Getting women's history out of the ghetto

Our review of an important volume of essays on the impact of the Suffrage Movement on British politics after 1918 has just come out in the Institute of Historical Research's Reviews in History. One of the editors Julie Gottlieb had the opportunity to respond and we're really exciting about the opportunity to get new women's history back on the mainstream agenda in time for the 2018 centenary of the Representation of the People Act and 90 years since the universal women's franchise was granted.

Should we be returning to women's history and is there scope for getting women's history "out of the ghetto" and into the mainstream? Both reviewer and author ponder this question.

Read the review and the response.

The Aftermath of Suffrage: Women, Gender, and Politics in Britain, 1918-1945 edited by: Julie Gottlieb, Richard Toye Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, ISBN: 9781137015341; 268pp.; Price: £19.99.


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.

Woman with a Cause. Emily Hobhouse Remembered

Emily Hobhouse (Liskeard Museum)
Emily Hobhouse (Liskeard Museum)

On 16 November, the Hypatia Trust, in association with Liskeard and District Museum, is organising a free community history workshop called Woman with a Cause to explore and celebrate the life and achievements of Cornish human rights campaigner Emily Hobhouse.

She was branded “that bloody woman” by some, but Emily Hobhouse is a forgotten Cornish hero. She raised the travesty of human rights abuses in South Africa during the Boer Wars before such issues became headline news. While she was pilloried by her own townspeople in 1900 for highlighting the abuses in concentration camps, in South Africa there is a national monument to her campaigning work. More than 113 years later we are setting the record straight in her hometown.

Eleanor Tench, who will be giving the keynote presentation at the workshop said, “Emily was a fascinating woman whose work is deserving of far more recognition. I'm honoured to be helping to tell her story to more people, especially to be able to speak about her in her hometown, on the stage where she once spoke. Working on this project has been inspirational.”

Women's Memorial, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Women's Memorial, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Human rights campaigner Emily Hobhouse (Liskeard Museum)
Human rights campaigner Emily Hobhouse (Liskeard Museum)

Sally Hawken, Liskeard Town Councillor, is amazed that so little commemorates Emily in Cornwall. “I am delighted the History 51 project is working with Liskeard's excellent museum to bring to public attention one of our most famous daughters. Liskeard must make more of its connection to Emily Hobhouse, an internationally important campaigner who has a public monument in South Africa and nothing in Cornwall. This workshop is a fabulous opportunity for townsfolk and visitors to find out more in the very place where Emily certainly stirred things up, our own Public Hall.”

The day will start at 9.30am by gathering at Liskeard Museum for a special view of the new Women at War exhibition, followed by the lecture at the Public Hall opposite the museum at 10am. After a break the audience will be invited to take part in a practical workshop examining sources from Emily’s time to judge whether she was treated fairly. The workshop ends at 1pm. There is an optional tour of St Ive Church, where Hobhouse was born, at 2pm.


Booking is essential and must be made with Liskeard Museum either by phone: 01579 346087, email: using the subject Emily Hobhouse Workshop, or in person.

The Hypatia Trust’s History 51 project promotes women’s heritage in communities across Cornwall and has been made possible through funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s All Our Stories programme. To keep in touch please join us on Facebook too.

Votes for women in Cornwall

Poster promoting WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) Suffrage meeting at St John's Hall, Penzance on 2 June 1909

Poster promoting WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) Suffrage meeting at St John's Hall, Penzance on 2 June 1909

To join the commemoration and celebration of the Women's Suffrage movement, particularly the centenary of the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage of 1913, we are publishing a series of articles on the women's suffrage movement in Cornwall.

Starting with this retrospective, based on The Cornishman newspaper's archives, we will then be hosting guest posts from historians about the impact of this movement on Cornish politics and culture.

By 1913 there was a clear difference between the tactics of the Suffragettes, led by Pankhurst (Women’s Social and Political Union) who favoured direct action to force the issue of votes for women, and the Suffragists (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) who championed the continuation of non-violent protests and petitions which had started in the 1870s.

