Nuns, war, songs and International Women's Day

... it is clear to see why any attempt to highlight poor female representation both in history and today needs to be made, and to be taken seriously as a mainstream, rather than a niche, problem.

International Women's Day logoThis week we have discussed, debated and explored a variety of topics from 'where did Cornish women go to be nuns' (there were no nunneries in medieval Cornwall) to what shall we do for International Women's Day on 8 March.

A recent analysis of women's roles in British society by Unlock Democracy showed that in spite of making up 51% of the population women don't even make up one-quarter of British MPs:

Read Gender Balance. The canary in the mineshaft

Here in Cornwall and Scilly, the figures for political representation are in fact slightly better. Women make up nearly 27% of the Cornwall Council membership (33/123).

I had been in error before thinking the Cornish figures to be worse than central government representation. That said, there are daily changes reported by the media with resignations and many changes of colour. We will revisit these figures following the next Cornish elections in May.

Cornish Women's Year?

Do you want to be part of something special and really help make Cornish women's history count?

Against this backdrop it is clear to see why any attempt to highlight poor female representation both in history and today needs to be made, and to be taken seriously as a mainstream, rather than a niche, problem.

We have been thinking about ways to use International Women's Day to start something public and different until 8 March next year when we intend to do something much more high profile.

Our strength is in highlighting and sharing information about women's heritage so what can we do to help contribute positive female role models to young women and girls in Cornwall and Scilly in particular. So a few ideas are:

  1. Launching a survey on attitudes to women in Cornwall, and archiving the responses so we may repeat the survey in 5 or 10 years time and chronicle any change.
  2. Finding stories about women from the local papers 100 years ago and publishing them on our website and promoting them online and in the local media on a weekly basis.
  3. Launch a campaign to publicise one fact a day until International Women's Day 2014 on any aspect of women's heritage and women's lives today in Cornwall.
  4. Start planning for a big event next year (2014), but what should that be?

Do you want to be part of something special and really help make Cornish women's history count? Why not leave a comment and give us your ideas?

Cornish nuns

Susan Hoyle posed a really interesting question on our Facebook page:

"I believe that there was never a nunnery in Cornwall; there were very few monasteries, but nary a convent. It is said that the low take-up for monasticism in Cornwall is because of the Celtic influence. Whatever the truth of that, convents fulfilled various functions for women and their families in the middle ages: it was a safe place for women on their own -- single women, widows, orphans -- and also for women who were a problem for other reasons. It was also a place where inconvenient women could be locked away. My question is, what institution(s) performed these functions in Cornwall? What happened to women who needed protection? What happened to women who felt the religious vocation? Anyone know?"

We referred it to medieval historian Oliver Padel, also an expert on Cornish history and topography. He confirmed that there were indeed no female monasteries in Cornwall in the Middle Ages. Here is part of his reply:

"There were no female monastic communities in Cornwall. The matter is easy to check now, because Victoria County History of Cornwall, vol. II, Religious History to 1560 (2010) gives a definitive list of monastic communities in the county.

This might not have been seen as a significant lack. Cornwall generally had fairly small religious houses (no abbey, though two just in Devon, at Tavistock and Hartland). Anyone entering a religious community expected to give up their family ties anyway, so going to another county would probably not have seemed exceptional. A bit analogous with people leaving home and going elsewhere to study at university, usually to another part of the country (although admittedly that is temporary, not permanent).

I know of one example of a woman of a Cornish family who went to Devon to become a nun -- Joan daughter of John Arundell of Lanherne (who died in 1435) apparently became abbess of Canonsleigh Abbey in Devon (I don't know at what date, or when she died, though that is probably known): Cornish Wills, 1342-1540, ed. Nicholas Orme (Devon & Cornwall Record Society, 2007), p. 67."

So that left the question, where did women in Cornwall or Scilly who wanted to be nuns go? Susan wondered if the linguistic closeness of Cornish and Breton might have persuaded women to head south to Brittany, or whether they tended to journey into England and beyond? Considering the journey, the need to travel safely and have enough money to be accepted into a religious house, was the religious life the preserve of the more well-off women in the Middle Ages? We hope that Susan carries on her quest and finds those Cornish nuns, wherever they may have gone.

