KHC – ‘REMARKABLE WOMEN’ WALK
Delivered on September 7th and 14th, 2018
What follows is the basic text (much in notes) of the guided walk written by Caroline Sherwin (Walks Team Leader) to complement the 2018 Heritage Open Days’ nation-wide theme of ‘Extraordinary Women’.
KHC – King Street, turn left – Old Vicarage (ALISON UTTLEY) – diagonally through Wall Wood – George Street No.16 (JOAN LEACH) – Queen Street – cross Manchester Road to Heath – diagonally across Heath to Northwich Road to Little Heath – turn left at 45 degree angle to entry/exit near Heathwaite House (ELIZABETH GASKELL).
Walk to town centre, Princess Street and stand outside Waitrose (ARABELLA DOHERTY). Continue to Regent Street to the Royal George arch (LADY JANE STANLEY, LOUISE CARBUTT, HELENA SWANNICK). Cross King Street and turn right to Gaskell Tower/King’s Coffee House (THE MISS WILSONS). Back to KHC.
Born Alice Jane Taylor in 1884 in Cromford and brought up in rural Derbyshire. Gained scholarships to both the Lady Manners School in Bakewell and Manchester University where she became only the second woman there to graduate with Honours in Physics (1906); trained as a teacher in Cambridge and in 1908 was teaching Physics in Fulham.
Around 1910, she was living in Knutsford where she spent 2 blissfully happy years. She had married James Arthur Uttley in 1911 and had moved north to be near his family in South Manchester. James was an engineer, who was in charge of building a new bridge at Northenden and who later fought in WW1, which left him prone to depression and led to his suicide by drowning in the Mersey in 1930. Only son, John, born in 1914 also committed suicide 2 years after his mother’s death by driving off a cliff in 1978
She lived at 13 Higher Downs, Bowdon from 1924 – 38 before moving to Beaconsfield where her near neighbour was Enid Blyton, whom she called ‘a vulgar, curled woman’. It was on the death of her husband in 1930 that she had to take up writing seriously as a source of income – a 100+ books to her name – to support herself and John. The books are full of love for the countryside (Little Grey Rabbit, Brock the Badger …). ‘Mine (stories) aren’t made up. They are real … I don’t sit down and write a story, they come’.
Her diaries suggest she was a controlling and difficult woman (but she did have a problem filled personal life) who despised many people and was jealous of Enid Blyton whom she referred to as ‘the Blyton’. They met only once: ‘When I asked what books she wrote, EB replied, ‘Look in Smith’s window’ and turned away and never spoke again’.
She hated comparison with Beatrix Potter – merely an illustrator who wrote words round pictures, whereas she was a great storyteller (her headstone reads ‘a spinner of tales’). She quarrelled with her main illustrator, Margaret Tempest – ‘a humourless bore’ – but admired Walter de la Mare as a fellow believer in time travel. Charles Tunnicliffe (illustrator of 17 of her books) got on well with her, possibly because they never met.
Her diaries 1932 – 71 were edited down from 39 volumes. Despite her scientific background, she believed in fairies all her life. In many ways completely practical and scientific, she also talked about ghosts.
She was probably a difficult woman to live with and an overly protective mother. Her competitive and passionate nature tended to cloud her judgement in both her private and professional life. Penelope Fitzgerald recalled ‘a self deluding romantic and a compulsive housekeeper, patching and jam making in an heroically untidy kitchen’
In 1970, Manchester University awarded her a D. Litt. She died aged 90 in 1976, a literary ‘name’, acclaimed but not really content. (A neighbour in Beaconsfield said they ‘never buried anyone with more relief’).
Her papers are lodged in the John Rylands Library.
Next, we move from someone with only tenuous links with Knutsford to a woman steeped in local history and referred to as ‘Mrs Knutsford’ in her obituary.
1933 – 2010. Aged 77 when she died
(Includes my memories of her in 2009 – 10).
Local historian, largely self taught and a specialist on the life and works of Elizabeth Gaskell. Mrs G would probably have rated Joan an ‘Amazon’.
Born at 16, George Street, Knutsford – working class home – scholarship to Alty Girls’ – TT college in Derby before teaching in Sale and, later, Nottingham. She met her husband, Christopher, on a training course and they married in 1960. Eventually, they moved back to this area and both taught at Tabley House School before she devoted herself to local history and especially Elizabeth Gaskell. (A friend wrote of her unique filing system which ‘involved the stairs, the hallway, most of her living room, all the bedrooms and window sills’ – nevertheless, she could lay her hands on anything she wanted).
With friends, she founded the Gaskell Society in 1985 – now a world-wide organisation. She, also, helped found the Knutsford Literature Festival about 20 years ago; wrote the definitive history of K’ford (Knutsford: a History); was awarded the MBE for ‘Services to Literature and the Community’ in 2005. A Unitarian, her ashes are buried at the foot of Elizabeth Gaskell’s grave in the Brook Street Chapel graveyard.
It is only appropriate that our next remarkable woman should be Elizabeth Gaskell.
