Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Ada English Psychiatrist Galway Woman

Posted in Ada English Psychiatrist and Irish Nationalist by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 20, 2018

Ada biography

Dr Ada English is someone whose role in Irish history is beginning to be acknowledged particularly because of the centenary events in the past few years where women’s contribution to revolutionary Irish politics and entry into the professions is  being celebrated and commemorated, at last. I too was intrigued to hear about another inspiring Galway woman.

Ada English seems like a strange name for an Irish nationalist who spoke the language having  received lessons from Pádraig Pearse in the Irish language in which she was fluent. It was only her gravestone in Ballinasloe District Asylum where she was buried alongside her patients that gave her name in Irish as Eithne Inglis.  Ada was an influential  psychiatrist under British rule in Ireland and who would also have understood the importance of identity. She was also a woman in a male dominated profession with all the attendant prejudices against women and the lack of appreciation for their work and achievements in gaining promotion and having their expertise and insights appreciated.

Ada has recently begun to be given the recognition she deserves. The biography by Dr Brendan Kelly kick started the process of the appreciation of the life and work of of one of the earliest female doctors in Ireland as well as becoming one of the original female psychiatrists in Ireland.

But she was so much more as she was an active nationalist in Cumann na mBan during the Rising and the civil war serving as a doctor, she served 6 months in prison in  Galway  Jail and she was elected to the Dáil all this alongside her very dedicated work as psychiatrist in a busy mental hospital.

She featured in Ireland in History Day by Day on the anniversary of her birth 27th January 2018

Ada English 1875-1944 was born in Cahersiveen (Cathair Saidhbhín). The family moved to Mullingar when she was a year old where her father was a pharmacist and Town Commissioner. She had four siblings while her grandfather, Richard, had been Master of the Old Castle Workhouse in the town. to secondary school at the Loreto Convent in Mullingar in 1881.

Having already trained briefly in Richmond Asylum, The Mater Misericodiae and Temple Street Hospital, Dr English arrived as the second assistant medical officer in Ballinasloe District Asylum in 1904 and for a short period, she had an appointment at a London hospital before taking the position of assistant at what is now St Bridget’s Hospital in Ballinasloe. Chronic overcrowding of the 1,293 patients (519 female, 774 male) greeted her there. Dr Kirwan’s was the Resident Medical Superintendent)at the time of Ada’s arrival in Ballinasloe.

Mary Macken (later Professor) remembered her:
I remember her crisp blond hair, remarkable eyes and fascinating lisp. She struck me as being singularly adult. She was in fact some years my senior and tolerant of everything except incompetence or willingness on our part to put up with it. For she burned to get at her real work of medicine; it was for her as much a vocation as a profession.


Ada English

Ada is sat in the centre wearing a white coat and a tie.

The esteem in which Ada held her patients was remarkably different from society at the time.The Dangerous Lunatics Act, which was passed in 1838 which initially applied to Ireland alone allowed individuals to be involuntarily detained in Asylums on account of testimonies of relatives or other familiar people relating to alleged present mental disorders. Inciting evidence often could be as basic as a “mere peculiarity of behaviour or expression”. Asylums became proverbial dumping grounds for those who were ostracised or dismissed by society. Due to the overcrowded nature of the local jails and work houses at the time many were transferred to asylums such as Ballinasloe. In doing so patients who had severe and genuine psychiatric diseases and disorders where overwhelmed in terms of space by those who often didn’t require psychiatric treatment.

She developed occupational therapy including farming and sports and under her direction Ballinasloe was the first mental hospital in Ireland to use  electric convulsive therapy.

The camogie team for which Ada was personally responsible for introducing in 1915 went on to be very successful in external competitions, winning silver medals at the Second Tailteann Games in 1928. There is now an Ada English Memorial Cup for camogie. A cinder track for cycling competitions was laid down in 1921. There were also hurling, hockey and tug of war teams.

Ada Camogie team

There is a lovely essay on Ada which won the Scoilnet 2017 History Competition Winner  by Maithiu Breathnach and the subject was – Dr. Ada English: Innovator and Revolutionary.

“Ada also developed the drama society alongside Dr Kirwan for those who had no interest in sports and/or had a major interest in the world of drama, thus catering for multiple individuals’ hobbies and passions alike. This is important to highlight in the regard in which she had concern and compassion for all her patients. The Asylum farm also gained substantial recognition at the summer convening of the Irish division of the Medico Psychological Association at Ballinasloe in June 1917 and the “many improvements recently made in the Asylum” were highlighted to a great effect. Ada also wholeheartedly believed in the power of cinema and later noted in 1940 that “it would be a great boon to the patients if the old cinema could be adjusted to take talkies”

In October 1914, Ada was appointed to a lecturership in mental disease in University College Galway a position she retained until February 1943. In 1921, she was offered the position of RMS of Sligo Mental Hospital by Austin Stack , Secretary of State for Home Affairs, but she decided to stay in Ballinasloe.The decision to overlook Ada despite given her thirty-two years experience there and the fact that she had already proven herself a capable RMS during the absence of Mills the RMS, caused understandable consternation.. She was finally appointed, in 1941, to the position of RMS. It was a long wait to gain the promotion but she so obviously dedicated to the patients, staff and the town of Ballinasloe and decided to stay there. Ada loved to tour the highways and byways around the town in her horse and trap, driven by a patient, and would stop and talk with those she met on the road. One man, who met Ada frequently when he was a child, remembers her as  always accompanied by her dogs, Victor, Isabel and Judy.

Ada Oireachtas Gaelic League

The photo of the 1913 Galway Oireachtas, outside the Town Hall in Galway which was attended by three future presidents of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, Seán T O’Kelly and Eamon de Valera as well as by Proclamation signatories Pádraig Pearse, Seán Mac Diarmada and Éamonn Ceannt, and other noted figures such as Cathal Brugha, Countess Markievic and Dr Ada English.


Of course, she was very politically involved in the area.
Ada was a nationalist both politically and culturally. Ada’s first role within subversive activities as seen by the British authorities was her and Dr Kirwan’s replacement of Queen Victoria with the Galway coat of arms on the buttons worn by staff members in 1905 as well as her erection of notices in Irish in proceeding years. She also was an early proponent of import substitution in the sense she insisted on purchasing Irish manufactured goods only where available.
She was imbued with the spirit of Irish nationalism. She was involved in the Gaelic League, Sinn Féin, Cumann na mBann and the Irish Volunteers. She was was  medical officer to Liam Mellows throughout the insurgency in Galway during the Easter Ris ing.
In June 1918 it was reported that she “took a prominent part in the women’s anti-conscription campaign in Ballinasloe…and was chief organiser”. Even beyond 1918 her various movements and actions were closely watched. In the same Dublin Castle File No. 4168, with the title of “Activities Since the Truce” it was illuminated how “after making a “blood and thunder” oration at Ballinasloe town she proceeded openly to enlist members of Cumann na mBan. The Asylum at Ballinasloe also provided the perfect environment for Ada to conceal prominent individuals such as Eamonn De Valera and Liam Mellows on some occasions from detection.
In 1921 Ada was imprisoned for six months for having been found in possession of seditious literature. Alice Cashel was there at the same time. That year she was also elected to the second Dáil of Sinn Féin’s underground, unilaterally declared Irish Republic. Ada was opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and participated on the republican side during the ensuing Civil War. As Diarmaid Ferriter states in the forward to the biography it is fitting that participants such as Ada English are rescued ‘from the historical margins’ and assessed alongside their contemporaries of those revolutionary times. Until quite recently she was a neglected and nearly forgotten figure.

In 1944 following Ada’s death, due to a heart attack in Mount Pleasant Nursing Home, Ballinasloe in accordance with her own wishes she was buried in Creagh Cemetery adjacent to Ballinasloe Mental Hospital (later renamed St Brigid’s hospital (1960) until final closure in 2013) alongside some of her former patients.

Adas grave

Mrs Helena Concannon, a senator paid tribute to Ada on the 19th of April 1945 upon the Mental Treatment Act of 1945 passing in the Dail and noted her role in bringing it about. She highlighted Ada’s substantial efforts in having the term “Asylum” replaced with the less ominous “mental hospital”.

Ada’s desire to exchange the custodial nature of the prevalent institutions of the time
with a more therapeutic environment wasn’t achieved until recent times, with immense
progress still being required, an aspect identified by “A Vision for Change” in 2006
 Since her biography was published and the interest in commemoration women’s role in Irish revolutionary history the name Dr Ada English is now being recognised as an important figure in women’s contribution to medicine, psychiatry, the national struggle and political life. Her legacy is been commemorated in various ways.
There is a play by Pat Johnston who taught History at Garbally College, Ballinasloe and is now retired. As a member of St. Brigid’s Hospital Heritage Group she has worked towards keeping alive the history of the psychiatric hospital and its community. Her play,For a Little Lonely While, is an exploration of the life and work of Dr. Ada English.
There is a St Brigid’s Hospital Heritage Group and the erection of plaques honouring her at Pearse Street, Mullingar and more importantly at Loreto College, Mullingar alongside an ornate marble bench and there was an Ada English Summer School  held in Ballinasloe in 2013.

 Ada Summer School

In 1944 following Ada’s death, due to a heart attack in Mount Pleasant Nursing Home, Ballinasloe in accordance with her own wishes she was buried in Creagh Cemetery adjacent to Ballinasloe Mental Hospital (later renamed St Brigid’s hospital (1960) until final closure in 2013) alongside some of her former patients.

Mrs Helena Concannon, a senator paid tribute to Ada on the 19th of April 1945 upon the Mental Treatment Act of 1945 passing in the Dail and noted her role in bringing it about. She highlighted Ada’s substantial efforts in having the term “Asylum” replaced with the less ominous “mental hospital”.

I hope people enjoy discovering and celebrating pioneers like Ada and that Galway folk come to appreciate some of the fine inspiring women who played a part in the life of Galway in the last hundred years as much as I have in writing about them.


Margaretta D’Arcy Galway Woman

Posted in Margaretta D'Arcy Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 14, 2018

Margaretta D’Arcy is the most bolshie and active protesters of the Galway women I have selected. D’Arcy is m one of the 14 Tribes of GalwayDarcy crest.


