Our 'Pimpernel suffragette'

February 01 2018

To celebrate 100 years since women were granted the vote, Jane Duffus has written a new book commemorating 250 wonderful women from Bristol’s past. Here Jane tells us about her book and looks at some women with a Fishponds connection

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To celebrate 100 years since women were granted the vote, Jane Duffus has written a new book commemorating 250 wonderful women from Bristol’s past. Here Jane tells us about her book and looks at some women with a Fishponds connection

  

IN Bristol, you can’t move for references to the men who helped to shape our city…but what about the women? When all but one of the statues in the city feature men (and the solitary female statue is of a goddess, not even a human woman!) and there are some history books about Bristol that barely even mention women, you would be forgiven for thinking there were no notable females in Bristol’s past. But you’d be wrong!

Which is why in ‘The Women Who Built Bristol’, I have compiled a compendium of 250 wonderful women who helped to shape the city we know and love today. From the better known names such as reformer Mary Carpenter and suffragette Annie Kenney, to the more obscure such as fruit seller Jane Martin and haematologist Janet Vaughan…I’ve tried to leave no stone unturned in my quest to represent women from all walks of life who contributed something - no matter how small - to the Bristol we live in today. 

In Fishponds you have plenty of mighty women to be proud of, and here are just two examples. Dancer and suffragette Lilian Lenton became known as the ‘Pimpernel Suffragette’ owing to her skill at slipping away in camouflage to evade the police: her ingenious disguises included those of a grocer’s boy, nurse and crippled old woman. 

A prolific arsonist, the first property Lilian set fire to was the tea house in Kew Gardens, London, with Olive Wharry on February 20, 1913. Before the trial took place, Lilian and Olive were held in custody, where Lilian went on hunger strike and experienced force feeding carried out in such a violent manner that she developed pleurisy. 

Consequently, Lilian was too ill to attend her trial and Olive went alone. This caused questions to be asked in the House of Commons about the nature of forcible feeding, and the Home Secretary was criticised both for not being able to control the suffragettes and for allowing the barbaric procedure of force feeding to take place at all. 

Better known is the philanthropist and writer Hannah More. From her early years in Fishponds to her later years in Brislington, Hannah was one of the original bluestockings (an influential group of 18th century women intellectuals) and she retained Bristol at her core. 

After tiring of her fiancé’s inability to set a date for their wedding, Hannah broke off their six-year engagement and accepted his offer of a £200 annuity – not least because it afforded her the freedom to immerse herself full-time in writing. She also took milkmaid Anne Yearsley under her wing and nurtured Anne’s talent for poetry, although Anne later felt patronised and belittled by Hannah and the relationship turned sour.

In her final years, Hannah moved to Clifton where she continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery. At the time of her death, Hannah’s estate was valued at £30,000, which is a huge sum today and was a colossal amount in 1833. This meant that Hannah was one of the most successful writers of her day, regardless of gender.

For these stories and more, The Women Who Built Bristol is published by Tangent Books on February 26. You can buy the book from bristolwomensvoice.bigcartel.com. 

All profits go straight to the charity Bristol Women’s Voice and to better benefit the charity please buy direct.