Kneehigh joins the cause of Cornish women's heritage

We were delighted to see that the wonderful people at Kneehigh, Cornwall's National Theatre, is marking this year's International Women's Day on 8 March with a great post about the women of Cornwall who have shaped our history and culture. A special thank you to Sarah Newton MP for prodding Kneehigh in this, and our, direction.

Read and comment on Kneehigh's post on Cornish Women.

Don't forget that History 51's Facebook page which is dedicated to sharing news, views and information on women's heritage in Cornwall is open to anyone to join in.

Mary Kelynack heads up Kneehigh's list of Cornish women.

Alice de Lisle's family

This is a first attempt at reconstructing Alice de Lisle's family tree and to examine her historical context. Alice was Lord of the Manor of Alverton, Penzance's economic centre in the Middle Ages, from 1327 until her death in 1347, and petitioned for the town's first permanent market and fairs in 1332. This grant also permitted a permanent fair in Mousehole. Download Alice de Lisle's Family Tree (showing Lords of the Manor of Alverton, Penzance) (PDF, 565KB)

The Tyeys

Alice came from the Tyeys family whose Cornish roots began with her great-grandfather Henry de Tyeys who was born in the estate/manor of Tywarnhaile (Tywarnhayle), on the north coast near Perranporth, around 1205. It seems, however, that Henry Tyeys was awarded the lordship of Tywarnhaile at some point around 1221 (yet to be cross-checked). He is documented to have accompanied Richard of Cornwall to Gascony in 1225. The Tyeys' previous roots were in Norfolk.

He and his wife Isabel had a son, also Henry (c.1235-c.1282). It is this Henry de Tyeys that connects the Tyeys to the manor/estate of Alverton.

It seems Henry of Tywarnhaile (c.1205-c.1240) was in the king's service as a mercenary (King John, famous for Magna Carta, then King Henry III--brother of Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall) and was awarded various estates to sustain him and his household and retinue. He and his wife Isabel had a son, also Henry (c.1235-c.1282). It is this Henry de Tyeys that connects the Tyeys to the manor/estate of Alverton. Henry Tyeys was apparently born in Alverton and was part of Richard, Earl of Cornwall's expedition to Germany in 1262. He married Joan Foliot of Fritwell, Oxfordshire which brought in a new estate to the family. He died around 1282 in Wales.

Their son was a third Henry de Tyeys (c.1263-c.1307), Alice's father, who inherited the family estates in Cornwall, Oxfordshire and elsewhere in 1284. Like his forebears he worked closely with Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in the king's service at home and abroad and is documented to have served in Wales in 1287 and 1292, Flanders in 1297 and against the Scots in 1299-1306. He fought at the battle of Falkirk on 22 July 1298, and was present at the siege of Carlaverock in July 1300. In 1307 he was made a baron and took the title 1st Baron Tyeys. He was  married in 1285, to Hawise de Neville (c.1265-1332) who came from Laceby in Lincolnshire.

Alice was born in Fritwell, Oxfordshire, an estate inherited from Alice's grandmother, Joan.

Henry and Hawise had two children, Henry, 2nd Baron Tyeys (1285-1322) and Alice de Tyeys (c.1297-1347). Henry was born at a family estate in Chilton Foliot (or Foliat) in Wiltshire and Alice was born at another in Fritwell, Oxfordshire (an estate inherited from Alice's grandmother, Joan). Around 1316 Henry married Margaret de Thiebot (c.1303-1349) who came from Salisbury, Wiltshire. They had no (surviving) children.

He was hung, drawn and quartered at the Tower of London and his family's estates, including Alverton, were forfeited.

Henry, 2nd Baron Tyeys, continued the family tradition of working in the king's service but became embroiled in baronial factions during the reign of King Edward II (1284-1327) and the political instability caused by the so-called Reign of the Despensers (a family that the longer-standing barons resented because of their undue influence and rewards from the king). He also sat in Parliament and was also made Controller of the Isle of Wight. But Henry's story is for someone else to write. Henry met a sticky end on 3 April 1322 along with many other barons who ended up on the wrong side of the power vacuum caused by the Despenser controversy. He was hung, drawn and quartered at the Tower of London and his family's estates, including Alverton, were forfeited. He was buried in the church of the Carmelites in London. That was the end of the Tyeys.

The Lisles

Warin de Lisle was executed (hanged) at Pontefract, Yorkshire in March 1322.

The Despenser war of 1321-22 was to deal a double blow to Alice. Alice married into the de Lisle family in about 1310/11 at the de Lisle or L'isle (Latin de Insula = of the Island) family estate in Kingston Lisle, near Sparsholt in Berkshire. Her husband was called Warin de Lisle (c. 1276-1322). Between around 1305 (when Alice was about 18 years old) and around 1314 they had five children, Henry, Gerard (later 1st Baron de Lisle) Mary, Alice, Warin and Margery.

Warin fought in wars in Scotland during the reign of King Edward I and was later made Governor of Windsor Castle and Warden of the Forest. In 1320-1 he joined the forces of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster against the Despensers. It is likely that Alice spent most of her time at Kingston Lisle during this time. Along with his rebel leader Earl of Lancaster, Warin de Lisle was executed (hanged) at Pontefract, Yorkshire in March 1322. His estates, including Kingston Lisle, were also forfeited.

