I had two bits of good news today which I just had to share. First, The Bristol and Avon Family History Society gave my current non-fiction release, Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol, a great review. Here’s a taste of it, courtesy of my publisher, Pen and Sword Books…
‘This book is meticulously researched & contains extensive reference notes, bibliography & a detailed index… An excellent contribution to the history of Bristol’s women.’ (Bristol & Avon Family History Society)
My second piece of good news is that Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol is now available as an ebook. You can download it by clicking here, or on the advert at the top left of this page. If you’d prefer the paperback edition (at the special offer price of only £10.55) you can buy that here.
All over the world women are campaigning today under the hashtag #BalanceforBetter as they work toward a world that is more fair.
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 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.
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?
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!
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.