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!

research, Scrivener, Women Of Bristol 1850-1950, Women's Lives

Setting Up With Scrivener

I wrote here about my new non-fiction project for Pen And Sword Books, Women’s Lives: Women Of Bristol 1850-1950. This will involve a lot of research and will stretch out over several months, so it’s vital that my work should be well-organized. 

Some people are methodical by nature. I’m not, but working with the dedicated writing package Scrivener developed by Literature and Latte makes it easy to keep track of things. Instead of having box files, ring binders filled with notes and jottings on odd bits of paper, I collect everything together in one Scrivener project. Each chapter is given its own file within this Scrivener document, and so far I’ve created other files within it with the main headings of Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Contacts, interviews and Images.  Each of these is further sub-divided so in theory, nothing can get lost—unlike notes scribbled on the back of envelopes. 

Each time I come across a useful website or find a quote, I can store it in the appropriate information file. Although the manuscript pages of my Scrivener project will only accept text, video and audio links can be stored in other parts of the 

Bristol Docks


I’ve already got general headings for my chapters such as; Education, Work, Family Life, Health, Leisure, and Active Citizens, and I’ll sub-divide these as work progresses. The big advantages of working with Scrivener is that I can summarise each chapter as a synopsis of my ideas. These can then be displayed in Scrivener’s ‘Corkboard’ mode, in the style of index cards. There’s a facility to colour-code each of these, so I can see at a glance where I am—not yet started, notes, first draft, revised draft, completed and so on. 

Scrivener has a useful split-screen mode, which comes into its own for cataloguing. While I’m writing or editing a document displayed on the top half of my computer screen, I can add sources or create an index entry on the lower half of the screen. 

You can read my top tips for working with Scrivener here

Finally, if you’ve got any gossip about a woman’s life in pre-1950’s Bristol, I’d love to hear from you! Add a comment below…

Bristol, non-fiction, Representation of the People Act 1918, research, Women Of Bristol 1850-1950, Women's Lives

What Do You Know…about Bristol?

Clifton Suspension Bridge

I’m starting an exciting new non-fiction project. Women’s Lives is a series of books to be published by Pen And Sword Books  in 2018, to coincide with the centenary of women over the age of thirty being given the vote in the Representation Of The People Act.

One volume of Women’s Lives will be devoted to a single city in the United Kingdom. My family have strong ties with the city of Bristol, which go back hundreds of years. I was born a few miles away in a village which was then in the Somerset countryside but is now on the outskirts of the city. My first full-time job was in the Bristol offices of a life-assurance company, and after I married I  went to work for Rolls-Royce Aero in Filton

Ancient And Modern…

When I heard about the Pen And Sword project I was keen to get involved. I’ve been writing romance for a long time, but I started my writing career contributing non-fiction articles to newspapers and magazines. This was too good a chance to miss, so I’ve now started work on the Bristol edition of the series.

In writing Women’s Lives: Women of Bristol 1850-1950 I’ll be going back to my roots in a big way. It will mean spending a lot of time combing through the archives, but nothing beats a real-life anecdote.

Do you have any stories to share about life in the City of Bristol in the years before 1950?