Margaretta D’Arcy is a writer, playwright, actress and peace-activist is known for addressing Irish nationalism, civil liberties and women’s rights.

Margaretta was born in London in 1934 to a Russian Jewish mother and an Irish Catholic father. Her father, Joseph, was a tenement child from Henrietta Street in Dublin and was active in the IRA during the War of Independence. He later met Miriam Billig. As the daughter of an Irish freedom fighter and a Jewish doctor, a second-generation refugee from Odessa in the Ukraine, this split identity informed her battles in the theatrical and political worlds she has inhabited. She was the third of four girls in the family who were moved between England and Ireland, and to different addresses in Ireland.

D’Arcy worked in small theatres in Dublin from the age of fifteen and later became an actress. She was an acting ASM at the new, progressive-looking Hornchurch Rep in the early 1950s and graduated to the Royal Court where she became an actress in the heady days of that theatre’s radical resuscitation under the charismatic George Devine. For a time she was one of the company’s most flaming members. Protest was constant in her life. She joined Bertrand Russell’s Committee of 100 in 1960.

Margaretta and John

She met and married the playwright John Arden in 1957. They had five sons: the eldest, Finn, is a film editor; Jacob works for City University in London; Neuss is a safety inspector on the London underground and Adam works in construction in Australia. Afifth son, Gwalchmai, was born with spina bifida and died a few weeks later. They moved to a house on a village green in East Yorkshire next an RAF/US Air Force base housing nuclear missiles. She wrote a letter to the American commander of the basesaying she and her family felt personally endangered by his weapons and asking him to examine his conscience, then cycled over with a baby on her back to deliver it. The commander’s reply, through the local police, was a threat (not acted upon) of 25 years in jail for encouraging a soldier to abandon his post.

 Margaretta Darcy and Arden

Decades of playwriting, pageantry, pirate radio, books and protest followed.

Her plays include The Pinprick of History; Vandaleur’s Folly; Women’s Voices from W. of Ireland; Prison-voice of Countess Markievicz; A Suburban Suicide (a radio play, BBC3, 1995); Lajwaad (The Good People, play by Abdel Kader Alloula, adapted by M. D’Arcy for readings in London, 1995); and Dublin (Irish Writers’ Centre, 1996).
Plays devised as group productions include Muggins is a Martyr; The Vietnam War-game; 200 Years of Labour; The Mongrel Fox; No Room at the Inn; Mary’s Name; Seán O’Scrúdu; Silence.

Plays written in collaboration with John Arden include The Business of Good Government; The Happy Haven; Ars Longa Vita Brevis; The Royal Pardon; The Hero Rises Up; The Ballygombeen Bequest; The Non-Stop Connolly Show; Keep the People Moving (BBC Radio); Portrait of a Rebel (RTÉ Television); The Manchester Enthusiasts (BBC 1984 and RTÉ 1984 under the title The Ralahine Experiment); Whose is the Kingdom? (9 part radio play, BBC 1987). Her publishers include Methuen, Cassells, Allison & Busby (formerly Pluto Press), all London.

They settled in Galway in the 70s and established the Galway theatre Workshop  in 1976. They had a cottage in Corrandulla a few miles from the city. ( My Dad, as consulting  civil engineer, was involved in some works they had done to it.) We used to see them as we passed their cottage as we had ours nearby in Tonnegurrane and I remember seeing them riding their bikes in the boreen around our cottage. They also had a little ex-corporation house in St Bridget’s Place in Bohermore where her radio station was based. (I had corresponded with her about a women’s festival she was organising).

Margaretta darcy 1964

Her four boys lived in London, in India and on an island in Lough Corrib before they were through their teens. They saw their mother imprisoned in Shillong Jail, in northeast India, and, later, in Armagh for refusing to pay a fine incurred during a republican rally. During the Greenham Common women’s peace camp, which existed from 1981 to 1990, she spent two days in solitary confinement at Holloway Prison for refusing to adhere to the strip-search policy.She was jailed in the North for campaigning for political status for the women in Armagh prison and again in London for the Greenham protests against Cruise missiles. In 2014, she was imprisoned after she refused to sign a bond saying that she wouldn’t trespass on non-public parts of Shannon Airport. Her arrest was a consequence of trespassing on airport property during protests over US military stopovers at Shannon.

Margaretta and John protesting Royal court

Here they are protesting outside the Aldwych Theatre which was staging John’s play The Island of the Mighty.

It is interesting to hear about them from their children’s perspective, especially since John died in 2012. Finn admitted their embarrasment when they were teenagers about their parents which is normal. Her son Finn said: “She was always a bit of a rebel really, her background kind of seen to that. The circle she was hanging around in the late fifties would have included Francis Bacon and Brendan Behan, people like that and then she met my Dad.”


Ballad by son Jake with great images about his mother

Her friend the film director Leila Doolan said:  “She’s indomitable, really,” Doolan says. “People sometimes think of Margaretta as a person without a sense of humour, but if you read her memoir you see the absolute hilarity with which she views life, while at the same time being very serious about it.”


NUI Galway Receives Archive of Margaretta D’Arcy and John Arden. Sabina Higgins wife of the President of Ireland is seen here with her as she is a friend.


Celebrating Margaretta D’Arcy’s Theatrical Activism apraises her contribution to theatrical activism.

Here, activists from the brilliant feminist performance group Speaking of IMELDA offer a series of stimulating reflections on the influence of Margaretta D’Arcy on their own agitation for abortion law reform in Ireland. 


IMELDA at Kings Cross 2016

The IMELDA’s when I joined them at Kings Cross

Margaretta has written various memoirs about theatrical activism, Armagh women’s prison, her Shannon Airport protests at American war planes and her pirate radio exploits. She has just kept going despite having Parkinson’s disease now. She is definitely Galway’s living political protester,the stroppiest and feistiest of them and a Galway Woman to be proud of.


Michelene Sheehy Skeffington Notable Galway Woman

Posted in Dr Michelene Sheehy Skeffington botanist Notable Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 14, 2018

Michelene Sheehy Skeffington is one of my Notable Galway Women. Michelene

Michelene is a botanist and plant ecologist who was a lecturer in Galway University. She has also become a champion of women’s equality by challenging the University for gender discrimination when she won a landmark case against her former employer of 34 years, NUI Galway.  The Equality Tribunal found that the university had discriminated against the botanist for promotion because of her gender.

Of course, Micheline is from a renowned family and the name Sheehy Skeffington – wihout a hyphen – is well known in Ireland. Her grandparents Hanna and Francis Sheehy Skeffington played a significant role in Irish political and public life in the last century and sadly Francis, a pacifist, was killed by the British in 1916. Hanna is one of my heroines and I had written a blog on her.

In 1985 I had been involved with Irish Women in Wandsworth in putting on an exhibition on Charlotte Despard in Battersea Arts Centre. I visited the National Newspaper Library at Colindale and the Fawcett Library which was then based in the east end. I was contacted by Jill Norris editor of a series of biographies entitled Women of Our Time. She had found my name among the list of researchers at the Fawcett Library resulting in an exchange about Hanna as a worthy subject for the series. This led me to contact Andree Sheehy Skeffington who married Owen, Hanna and Frank’s only child and Michelene’s father, to find out if she knew of any proposed biography of Hanna. It transpired that there was one about to be published by Leah Levenson.  Below is an extract from her letter. I treasure such hand-written letters.

Letter fro ASheehy Skeff

Here is my blog on her.

Hanna and Frank sheehyskeffington

Here is Michelene’s  NUIG CV details.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington is a plant ecologist with an interest in terrestrial ecosystems, especially wetlands including turloughs, peatlands, heathlands, river flood-meadows and salt marshes. She also carries out research on sustainable farming for conservation, with special focus on grassland management for conservation.

Interests also include sustainable agriculture in the tropics, with publications on Indonesian and Cuban sustainable forest and agricultural management.

  • Appointed to The Heritage Council 1995-2000. Chaired Council Wildlife Committee 1999-2000.
  • Council Member Tropical Biology Association 1993-present. Taught on Uganda course 2012.
  • Appointed in 2005 to the Project Advisory Group for the international award-winning Burren LIFE programme and is newly-appointed to the Aran LIFE programme Advisory Board.
  • Academic representative on the Irish Ramsar Wetlands Committee
  • Courses: BPS302 Plant Ecology and BPS405 Ecology and Conservation Issues. MSc in Sustainable Resources, Policy and Practice; MSc in Biodiversity and Land-use Planning. All include residential and /or day field excursions.
  • Curator of the NUI Galway Vascular Plant Herbarium

There is a list of her published articles and books.

Michelene working

I have been following Micheline in her gender discrimination challenge to NUIG and contributed to the crowd funding.

National University of Ireland Galway has been instructed by the Equality Tribunal to immediately promote a female academic and pay her €70,000 in damages. The ruling comes after the tribunal found that the college had discriminated against her on the grounds of her gender.

Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington applied for a senior lectureship post at the university in 2009 but was not appointed. In its ruling in favour of Dr Sheehy Skeffington, the tribunal described NUIG’s interview process as “ramshackle”.

It ordered the college to review its policies and procedures in relation to promotions and to report back. Dr Sheehy Skeffington is a highly qualified botanist, widely published, and described as an “inspirational” lecturer by a former student. After 19 years as a college lecturer at NUIG, she applied to become a senior lecturer for the fourth time.

She was not appointed and after an unsuccessful internal appeal, she took a case based on gender discrimination to the tribunal. The tribunal found in her favour, citing both direct and indirect discrimination.

It found that on paper promotion to senior lecturer at NUIG seemed to be fair. But it said its implementation has fallen short. There was no training for interviewers, no meeting to discuss candidates. The suggestions of the external interviewer on the panel were ignored. The fact that there was no marking scheme for the interview, it said, highlighted the “ramshackle” approach.

The tribunal said it was worrying that one male candidate who was promoted was not even eligible to apply for the position. It found that men at the university had a one in two chance of being promoted to senior lecturer. Female academics’ chances were less than one in three.

The tribunal ordered the university to retrospectively appoint Dr Sheehy Skeffington to the post and to pay her damages of €70,000.