1322-1327: The mystery years and the inspiration of Isabella

Could Alice's extraordinary achievement in regaining the Tyeys and de Lisle family estates in 1327... have in any way been inspired by the strength of character shown by Isabella of France?

14th-century manuscript illustration depicting Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella in the foreground (credit: British Library/Wikimedia Foundation)

So Alice, mother of five, multiple estate manager in lieu of her brother and husband, was left theoretically homeless, without an income by the spring of 1322. And what of all the inhabitants of Alverton, Penzance? We don't really know much of what became of disenfranchised widows in such a situation. No doubt Alice's ties with extended family may have come to her aid. This period needs more research from a Cornish perspective.

Edward II's favourite Piers Gaveston had got his hands on the earldom of Cornwall in 1307 shortly after the king's succession, a title and privilege usually reserved for the monarch's male heirs (even before the creation of the Duchy in 1337). He was executed following a dubious trial orchestrated by various barons in 1312. It is possible that the Tyeys withdrew support from the earl of Cornwall at this time and joined the growing discontent against him and Edward II. In 1316 the earldom was restored to the monarchy and the title Earl of Cornwall given to John of Eltham, Edward II and Isabella of France's second son in 1316 (until 1330). By this time both the Tyeys and de Lisles, having taken sides against supporters of Edward II, may have fallen out of favour with John as well.

Isabella reached the end of her tether when Hugh Despenser took Gaveston's place as the king's favourite after 1312, at which point baronial discontent bubbled up into out-and-out war.

But perhaps we might take a lead from another strand in the turbulence of political life in the 1320s. Isabella of France was colloquially known as the She-wolf. Having tolerated her husband's machinations with Piers Gaveston she reached the end of her tether when Hugh Despenser took Gaveston's place as the king's favourite after 1312, at which point baronial discontent bubbled up into out-and-out war.

So the story goes that Isabella returned to France and started an affair with Roger Mortimer in 1325 who had been exiled in France while the Despenser controversy carried on. He promised to return to England with a small mercenary army to depose Edward II. The king was duly ousted in 1326 and Isabella became Regent on behalf of her young son Edward III.


Berkeley Castle has another significance in the story of Alice de Lisle as her great-grand daughter Margaret de Lisle was to become the next female Lord of Alverton, her husband being Thomas "The Magnificent" de Berkeley

It is alleged that Edward II was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle and murdered by agents of Isabella and Roger Mortimer in October 1327. Berkeley Castle has another significance in the story of Alice de Lisle as her great-grand daughter Margaret de Lisle was to become the next female Lord of Alverton, her husband being Thomas "The Magnificent" de Berkeley, of which more in a future post. Indeed, several archives which may give us more clues to Alice's life are kept in the Berkeley Castle muniments. Edward III's first parliament in 1327 all proceedings against Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and his followers were annulled, paving the way for the disenfranchised Alice (amongst others) to restore their estates.

Isabella retained a close role in the management of England in Edward III's early years. Isabella's own influence was apparently unpopular, particularly peace-making in Scotland (which meant a good excuse for profit-making war was lost for many of the old barons). Nevertheless the young king's reign saw the beginnings of a series of reforms, legislation and stability in the English parliament in which Cornish aristocrats also took part. And in Edward III's first parliament in 1327 all proceedings against Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and his followers were annulled, paving the way for the disenfranchised Alice (amongst others) to restore their estates.

Could Alice's extraordinary achievement in regaining the Tyeys and de Lisle family estates in 1327, petitioning and receiving a charter for markets and fairs in Penzance and Mousehole in 1332, restoring her husband's body to the family chantries in Wiltshire (in 1334), and much more besides, have in any way been inspired by the strength of character shown by Isabella of France?

In my next post I will discuss the Return of Alice de Lisle and follow the trail of her achievements after 1327 in more detail. be continued.

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).

Courtney and Conybeare: Women's suffrage campaigns in Cornwall part 1


Eleanor Tench, Cornish historian, on the politics of two Cornish politicians and their views on women's suffrage. 

The Third Reform Act of 1884 was a watershed event in British politics that got a large proportion of the working class men the vote. Although when Gladstone pushed for reform, he was told that the working classes, particularly in London, would likely vote Tory, he followed the Liberal shibboleth of ‘trust the people'. A proportion of MPs wanted to go further. Not only to enfranchise the rest of the working class men, but to also enfranchise women.

Two of the strongest supporters of women’s rights in parliament were representatives of Cornish constituencies, Leonard Courtney and C.A.V. Conybeare.

Leonard Courtney

He believed that parliament should avoid legislating on any major issues until after those had been achieved, because only then, could the true will of the people be known.

Courtney was from a Penzance family, middle class, but not hugely well off. His father worked for Bolitho’s bank, where Leonard also worked while waiting for a place at university. Leonard was to become a barrister, a statistician and later a professor of politics at LSE, there are rumours that the quote, ‘there are lies, dammed lies and statistics’ can be originally attributed to him.