This is a slightly extended version of an article I wrote for The Cornishman which came out today [Errata: The Cornishman mis-edited my original article suggesting that the Suffrage Pilgrimage as being organised by the Suffragettes. Correction sought. Ed.] It also highlights the work of other projects, notably Dreadnought South West's play, Oxygen and the forthcoming social history exhibition at Penlee House, which are marking this momentous event which changed the lives of tens of thousands of women.

The first thing to note is that although the Suffragettes have remained in popular consciousness as the face of Votes for Women, there were in fact two movements campaigning for broadening the franchise (i.e. reforming the law so all women could have the vote) and other issues of social justice such as child poverty, poor working conditions and bonded white labour (slavery).

The Great Suffrage Pilgrimage was initiated by the Suffragists who prided themselves on their peaceful tactics: rallies, marches and petitions. Millicent Fawcett was the face of the Suffragists and their colours were red, green and white.

The Suffragettes who came to be known through names such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison (who died tragically at on Derby Day 1913) took direct action. Their cause was to  use drastic measures to draw attention to the appalling injustice that allowed the law to be based on the decisions of men only. Their colours were purple, green and white.

Postcard showing Lands End to London Great Suffrage Pilgrimage march. Reproduced with permission from Jill Morison.

Postcard showing Lands End to London Great Suffrage Pilgrimage march. Reproduced with permission from Jill Morison.

In the 19 June 1913 edition of The Cornishman, sandwiched between a report on the output of black tin from Botallack Stamps and a physician’s advice about curing indigestion, was a short notice headlined MRS. PANKHURST RELEASED.

Emmeline Pankhurst was a Suffragette leader and had been on hunger strike, enduring the torture of force-feeding, while incarcerated at Holloway Prison for conspiracy to commit property damage. Emily Davison had also tragically lost her life while trying to pin Suffragette colours to the King’s horse at the Epson Derby barely a week before.

By 1913 there was a clear difference between the tactics of the Suffragettes, led by Pankhurst (Women’s Social and Political Union) who favoured direct action to force the issue of votes for women, and the Suffragists (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) who championed the continuation of non-violent protests and petitions which had started in the 1870s. Cornish activists enjoyed widespread support, from the dominant Liberal political class and influential religious groups such as Quakers headed by families such as the Foxes of Falmouth.

“There is a rumour that at Camborne they may be pelted with stale eggs"

Newspaper extract from  The Cornishman,  21 June 1913.

Newspaper extract from The Cornishman, 21 June 1913.

The tragedies of Pankhurst’s treatment and Davison’s death rallied peaceful Suffragists into action and on Thursday 19 June an amazing thing happened. Seven women gathered at Land’s End to start the Suffrage Pilgrimage, a gruelling march through Cornwall and up country to London. The Cornishman reported:

“There is a rumour that at Camborne they may be pelted with stale eggs; but surely, when it is realised that not one of the marchers has been guilty of breaking the law or inciting others to break the law, they will be treated with as much respect as would be a procession of Oddfellows or Freemasons.”

Scenes at Penzance

“This little band of zealots comprised Miss Misick (organising secretary), Mrs. Ramsay (Plymouth), Miss Raby (Exeter), and Miss Helen Fraser (London). Mrs. Robins Bolitho, who is actively interested in the non-militant movement, gave the party a hearty send-off, whilst a number of men who had assembled raised a cheer. Along the route to Penzance literature was left at the houses, and the idea of the movement explained.”

NUWSS van on Market Jew Street en route through Penzance, 19 June 1913 taken by E. Thomas. Image courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance.

NUWSS van on Market Jew Street en route through Penzance, 19 June 1913 taken by E. Thomas. Image courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance.

The march came to Penzance and paused at Trereife crossroads. The report continued, “Quite a crowd of people had assembled to witness the junction, and the numbers were constantly added to as the procession neared Penzance. Being market day, the processionists did not parade the main streets, but simply marched up Clarence-street and dispersed at the Pig Market.”