ELIZABETH GASKELL 1810 – 1865
A potted history: the best known of the remarkable women on this walk. Connection with Knutsford.: born Elizabeth Stevenson in Chelsea in 1810 – father, mother and elder brother, John. Her mother died soon after her birth and Elizabeth was sent north to Knutsford to be cared for by her mother’s family, the Hollands. She was brought up by her Aunt Lumb, whom she called ‘my more than mother’.
She spent her childhood here; she was later married here at St John’s Church and she is buried here in the graveyard of the Unitarian Chapel and, despite living in Manchester, she was a frequent visitor to the town throughout her life. Her links with Knutsford were significant and when she ran into trouble with the publication of her first novel, ‘Mary Barton’, it was natural for her to retreat to the world of her youth and write of the largely uncontroversial local people and events with all their oddities and eccentricities. (‘Cranford’)
So far, so unremarkable. She complained in a famous letter of 1850 of the problems created for her by ‘my ‘Me’s (of which) I have a great number, and that’s the plague’. Consider what she achieved in her 55 years:
- home builder – 3 homes in Manchester, as she and William gradually moved away from the centre of town (home duties – ‘… pressed upon by daily, small Lilliputian arrows of peddling cares …’)
- mother – 7 children – 4 survived (An anxious mother where her daughters were concerned; today she might fall under the heading of a ‘helicopter’ parent).
- traveller – ‘Change and travel’ a favoured remedy: France, Germany, Italy, London, Silverdale (she and William were frequently apart – ‘like Adam and Eve in the weather glass’ because when one was at home , the other was away).
- biographer – of her friend, Charlotte Bronte
- novelist – 6 or 7 novels plus short stories, articles … (Dickens etc)
- correspondent – 2 volumes of letters
- philanthropist – she was, in addition to all else, a minister’s wife
- Eminent Victorian – knew everyone including the Duke of Devonshire (Dear Duke!). Writers – Dickens, Thackeray, Carlyle, Brontes, Macaulay, Palgrave, Kingsley; artists – Holman Hunt, Rossetti; politicians plus assorted bishops, deans and heads of Oxbridge colleges. Related to the Wedgwood and Darwin families; knew Florence Nightingale, Matthew Arnold …
- Busy multi-tasking: ‘But you see everyone comes to me perpetually. Now in this hour since breakfast I have had to decide on the following … boiled beef – how long to boil? What perennials will do in Manchester smoke and what colours our garden wants? Length of skirt for a gown? Salary of a nursery governess? Read letters on the state of Indian army … settle 20 questions of dress for the girls, who are going out for the day … see a lady about a story of hers and give her disheartening but very good advice. Arrange about selling 2 poor cows for one good one – and it’s not half past ten yet!’
- Small wonder she died when she did; she achieved more in 55 years than most could manage given 3 life times. A remarkable woman indeed.
- And now from an eminent Victorian to one barely remembered but nonetheless remarkable in her way.
ARABELLA DOHERTY Born in 1863 in Manchester but moved to Knutsford and in 1891 was running Lang’s cake shop in Princess Street (on the site of Johnsons, the Cleaners today). Lived there with her sisters, Miriam, Emily and Mabel and grandmother, Elizabeth Dean.In 1891, the shop was doing so well that she could employ a servant but in 1895 she gave it all up for the man she loved.; she missed George Doherty who was working in India, so she set off for Calcutta. Her grandson said,’ …if she wanted to do something, she just got on with it’. The pair married in 1895 in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Calcutta (he worked as a merchant’s assistant). She was a keen cyclist (a member of the Anfield Harriers who once rode to Cardiff in 2 days on a bike with no brakes). Caused controversy in India by cycling in Calcutta wearing trousers; the locals threw stones at her for dressing like a man. Eventually, she and George returned to England, to Sale, but moved back to Knutsford in 1904 where her third daughter was born (2 sons died). Lived in Cranford Avenue and was a member of the Unitarian Church. At some stage (1916ish?), the family moved to Lytham St Annes but on George’s death in 1925, Arabella and one of her daughters went to New Zealand, where Arabella stayed for 2 years before returning. Died in 1957 aged 94, keeping her independence to the end. Next we have a trio of ladies for whom I have only pictures and no buildings to stand in front of because houses have either been demolished or are too far out of town. LADY JANE STANLEY Back to the 18th century and this daughter of the 11th Earl of Derby, who became Knutsford’s first aristocratic resident when she moved to Brook House in 1780. She was then in her fifties. Lady Jane was a woman of high principle and decided views, who knew her own worth:
- pavements and her aversion to ‘linking’
- her brother’s marriage to Miss Farron – an actress!
- Was believed to be the model for Lady Ludlow in Elizabeth Gaskell’s work.