Cornish women at war and women in war in Cornwall

This winter Liskeard Museum is mounting an exhibition on Emily Hobhouse, a Cornish woman speaking out against the South African war and British concentration camps there. We will also be hosting one of our History 51 workshops here on the theme of Women in War (and Peace).

We need your help.

Are you interested in being our War Correspondent? We know there are many other themes related to women and war that we could also explore as part of a workshop, e.g. the role of women in war, for good or bad, their historical role in armed forces, their work on the home fronts, their role in recording, documenting and preserving stories of war and of course women's roles in peace and anti-war movements.

Remember we will provide support in the form of training and resources to all those leading or helping to co-ordinate History 51 workshops. Please contact us with any and all suggestions or leave a comment here.

Alice De Lisle in word and song

 ...performing, dancing, role-playing publicly so that Alice slowly seeps back into our community's imagination.

Do you know Alice De Lisle? She was the Patroness of Penzance. History 51 is campaigning to get her officially recognised as part of Penzance's 400th anniversary charter celebrations in 2014. In fact it is 1332 that we should be celebrating as without Alice's charter there would be no 1614 Charter of Incorporation.

A pair of local folk musicians had already heard of Alice De Lisle before we launched our campaign. Thanks to the power of social media, one of our followers alerted us to two songs that had been written using Alice as an inspiration. One was a love song, 'Alice of the Island' - a play on her name and the other was the story of Alice's achievement for Penzance.

They came and demoed the songs to us at the Hypatia Trust yesterday. We were transfixed! They also then sung part of Alice's market charter to us to the tune of the love song. We were delighted when they agreed to look into recorded these songs and to also think of something we could all do for the charter celebrations next year: performing, dancing, role-playing publicly so that Alice slowly seeps back into our community's imagination.

The songs will eventually be recorded and we may even think about a whole album dedicated to stories of Cornish women!

Coincidently one of our contributors, Anna McClary, local Penzance tour guide, was also at Trevelyan House to talk through ideas about creating a school resource back about Penzance history, using Alice De Lisle as a central figure. We talked about activities from colouring in images of the market cross to enacting a play between Alice and King Edward III and then when we heard the songs we thought it logical to include one or more or these as a song children could sing in assembly.

We hope to bring you a recording of Alice De Lisle soon!

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.

Penzance should honour Lady Alice De Lisle

Penzance Harbour with the town in the background today

2014 Year of Penzance

2014 is the Year of Penzance. Next year the town will be celebrating 400 years since it received its Charter of Incorporation (town charter) from King James I which granted it rights to govern its own affairs and hold its own courts. It will also be 200 years since the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall was founded in Penzance, then a leading centre for scientific and intellectual endeavour.

A quick look at Penzance Town Council's website suggests that the town’s origins are to be found in the fifteenth century with the grant of a market in 1404.

However this could not be further from the case.

Alice was the Mary Portas of her day

Over 80 years earlier, Lady Alice De Lisle, became Lord of the Manor of Alverton, the economic centre of Pensans (Cornish for 'holy head/headland). She inherited the manor from her rebel brother, Baron Henry Le Teys, who was executed by King Edward II in 1321.

As lord of the manor, gender was irrelevant. Alice would have had to make decisions on behalf of the entire Manor, which directly or indirectly employed much of the working population of the area. She was the head of the Chamber of Commerce and Mayor rolled into one.

She was a Mary Portas of her day.

Penzance Market Cross, a carved cross originally thought to date to the 11th century and later used to mark Penzance's market centre in Greenmarket, now outside Penlee House (credit: Tom Goskar)

Why were medieval markets important?

Medieval markets were not like the farmer’s markets of today. They were the high streets, town centres and retail parks rolled into one. They were where profits and losses were made and deals were struck. It was a chance for traders to check out the competition and measure their prosperity.

Villages and towns that wanted or needed a permanent market had to get permission from the monarch in the form of a grant. This grant, if accepted, was written up into a charter.

In ten years, Alice oversaw the growth of Penzance from a manor and small fishing village into a major urban centre with a commercially viable port that now needed a permanent market. In 1876, antiquarian and historian George Bown Millett said:

…let all Penzance do honour to her memory, for she was our lady patroness, and used her influence successfully in behalf of the town, at an early period of its history.