Although he was generally Whiggish in his politics, he was, like many of his contemporaries, radical in one area. As a disciple of John Stuart Mill, he promoted Universal adulthood suffrage and proportional representation. He believed that parliament should avoid legislating on any major issues until after those had been achieved, because only then, could the true will of the people be known.

C.A.V. Conybeare

The rights of women were always going to be one of his major platforms.

On the other hand, Conybeare never met a cause he wouldn’t campaign for. An exceedingly energetic and intelligent man, he had inherited enough family wealth to ensure working was not a necessity for him.

As such, he became a campaigning barrister, and even before he stood for parliament, he was known as a troublemaker. His 1885 election campaign in Camborne  against the Whig incumbent Arthur Pendarves Vivian caused ructions throughout Cornwall.

He was unable to resist a cause, anything from mining reform, suffrage reform, Irish land rights and independence, to the gating of local common land. The rights of women were always going to be one of his major platforms.

One of his publications was on the need for and the effect of the Married Women’s Property Act, that gave women the right to hold their own property after marriage. When he married a women’s suffrage campaigner, he was to gift her half of his inherited estate, an almost unheard of act during this era.

More to follow…

Further reading

Bradley, Katherine, Friends and Visitors: A First History of the Women's Suffrage Movement in Cornwall, 1870-1914, Hypatia Trust, Penzance, 2000.

Deacon, B. Conybeare For Ever, in Knight, T., Old Redruth: Original studies of the town's history. Redruth Old Cornwall Society, Redruth, 1992.

Oxygen. Celebrating women's voices

Imagine that fifteen women gather. They have a conversation that maps eight geographic arteries across England and Wales, like points on a compass. These arteries reach out towards a singular destination like roots forming a tree. The destination is Hyde Park. At Land’s End, a group of women start putting one foot in front of the other. For them there is no going back.

It’s June 1913 and the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage begins.

Oxygen by Dreadnought South West

Tomorrow, on 19 June, an amazing thing will happen. In the footsteps of our female ancestors, Dreadnought South West will perform Oxygen, a brand new play by Natalie McGrath, along an historic route from Land's End to Hyde Park exactly 100 years after the greatest march from Land's End to London since 1497.

An episode will be symbolically performed at Land's End before the first full performance will take place in the Plen-an-Gwarry in St Just. Oxygen runs for 90 minutes with 21 episodes. The full-length play will be performed at venues along the route, with episodes taking place at various points in public, non-theatre spaces as trailers for the full production.

View the itinerary and book tickets.

The play focuses on two sisters, and what happens to their relationship when one of them decides to take the militant path and the other chooses to participate in the peaceful pilgrimage. An ensemble piece that will be infused with the real stories and experiences of those who took part in the march, the play will also feature music composed by Claire Ingleheart, who has worked with Wildworks Theatre and Kneehigh.

Dreadnought South West is a new organisation that works with arts and heritage to champion women’s voices and stories. As the play tours from Land’s End to London, retracing the steps and thoughts of 100 years ago, it will be accompanied by a series of responding events, discussions and land journeys that celebrate the courage of those who participated in the pilgrimage, and questions how women’s lives have changed since 1913.

Oxygen & Dreadnought SW Media Pack

The Hypatia Trust has been a supporter of Dreadnought South West since its inception. Natalie McGrath, the playwright, was a Hypatia Resident Scholar last summer. We are delighted to be supporting Dreadnought South West.

History, drama and entertainment rolled into one.

As a tribute we have donated copies of Katherine Bradley's classic study on the Suffrage movement in Cornwall, published by the Hypatia Trust, to be sold to benefit their further work.

You should be able to buy a copy at one of the performances so what are you waiting for! History, drama and entertainment rolled into one.

Keep a lookout here for our guest historian, Eleanor Tench, who will be publishing a series of short articles on women and the vote and politics in Cornwall.

Land's End to London, 1913 (credit: Jill Morison)

The Pilgrimage through Cornwall

You can book tickets from the Hall for Cornwall box office or risk buying at the door.

Date Ticket Prices Full/ Episode Time Venue Address Normal Box Office
Wed 19/06/2013 FREE Launch/ Episode 12pm Land’s End Custom HouseLand's End


TR19 7AA

Unticketed EventPlease make your way to the Custom House for 12pm to witness the launch of this amazing journey and to see several episodes from the play Oxygen performed.

Parking: For free parking at Lands End please visit

and claim your 'Locals Pass'

An informal walk is scheduled to take place after the launch from Lands End to St Just.  This event is not being organised by DSWA and we would advise that you take part at your own risk.