A rally led by Fraser took place on a makeshift stage in the Pig Market where a large crowd gathered, including the “hobble-de-hoy.” Fraser’s eloquence was complemented by the reporter, “few orators of the masculine gender could have held and swayed an audience in the open air as did Miss Fraser.” A scuffle broke out after her rousing speech as she had apparently been kicked in the ankle. The leaders had to be escorted by police to a safe-house on Clarence Street.

“…and if anything like the same success can be achieved in the various towns en route, they will have materially helped their cause to victory ere—like the “twenty thousand Cornishmen” of Trewlany’s spirited days—they summon London town to surrender.”

The march resumed on the Friday morning from Clarence Street, “up Alverton, through the Green Market, and on their way to the station, on the second stage of their long, self-imposed tramp to London.”

Suffragist marchers in Penzance, 19 June 1913 taken by E. Thomas. Image courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance. 

Suffragist marchers in Penzance, 19 June 1913 taken by E. Thomas. Image courtesy of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance. 

Invoking the last great march of Cornish people to London in 1497, the report ends, “…and if anything like the same success can be achieved in the various towns en route, they will have materially helped their cause to victory ere—like the “twenty thousand Cornishmen” of Trewlany’s spirited days—they summon London town to surrender.”

It took a further ten years for universal franchise to be granted to all women in 1928.

A small number of women were finally given the vote after World War 1 in 1918 as part of the Representation of the People Act. About 8.4 million enfranchised women (related to status and property holding) over the age of 30 voted.

It took a further ten years for universal franchise to be granted to all women over the age of 21 in 1928. That was a full 15 years after the Great Suffrage Pilgrimage and the height of Suffragette action.

Further reading

Katherine Bradley, Friends and Visitors: a History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Cornwall 1870-1914 (2000, The Hypatia Trust). Available from the Hypatia Trust Online Bookstore. £5.

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.]

Myrtles playday

More news from Mesdames Myrtles rug hookers, History 51 contributors.

Our 'playday' on Friday was really fruitful.

Talking, using different media, letting ideas flow freely, drinking tea and eating cake allowed us to finally make a decision on our communal project, which is great.

It will be fairly large hooked pieces, possibly with some embroidery, depicting Cornish women's occupations, starting with Alice De Lisle [Yes, yes, yes! Ed].

Our individual projects seemed to come together too...more about these at a later date, but one of them involves eggs, dressing up,and following in someone's footsteps...!

Mesdames Myrtles rug hooking group of Penzance discuss representing Cornish women's history (credit: Diane Cox)


Inspired by Cornish women's history (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 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]

275,000 Cornish women will know the reason why!

Don't let anyone say a) it is political correctness 'gone mad' or b) you are making a 'fuss about nothing'

Unknown learned woman, Cornwall
Unknown learned woman, Cornwall

There are approximately 275,000 women and girls living in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly today--yes, 51% of the population, that is a majority!

This week at History 51 we have been musing and debating the maleness (?) of Cornish history and heritage. The story of men is written into the DNA of the over-arching narrative of Cornish history being based on the fisherman, the miner and the engineer. However we all know that it is not as simplistic as that.

Earlier in the week, I wrote a critique of Cornish heritage, provoked by what seems to be an innocent statement written in a newspaper article by Cornwall Councillor, Bert Biscoe. He begins the article:

“Good news that Cornish tin has quickly become economic to mine. It is no shock to those who, like many Cornishmen all over the World, closely study the metals markets and geology. It offers an opportunity to rekindle skills and wealth generation and also to place Cornwall once again in the forefront of economic life – innovating, supplying, managing risk and prospecting.”

Bust of Richard Trevithick, Cornish inventor, engineer and hero
Bust of Richard Trevithick, Cornish inventor, engineer and hero

I have qualified my criticism of Bert Biscoe's words as I do not believe he is a sexist person but it is alarming in many ways that such a thing can be so easily written and reproduced without comment.