LOUISE CARBUTT 1832 – 1907 Died aged 74Educational pioneer who was born in Hamburg, one of 8 children. Her family moved to England and her father, Francis, was a Leeds liberal and Unitarian. Louise opened her own boarding school for older girls (13 – 18 years) in Brook House in 1860 and it lasted for 10 years. Subjects included History, Ethics and Logic, a progressive education in its day. One of the teachers was WH Herford (1820 – 1908) who had taught in Bonn and Berne, shared the educational ideals of Pestalozzi and Froebel and had a good reputation as a teacher. He was an advocate of university education for women. Louise retired in 1870 because of ill health and devoted more of her time to women’s suffrage. In 1866, she had been a signatory to the first mass petition for votes for women presented to Parliament by John Stuart Mill and in 1869 was a speaker in Manchester on suffrage. In 1884, she married Herford (his 2nd wife) who, by this time, had founded another school, Ladybarn House in Withington, one of the first co-educational schools for younger children. He left it 12 years later and his second daughter took over. Note re education at this time: a German teacher at LC’s school in Knutsford resigned because she ‘had really suffered from the independence of the English girls’ – too outspoken to their elders, to the point of rudeness. HELENA SWANWICK 1864 – 1939 pacifist and feminist Born in Munich, her father was Oswald Sickert, the Danish painter/cartoonist and one of her 3 brothers, Walter Sickert, the artist. The family moved to England in 1868, to Notting Hill where they knew William Morris and Edward Burne Jones. She attended Notting Hill HS, was influenced by the works of JS Mill, especially ‘On the Subjugation of Women,’ rebelled against her parents – ‘A boy might be a person but not a girl … all my brothers had rights as a person, not I’. She went to Girton College, Cambridge, in the 1880s, and while there met and married Frederick Swanwick in 1888. He became a Maths teacher at Queen’s College, Manchester. They moved to Knutsford in 1900, to Annandale (on the Mobberly Road). By 1905, she had been inspired by Christabel Pankhurst and joined the North of England Suffrage Society. She wrote articles for the Manchester Guardian (under the editorship of CP Scott). In 1906, she joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and was on the Executive Committee until 1915, when she resigned because she believed in non-violence and Millicent Fawcett refused to argue against WW1. From 1908 – 12, she edited the Union’s weekly magazine, ‘The Common Cause’ and was, also, a member of the Labour Party. In 1908, she founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and held some 150 meetings throughout England and Scotland but she lacked Pankhurst’s charisma. In 1914, she was one of a number of women from the north of England who signed an open letter to the women of Austria and Germany ‘as a gesture of sisterhood and solidarity’; about 6 from the Knutsford branch of the NUWSS signed. As a pacifist, she campaigned for a negotiated peace and after the war, opposed the punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles; she was a delegate for the League of Nations. Appointed to the Order of the Companion of Honour in 1931. She wrote for the feminist journal, ‘Time and Tide’ and in her 1935 autobiography, ‘I Have Been Young’ gave an account of the non-militant suffrage campaign and the anti-war campaigning of WW1. She died (suicide?) in 1939 from a drugs overdose, realising that all her hopes and work for peace had come to nothing. April 2018 – her name and picture are amongst the 30 on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett which was unveiled in Parliament Square this year. A remarkable woman. To our final stop – to what was the King’s Coffee House on King Street. ALICE AND ETHEL WILSON (sisters) And so, to this building. By 1908, Richard Harding Watt had completed both the Gaskell Tower (explain why/how this came about) and the King’s Coffee House ( his original intention for it to be a place for the working man had failed) which was elegant, refined and sophisticated – recreating, he hoped, a space for the kind of thriving and talented artistic community he had known when living in Bowdon prior to 1880. (With the coming of the railway, Bowdon became a residential enclave for musicians, artists and academics and it spawned a colony of talented women painters like Margaret Allingham, Gladys Vasey and Ethel Hall). To ensure the King’s Coffee House managers personified his ideals, he engaged 2 enlightened young ladies, Alice and Ethel Wilson, who were chosen not so much for their managerial skills as their artistic background and modern, liberal viewpoints. Both were artists and displayed their work in Manchester, Birmingham and London; Ethel was a member of the RA and her work is well recorded (she married John Hall, one of CP Scott’s sub editors on the renowned Manchester Guardian). Both were close friends of Emily Pankhurst, the suffragette leader (who stayed in Knutsford for a time), and Alice (the more violent of the sisters) served a short spell in prison for her belief in the Movement. The Coffee House was not only a gathering place for creative types and centre of artistic activity but also a place for the exchange of political views. ( Mention my mother’s memories). Conclusion: Before working on this, I had little or no idea that there were women in Knutsford who were so well connected and/or so active in the major, national issues of their day. And you may have noticed that 2 ideas run through a number of their stories: Unitarianism and Women’s Suffrage. There is one last remarkable woman and you may view her work at the Heritage Centre. Sue Newhouse‘s vision, creativity and expertise defined the project which resulted in the Knutsford Tapestry – a unique, and quite extraordinary, achievement by anyone’s standards.
Caroline Sherwin (pictured above) would like to thank the volunteers from the Heritage Centre and other local people for their help in researching this walk. [August 2018]