The university has said it accepts the tribunal’s decision “unreservedly” and it will “take immediate steps to implement the … findings”.

It said: “The University very much regrets the distress caused to Dr Sheehy Skeffington in this matter, thanks her for her contribution over many years and wishes her well in the future.”

NUIG male

One of her predecessors was Professor Maureen de Valera who was my botany lecturer in 1964/65. (Being the only botanist on the staff, de Valéra taught all of the botanical courses, with the work load doubling when the lectures were offered in Irish.  She was the first Chair and Professor of Botany at UCG. Her specialism was algae.)…/Path-Breaking-Women—Brochure.pd.

There has been a Gender Equality Task Force appointed and they have produced their findings.

The Task Force concluded that the current climate in NUI Galway is not conducive to ensuring that all staff are supported to reach their full potential. The Micheline Sheehy Skeffington case was the second gender equality case in which the Equality Tribunal found against the University in 2014. Gender inequality is evident across the University, among academic and support staff, with the result that many women feel undervalued and ignored. At a human level, this is clearly unacceptable but for the University this represents a significant loss of talent and undermines the University’s commitment to excellence.      

Micheline has now retired from NUIG but has donated her compensation to the continuing fight for other women lecturers.  Although the NUIG has accepted the recommendations of the Task Force which was slammed according to the Connaught Tribune.


“The report fails to address, in any meaningful way, the discrimination and unfair treatment faced by administrative, general operative and technical staff, academics and others on precarious contracts or casually employed, researchers or students. The few recommendations regarding some of these staff or students are token gestures or misguided proposals which may make matters worse.

“The report proposes actions which may result in more academic women being promoted to senior positions. However, gender quotas are not a long-term solution to the underlying problem of institutional discrimination across all grades of staff. Quotas will not resolve the fundamental, underlying problem of unfair treatment of those with caring responsibilities, a majority of whom are women.”

The case of the women lecturers against NUIG is continuing and in the meantime there is a new President who wants to see the back of this and seems to be stalling the process.

Micheline has embarked on another project which is repeating the epic lecture tour of the USA undertaken by her grandmother Hanna publicising what had happened to her grandfather Francis -a pacifist – was shot by a British firing squad during the Easter Rising. Hanna is Ireland’s most famous suffragette.

The four taking the case are Dr Margaret Hodgins, Dr Sylvie Lannegrand, Dr Adrienne Gorman and Dr Róisín Healy. The fifth female lecturer, Dr Elizabeth Tilley is pursuing a separate case in the Labour Court.They had all been deemed eligible for promotion to Senior Lecturer posts in 2009 but were all turned down.

President Jim Browne and NUIG having insisted all these years that it was for the five women to prove the injustice in court as there was nothing management could do to put it right, this hearing for four of the women’s cases would have shown management were attempting to stop the women from doing that.

Hanna and me

When her husband Francis was killed despite him being a pacifist, Hanna undertook an epic lecture tour of the US, publicising what had happened. This autumn her granddaughter, Micheline, also known for her fight for gender equality and justice, is repeating Hanna’s tour and we plan to film it for a documentary.

She says “This autumn, 100 years on, I will retrace my grandmother, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington’s epic lecture tour of the US. This tour was so important for Ireland’s fight for independence, yet has largely been forgotten. I want to publicise what she did by making a documentary of my trip. I will spend three months speaking in the places she visited and, like her, my tour will be funded by the organisations and communities that host me. But I also want to film the tour and the people and places I encounter.

I will visit places associated with her feminist friends, like Jane Addams, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Emma Goldman.We’ll film key sections of the tour to provide a basis for the production of a full documentary on Hanna’s journey. We hope to have this broadcast during 2018, the anniversary of Irish women getting the vote – which happened because of the actions of suffragettes like Hanna. We are seeking funding simply for the filming of the tour so that the eventual documentary can weave the thread between Hanna’s epic journey then, Irish-Americans and feminist activism today, and Hanna’s suffrage activity in Ireland. It resonates with what my father, Owen, did to champion the cause of human rights in 20th century Ireland, as well as my own recent fight for gender equality.”

Micheline’s blog:


The last entry The mediation that has been ongoing between NUI Galway and the four female academics taking High Court cases for gender discrimination in the 08/09 promotion round to senior lecturer has finally ended in failure…… With the meditation over, Micheline and this campaign can again publicise NUI Galway’s gender discrimination. Micheline’s lecture tour will ensure there are many opportunities, starting with coverage in Ireland during August before she goes, then in the US with media coverage of the tour there, and then again here when she returns in November. Every time she speaks to the media or gives one of the many lectures about her grandmother’s famous tour, Micheline will also reference the campaign and the injustice for the five women. AS will the documentary about Hanna she plans. You can support what she is doing and help highlight the gender discrimination at NUI Galway by contributing to the crowd funding to film the tour, for the documentary Hanna and Me- Passing on the Flame.

The row rumbles on as NUIG is to receive official recognition for its work to advance gender equality. In May the college, along with Maynooth University , received the internationally-recognised Athena Swan bronze award, which demonstrates a solid foundation in eliminating gender bias despite being at the centre of this high-profile gender discrimination row. The Irish Times May 7th quotes : ‘Dr Sheehy Skeffington said she was surprised at the bronze award given that four other female lecturers were involved in High Court cases in which they allege they unfairly missed out on promotions. She said she felt actions by women over alleged gender discrimination had led to recent improvements.’

Under new rules, higher-education institutions are required to have bronze awards by the end of next year to remain eligible for Irish research funding. Latest available figures show women are significantly under-represented in the senior ranks of most of the State’s universities. While just over half of all of lecturers in universities are female, these numbers fall dramatically at higher grades such as associate professor (29 per cent) and professor (21 per cent).

Many of us petitioned Athena Swan against awarding but obviously the promises to be good in the future seems to have worked!

Whatever happens NUIG doesn’t look good in terms of its gender equality.  Micheline succeeded in getting the funding for the tour and film. The the four women lecturers are still negotiating in their challenge. I hope that the women of Galway stay assertive, challenging and standing up to gender inequality wherever they encounter it. I will continue to update.

Laura Barker 1819-1905 composer

Posted in Laura Barker 1819-1905 composer by sheelanagigcomedienne on June 20, 2018

arker was a Victorian Laura Barker composercomposer.She is one of my Notable Women of Lavender Hill and features in my Walk as we stop outside 84 Lavender Sweep which has a fanlight that came from the original Lavender Sweep House one of the grandest on this carriageway of four houses.

She was established as a musician and composer by the time she met and married Tom Taylor and they came to live in Lavender Sweep which was then a carriage way with four houses and two lodges. I already did a blog post on Tom Taylor as there is a lot of information on him but far less on Laura – not surprisingly, like many women,  she became a footnote to her husband’s life in articles and references.  He was a fairly prominent personality as a civil servant, lawyer, Professor of English literature at University College London, playwright, journalist,  critic and editor of Punch. It seems he was a gregarious chap and was a friend to his neighbour Jeanie Nassau Senior, first woman civil servant,  who lived at Elm House  from 1860 which was on the site of Battersea Town Hall.  She is another one of these remarkable women who lived in the area of Lavender Hill.

I have been contacted by Rupert who is Laura and Tom’s great great grandson and he is an actor now living in Ireland. His comment:  Great to find someone who is apparently even better acquainted with my great great grandfather than I or other members of my family. Have never seen some of these pictures before. Thanks.

I responded and he wrote back:  I would also love to resurrect the reputation of Mrs Tom Taylor – Laura Barker, who was a sensational musical talent and I have several of her compositions for the Piano and Organ. Sadly, when my parents sold our family home back in the early 70s another five or six volumes of her work were, for some reason, put into auction and have disappeared into a collection somewhere. Her music is really worth hearing and if one could only get some brilliant young up and coming female pianist to champion her cause, I am sure she would once again be restored to her place as one the top British women composers ever, if not the top. In the mid to late 1800’s she had as big an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography as her husband. I was pleased to persuade the Encyclopedia Britannica to restore Tom’s entry a couple of years back. They decided for some reason that he was not longer of interest. I soon put them right on that score! I would love to do the same for her.

Laura Barker was born in  6th March 1819 as Laura Wilson Barker in Thirkleby, Yorkshire. She was the sixth daughter of Vicar Thomas Barker, an amateur musician and painter and his wife Jane Flower. Laura  received her first musical instruction in violin and piano from her parents and then studied private composition and presumably also piano with the composer and pianist Philip Cipriani Potter, who taught piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London from 1822 and 1832 the direction of the Academy took over.

As a teenager, Laura Barker experienced numerous musicians in the home of her parents, with whom the family was associated, including Niccolò Paganini, with whom Laura Barker played and Louis Spohr
Laura Barker reported: “My father followed Paganini to his concerts at Leeds, Hull, etc, and made his acquaintance.He took the whole family to Paganini’s concerts at York. I was little more than a child at the time (thirteen years old), but had already written some of the phrases which Paganini played, and especially the exquisite variations on ‘Nel cor più’, which I think impressed me more than any of his other wonderful pieces. Later in 1832 we again met Paganini in London, and found him just as kind and courteous as before. We met in Perronet Thompson’s ( parliamentarian, governor of Sierra Leone and a radical reformer) house, and what a genius and a child, playing both on the violin and guitar to us, and condescending by his own proposal to extemporize a duet with me (the subject of Rossini’s, Di tanti palpiti ‘) I played the pianoforte and he violin. He came over to Hampstead with his little son Achillino to spend the day with us. He laughed heartily as he heard me imitating some of his extraordinary violin feats. (Powder 1939, p. 579)

A few years later, Laura Barker also met the composer and violinist Louis Spohr: “It was on the occasion of the Norwich Festival in 1839 that we had the pleasure of making the personal acquaintance of Spohr. My father took two of my sisters to this interesting meeting, which was a memorable one in our quiet country lives. We met the great man at the house of Mr. Marshall, the Mayor of Norwich. He was always ready to help me with my violin, and kindly chose a bow for me. He was very friendly and always seemed not only willing but even happy to be able to help someone, he was always ready to help me with my violin, and kindly chose a bow for me, and as the owner of my wonderful Stradivarii violin, he was very interested in it and marked the places on my string measure with the string strength, which needed the instrument.