Trelawney has become the Cornish national anthem. In it we intone the following:

And shall Trelawney live?Or shall Trelawney die?Here's 20,000 Cornish menWill know the reason why!

Repeated with passion by those of us who sing it, are we accidentally surrendering to the male narrative and absorbing it into our consciousness?

And that is why I have decided to comment, and encourage all those who care about the diversity and totality of Cornish history, identity, culture and heritage to do the same for the sake of everyone's better understanding of the past: men and women, girls and boys.

There is no history without women!

Don't let anyone say a) it is political correctness 'gone mad' or b) you are making a 'fuss about nothing' - women being known in particular about being fussy (I prefer to call it being particular) or c) you are 'man-bashing' and causing a generation of boys to lack confidence.

Why is women's history important?

Three comments, one from a man, two from women, we received on our Facebook page and via email particularly resonated with me this week in answer to this question:

"...that's like saying why is history important? There is no history without women!"

A lecturer on Cornish mining told me (this century) that women didn't use to work underground in Cornish mines because a Cornishman was too much of a genetleman.

I would not like to be a young woman lacking in self-confidence these days. I've never had much time and will not tolerate men (or women) referring to women as 'bitches', 'whores' and 'sluts'.

Remember the bread makers, not just the bread winners

Cornish history is full of testimony and evidence of women's lives and achievements. It's just not easy to find. We will be changing this. Because we have based our public histories on activities and events led by men e.g. hunting, war, conquest, raiding, engineering... they privilege those protagonists as the drivers of change in our society. We should remember those that make the bread as well as those that win it.

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.

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.

Curating Gold

Helen Glover and Heather Stanning with Victoria Derbyshire (credit: Victoria Derbyshire)

A curator's work is usually associated with historical ephemera and artefacts or ancient specimens. It is rare to get the opportunity to curate history as it happens. And then it happened here in Penzance, Cornwall yesterday when local woman, Helen Glover, and her partner Heather Stanning, won TeamGB's first Gold Medal in the London 2012 Olympics, while also being the first British women to ever win Olympic Gold in a rowing event. They won the Women's Pairs in 7 min., 27.13 sec., having already set an Olympic Record for the event of 6 min 57.29 sec. in the heats on 28 July on the Eton Dorney 2,200m rowing course.

The story

Helen and Heather have captivated the nation, not only because of their success, but because of the stories behind both women's entry into top-flight sport (Helen, an talented sportswoman, hockey player and PE teacher only started rowing in 2008). From a Cornish point of view, the win has placed a spotlight on the Duchy and on west Cornwall, particularly Newlyn where Helen grew up and Penzance where she went  to Humphry Davy School.

Today's national papers were full of stories about the pair, albeit that their place on several front pages were significantly diminished by much more prominent photographs of Bradley Wiggins, with the exception of the Independent's i Newspaper and the Daily Mail who gave equal weighting to the two stories. Perhaps that's because his win came afterwards, or maybe because his win was considered the more significant? It isn't unusual, even today, for women's achievements to be considered slightly less newsworthy, especially when a male achievement has come hot on their heels. Olympic women's sport is reported differently to that of men, a report reveals. Although several have commented already on their feat's worthiness to make history.

New women's heritage

But as the Curator of a nationally-important collection on women, Helen Glover's achievements deserve to be recorded and collected for posterity as the best a positive female role model can offer. It is my job to ensure that Helen's story is preserved for Cornwall for future generations.

The opportunities for collecting have spanned digital and physical media, and of collecting memories. It's hard to be objective about collecting and recording major achievements like this. You tend to go into souvenir hunter mode, setting your sights on what you think is the most important and most auspicious, but as you will read below, that's not what recording for history is all about. When the whirlwind surrounding Helen's win dies down, it is even more important for the Elizabeth Treffry Collection to keep recording.

In just over 24 hours my collecting frenzy has taken me to places I might not usually go, to observe and absorb. So here it is, 24 hours of curating gold.