*Please remember this is an outdoor event, please dress accordingly

Wed 19/06/2013 £10/£7 Play 6.30pm Plain-an-Gwarry St Just Cornwall

TR19 7HU

www.hallforcornwall.orgThen type 'Oxygen' into 'Search Events'

01872 262466

*Please remember this is an outdoor event, please dress accordingly and bring a rug to sit on

Thu 20/06/2013 £12/£8 Play 8pm The  Acorn Parade StreetPenzance

TR18 4BU

www.hallforcornwall.orgThen type 'Oxygen' into 'Search Events'

01872 262466

Fri 21/06/2013 £10/£8 Play 7.30pm The Tolmen Centre Fore StreetConstantine

TR11 5AA

http://constantinecornwall.com01326 341353

Sat 22/06/2013 FREE Episode 11.30am Lemon Quay Lemon QuayTruro


Unticketed EventPlease make your way to Lemon Quay for 11.30am to see several episodes of the play Oxygen performed
Sat 22/06/2013 £10/£8/£6 Play 7pm Sterts Theatre LiskeardPL14 5AZ 362382 or 01579 362962
Sun 23/06/2013 £12/£8/£6 (children) Play 2.30pm Heartlands Robinson's ShaftDundance Lane


TR15 3QY

www.hallforcornwall.orgThen type 'Oxygen' into 'Search Events'

01872 262466


01209 722320

Tue25/06/2013 FREE Episodes 4pm Mount Folly BodminPL31 2DQ Unticketed EventPlease make your way to Mount Folly for 4pm to see episodes from the play Oxygen performed.
Tue 25/06/2013 £12/£8 Play 7.30pm Shire Hall Mount FollyBodmin

PL31 2DQ

www.hallforcornwall.orgThen type 'Oxygen' into 'Search Events'

01872 262466

Thu 27/06/2013 FREE Episode / Boundary Crossing Noon St Germans / Plymouth Saltash / Plymouth Unticketed EventDetails to follow

Tallys an Tir - Connecting up with Cornish stories

Women's Land Army recruitment poster (credit: Home Sweet Home Front) This last month we have been doing a lot of research and discovery. Some of us are on steep learning curves, trying to get our heads around subjects with which we were previously unfamiliar, such as me trying to understand traditional medicine in Cornwall. Through our work we have been discovering the wide range of projects promoting, educating and entertaining people about different aspects of Cornish heritage.

One of those is Tallys an Tir - Traditions and Stories of the Land, an initiative of the Institute of Cornish Studies and connected with the well-established Cornish Audio Visual Archive. Using oral history, storytelling and walking in the lanscape, the project in its own words aims to:

...capture and share stories that consider our relationships with the Cornish landscape. From farming with horses to foraging for goosegrass, furze stogs for firewood to folk songs, thrashing days to childhood games, crying the neck to croust time.

Women's work has been integral to farming, managing the land and conserving it for millennia, right up until today. Cornwall is blessed with a number of women famers, conservationists and cultivators and have been producing the food we eat and taking care of the land we live on. So this project has an important role to play in the continuity of the relationship between women and the land in Cornwall.

Tallys an Tir embraces digital storytelling to reach its audiences such as through its blog and I was particularly impressed with how it combined animation, archive photgraphy and oral history to produce short but deeply compelling videos about some of its subjects such as this testimony from Penzance-based Yorkshire Land Girl, Mickie.

We can learn a lot from this project and hope to produce even half as exciting videos from our activities! Enjoy this.

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 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.]

26 May: Wise Women at KernowFest, Heartlands

What did we all do before the NHS and professional medical practice? We turned to the women in our communities to help us, cure us and treat us.

History 51 Roadshow: Wise Women

Download Wise Women poster (PDF, 102KB)

When? Sunday 26 May (bank holiday weekend), 12-4.30pm. Where? Chi an Bobel (upstairs), Heartlands, Pool (between Camborne and Redruth). How to find us. What?

  • FREE
  • Create your own charm
  • Smell and handle ingredients and implements
  • Lady of the Manor and her servants’ ailments
  • Medieval housewife and nature's medicine cupboard
  • Meet the "Pellar of Pool"
  • Bring family recipes and old wives' tales
  • Write in the History 51 Cornish Remedy Book

History 51 Roadshow

Women and medicine is the theme of our first History 51 Roadshow FREE event. It will take place at Heartlands on Sunday 26 May 2013 and is part of KernowFest, a massive celebration of all things Cornish, especially food and culture. We obviously come in the culture bit even though some of the medical ingredients on show are edible too.

Wise Women will be a series of continuous demonstrations, digital displays of historical sources, costumed interpretation, and hands-on activities suitable for all ages, including kids, all based on real Cornish sources about the knowledge held by women as healers of their households and communities. We will be dressed up in period costume including a medieval housewife, an aristocratic lady from the 1520s and a Victorian-era white witch or 'pellar' in Cornish.

It is apt this event takes place in Pool, very near to what used to be the West Cornwall Women's Hospital, near Redruth.

History 51 Roadshow is a series of events taking place in 2013 to promote different aspects of women's heritage in local communities in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

History 51 Remedy Book

As part of the event we are inviting people to bring with them their old family cures, treatments and old wives' tales, especially those passed down to them from their mothers, grandmothers and other women in their families and communities.

By collecting these remedies we hope to preserve an important part of our community history which might otherwise be forgotten.


We will be filming the event for the History 51 archives, some of the footage will be turned into a film about our project.

No prescriptions! Please don’t ask us for cures or treatments for your own ailments as we are not trained medical professionals.


Penlee House Gallery and Museum for lending us historical costume for our Pellar character.