It seems that Laura Barker was encouraged by her family to compose. Her father sent Louis Spohr one of her compositions in 1836. From 1837 “Seven Romances for voice and guitar are known and in 1847 Laura Barker published an album with six songs for a voice and piano, and a year later followed the five-part Glee, a traditional English choral movement,” Can a Bosom so gentle remain “according to a text by William Shenstone, which was published in the London” Sacred Music Warehouse “(see” The Musical Times “of April 1, 1848). In the following years, Laura Barker’s compositions were received enthusiastically by the public and the press; many of her compositions are based on texts by the writer Alfred Tennyson.

She taught music at the York School for the Blind.

Laura had acquired and played a Stradivarius. That has an interesting back story as it was later owned by  the virtuouso Joshua Bell. (Also a fascinating history of another of Bell’s violins which had been stolen)


The history of the instrument is recorded from the time that it was in possession of Dr. Camidge, organist of York Minster, presumably John Camidge (there were a number of organists in his family) who received the Degree of Doctor of Music in 1819. In 1837 the violin was acquired by the Reverend William Flower who in his time owned several Stradivari instruments. During the sojourn of Louis Spohr in England, he used the violin when he appeared as soloist at a Musical Festival held at Norwich in 1839. At the death of Reverend Flower, the violin passed to his grandson, Tom Taylor, by whose name it has since been recorded. His wife (née Laura Wilson Barker) was a fine musician, a composer, and a finely gifted and highly accomplished player of the piano as well as the violin. She played with such artists as Spohr and Paganini. The violin remained in her possession after the death of Tom Taylor, until her death at Coleshill, Buckinghamshire, England, May 22, 1905 at the advanced age of eighty-five. Inherited by her daughter, Lucy, it was purchased from her by a German …..  and brought it to the U.S.A. in 1928.

Documents which accompanied the violin included some letters from Lucy Taylor which contained reference to her mother’s violin; these include the information that as a girl of thirteen Laura Wilson Barker played with Paganini and later with Spohr, who suggested her coming to Cassel as his pupil. Joachim was also a friend and often played on the violin, and an interesting anecdote is related in the following, contained in one of the letters mentioned:

“Once when Madame Joachim, the famous prima donna, was staying with Mrs. Tom Taylor, the Professor arrived and found his wife singing to a distinguished audience there. In the middle of a song, a servant rushed in and informed her mistress that the top story of the house was ablaze. Even for this, Mrs. Taylor would not have the great singer interrupted, but Professor Joachim was alarmed for the safety of the Stradivari, which he at once picked up and took to his waiting carriage, with the remark ‘Whatever else happens, the Strad must be saved’.”

I wondered if there is a connection between her mother Jane Flower and the said Reverend Flower. Laura and Tom got married in 1855 in Brompton. So, did she have access to this violin early on and is this how they met?

Some of Six Songs for voice and piano are in a collection of mostly 19th- and early 20th-century musical scores by women composers held at the University of Michigan Music Library.;c=1346310894;pn=7;sort=auth_a

Like everything we’ve seen from this accomplished author – who, though an amateur, understands more about art than many professors of rank and name, not to mention her sparkling ingenuity, a skill that is not tied to teaching or a professional status.

It was only after the death of her husband in 1880 that Laura Barker published further compositions, including the “Songs of Youth”, which were published in 1884 by Stanley Lucas, Weber & Co. in London. In the “Musical Times,” a reviewer wrote, “This volume of songs is a welcome contribution to the high-class vocal music of the day. With the exception of  The Owls, ‘the words of which are by the composer, the poetry is not selected from the works of any living author; but all the subjects are well-chosen and admirably adapted for musical setting. ‘Mariana’s Song,’ from Shakespeare’s’ Measure for Measure, ‘and the Dirge,’ Yes, thou may’st sigh, ‘from Scott’s, Fair Maid of Perth,’ are excellent compositions; but this song with songs is a welcome contribution to today’s world-class vocal music.

 In London, the couple regularly organized musical soirees, which included the writers  and the Shakespeare interpreter Ellen Terry; also traveling musicians were guests there, the pianist,  Clara Schumann the singer Amalie Joachim and her husband, the violinist Joseph Joachim, as evidenced by letters that accompany the Stradivarius violin. Stand : 28.7.2011, article Grove 1954).

Laura and Tom held regular Sunday music concerts and were noted for their hospitality. Here is the link to my blog on Tom Taylor. Tom Taylor’s home which he had built was one of four grand houses between Lavender Hill and  Battersea Rise. Among his friends and visitors to Lavender Sweep were Dickens, Thackeray, Charles Reade, Alfred  Tennyson, Henry Irving and Lewis Carroll  who took a number of photographs of the house. Artists, musicians and politicians and many of these celebrities attended their Sunday Soiree. Ellen Terry, who was another of the many visitors to the house, ‘to us he was more than this he was an institution‘. In her autobigraphy she said ‘it clearly became the home from home for the people from all the walks of literary, artistic and theatrical life that Taylor was part of”. The young actress Ellen was evidently fond of the Taylors and Laura painted her and her sister Kate.



There is a detailed description of their home in the Survey of London. Reading Watts later built Graham a magnificent detached 42ft conservatory to the north-west of the house, with semi-circular ends rather in the manner of Richard Turner’s Palm House at Kew, reached by a tiled and glazed passage.August 1858 when Graham sold the house to its final occupant, Tom Taylor. Taylor’s residence saw a change of pace for the house. He was a well-known figure, a prolific journalist and dramatist, editor of Punch from 1874 and author of more than thirty burlesques and melodramas, including Our American Cousin, the play President Lincoln was watching in 1865 when he was assassinated. Ellen Terry, who remembered the Sweep with ‘horse-chestnut blossoms strewing the drive and making it look like a tessellated pavement’, called Taylor’s a ‘house of call for veryone of note’, from politicians, including Mazzini, to artists and actors, all presided over by Taylor himself dressed in ‘black-silk knee-breeches and velvet cutaway coat’. Taylor added a large study ‘to his own design’. A visitor in the 1870s found every wall in the house, even in the bathrooms, covered with pictures; a pet owl perched on a bust of Minerva; and a dining room ‘where Lambeth Faience and Venetian glass abound’

A few years later, when Taylor’s friend the actor John Coleman went to look for the house, he found that ‘not a stone remains … and the demon jerry-builder reigns triumphant’. Yes, that’s when our houses in Lavender Sweep had been built by 1881.The construction was so quick back then.


These are some of the paintings by Laura who was obviously a talented artist. They are all at Ellen’s at Smallhythe Place National Trust.  According to Rupert Stutchbury:  She was indeed an excellent water colourist and so were her sisters. They were all very talented in several artistic directions and were called ‘the phenomenons’ by their contemporaries.


There is a portrait of their son Wycliffe by Milais. Tom Taylor ‘ was an early champion of Millais’s work”  and according to auctioneer’s Christie’s : “The boy’s portrait was painted in fulfilment of a promise that Millais made to Taylor before John Wycliffe Taylor was born – that if he ever had a son, Millais would paint the child in return for Taylor’s ‘many an act of friendly kindness’. Wycliffe was one of the few people whose portrait was painted by Sir John Everett Millais and who was photographed by Alice In Wonderland author Lewis Carroll. The photo is of Laura and Wycliffe. The portrait was expected to sell for £125,000 in 2016 at auction.


Laura died in March 1905 and had gone to live in Porch House Coleshill Berkshire with Lucy and two servants, Barbara Nugent and Jane Elizabeth Blake, both of whom had worked for the Taylors in London before the family moved to Coleshill.

Lucy Taylor died in 1940. Apparently, in 1962 Mary Ure, who had been married to playwright John Osborne, lived here with her second husband actor Robert Shaw where they entertained their theatrical friends. A nice bit of serendipity.

Laura’s music is awaiting a young singer and a pianist to rediscover this Victorian composer who has been forgotten and to bring her to a new audiences and with a focus on women in this centenary year 2018 should be an opportune time.

Notable Women of Lavender Hill Walk

Posted in Notable Women of Lavender Hill Walk by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 11, 2018

I will be leading a walk on Sunday 10th June 2.00 starting at Battersea Town Hall as part of the Battersea Society contribution to the Wandsworth Heritage Festival.

Meet my new best friends!


The tour that I will be leading features 9 Significant Women of Lavender Hill starting at Battersea Town Hall which is on the site of Elm House the home of

Jeanie Nassau Senior, first woman civil servant, mezzo soprano, social welfare activist

Charlotte Despard  Socialist and Sinn Feiner Suffragette, Battersea parliamentary candidate 1918

Caroline Ganley CBE, JP first working class women with elementary education elected MP 1945-1951 who will be commemorated with a Battersea Society blue plaque on her home in 5 Thirsk Road later this year,

Marie Spartali 1844-1927 Pre Raphaelite artist and model lived at The Shrubbery Lavender Gardens,

Deaconess Isabella Gilmore 1842-1923, Succourrer of the Poor Clapham Common Northside,

Biddy 1871-1966 socialist/feminist and Elsa Lanchester, 1902-1986 Hollywood actress – The Bride of Frankenstein – who lived at 27 Leathwaite Road

Laura Barker 1819-1905 composer Lavender Sweep House married to playwright Tom Taylor

Pamela Hansford Johnson novelist CBE 1912-1971 lived at 53 Battersea Rise.

There will be a £5.00 charge for this walk. Please book email or phone 0207 228 2327

Alice Cashel Irish Nationalist,Galway Co Councillor and co-Founder Cumann na mBan

Posted in Alice Cashel, Irish Nationalist and Co Councillor, Uncategorized by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 7, 2018

Alice Cashel is Galway woman 7 in my series. She played her part in the fight for independence and served as Judge and Co Councillor. She was imprisoned in Galway jail for six months. She travelled by bicycle and had to go on the run. So. she is undoubtedly another feisty Galway woman for us to remember.

Alice Cashel 1878 – 1958) was an Irish nationalist and founding member, with Annie McSwiney, of the Cork Cumann na mBan who became a Galway Co Councillor.


Galway Nationalist activists.

