Bristol, Women's Lives

It’s International Women’s Day Today!

All over the world women are campaigning today under the hashtag #BalanceforBetter as they work toward a world that is more fair.

In honour of the day, I’m running a competition—which woman has inspired you? Click here to tell me your story, before midnight GMT on Sunday 10th March. I’ll announce the winner on Monday morning.

Find out more here.

While I was researching Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol I came across the stories of so many inspirational women it was impossible to choose a favourite. I’m telling the story of Ada Vachell here, as she overcame both disability and the major handicap of being born a woman in Victorian Britain. She made life better for hundreds of Bristol’s poor and disadvantaged. Her bright ideas had knock-on effects for the disabled which endured long after her death. Here’s Ada’s story…

Ada Vachell (1866-1923) was a champion of the disabled at a time when they received no government help. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, disability was often seen as something shameful to be hidden away.  Ada helped to change attitudes. Born into a wealthy family, she was left frail and deaf after an almost fatal attack of scarlet fever. Despite that, she never let her own poor health hold her back for a minute.

Ada, and some of the children at the Guild’s holiday home. Pic. Courtesy of Bristol Charities.

Ada drove her parents mad with her enthusiastic schemes. On one occasion she hired a horse-drawn bus to take all the local servants on a day trip to the seaside. She became a helper at a club for poor girls who worked in the local factories. Inspired by what she heard and saw on the streets of Bristol, she founded the Guild of the Brave Poor Things in 1896. She delivered invitations to the Guild’s meeting by hand around the worst slums in Bristol. Anyone with disabilities was welcomed into the Guild. Instead of sitting around at home, frustrated, miserable and bored, they could escape every week for a couple of hours of crafts, lectures, games and chat.

The Guild grew fast. Ada found jobs for its members with local employers, and opened a purpose-built holiday home for members in Churchill, Somerset. For the first time, Bristol’s disabled children and adults could enjoy a break in country air. Back in the city, Ada’s Guild opened the first building to be specially designed for the needs of the disabled. It had wheelchair-friendly access, a gym, a large hall and plenty of room for arts and crafts as well as lectures. 

Out now—find out more here

Ada Vachell worked hard all her life for Bristol’s poor and disabled in the days before the welfare state. She died of pneumonia, aged only fifty-seven. Who knows what else she might have achieved if only she’d lived longer?

Don’t forget to tell me your own story about an inspirational woman before midnight GMT on Sunday 10th March. Click here and enter for the chance to win a signed book!

Blog, Bristol, history

Struggle and Suffrage—The Movie…

Well, all right, not so much a movie as a promotional video! I’ve been experimenting with Animoto, and here’s the result…

Animoto are working on the reason for the pale cover, by the way!



Animoto gave me a Promo code to share—you can get a free month if you copy and paste this code  https://animoto.com/ref/Pip-693f6dd5b into your application when you subscribe.

Blog, books, Bristol

Books: Reading, New, and Free!

I’ve been so busy with my university course (you can find out more about that here) I’ve barely had a chance to read anything apart from text books since the summer. I’ve borrowed so many books on Thomas Hardy, H.E.Bates and more from Gloucestershire University’s library I’ll have to transport them back in shifts!

With two assessments due in this week, I’ve sadly neglected this blog, but from today things are going to change. Term ends on Friday this week, so I’m hoping to have lots of time for tinkering with this site. If you can think of any improvements, please let me know.

This week began with some great news. At long last I have a publication date for my non-fiction book,  Struggle and Suffrage—Women’s Lives in Bristol. It’ll be released on 28th February 2019. That feels like a lifetime away, but it’s only just over eleven weeks.

Here’s the blurb…

It’s freezing, pitch black, and silent- apart from the sound of rats under the bed your wheezing children share. Snow has blown in under the door overnight. Fetching all the water you need from the communal well will be a slippery job today. If your husband gives you some money, your family can eat. If not, hard luck. You’ll all have to go hungry. Welcome to the life of a Victorian woman living in one of Bristol’s riverside tenements.