Cornwall Record Office for images of Cornish sources.

Heartlands for welcoming us to KernowFest and giving us a free venue.

Steph Haxton for coming up with the idea and helping bring it all together.

The intriguing photograph albums of Elizabeth Ann Armstrong

Woman in her parlour (at Nancealverne?)
Woman in her parlour (at Nancealverne?)

The Elizabeth Treffry Collection contains a small number of original archival items. Amongst these are some photograph albums. Two of them belonged to Elizabeth Ann Armstrong, related to the Scobell family of Nancealverne near Penzance.

They are dated to the last two decades of the nineteenth century. One containing various anonymous portraits is dated 1883 and inscribed to 'Agnes'. The other contains a mixture of topography (both in Cornwall and elsewhere, including Somerset) as well as interior scenes. They seem to relate to places to which the Scobell and Armstrong families were connected.

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 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]

Could this be Cornwall's earliest image of a woman?

Carved head of a woman? Early medieval or Celtic, c.500-700 (credit: St Piran Trust) Since we launched History 51 we have received a steady stream of interest in the project and ideas for which women we should be championing. One of the more intriguing to date has been a question raised by the St Piran Trust (Sen Piran Dasserghi) that one of three enigmatic carved heads found at St Piran's Oratory in Perranzabuloe could be one of the earliest representations of a woman in Cornwall.

We invited St Piran Trust to write this guest blog post and tell us a bit more about the oratory and the carved heads:

Cornwall's national saint

St Piran’s Oratory is an historically significant and culturally iconic site for Cornwall, located on Gear Sands 2km to the east of Perranporth. It is an early Christian chapel and cemetery, which tradition claims was built by St Piran (considered by many to be Cornwall’s national saint) sometime in the fifth or sixth century.

For centuries, the site served as a place for worship, commemoration of the dead and as a focus for pilgrimage, where the relics of St Piran would be venerated. It is thought that the remains of the Oratory were finally lost under windblown sand sometime in the early nineteenth century.

the oldest four-walled Christian edifice on mainland in Britain.

Early archaeological excavations

Later in the nineteenth century shifting sands uncovered the building and excavations in 1835 and 1843 completed the ‘rediscovery’ of what is thought to be the oldest four-walled Christian edifice on mainland in Britain.

A concrete block shell was constructed around the remains of the building in 1910 in an ultimately futile effort to protect it from flooding. In 1980, both the remains and the concrete shell were purposely reburied with sand in an effort to conserve them.

Whilst that action may have offered some short‐term conservation benefits, it is now believed that the sand is holding water which is deteriorating the remaining historic fabric of the Oratory. The structures are now included on the 'Heritage At Risk' register. At the 1980 reburial no interpretation was provided to explain the building and its significance to the history of Cornwall and Christianity in Britain.

Replicas of the St Piran Oratory carved heads on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum (women on left, man on the right) (credit: Tom Goskar, reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Cornwall Museum)

The carved heads

The carved heads currently reside in the Royal Cornwall Museum (replicas are on display there). They were rediscovered when the Oratory was 'excavated' in 1835 by William Mitchell of Truro. He mentions the head of the tiger, but not the other heads: "The key stone of the arch projects 8 inches, on which is rudely sculptured a tyger's head."

...the head of a man and that of a woman rudely sculptured of stone most assuredly of very remote antiquity.

Later, in 1905, Thurstan C. Peter wrote that the Oratory was found "in a good state of preservation, ornamented with pretty tracery, the arch itself having on its key stone the head of a tiger, and [at] the points of the curve the head of a man and that of a woman rudely sculptured of stone most assuredly of very remote antiquity."

Oratory historian Eileen Carter, author of In the Shadow of Saint Piran firmly believes the heads to be from the Celtic/early medieval period (500 - 700 CE) and says they bear a remarkable similarity to carved heads at Clonmacnoise in Ireland (St Piran supposedly came from Ireland to Cornwall in the sixth century). There are more local comparisons, however, and the Oratory heads have also been compared to those at the Holy Well in St Anne's Church, Whitstone, north Cornwall.

However, more work needs to be done to properly assess the Oratory's age and the age of the figures. Why a man, a woman and a tiger (if indeed it is a tiger!)? Legend holds that St Piran's first converts were a badger, a fox and a bear - no tiger there [but every possibility that one of his first disciples was a woman, ed].

The future of the Oratory

Throughout the twentieth century the iconic status of the site has increased. It attracts thousands of visitors, and each year hundreds of Cornish people gather at the site to mark St Piran’s Day (5th March).

In 2010 Cornwall Council's Historic Environment Service undertook a thorough evaluation of the Oratory. It comprised a survey of the Oratory mound and its surrounding landscape to test the archaeological potential of the site and gain a better understanding of the condition of the concrete block structure and the monument.

The St Piran Trust, a voluntary charity, is working tirelessly to uncover the Oratory and conserve and interpret it for Cornwall and her visitors. The Trust is in the middle of making a Heritage Lottery Fund application to enable essential archaeological and conservation work to take place.