The view from Cornwall

 Good luck Helen!

So read the headline in The Cornishman on 26 July, accompanied by a photograph of a beaming Helen. Then one of the many TeamGB Olympic gold medal hopefuls, she is quoted as saying that the "support she gets from the people of west Cornwall will give her an "extra edge" as she rows for gold..." By Saturday 28 July Twitter was abuzz with congratulations and excitement at Glover and Stanning's Olympic Record-breaking race during the first heat, being dubbed by some as a 'Cornish Olympic Record'. On 31 July further news was broadcast via Twitter that the race final would be screened at Penzance Hockey Club, where Helen used to play, and so it was here that I decided to start.


Rooting for someone doing something so globally public in their home town is an experience in itself. Penzance Hockey Club is an unassuming sports club tucked away behind council offices. There were media vans in place, cameras up, ready to record the willed-for winning moment. A row of children with Union Jacks were put in place in the front row and various people were earmarked for reaction and interviews.

And so at 11.50am people settled down to watch the race while the press watched us watch the race. Cheers at every milestone became more frenzied, peppered with sharp intakes of breath as the picture kept freezing. A moment of anxiety when Australia were closing in was quickly allayed when Helen and Heather swept passed the winning line and collapsed in a heap.

We were on our feet, fists punching the air, all recorded for posterity by BBC Cornwall. As you will see from the BBC's interview with Helen's former teachers there was a very real sense of immense and sincere pride and admiration for someone who had an otherwise normal upbringing, went to a regular school, did a normal job but whose inner strength, focus and dedication has propelled her to greatness.

"I'm just amazed that someone from a small school in Penzance can make it to the top of her game." (Andy Thomas, Helen's former teacher and Deputy Head, Humphry Davy School)

"It's wonderful that Penzance is on the map... it's just lovely that something can be achieved from someone who lives so far away from the centre of things, if London is the centre of things, and to have gone through a state school and still have achieved such a marvellous achievement." (Kate Finch, Helen's former PE Teacher)

Oggy Oggy Oggy! Oi Oi Oi!

What the BBC Cornwall coverage didn't show were the two rounds of the Cornish Oggy Oggy Oggy rallying chant joined in by everyone at the club at the end, highlighting that the crowd considered this a very Cornish win (and I am sure Scots felt the same about Heather Stanning).

There was immediately talk after the win on The Cornishman'sFacebook on how Helen should be welcomed back to Penzance. Open-top bus? Freedom of the town? One person commenting aptly:

[The Cornishman]  Should be renamed The CornishWOman!

Collecting golden firsts


Helen Glover and Heather Stanning's firsts extended to firsts for Olympic-themed commemorative acts and in true Brit style Royal Mail stepped in with two innovative ideas. Each gold medal-winning athlete would have a Post Box painted gold in their chosen home town and immediately on their win, RM would release special Gold Medal Winner stamps. So Penzance got Great Britain's first golden Post Box and the very first special stamps showed the two women rowers upon crossing the finishing line. In another first, Helen and Heather became the first all-female sports team to appear on a Royal Mail stamp.

So earlier today I went on the trail of recording and collecting these firsts. Arriving at Penzance Post Office at 11am, I was told to come back at Midday. In the meantime I headed to the gold post box, situated by the seafront on Marine Parade. The first images of the conversion from red to gold were circulated by artist and photographer Lee J Palmer who spotted the priming work early in the morning. I was glad to have seen the painters putting the finishing touches on the box. I think they were a little taken aback at the great interest shown in this phenomenon but they were happy for people to snap away and take their own little piece of history home with them. As I arrived one Penzance tourist was waiting to post a card to her daughter. She got the painters to dab a bit of this hallowed gold paint on her card, and then posted it.

Sorry, they're all gone. They only sent us 80!