She was born in July 1878 in Birr, Co. offaly. Alice’s sister was married to James O’Mara, who became a Home Rule MP in 1900 and resigned in 1907 to join Sinn Féin. Alice became an early supporter of Sinn Féin in Cork and was a co-founder of Cumann na mBan’s Cork branch circa 1914-15. She campaigned for Sinn Féin in the by-elections in South Armagh in February 1918 and East Cavan in June 1918.


On 15th August 1918 she held a meeting in Clifden which was banned by the authorities and broken up by the police. She went on the run for a time. During the war of independence 1919-21 she went to live at her sister’s house in Cashel House in Connemara (now a hotel); the house was raided in April 1920 and she was arrested. She was jailed for one week and her release was celebrated with the lighting of a bonfire at Cashel Hill.

The Bureau of military History statement recounts other adventures while she was hiding from the authorities at Cashel. On June 7th 1920, she was co-opted onto Galway County Council and was elected Vice-Chairman on 18th June 1920; she held the position until 1921. Alice, like many involved in the republican movement, made a witness statement. in the fifties. They make very interesting reading.

I cycled to Galway where I continued my organising work. The bicycle used on these trips was one belonging to Countess Markievicz. on the morning of the Clifden meeting, I had a letter from her from Holloway Jail in London telling me that she was sending me her bicycle as she knew mine was decrepit – she had used it in the Armagh election. It arrived that morning, just in time for me to go ‘on the run’. I left it, later on, to the Connemara Volunteers. Father Tom Burke,who had got Liam Mellows away disguised after the Rising, brought me away from Galway – as his sister – to his home in Headford.

 Christine Cozzens has written about Alice                           

Alice M. Cashel (1878-1958) was one of these revolutionary women. A committed and energetic supporter of rebellion in Ireland from the moment she joined the Sinn Féin party in 1907, she gave her whole life to the cause of Irish independence. To name just a few of her roles, she served as a political organizer, a spy, an educator, a Sinn Féin judge, a finance specialist, vice-chairwoman of the Galway County Council, and author of a pro-rebellion young people’s novel The Lights of Leaca Bán that was taught in schools in the early years of the fledgling Irish Free State.

In the course of supporting an independent Ireland, Alice worked beside many of the leaders and notables of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence including Eamon De Valera, Constance Markievicz, Terrence MacSwiney, Arthur Griffith, Erskine Childers, Bulmer Hobson, George Nobel Plunkett, Sean Heggarty, Alice Stopford Green, Ada English, Kevin O’Higgins, Seán MacEntee, and W. T. Cosgrave. Given the times, she was remarkably mobile. Her activities took her all around both southern and northern Ireland, often on a bicycle and very often on the run from the police or the infamous Black and Tans, auxiliary soldiers the British employed to quash revolutionary activity in Ireland. From reading her own account of what she did during this period, I was intrigued by Alice’s sense of humor, her initiative and toughness, and her indomitable spirit.


Cumann na mBan

Her roles on the council and in the courts were all part of the Republic which had been declared in Dublin. Eventually her home was raided by the Black and Tans. She escaped and made her way to Dublin. Once there the family business had reason to send her to France where she was able to confer with Sean T O’Kelly in Paris. She returned to Galway where she over turned an agreement known as the Galway resolution which had repudiated the authority of the Dail. Cashel was arrested in January when she tried to attend a council meeting. Dr Ada English One of my chosen 14) was also arrested on the same day, 19 January 1921. They were imprisoned with Anita MacMahon of Achill.  Alice was detained until 25 July 1921.Galway County Council.

Alice finished her sentence on July 25 1921. ‘The Governor of the jail, Mr Harding, was a kindly man but of course he had to carry out the rules of the institution. We saw visitors under the eyes of our warders, with a table between us and them. The situation on my part was ludicrous. I was in jail on account of my work in the County Council, but the secretary of the Council used to come and see me, and I gave him instructions and he reported to me on the meetings of the council.’

In summer 1918 she went to Connemara to organise Cumann na mBan.

Once released Alice moved to Dublin where she worked for Erskine Childers’s office (a Fianna Fail politician and President whose father Robert  was a leading republican, author of the espionage thriller The Riddle of the Sands, and was executed during the civil war). At that time she used the name Armstrong since her own name was too well known. She predominately worked in propaganda offices until the treaty was signed. She returned to Galway and was appointed to roles in the council there. She tried to resign on the grounds of being against the treaty they had just signed in London.

Alice Cashel novel

In 1935 she published a young adult novel called The Lights of Leaca Bán, which soon became a widely taught text in Irish schools.  The very readable but didactic tale offers a highly idealized version of the national struggle, and by extension, a vision for the new Irish state.  The novel was widely used in Irish schools. The story is set just before and during the 1916 Easter Rising through a family in the west of Ireland.

Alice lived in St. Catherine’s, Roundstone Co. Galway. We regularly visit Roundstone which , incidentally is a mis-translation as Cloch na Rón translates to the stone of the seal.

Her house should have a commemorative plaque. Alice died 22nd Feb 1958 at the Regional Hospital, Galway and was buried with honours on the 25th in New Cemetery, Bohermore, Galway.

Alice Cashel gravestone

Marie Spartali, Pre-Raphaelite artist

Posted in Marie Spartali Pre-Raphaelite artist by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 4, 2018

Marie Spartali 1844 -1923 was a British Pre-Raphaelite painter of Greek descent, arguably the greatest female artist of that movement. During a sixty-year career, she produced over one hundred works, contributing regularly to exhibitions in Great Britain and the United States. She is one of my Notable Women of Lavender Hill. She lived in the Shrubbery in Lavender Gardens with her parents then at 40 Altenburg Gardens nearby with her husband in 1874.

She is definitely as important as the ‘brotherhood’ but has been overlooked as she was also a beautiful and statuesque model for them.

Yet she is still virtually unknown and underrepresented in the canon of art history. How many of you had heard of her and that she had lived in Battersea? She lived in the Shrubbery in Lavender Gardens.

There was a recent small exhibition of her work in the Watts Gallery’s in March-June 2016. Dr Nick Tromans, Curator of Watts Gallery, comments: “Like Mary Watts and Evelyn De Morgan (both artists whose work can be seen at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village) Marie Spartali is part of the first wave of British women who were able to train as professional artists. We are delighted to host this exhibition, which continues our commitment to celebrating the work and achievements of Victorian women artists.”

This had followed on from the larger exhibition held at the Delaware Gallery in January that year which owns some of her art work.

 Poetry in Beauty, the first retrospective of Spartali Stillman’s work, showcased approximately 50 works by the artist. Spartali Stillman’s style reflects her British Pre-Raphaelite training as well as the influence of Renaissance art, derived from the many years she lived and worked in Italy. Works from public and private collections in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, many of which have not been exhibited since Spartali Stillman’s lifetime were featured. In spite of her success, her contribution to 19th century art is barely recognised today. This exhibition includes examples of her landscapes, portraits and subject paintings, many of which have not been displayed since her death.

Her work has largely been overlooked due to the fact that most of it resides in private collections, but moreover that her status as model to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood overshadowed her career as artist. She sat for numerous paintings by Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, James McNeill Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, as well as photographs for Julia Margaret Cameron.

Maria Spartali was the eldest daughter of Michael Spartali (1818–1914), a wealthy merchant, principal of the firm Spartali and Co and Greek consul-general based in London from 1866 to 1882. He had moved to London around 1828. In London, he married Euphrosyne, known as Effie.


The family lived in their Georgian house with a marble-pillared circular hallway, on Clapham Common known as the ‘The Shrubbery’ with a huge garden and views over the Thames and Chelsea. St Barnabas Church was built in front of it by the very vigorous Erskine Clark Built: 1897 it was used as parish halls before being sold in 1986 and converted into flats. One of my children attended the playgroup there which was in the ballroom. There is information of this in the invaluable Survey of London Battersea sections.

In the summer months, they moved to their country house on the Isle of Wight where they were in the company . In London, her father was fond of lavish garden parties where he invited up and coming young writers and artists of his day. They shared in the genteel Bohemia that orbited around Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Julia Margaret Cameron, photographed Marie in the Hellenic attitude of Mnemosyne.

In London her father frequently hosted garden parties to which he invited young, up-and-coming artists and writers. Her father was a cousin Alexander Ionides, businessman and patron of Rossetti, Watts, and Whistler. It was was in the Ionides home in Tulse Hill that Marie and her sister Christina met Whistler and Swinburne for the first time.

They were dressed in white with blue ribbon sashes. Swinburne was so overcome that he said of Marie: “She is so beautiful that I want to sit down and cry”. Marie was an imposing figure6 ft 3 in tall and, in her later years, dressed in long flowing black garments with a lace hood, attracting much attention throughout her life. This is how Spartali’s exceptional, unique beauty came to the attention of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

As a beautiful beautiful, throughout her lifetime, Marie would come to be more valued for her role as an artist’s model. She became a close friend of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. She, alongside her cousins Maria Zambaco and Aglaia Coronio, collectively came to be known as The Three Graces.

Discontent with being purely the recipient of male gazes, Spartali desired to become an artist herself, and in 1864 she begged her father to allow her to study drawing and painting under Ford Madox Brown, the eldest member of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. She trained with him for six years, during which she continued modeling for her artist-friends trained in watercolors, a technique routinely taught to middle and upper class Victorian women. Throughout her career, Marie chose to work primarily in a mixture of watercolor, gouache, and graphite, innovating her own technique with the addition of heavy, opaque pigments and additives that gave her work a jewel-like tone and the overall quality of an oil painting.

Her paintings adapt the typical Pre-Raphaelite themes of female figures and literary characters, in addition to traditionally ‘feminine’ subjects of landscapes and floral still lifes. Her paintings of women ‘revised the way Pre-Raphaelite women were represented.

It must have been fun to be a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but what about the sisterhood? According to the Brothers, there were two kinds of Pre-Raphaelite woman: the tubercular virgin who leans on a windowsill, as though she cannot carry the weight of her hair unsupported, and the beefy goddess, bending over her lyre to display the sinewy neck of a swan on steroids. Marie Spartali was the third type of Pre-Raphaelite woman, an artist in the age of George Eliot, Emma Bovary, and Ibsen’s Nora Helmer.

