Herstory of Keswick

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This is a fascinating exhibition which has something of interest for everyone. It doesn't just tell the history of women but opens our eyes to a wealth of detail about the town itself which we have never had the opportunity to display before. Clare Poulter, Chair, Keswick Museum

Herstory of Keswick celebrates the important contribution women have made over the centuries, through reconstructed room sets and hands-on activities: revisit the squalid conditions of the nineteenth century Yards or relax in the Rawnsley’s Vicarage parlour…

Perhaps the most celebrated and important woman to remember in Keswick in 2018 is Catherine Marshall who lived with her family at Hawse End. She became a nationally important figure as Parliamentary Secretary for the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and suggested the Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage to London which culminated in a deputation to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith in 1913. Women marched from all over the country along eight routes, gaining numbers as they went. In Keswick they passed over Greta Bridge and through the centre of town as the images show. The NUWSS were law-abiding suffragists rather than the more violent suffragettes and many people (especially men) were sympathetic to their peaceful methods. When in 1916 the Government began to draw up an Act to give all men the vote, Suffragists lobbied persistently and as a result the Representation of the People Act in 1918 finally gave SOME women the vote. It was not until 1928 that men and women could vote on equal terms.

The exhibition will tell the stories of over 30 women. These will be grouped in three main areas:

  • A reconstruction of a poor Yard’s cottage (Yards were the lanes leading off Main Street). Here the displays will look at the lives of working class women in the 19th century who often had to endure squalid conditions without mains drainage and with housing next to industrial businesses such as blacksmiths, tanners and slaughterhouses. In 1852 the inspector reported that the death rate was so great that one half of our population never reaches manhood.

By the time of the 1870 Keswick Main Street painting, things were little better: Old Woman Burns to Death tells the tragic story of one of the women and her grand-daughter Mary Jane Wise.

Kennedy’s yard – Slaughter house, paved floor; no drainage; large open midden in yard, all refuse thrown through window; pigsties; ashpits and middens; pump against house end to drain cellar.

…Mr Atkinson’s Yard: The privy and an open midden is close against the house and the windows open over it. Midden about seven yards by two yards; the wet soaks through the housewall……….large maggots from the midden crawl about the house in summer.

  • A rather more comfortable room set, reflecting the lives of women who did not have to work, will be based on Crosthwaite Vicarage in 1890 when the Rawnsleys were in residence. Edith was founder, designer and director of the Keswick School of Industrial Arts. Another vicar’s relative, Lucy Gipps, was a beautiful watercolourist and much admired by John Ruskin.
  • The ‘Ant Hill’ (or Aunt Hill) was Robert Southey’s name for Greta Hall. It referred to the three Fricker sisters, of three poet husbands, who occupied Greta Hall with their children and many cats – a chaotic household.
  • Writing Keswick’s Story will be another major theme looking at the many female writers who have lived in Keswick:
  • -Caroline Bowles and Mary Barker – artists and writers associated with Robert Southey at Greta Hall (Caroline was his second wife)
  • -Eliza Lynn Linton – the first salaried Britiish female journalist – born in Crosthwaite vicarage
  • -Enid Wilson –daughter of George Abraham –The Guardian countryside correspondent for 30 years
  • -Pat Branthwaite - previous editor of The Reminder
  • -Jane Grave – Pat’s daughter and current editor of The Reminder

Further themes are Working Women, Wartime Women and Community Heroines. Volunteers and partners from Keswick, including Keswick Tourism Association and The Keswick Reminder, have been working with the museum to gather women’s stories. They have searched the museum collections and archive but also consulted with the local community who have nominated women they would like to be remembered in the exhibition via Facebook and community history days.

We have given people the chance to nominate women who have inspired them - both living and historic - so we have some famous and some as yet uncelebrated stories, says Sue Mackay, the project’s curator.

For example:

  • -Nora Hartley, Ribble Bus conductress and lodging house keeper
  • -Maysie McCambridge, Mayor and founder of Keswick Youth Club
  • -Lynne Jones, chair of Keswick Flood Action Group
  • -Sally Fielding who runs Sally’s Cottages from Keswick

The exhibition is part of the Women of Cumbria project: Prompted by the centenary of the first votes for women in 2018, Cumbrian museums have joined with Girlguiding, WI, Soroptimists and Trefoil Guild in Cumbria to celebrate the amazing contribution women have made to life in our county. Each museum has also made a banner with its community partners to parade for International Women’s Day on 3rd March in Carlisle city centre.