After taking a few snaps of my own I headed back to the Post Office just before Midday only to be confronted by camera crews and a queue headed out of the door. Who'd have thought that stamps would make such a comeback one day! The first person to buy the rowers' Gold Medal Stamp was interviewed, photographed and generally made a fuss over. By the time I got to the queue I knew I would be faced with the inevitable reply: "Sorry, they're all gone. They only sent us 80! We're trying to get some more. Do you want the cyclist?" So much for a First Day Cover (or an understanding of the demand that is created in someone's home town). What I wanted for the Elizabeth Treffry Collection was to have a Penzance franked cover sent to the Hypatia Trust at Trevelyan House to found a new sporting women archive.

...or collecting Cornish women's heritage

This portrait of three brilliant women sums up what we're all about.

In one moment I felt like I had let the collection down and that I failed in acquiring a requisite piece of Cornish women's heritage. And then it dawned on me that I was barking up the wrong tree. It did not seem in any case that these particular First Day Covers would be franked with the local postmark, which is what I was after for the collection. So I decided to go Blue Peter. I ordered a run of stamps and a First Day Cover for the collection online and then, in order to get a Penzance frank on something celebrating the women's success, I whipped off the front page of the Western Morning News which held an excellent photograph of the rowers, folded it up to make an envelope, sealed it with two regular Olympic stamps and popped it in the Helen Glover gold Post Box in time for its last collection on its first day.

I was also delighted that BBC radio and news journalist Victoria Derbyshire let me use her photograph of the winning women on this blog. This portrait of three brilliant women sums up what we're all about.

2012-08-02 16.55.43
2012-08-02 16.55.43

Yes it is important to collect these things as they are the memory triggers that allow history to form. But they are not what collecting for Women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is all about: we're not magpies. Sporting women is an area that the collection currently lacks books and papers. As Curator I want to expand in this area and what better inspiration than Helen Glover's incredible win?

This is what celebrating a golden girl is really about.

But it's the stories that led to the win and how she builds upon it and becomes a positive female role model that Cornwall and Scilly desperately needs, that we want to document too. Even before the Olympics began Helen was extremely keen on inspiring the children back in Penzance. She talked to them via video link, online and came in to tell them the story of her amazing journey in sport and rowing. She says she intends to come back to show the same kids her medal. This is what celebrating a golden girl is really about.

Cornish pride in women rowing

All the attention that Helen Glover and Heather Stanning are rightfully getting has perhaps eclipsed the Olympic achievement of another Cornish woman rower, Wadebridge's Annie Vernon.  Annie was part of the women's eight team that came fifth in the finals today but was an Olympic Silver medalist in Beijing in 2008. I was delighted that the BBC published an article on Annie highlighting the Cornish pride she feels when rowing at an international level. She carries St Piran's Flag (Baner Peran) on her rowing oars and according to her mother, Morwenna Vernon, she bonded with her team mates by making them each a "mean Cornish pasty."

Sporting women of Cornwall and Scilly

If you're reading this Helen, Annie Julie or any other sporting women of Cornwall and Scilly, please get in touch! We would love to make sure that your achievements become part of our future heritage.

I haven't yet counted up the Cornish women competitors in this Olympics, nor sporting women who compete in events outside of this arena, but it is perhaps time to do so and publish stories about them here. Part of the problem we have with women's visibility, not least in sport, is that we don't often enough hear about them and their achievements. Women like Helen Glover, Annie Vernon and another Cornish sporting heroine from Penzance, World no. 1 Muaythai boxer Julie Kitchen all have a place in the heritage of Cornwall and Scilly. Sport is an area that can be a major inspiration to young people, not least girls and young women.

It is the job of the Elizabeth Treffry Collection to help make sure that happens, not just during the glory moments, but much beyond. So, if you're reading this Helen, Annie Julie or any other sporting women of Cornwall and Scilly, please get in touch! We would love to make sure that your achievements become part of our future heritage. 

If you're keen to put your oar in... see here for some top rowing training tips from Sports Fitness Advisor.

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.


Revealing Hidden Treasures

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

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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