She was highly devoted to her art and produced a prolific body of around 170 works. In 1867, after only three years as Brown’s student, she made her artistic debut exhibiting her work at the Dudley Gallery in London where she contributed three paintings: an Ottoman pasha’s widow, the Theban poet Corinna, and the allegorical damsel Prays-Desire from Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

Soon after, in 1870, she was exhibiting at the Royal Academy, which had only opened its doors to women students a mere ten years prior, and from which women were routinely rejected from exhibitions and denied professional memberships up until the twentieth century. She displayed seven paintings there between 1870 and 1877; her routine acceptance to the Royal Academy’s exhibitions, which excluded even male watercolorists up until the 1880s, is a testimony to her talent and reputation as an artist. From 1867 to 1908, Marie Spartali regularly exhibited paintings at multiple venues and had dealers selling her work on both sides of the Atlantic. She went on to contribute her work to the Grosvenor Gallery in London from 1877 to 1887, displaying a total of seventeen paintings, and regularly sent her paintings to Liverpool and Manchester galleries, as well as to various venues in the Eastern United States.

She is a noble girl, in beauty, in sweetness and in artistic gifts, and the sky would seem very warm … and the road in front bright and clear … to him who starts on his life’s journey foot to foot and hand in hand with hand”  Dante Gabriel Rossetti describing Marie Spartali Stillman in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton, 11 April 1870′

She went on to travel to the United States in the early 1900s where she exhibited her work at Curtis and Cameron’s Gallery in Boston, as well as Julius Ochme’s in New York, making her the only Britain-based Pre-Raphaelite artist to work in the United States. Throughout her career, she consistently exhibited several pictures a year and sold work regularly.

In 1871, against her parents’ wishes, she married American journalist and painter William J Stillman. She was friend Jeanie Nassau Senior and they used to meet in her home nearby in Elm House. She was his second wife, his first having committed suicide two years before. However, they obviously reconciled. When Altenburg Gardens  was developed on the grounds of the Shrubbery the Survey of London states:The Vicar of Battersea, John Erskine Clarke moved in to No. 40 in 1872, and was to stay thirty years. Other early settlers included the painter Marie Spartali and her husband, the American journalist and photographer William J. Stillman, who moved into No. 44 in 1874, in what Stillman called ‘that then delightful neighbourhood’. The house backed on to the garden of the Shrubbery, Marie’s parental home. ( Her parents left the Shrubbery in 1885 when he went bankrupt and moved to their Isle of Wight home.  Erskine Clark had  St Barnabas Church built in front of the Shrubbery and Lavender Gardens and more of Altenburg Gardens were developed.)

The couple had posed for Rossetti in his famous Dante pictures.

He first worked for the American Art Magazine, The Crayon. His later job was a foreign correspondent for The Times. His job as a foreign correspondent resulted in the couple dividing their time between London and Florence from 1878 to 1883, and then Rome from 1889 to 1896. She also travelled to America, and was the only Britain-based Pre-Raphaelite artist to work in the United States. William was a friend of Rossetti’s.

The Pre-Raphaelite settings are familiar—the window ledges and Italianate gardens, the luxuriant tresses and Dantean echoes, the effulgence of flowers and fabrics—but the decorative details do not overcome the personality of the sitter. There is a complex and self-aware ambivalence to Spartali’s protagonists.

Marie was good friends of William and Jane Morris and visited them at Kelmscott Manor.

The couple had three children together and Marie also helped to raise William’s three children from his first marriage. William Stillman died in 1901. Marie Spartali died in March 1927 in Ashburn Place in South Kensington. She was cremated at Brookwood Crematorium Surrey, and is interred there with her husband. There is a headstone. There is a Spartali Mausoleum at West Norwood cemetery.

Spartali mausoleum West Norwood


Alice Perry first European female engineering graduate Galway woman 6

Posted in Alice Perry first female engineering graduate in Europe Galway women 6 by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 2, 2018

Alice Perry 1885-1969 was Europe’s first female engineering graduate. Alice was top of her class in civil engineering, was the first female county surveyor on these islands and fought to protect women workers’ rights. How come we have hardly heard about her until recently, especially in Galway? She is Galway woman number 6.

Alice was born in Wellpark Galway in 1885, Alice was one of five daughters of James and Martha Perry (née Park). Her father was the County Surveyor in Galway West and co-founded the Galway Electric Light Company. Her uncle, John Perry, was a Fellow of the Royal Society and invented the navigational gyroscope.

After graduating from the High School in Galway, she won a scholarship to study in Royal University Galway later UCG in 1902. Having excelled in mathematics, she changed from studying for a degree in arts to an engineering degree. She graduated with first class honours in 1906. The family appear to have been academically gifted. Her sisters Molly and Nettie also went on to third level education; a third sister Agnes earned BA (1903) and MA (1905) in mathematics from Queen’s College Galway (later UCG then NUIG), taught there in 1903-1904, was a Royal University of Ireland examiner in mathematics in 1906, and later became assistant headmistress at a secondary school in London.

Following her graduation she was offered a senior postgraduate scholarship but owing to her father’s death the following month, she did not take up this position. In December 1906 she succeeded her father temporarily as county surveyor for Galway County Council. She remained in this position for a few months until a permanent appointment was made. She was an unsuccessful candidate for the permanent position and for a similar opportunity to be a surveyor in Galway East. She remains the only woman to have been a County Surveyor (County Engineer) in Ireland.

Her work then took her all over this rugged county in all weathers, inspecting roads, walls, piers, footpaths, bridges, courthouses and county buildings and arranging for repairs and upkeep where necessary. This massive workload and her amazing diligence prompted the local newspaper, the Connaught Champion, to note: “The many and arduous duties of County Surveyor have never been better or more faithfully discharged than since they were taken over by Miss Perry.”

This provincial paper seems to have been quite inspired by this amazing woman doing an exceptional job for the county. A second article stated: “…She is the brilliant daughter of a worthy father. After a distinguished collegiate course, she passed her final examination, taking the highest science and engineering degrees. She is the first lady in Ireland who has acted as County Surveyor… every member of the County Council has borne willing testimony to her outstanding ability.”

Alice perry church

The Presbyterian Church on Nuns Island (now part of the Arts Centre) where Alice Perry paid in 1968 for a plaque to be erected to the memory of her parents.

They may have all praised her ability, but the majority of the council would not back Perry when she applied for the permanent position, even though she had excelled in the role for the previous half year. She was unsuccessful in her application for a permanent role, coming joint second in the selection process. Thus, her contract with the council ended in April 1907.

After a period of unemployment Alice took stock of her life. Rural Galway provided limited employment opportunities for educated women like herself and her sisters. Her options were limited, but there was one obvious choice if she wanted a professional career: in 1908, she and her sisters emigrated from Ireland to seek work in England.

This move bore fruit and she was eventually successful in obtaining a job with the Home Office in the Civil Service, firstly to ‘His Majesty’s Inspector of Fisheries’ and then as a ‘Lady Factory Inspector’ in London. She would successfully hold this role for the next 17 years. The major requirement of this job was the monitoring of employment laws for women working in industrial factories.

Britain was a far cry of from rural Galway. It was in the middle of the second industrial/technological revolution with the development of mass-production processes, electrification and production lines. Most working-class women had no option but to seek work to support their families and increased employment opportunities were created away from the traditional occupations of servants and dressmakers.

To say industrial work was not pleasant is an understatement; it was extremely dangerous, with many being exposed to high levels of toxic materials such as lead, phosphorous, asbestos and mercury. As well as chemical dangers, lack of safety features on machinery such as guards and fences proved to be particularly hazardous, especially when combined with long shifts, excessive heat and minimum breaks.

This led to Britain having the highest number of industrial accidents in the world, with an average of 35,000 workers dying every year with multiples more sustaining injuries. Perry’s engineering training meant she had the technical knowledge to see these dangers and this made her highly effective at this role.

Perry and the other inspectors enforced the law on women’s working hours and the ‘Truck Acts’, which forbade employers paying their employees in kind rather than money, e.g. food in place of money. They battled bravely to reduce industrial poisoning, accidents, ‘bullying’ (sexual harassment), unfair dismissal, and unfair and illegal wage deductions, as well as encouraging better health and safety and proper toilet facilities.

These women proved to be highly motivated and courageous, facing intimidation and risks to their own health and safety while fulfilling their roles.

In 1915, Alice was transferred to the Glasgow office of the inspectorate and her life would begin to change immeasurably. She would change religion, changing from her born faith of Presbyterianism to Christian Scientist. She would then find love, marrying an English soldier Robert Shaw in September 1916.

But the happiness of new-found love was not to last: in May 2017, her husband would leave for the Western Front where he would die in battle, another wasted life in a needless war. After his death, Perry sought solace in her new faith and also began to express herself through poetry, publishing her first work in 1922. She would go on to have seven books of poetry published.

The children of Nazareth : and other poems (c1930)

The morning meal and other poems (1939)

Mary in the garden and other poems (1944)

One thing I know and other poems (c1953)

Women of Canaan and other poems (1961)

In 1921, she was offered a promotion to ‘Woman Deputy Superintendent Inspector’ and a transfer to the city of Leeds. She chose not to take it up and instead resigned her post. Then she moved to the headquarters of Christian Science in Boston, remaining there for the next 45 years until she died in 1969 at the age of 83.

In Boston, she worked for the Christian Science church, firstly in the publishing department and as then as poetry editor for the religion’s various publications.

Alice returned to Ireland on three occasions and visited the Department of Civil Engineering in her old Alma Mater during her 1948 visit. It is unknown if she was shown, or if she remembered, the demonstration theodolite still being used in the department up to the 1950s.

This beautiful, accurate and precisely made surveying instrument had one very special feature. Part of a rib of hair from Perry’s head formed the cross hairs in its reticule – a fitting token of Ireland’s first female engineer who smashed through not one but two glass ceilings and who dedicated a large portion of her life to protecting women’s rights in the workplace.

(My father Tommie Egan was a Civil Engineering UCG graduate in the 30s and we had the same professor in physics when I studied there in 1964/65).