Acknowledgements: We are very grateful to St Piran Trust for contributing this blog post to History 51, and we wish them all the success with their Heritage Lottery Fund application and the development project, and look forward to understanding more about the origins of these fascinating Cornish faces.

So, who is Elizabeth Treffry?

St Piran's Flag (Baner Peran) flying from a Fowey boat In July 1457 Elizabeth Treffry was left to defend her castle, Place House, and the major port town of Fowey on her own.  At this time the south coast was frequently raided by French and Breton marauders eager to disrupt the growing maritime trade of England and Cornwall (and to annoy the king, Henry VI who had been engaged in the last bit of the Hundred Years' War with France that had ended in 1453).

Her husband was absent at the King's Court during one of these raids so it was left to Elizabeth to rally local people and co-ordinate a six-week defence of Place and Fowey town and harbour. Allegedly, she came up with the idea of repelling those rascally French pirates by pouring hot molten lead all over them.

Or so the chroniclers say...

The Lady of Place

Elizabeth Treffry the legend was immortalised by Cornishman Henry Sewell Stokes in the poem The Lady of Place, published in The Voyage of Arundel and Other Rhymes From Cornwall (1884). The poem starts by setting the scene of the bravery of Fowey sailors (also pirate raiders) who become known as the Fowey Gallants, themselves the cause of much misery for the communities on the northern coasts of Normandy and Brittany. Although a few townsmen tried to repel the French who were raging through the town, Elizabeth Treffry found the defence a sorry state of affairs:

But she was there, that Lady, To play no woman’s part ; Though the great sufferings of her town Had pierced her gentle heart :

And into action she sprung:

Still calm look’d forth the Lady From her embattled wall ; Her presence was a power, her voice Thrill’d like a trumpet’s call.

The Fowey Gallants fought under her banner to rid the town of the French:

Three cheers, then, for the Fowey gallants ! For the Lady three times three ! And, if the French should come again, May our wives as fearless be !

Suggesting Elizabeth Treffry a good role model for the women of his day, Sewell Stokes ends the poem with a moral:

Changed is the world, much changed since then, Yet will they come once more ? Who knows – or cares – or fears ? who doubts We’ll serve them as before ? Grace Darling died but yesterday, And others of her race May yet be found to emulate That Lady brave of Place.

Elizabeth Treffry is now the figurehead of the Women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Collection which is held by the Hypatia Trust. When the collection was formally launched in 1996 by her then direct living descendant David Treffry, Hypatia was looking for a female figure to create a strong image and inspiration for the collection. Elizabeth Treffry seemed to sum up everything that is good about women and the Cornish spirit.

The collection is currently based in Penzance, West Cornwall and is in the process of being professionally curated and catalogued. It comprises over 3000 books and archives documenting women's lives, work and achievements, including those who have shaped the Duchy's character and reputation. We are actively fundraising to ensure the collection becomes an essential part of Cornish and Scillonian heritage and move it to a new publicly-accessible home.

In search of Mrs Craik

Letter from Jane Inman

Mrs Dinah Maria Craik was my Great Great Grandmother but until recently I knew very little about her. Almost the full extent of my knowledge was that she had penned John Halifax, Gentleman and has a memorial in Tewkesbury Abbey. Knowing my love of Cornwall and my connection with Mrs Craik, my daughter bought me a copy of An Unsentimental journey through Cornwall re-published by the Jamieson Library in 1988. Investigating the Library I stumbled across the collection of Mrs Craik’s works held there and determined to discover more.

In May we holidayed further west than usual and my family and I spent a very special afternoon, dipping into the remarkable collection secured by Melissa Hardie and the Hypatia Trust. We shared what we had learned about Mrs Craik’s extraordinary life, viewed the books, letters and articles and talked of ways to raise the profile of her much over-looked work.

Dinah Maria Mulock, otherwise known as Mrs Craik, best known as author of John Halifax, Gentleman (1856) also published a fascinating, no nonsense travelogue called An Unsentimental Journey Through Cornwall in 1884. This book was reprinted by the Hypatia Trust as it deserves to be better known. Her mid-19th century insights as a traveller in Cornwall is full of gritty observation and intelligent wit.

New Horizons on the Cornish landscape

Book cover, New Horizons by Jane Gosney, 2012 We are delighted to announce the publication of the Hypatia Trust's latest book on Cornwall and its first ever ebook, New Horizons by Jane Gosney. Stalwart supporter of the Hypatia Trust and its publishing work, Jane has generously donated proceeds from the sale of New Horizons to the Elizabeth Treffry Collection campaign. Melissa Hardie MBE, Chairman-Founder of the Hypatia Trust said of this gift:

We are indebted to her for this pioneering and exploratory 'new light' on the arts scene of West Cornwall.

Online donor reward

Donors giving £10 or more to the cause of women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly can request a FREE copy of New Horizons.

To obtain your copy as a donor reward, simply contact us after you have made your donation via Charity Choice ensuring you use the same email address so we can identify your donation and send the book to the correct place.

New Horizons is £7.50 and available as an ebook from Hypatia's Online Shop.

