 33,000 projects, allocating £4.9billion across the UK. Website:

Heritage Lottery Fund