The new new Engineering Building at NUIG was officially named the Alice Perry Engineering Building on March 6th 2017, in recognition of Alice as a role model and inspiration for staff, students and visitors.

However, the very low numbers of women in engineering is still a great problem’.

Century old attitudes are precluding Irish women from pursuing careers in engineering, according to the industry’s representative body.

“The statistics in Ireland are stark: if you are in a room with 10 engineers, the likelihood is just one will be female,” Engineers Ireland’s director general Caroline Spillane has said.

Ms Spillane, who marked the naming of an NUIGalway building after Ireland’s first female engineering graduate, Alice Perry, has called for action to attract more women into the sector.

A recent report byEurostat showed that 85 per cent of engineering, manufacturing and construction graduates in Ireland were male in 2014, compared to the EU average of 73 per cent.

Over half (54 per cent) of engineers believe strong communication, project management, analytical and design skills are now as important as maths understanding for the modern engineer, the survey found.

The gender imbalance needs to be tackled to ensure specific creativity and innovation skills shown by women are harnessed, Ms Spillane said.

“It is these skills, combined with a formidable intellect and remarkable work ethic, that Alice Perry displayed in abundance across her illustrious engineering career,”she said.

An All-Ireland medal has been named in her honour, The Alice Perry Medal, with the first prizes awarded in 2014

So, another fascinating, pioneering Galway woman who was forced to emigrate because of misogynistic attitudes in Ireland but who achieved much in the support of women and their safety in factories in Britain.

Tagged with: Alice Perry Civil Engineer, Galway County Surveyor, Galway graduate

Rita Anne Higgins Poet Galway women 4

Posted in Rita Anne Higgins Poet Galway women 4 by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 1, 2018

 Rita Anne Higgins poet


Rita Ann Higgins is a native of Ballybrit, Galway. She was one of thirteen children in a working-class household. She married in 1973 but following the birth of her second child in 1977, contracted tuberculosis, forcing her to spend an extended period in a sanatorium.

While confined, she began reading, and took to composing poems. She joined the Galway Writers’ Workshop in 1982. Jessie Lendennie, editor of Salmon Publishing, encouraged her and oversaw the publication of her first five collections.

Jessie herself is another Galway woman to be lauded as she supported, nurtured and published the poets of the city. Of course, it took place in Kenny’s bookshop. Maureen Kenny is another celebrated Galway woman.

The Poetry Foundation entry on her:Higgins’s frank, wry poems often look squarely at economic and gender-based inequalities. Calling hers a “smart, sassy, unabashed, female working class voice in Irish writing” in a 2011 Irish Times review of Ireland Is Changing Mother, Fintan O’Toole observes that “the anger in her work is transmuted into invention and absurdity, and it rubs shoulders with other deliciously deadly sins, like lust and pride.”

The first book of her poems I bought was Goddess on the Mervue Bus and I got her to autograph it when I gigged with her 21 years ago in Derry when I was performing as Sheela-na-Gig. I told her she was a comedienne but she denied it. The reference is about where I got my name – born on the feast day of  St John of the Latin Gate (probably didn’t exist as he got pushed off the calendar by St Martin De Porres on May 6th).

From her poem Ireland is changing mother.

your sons were Gods of that powerful thing.

Gods of the apron string.

They could eat a horse and they often did,

with your help mother.

Even Tim who has a black belt in sleepwalking

and border lining couldn’t torch a cigarette,

much less the wet haystack of desire,

even he can see, Ireland is changing mother.

Listen to black belt Tim mother.

One of Rita Anne’s poem is included in poems for Galway.

-Rita-Ann-Higgins-plaque 13-150x150

Higgins’s voices are so distinctive and real that a whole world of semi-rural Irish poverty rises around the reader with the jolting acuity of an excellent documentary…an hilarious, absorbing and thoroughly disturbing experience’ – Kate Clanchy, Independent

Her commissioned poetic response to Galway becoming the 2020 European City of Culture is just what you would expect from her and it is brilliant.

Galway was jubilant after being awarded 2020 European City of Culture, but it is unclear if the EU jury that awarded the €1.5m prize got sight of an explosive poem about the City of the Tribes that was commissioned as part of the bid process.

But the organising committee got more than they bargained for when Rita Ann sent them her work. They had, perhaps, been expecting a paean to the many glories of Galway extolling its manifest virtues as a gateway to the Atlantic coast, and an unrepentant bastion of the arts, the native language, music, dance, theatre and literature.

What they got instead was a devastating critique in which she rips into her native city.

Ms Higgins has always been an anarchic and provocative voice, but the poem Our Killer City is perhaps her most inflammatory.

Her poem rails against the car parking charges in the city hospitals, events in the local courts, the whiff of sewage on city streets and bias against Travellers.”This is pity city, sh**ty city. Sewage in your nostrils city. This is Galway. City of expert panels. City of Slickers and slackers who name call Travellers knackers.”

And she also casts a cold and angry eye on the treatment meted out to local artists using irony and sarcasm in equal measure to describe their exclusion.


Galway’s bid to win capital of culture
is all twenty twenty give the horse plenty.
We’re in with a great chance.
until they hear about
the legionnaire’s disease outbreak
in the fire station,
where our life savers need saving.

The birds are tweeting
about the arrival of the jury this July .
The word is out they’ll rule on the bid.
Best to keep them councillors out of sight,
with the malarkey they go on with, in city hall.
Govern, govern my arse
they wouldn’t govern a sly fart on a runway.
We’ll end up crowned the capital of fools.
Accusations of nepotism, potassium .
a host of other isms chisms, chasms and schisms.
I sent you that letter by mistake
said the CEO, buckling under pressure.
You are not actually co-opted
onto those committees ,
FYI, you are co-workered off .

My ogyny, your ogyny, misogyny.
We laugh about it at bus stops.
We say, aren’t some of our
elected representatives a laughing stock.
We’ll never get Capital of Culture
if they look through that window.

Some people live their lives
so they can die on a trolley
in Galway’s A&E.
Just wait and wait and wait
and you’ll die waiting.
Eighteen million on a new block
and not a new bed in site or on site.
The car park police in the hospital grounds
are a culture shock unto themselves.
Don’t die on a trolley in the bidding city
the forbidding city
before you have paid your parking
or we will kill your next of kin
with the weight of their parking ticket.
Culture capital or no culture capital.

The swans in the canals all know,
we underpay our nurses
we underpay our teachers.
We overpay our consultants
and we don’t know why.
This is fair-play city, or unfair play city
if you are a woman working for years in NUIG
and hoping for a promotion.
They’ll sue the blog off ya,
but won’t they look silly,
don’t they look silly.
This is pity city, shitty city.
Sewage in your nostrils city.
This is Galway
city of expert panels.
City of slickers and slackers
who name call Traveller s’ knackers.

If you want the odour of outrage
ask the students at GMIT
who have to re-sit exams.
Allegations of cheating.
Oh no not this again.
They are coming in July to rule on the bid.
We’ll hide that bit of news about the GMIT
and the gender discrimination in NUIG
In the parlour that never gets used,
to that we’ll throw the new block,
the bedless block at University Hospital Galway.

This is Galway slicker and slacker.
Have your home burgled
by your favourite nephew,
while you are at his other aunts funeral.
He didn’t know it was her house
and he didn’t know taking her jewelery
without her permission was stealing.

This is Galway the bidding City
the forbidding city.
Where the woman in court apologised
to her man for putting him through this.
The judge asked her, did he apologise to you
when he was sticking that screwdriver
in your forehead?
No but he wasn’t feeling himself that day
your honour.
Someone in City hall, not a councillor this time,
is yowling about the capital of culture bid.
If the bid book isn’t ready on time
says the yowler,
I’ll send you all to the fire station
or the picture palace.
She is pepping and prepping and side stepping.
Her side -kick got side kicked. No impact.
Complaining is the devils work.
Stick in a few more theatres’ there
that we don’t have, stick in a gallery or two.
How will they know if it’s true?
How will they know if it’s not true?

This is Galway, city of tools.
A man brings a cleaver into hospital with him.
The judge coming down with a migraine,
reached into her bag a yokes.
What got into you, she said,
pleading with the plaintiff?
I heard the chops were tough your honour,
nothing more, nothing less.
But you were seen chasing the back
of a poor man’s head, with a cleaver.
It wasn’t me your honour, and he wasn’t poor.

What about local artists?
Someone dared to ask,
not the yowler from city hall
or her side-kicked side-kick.
To hell with local artists
what do they bring the city?
nothing but scruffy dogs
and ripped jeans,
hippies with hobbies the lot of them.
As for the buskers, wanting to fit in
with the odor of outrage.
Move them on, hide them in GMIT,
or the picture palace.
Don’t mention local artists at all.
Let it be like they don’t exist
Raise the rents is the best way
to keep the ripped jeans gang out,
like it’s always been.
Artists me arse.
This is Galway, the bidding city
the forbidding city.
City of thieves or is scribes or is it tribes?
The jury are coming this July,
the word is out they’ll rule on the bid,
for capital of Culture
twenty twenty
give the horse plenty.
We have a great little city here,
a pity little city, a shitty little city.

Rita Anne reading her Galway poem. It is not a good quality. In the background you can see another of the featured Galway women Margaretta D’Arcy. She suffers from Parkinsons. There is also mention of another Michelene Sheehy Skeffington and her gender equality challenge to NUIG.

Rita anne 1

She has had her 11th book of poetry published.

Goddess on the Mervue Bus, Salmon Poetry, 1986

Witch in the Bushes, Salmon Poetry, 1988

Goddess and Witch, Salmon Poetry, 1990

Philomena’s Revenge, Salmon Poetry, 1992

Higher Purchase, Salmon Poetry, 1996

Sunny Side Plucked: New & Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 1996

An Awful Racket, Bloodaxe Books, 2001

Throw in the Vowels: New & Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 2005

Hurting God: Prose & Poems, Salmon Poetry, 2010

Ireland Is Changing Mother, Bloodaxe Books, 2011

Tongulish, Bloodaxe Books, 2016

Tongulish, her 11th book of poetry, finds Higgins as intensively inventive and deliciously subversive as ever… The rebellious, innovative Higgins is one of his [James Joyce’s] distinctive heirs. Like Joyce, she knows just how to beat up the English language and her use of mythology, Irish language and Ireland’s past put her own inimitable stamp on her bang up-to-date present.’ – Martina Evans, The Irish Times

The last poem I have chosen mentions Spiddal – in Irish it is An Spidéal. It is twelve miles from the city. Rita Anne lies there and it is where Dave and I had our wedding reception in 1967. It is in the gaeltacht – an Irish speaking area. We love the beach there and the pier featured in the MacDonagh comedy film The Guard about drug smuggling.