Inspired by Penwith

Travelling to the South side of Penwith gave me a new outlook. Penzance offered somewhere to learn new skills and a place to spend some alternative thinking time. (Excerpt from New Horizons)

Jane Gosney, lighting designer, photographer and artist describes her inspiration for writing New Horizons:

"I had first published photographs from my visits to Cornwall in “Reflections on Light” in 2002 (an anthology of photo essays about my work as a lighting designer and photographer which can be found in the Elizabeth Treffry Collection at the Hypatia Trust).

My images were often used to illustrate articles I had written in the press but I had never used words to “paint a picture”.

The invitation from Melissa Hardie to write a five thousand word monologue as the first 21st century contributor to the Patten People series was especially welcome as my work is a balance between new technologies and art.

“New Horizons” describes my life as a designer in London, idyllic summers with my mother in St Ives and my relocation to Cornwall in 2007 where my creative work has diversified. Shared memories of simple pleasures are recounted : sadly adjusting to a loss is also part of the story.

I would like to thank Sophie Bowness and The Hepworth Estate for permission to reproduce a photograph from The Hepworth Garden as one of the six full colour illustrations included with my own digital artwork."

Name your woman of Cornwall and Scilly

Elizabeth Treffry Collection wordle Here at the Hypatia Trust we are in the early days of campaigning and fundraising for a new, public and permanent home for the nationally significant Elizabeth Treffry Collection on Women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

The women represented in the collection are the cultural ancestors of over half a million inhabitants of Cornwall and Scilly today. As we compile an index of these women who, through their writing, art and work, have shaped how we and the rest of the world view and understand Cornwall and Scilly, we would like to know who you think should be included, and why.

It could be someone from the past or someone living now, what contribution have they made? Why are they special? Leave a comment!

The history and heritage of Cornwall and Scilly is still, unfortunately, based on stories of 'great men'. That is not to say that women did not play a prominent part, but it is to say that their lives were not as well documented and so we have to find these fine threads and weave them into something stronger. That is what the Elizabeth Treffry Collection aims to do. We collect and document in three areas:

1. Information and works by women from Cornwall and Scilly (Cornish by origin and non-Cornish inhabitants). 2. Information and works about women from Cornwall and Scilly (by men or women). 3. Information and works by women on Cornish/Scillonian subjects or inspired by a Cornish/Scillonian setting.

So far we have documented the lives of at least 600 women represented in the books and papers of the Elizabeth Treffry Collection. These include artists like Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes, campaigners like Judith Cook, writers like Mrs Craik (aka Dinah Maria Mulloch) and teachers like Litz Pisk. In addition the Hypaita Trust has conducted projects into the Women's Land Army of Cornwall and supported research and publication on the subject of mining women (Bal Maidens).

So please share this post, leave a comment below, tweet us, join us on Facebook and give us your thoughts on how we can best use the collection to make sure that women's heritage in Cornwall lives long into the future.


What's in Hypatia's handbag?

Handbag Tirggers Memory of Hero of My Youth by Andrea Garrihy

A handbag?

An Interactive Exhibition celebrating and exploring the ‘mysteries’ and capacities of the handbag, opens on Sunday, 22 July 2012 for one week at Trevelyan House, 16 Chapel Street, Penzance.

Curated by artist and exhibitor Andrea Garrihy for the benefit of the Hypatia Trust’s Elizabeth Treffry Collection on Women in Cornwall and Scilly, the exhibitors invite visitors to discover different aspects of our handbag culture.

Download, share, print and display the posters

Hypatia's Handbag 1 (PDF, 51KB) Hypatia's Handbag 2 (PDF, 42KB)

Fuschia by Andrea Garrihy

‘What’s in your handbag?’ will be the big question

Delving into the handbag through art, literature, music, drama, news and fashion can reveal unique insights into our day to day lives and our individual personalities. In addition to Andrea’s handbag sculptures, writers, craftworkers and visual artists are opening their bags to reveal all manner of handbaggery!

Exhibitors include Jess Allen, John Garrihy, Jenny George, Laura Holliday, Susan Hoyle, David Kemp, Andrew Lanyon, Amanda Lorens, and Charlie Roff.

Handbags for sale for women in Cornwall collection

Handmade handbags will be on sale from local makers including Smart Tart, Poppy Treffry, Maurice Pearson and Shabby Cow. Vintage and contemporary handbags donated by supporters and friends will be on sale throughout the exhibition.

Proceeds will benefit the campaign for a publically-accessible home for the Elizabeth Treffry Collection.

So what's in your handbag? Take part!

Party Time by Jess Allen

Artist Mary Fletcher to document Penzance’s handbag culture

Mary will hold drawing sessions on: Monday 23 June (11-1pm) Tuesday (11-1pm) Wednesday 25th July (1-3pm)

Every object tells a story

Visitors can open and investigate the contents from the depths of their own and other handbags. Every object tells a story and the top ten handbag contents will be exhibited, as will some of the more bizarre contents.

Hypatia’s Handbag, A Fable

Local history author, Susan Hoyle, has written an original legend for the exhibition, entitled Hypatia’s Handbag, A Fable, which is being printed and hand-bound in limited edition. Purchasers of bags to the value of £10 or more will receive a free book. Others may purchase copies of the tale.