In 1332 Alice De Lisle changed the course of Penzance’s history forever.

Alice's petition to the King, 1332

Alice petitioned King Edward III for a permanent weekly market to be held on a Wednesday and an annual seven-day fair starting on the festival of St. Peter in Chains (1 August).

Alice was granted her petition and a charter was awarded.

Penzance's first market charter 

The document is now held by the National Archives in London (TNA C53/119), formerly the Public Record Office. It is dated 25 April 1332 and was written in Latin. It was granted by King Edward III while he held court in Nottingham.

“Know that we of our special grace have given and have confirmed by this our Charter to our beloved Alice who was wife of Warin de Insula [de Lisle] that she and her heirs may have for ever one market every week on Wednesday at her manor of Pensans in the County of Cornwall and one fair there every year lasting for seven days namely on the Eve and Day of St. Peter ad Vincula and for five days next following.” (reproduced from P.A.S. Pool's History of Penzance, p. 211)

This is really Penzance’s earliest notable historic document and it is this award that Penzance should be celebrating.

Penzance in its heyday in the 19th century (from Rev. Lach-Szyrma's History of Penzance, 1878)

The importance of Alice's market charter

Without Alice’s petition, the 1404 grant, which just confirmed Alice’s charter of 1332, would not have been made. Still less would we have been granted the 1614 town charter. And without that Penzance would not have become one of Cornwall’s major coinage towns in 1663.

Penzance’s later fame as a major centre of industry, commerce and banking, and as an intellectual and scientific centre, could never have happened.

In fact, Penzance as we know it may not have existed at all.

It is sad that the Town Council has not even mentioned Alice in their history of the Town Charter.

How should we honour Alice?

We don't know much about Alice herself, nor what she looked like. We have to use our imagination for that.

What we do know about her deeds in Penzance is pieced together from medieval documents on the Manor of Alverton, some of which are held in Cornwall while others are held elsewhere such as at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. There is a small amount of evidence about the Teys family into which she was born, and about the De Lisles. Her descendants continued as lords of Alverton until the fifteenth century.

We think the centre of the manor was situated on Alverton Farm, now where the Lariggan stream crosses the road to Land's End.

Perhaps this was where Penzance's Market Cross, now in Penlee Park, once stood, before it was moved to Greenmarket on Alverton Street?

We would like to see Alice De Lisle honoured and her role as the patroness of Penzance officially recognised by the town authorities. We should celebrate her achievement during the 2014 Charter celebrations.

Should it be a statue? Should we make a commemorative tapestry? A plaque on St John's Hall, perhaps? Or rename a street, a pub? Maybe a local school or college could name a classroom after her? Should we institute a Penzance Alice Day during Golowan or Penzance Literary Festival?

Could readers suggest what form this could take?

We will be formally writing to all Penzance town councillors and Cornwall councillors to support our campaign to discuss the most appropriate ways we may honour Alice De Lisle. We believe she would be a great focus for the town in a time when there is strong feeling that Penzance is not living up to its full economic potential.

Vote for Alice!

[poll id="2"]

Support our campaign to honour Alice De Lisle.

You can also Vote in our Facebook Poll (Elizabeth Treffry Collection), or leave a comment here.

This campaign is part of the Hypatia Trust's Heritage Lottery Funded project History 51 which is documenting and sharing information on the lives of historical women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

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.

Violetta Thurstan, a modern day Renaissance woman

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

War Heroine, Nurse, Author, Weaver-Dyer

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

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

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

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


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

Violetta Thurstan archive, Elizabeth Treffry Collection, Hypatia Trust.

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

Likenesses:  Sculpture, photographs (Elizabeth Treffry Collection).

Help us tell our story

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

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

The kind of tasks we need help with are:

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

What you will get in return

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

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

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

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

Please share and display the History 51 poster!

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

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

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

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

All Our Stories

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring women's lives and achievements in Cornwall and Scilly

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

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

What History 51 will do

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

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

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

History 51 needs you! Get involved!

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

More information

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

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

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

Heritage Lottery Fund