The Immortals

The boy racers
quicken on the Spiddal road
in Barbie Pink souped-ups
or roulette red Honda Civics.
With few fault lines or face lifts to rev up about
only an unwritten come hither of thrills
with screeching propositions and no full stops –
if you are willing to ride the ride.

Hop you in filly in my passion wagon.
Loud music and cigarette butts are shafted into space.
We’ll speed hump it all the way baby
look at me, look at me
I’m young, I’m immortal, I’m free.

Gemmas and Emmas
stick insects or supermodels
regulars at ‘Be a Diva’
for the perfect nails
eyebrows to slice bread with
and landing strips to match.

They wear short lives
they dream of never slowing down-pours
while half syllable after half syllable
jerk from their peak capped idols lips.
Their skinny lovers melt into seats
made for bigger men
Look at me, look at me
I’m young, I’m immortal, I’m free.
The boy racers never grow older or fatter.

On headstones made from Italian marble
they become ‘our loving son Keith’
‘our beloved son Jonathan,’ etcetera etcetera.
On the Spiddal road
itching to pass out the light
they become Zeus, Eros, Vulcan, Somnus


I think Rita Anne Higgins, the Galway bard is so funny and is therefore a comedian.

Notable Women of Lavender Hill Walk and Talk

Posted in Notable Women of Lavender Hill Walk and Talk by sheelanagigcomedienne on April 30, 2018

I led a Notable Women of Lavender Hill Tour on 15th April and will be leading another on 10th June 2018 for the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. This all came about because I had suggested to the Battersea Society that we ought to be commemorating the centenary of Votes for Women. So, I gave a talk on Significant Women of Battersea on 8th March – International Women’s Day at St. Mary’s Church and offered to do a walk on those women who  were associated with or lived near Lavender Hill as part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. The tour starts at Battersea Town Hall and finishes at 53 Battersea Rise which was home to Pamela Hansford Johnson which is now Farrago restaurant and Santo is very welcoming. I was impressed with my tour guide gizmo!

Notable tour15IMG_1788-1

Notable Women of Lavender Hill Tour led by Jeanne Rathbone Battersea Society Heritage. The tour starts outside Battersea Town Hall which was the site of Elm House the home to Jeanie bookJeanie Nassau Senior 1828-1877, the first female civil servant.  She was born Jane Hughes brother of Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Friends included George Eliot, painters Millais and Watts, Jenny Lind sang with her, Tennyson, Florence Nightingale, Octavia Hill and Tom Taylor playwright and his composer wife Laura Barker were near neighbours in Lavender Sweep. She had a welcoming home but had a week and workshy husband.  She was appointed by Stansfield, President of the Local Government Board as Inspector of Workhouses reporting on the education of “pauper girls” which was critical of the existing arrangements causing a public furore. She died in 1877 aged 48. George Watts wrote : when you read the biography of “That Woman”, for it is one that will be written, you will find she had very few equals. It took 130 years for it to be written!

Char small photo

Charlotte Despard nee French 1844-1939 funded Battersea Labour Party HQ at 177 Lavender Hill. Her biographer entitled his biography of ‘An Unhusbanded  Life’- Suffragette Socialist and Sinn Feiner. Born into a wealthy Anglo Irish family, she married Max Despard and wrote ten novels. She was widowed in 1890 and dedicated her life to helping the poor  moving to Nine Elms Battersea to 95 Wandsworth Road and 2 Currie Street. They  became Despard Clubs with a health clinic, youth and working men’s clubs, a soup kitchen for the local unemployed. She had joined the WSPU but left with 70 others to set up the Women’s Freedom League a non-violent organisation and edited its magazine The Vote. She was the Labour candidate for Battersea North in 1918 after which she left to live in Dublin to campaign for Irish Independence. She died in Belfast aged 95. There is a campaign to have a statue of her in Nine Elms on the site of the US Embassy.


Caroline Ganley 1879-1966 came to Battersea in 1901 with her tailor husband was a pacifist and active in suffrage campaigns. In 1919 she was one of three women elected as councillors, was appointed JP, represented Battersea on LCC, first woman president of the London Co-op Society, elected  MP for Battersea South 1945-51 the first working class women with elementary education. She was still a Battersea Cllr when Battersea was absorbed into Wandsworth in 1965 and died the following year aged 86. She is to have a plaque on her home at 5 Thirsk Road on 20th October 2018.


Deaconess Isabella Gilmore 1842-1923, sister of William Morris married Lieutenant Gilmore. When widowed she trained as a nurse in Guys Hospital where Bishop Thorold asked her to start a deaconate in south London. Deaconesses were women who were to be “a curiously effective combination of nurse, social worker and amateur policemen”. They found a large house on Clapham Common, now known as Gilmore House. She tried to address the needs of the poor through working with girls and women. Her brother William observed admiringly that whilst he preached socialism, she practised it. The women she trained were paid, she was not. There is a sculpted plaque to her in Southwark Cathedral.


Marie Spartali 1844 -1923 was British Pre-Raphaelite painter, arguably the greatest female artist of that movement. During a sixty-year career, she produced 170 works, contributing regularly to exhibitions in Great Britain and the US. She studied drawing and painting under Ford Madox Brown. She painted images of active, empowered women that challenged the male gaze. She lived at the Shrubbery Lavender Gardens where her father, a wealthy Greek businessman was Consul. Marie was 6.3, beautiful and very elegant. She sat for numerous paintings by Ford Madox Brown, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and for photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron and was a close friend of William Morris. She married an American widow William Stillman who had three children, in 1871. His job as foreign correspondent for The Times resulted in the couple dividing their time between London, Florence, Rome and US. She was described as “austere, virtuous and fearless, she was not lacking in a caustic wit and a sharp tongue.

Edith Lanchester

Edith aka Biddy Lanchester

Edith, known as Biddy Lanchester 1871-1966 came from a middle class family of architects and engineers. She studied botany and zoology at Birkbeck Institution. She had joined the Social Democratic Federation, was a teacher lodging in Este Road Battersea when she announced to her family that she was going to live with her lover Shamus Sullivan, a railway clerk. The next day her father, two brothers and psychiatrist Blandford hauled her off  to the Priory Asylum. With the help of John Burns MP, the Legitimation League and socialist friends including Eleanor Marx she was released. The supposed cause of her insanity was ‘over education’

Elsa glamourous

Elsa Lanchester 1902-1986, Biddy’s daughter went to a small socialist boy’s school near Clapham Common, trained as a dancer aged ten in Paris with Isadora Duncan, taught dance aged twelve in a boarding school to pay for her education. She set up her own theatre. It was in a play that she met Charles Laughton and they married 1929. She discovered he was homosexual but they remained married until his death in 1962 and  moved to the US as his career took off and gained citizenship in 1950

Her role as the title character in Bride of Frankenstein(1935) brought her recognition. She played supporting roles through the 1940s and 1950s. After his death she resumed with  Mary Poppins, That Darn Cat and Blackbeard’s Ghost  The horror film Willard was highly successful, and one of her last roles was in Murder by Death (1976). Elsa  remained humorously reflective in regard to her film career: “…large parts in lousy pictures and small parts in big pictures.”

Laura Barker composer

Laura Barker 1819-1905, composer and violinist, was born in Thirkleby Yorkshire was a finely gifted and highly accomplished player of the piano as well as the violin.  She received her first music lessons from her parents, attracted the attention of Paganini when she was 12 years old, studied with Cipriani Potter. She played with Paganini and with Louis as Spohr. She taught music at the York School for the Blind.

She married Tom Taylor playwright and critic. They lived at Lavender Sweep House. He had inherited a Stradivari 1732 which Laura played and it remained in her possession after he died until her death at Coleshill, Buckinghamshire. They held Sunday Musical Soirees, at which Joachim, Jeanie Senior and Clara Schumann took part.  Published works contains ten songs, seven duets, a glee, and a few pianoforte pieces.


Pamela Hansford Johnson, 1912-1934 wrote 27 novels lived at 53 Battersea  Rise and attended Clapham County Girls School.First girlfriend of Dylan Thomas she later married writer CP Snow making them a literary ‘power couple’ Anthony Burgess said: witty, satirical and deftly malicious – some of her books characterized by a sort of grave levity, others by a sort of light gravity. This bed thy Centre, her a coming-of-age first novel was based in Battersea.

Here are some temporary plaques commemorating these inspiring women which I had made while we are awaiting to have the Battersea Society plaques! There is an application to English heritage for one to Marie Spartali.

There will be an EqualiTea as part of the Vote100 celebrations on 23rd June at 3.00-5.00 The Venue in Park Court on the Doddington Estate off Battersea Park Road. This was organised by Lesley from Wandsworth Radio as they are based in Charlotte Despard Avenue.  Marsha, our MP, has been invited. All are invited.

EqualiTeasYour opportunity to share, debate and celebrate our right to vote, over a cup of tea and slice of cake! It’s a UK-wide celebration of our democratic equality, with tea parties taking place all over the country.

Also, on 15th June we will be celebrating Charlotte Despard on her birthday which became an annual reunion event for the WFL and  we will be holding that close by the US Embassy which was the site of Despard House 2 Currie Street which was bequeathed to Battersea Council with a plaque unveiled in 1922. We intend to have a group photo taken of those attending in the iconic raised-fist pose of Charlotte in Trafalgar Square when she was almost 90. It will be titled  Je suis Charlotte.

charlotte at rally

Charlotte at Trafalgar Square rally

All invited to these events but letting us know would be appreciated.                          Anyone interested in the walk in June will need to book.

I will do a walk or a talk on Notable Women of Lavender Hill on request for groups.