Opening hours

The exhibition opens on Sunday 22 July from 3pm to 5pm at Trevelyan House, 16 Chapel Street, Penzance.

Opening hours 23-29 July: 11am to 5pm.

The exhibition runs in parallel with the Penzance Literary Festival.

For more information, please call the Hypatia Trust on 01736 366597.

Slow Food Cooks Fast Food at Golowan

Slow Food Cornwall Joanne Schofield

With festivities underway for Golowan on Saturday 23 June, Slow Food Cornwall will be will be adding to the atmosphere on Chapel Street on Mazey Day, serving fast food in front of  Trevelyan House.

Joanne Schofield, Secretary and Treasurer of Slow Food Cornwall, and Elizabeth Treffry Collection Campaign team member, is  known locally for her work with farmers’ markets, will be bending over a hot BBQ cooking local, marinated lamb kabobs, and tossing bowls of Greek salad.  Home-made lemonade, teas and coffees will be served out of the open window and onto the street by members of Slow Food and volunteers of the Hypatia Trust.

‘Slow Food Cornwall is delighted to help raise funds and awareness for the Hypatia Trust and the Elizabeth Treffry Collection,’ says Joanne.

‘People are welcome to come into Trevelyan House, sit down, relax and enjoy a bite or have a wander around the Redwing Gallery.  It is a lovely building and a great place to dive out of the crowds for a bit of peace and quiet.’

Mazey Day food and refreshments, 11am-4pm, Saturday 23 June, Trevelyan House

Food and refreshments will be served from 11am to 4pm.  Trevelyan House (16 Chapel Street, Penzance) will be open all day from 10am to 5pm.  For more information please call Joanne on 01326 231146 or Trevelyan House on 01736 366597.

Revealing Hidden Treasures

Discover Hidden Treasures at Trevelyan House, Penzance, 4-9 June 2012

The Independent logo

Visitors and the local community are invited to enjoy the delights of the Elizabeth Treffry Collection on Women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Free displays and tours of the collection will take place in the informal and homely surroundings of Trevelyan House, a grade II-listed Georgian gem in the heart of historic Chapel Street and home of the Hypatia Trust.

Discover a rare copy of Elizabeth Forbes's 'King Arthur's Wood'The Hypatia Trust is one of 55 organisations across the UK to take part in The Independent newspaper and the Collection’s Trust national campaign called Hidden Treasures.

Free tours will take place throughout the week led by Honorary Curator and Historian, Dr. Tehmina Goskar.

Tours will feature:

  • A rare copy of King Arthur's Wood by artist and author Elizabeth Forbes, a fairy-tale written and illustrated for her family in 1904
  • 19th century photographs by women
  • Women’s writing in Cornwall
  • Find out about our campaign to find a new home

Tours start at 2.30pm and will last for 30 minutes on:

Monday 4 June (Bank Holiday), Tuesday 5 June (Bank Holiday), Wednesday 6 June, Thursday 7 June and Saturday 9 June.

PLEASE NOTE: No tours Friday 8 June.

Joining instructions: Visitors can drop in to Trevelyan House between 11am and 4pm to browse the Asterisk Bookshop and Redwing Gallery on the ground floor. For the collections tour please arrive at least 5 minutes before the tour starts at Trevelyan House, 16 Chapel Street, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 4AW.

Access: A staircase leads to the tours and is unsuitable for wheelchair users.

Getting here:

Map: View Larger Map


Trevelyan House 16 Chapel Street Penzance Cornwall TR18 4AW.

Telephone: 01736 366597



Trevelyan House is situated in historic Chapel Street. There is stepped access to the house and a further set of stairs to access the first floor where the tour will take place. Not suitable for wheelchair users.

Parking and travel:

There are several nearby Cornwall Council carparks. The nearest are Greenmarket car park off Union Street or St Anthony’s Gardens car park off the Promenade. Charges apply. Penzance is well served by local and cross-country bus and rail services. Trevelyan House is a short walk from most other car parks, the rail station and bus station.

More travel information:

For more information on travelling by rail, plan your journey at

For more information about buses and coaches to Penzance visit:

To locate short and longstay carparks in Penzance visit:

Collections audit paves way to future

'New beginnings' are our watchwords as the spring months arrive.

In January of this year Dr. Tehmina Goskar accepted the post of Honorary Curator of the Elizabeth Treffry Collection of the Hypatia Trust. As friends and associates, who were with us at its Opening party in 1996 know, the collection is named for the 15th century Lady of Place in Fowey, the ancestral home of the Treffry family of Cornwall.

Elizabeth Treffry Collection at Trevelyan HouseIn a few short months, we are now in a position to make known our plans for ensuring the future of this Collection as a focal point for telling the history of women in our county, the stories that are unknown generally and glossed over often. The neglect is understandable in a region known for its long-standing poverty and traditional dependency upon the leading male occupations of mining, fishing, and farming, though women have always taken a part.

Help us to reveal more about the outstanding women who have also built this 'nation' of Cornwall. Keep watch on this blog and get ready for our campaign ----.

Read more on Curating the Elizabeth Treffry Collection