I’ve had a go at creating an Amazon link, so you can buy with one click. Here it is—please let me know if it works for you!

 

Bristol, history, Reference, Struggle and Suffrage: Women's Lives In Bristol 1850-1950

Review: Women and The City: Bristol 1373-2000, Edited by Dr Madge Dresser

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Women-City-1373-2000-Madge-Dresser/dp/190832631X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1514970849&sr=8-1&keywords=madge+dresser
Find out more at http://amzn.to/2Cgv5r0
Women and the City: Bristol 1373-2000 is a collection of essays by respected academics. It’s a lively, absorbing read. A good balance has been struck between well-written prose and contemporary illustrations. The book and its content is presented in a way that invites even a casual reader to keep turning the pages. There’s a handy list of abbreviations right at the front, which is much easier than having to flick through to the index, or notes, each time a set of initials pops up in the text. Other academic works would do well to follow this example.
 
I bought Women and the City: Bristol 1373-2000 to help with research for my own book, Struggle and Suffrage: Women’s Lives in Bristol 1850-1950, but after studying the sections relevant to my own work I went straight back to the beginning of the book and read it all. It’s a mine of information for anyone with an enquiring mind. I’d particularly recommend it to aspiring historical novelists in search of inspiration. The fact that a woman (Ann Barry) held the lease of that stronghold of “Enlightened” masculinity, the Exchange Coffee House in Corn Street offers all sorts of dramatic possibilities, for example. It’s often forgotten that Bristol women struck a significant blow in the fight against slavery. The formation of the Bristol and Clifton Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society is never as widely reported as Bristol’s part in that terrible trade. This book helps to put that right. 
 
Women and the City: Bristol 1373-2000 is curated by Associate Professor of History at the University of the West of England and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Dr Madge Dresser. The breadth of its content and unique style of each contributor makes for a fascinating read. It offers great insight into the history of Bristol and its people. Anyone who knows the city will look at local landmarks with new eyes after reading it.  
 

 

To sum up, this is an invaluable collection for historians, and anyone interested in women’s studies. It’s also an inspiring read for the rest of us.
Archives, Bristol, Women Of Bristol 1850-1950

Making A Start

Balloon Fiesta Flights Over Bristol

I love writing, and for the past few years I’ve been working in the soft and seductive landscape of romance. It’s been a lovely and productive time for me, and you can see a full list of my published books (together with their cover art) here.

Much as I love fiction, my career started with non-fiction and to be honest, there are times when I’ve missed it. So when I was offered the chance to write the Bristol edition of Pen and Sword Books’ Women’s Lives, 1850-1950, I jumped at it. I was born in what used to be little more than a village half-way between Bristol and Bath, so this was an opportunity to go back to my roots in more ways than one.

The first thing I did toward my new project was to open a spreadsheet and start a timeline. The top row is national events. For example, I’ve included the censuses from March 1851 onwards, to the publication of George Orwell’s 1984 in 1949. The second row of my database shows milestones in the history of Bristol between 1850-1950. The third row is notable details in the lives of Bristolian women.

Then I had a brainstorming session, listing the seven major areas of interest: education, home life, health, entertainment, working outside the home, entertainment, and finally politics and protest. The Women’s Lives, 1850-1950 series will be published in 2018, to coincide with the centenary of the first women being given the vote in England.

Once I had this organised, I slotted all the information I mined from the Bristol Archives under one heading or another, cross-referenceing as I went. It’s saving me a lot of time. As I was working, I met some female family historians who were kind enough to give me some anecdotes for my book. It all added up to an invaluable start to my project.

Now I have to collate all this information, and work it up into a text worthy of all these remarkable local women. Given that the years 1850-1950 was a century filled with innovation, bravery and self-sacrifice, shot through with the down-to-earth humour of Bristolians, that shouldn’t be too hard.

My only problem will be what to leave out. I’ve got enough material for half a dozen books—not just one!