women of durham
We were delighted to collaborate with the Women's Banner Group in Durham to support their work to get recognition for some of the women from County Durham who have made history by campaigning for a blue plaque in their name. We held a hustings at the Miner's Hall in Durham in 2019 to select who should be nominated for a plaque and were over the moon when blue plaques were put up to honour Kate Maxey, and the Aycliffe Angels the following year. Read more about them below.
Elizabeth Pease Nichol
Nominated by Mackenzie Austin and Zoe Wilkinson of Belmont Community School
Born in Darlington to the powerful Pease family, Elizabeth was raised as a Quaker and educated to a high degree, a possible contributory factor in her influence of society. We believe that you would be hard pressed to find someone who was more driven and single-minded in their raising of public awareness concerning the key issues of Abolitionism, female rights and Charterism.
As a Quaker, she had firm beliefs about the right to equality for everyone regardless of race. Her Quaker upbringing also meant that she received a thorough and good quality education that other women may have lacked. Her father was involved in many campaigns such as Catholic Emancipation and she was his secretary, so she learned about the struggles that disenfranchised members of society, such as women, slaves and the working class, faced on a day to day basis.
In defiance of convention, she attended the 1840 World Anti Slavery Convention and there is a painting commemorating the convention with her depiction. To help foster bonds with other anti Slavery Societies across the world, Pease corresponded with members of American Anti-Slavery Societies and began to understand the American abolitionist movement more. Again, courageously, she led the Darlington Ladies Anti-Slavery Society. Pease had a myriad of other causes to fight for that didn’t just include abolitionism. Another of her great passion projects was women’s rights and in 1838 she corresponded with Jane Smeal in Glasgow and together they worked to produce a pamphlet titled, “Address to the Women of Great Britain”. This pamphlet advocated the right for women to speak in public about politics. In particular, she used this as an opportunity to talk about how women could play a role in abolitionism. Another of her causes that she believed in was Chartism, especially the belief in universal suffrage, as she believed that it would be an important milestone towards gender equality. However, it was not just her belief in feminism that drew her to the Chartist’s cause; Pease believed in social equality and that the aristocracy shouldn’t abuse their power to generate more money.
All in all, a very powerful and probably unpopular view to present at the time. Clearly, Elizabeth Pease Nichol was a very brave woman and deserves to be recognised!
Nominated by Lynn Gibson
Kate Maxey was born 1876 in my home town of Spennymoor, and became one of the most highly decorated nurses of the First World War. Kate wanted to be a nurse, and obtained a position at Leeds General Infirmary, where she trained and worked, qualifying in 1903. In 1912, she joined the local ‘Territorial Force Nursing Services’ – or TFNS, based in Leeds.
In peace times the TFNS Nurses worked full time at their normal nursing duties, however when war broke out, they were all promptly drafted to serve on the western front. Shortly after the breakout of the war, Kate was sent to Rouen in October 1914 and from then until March 1918, she gave unstinting and distinguished service at several hospitals on the Western Front.
In 1916 Kate was promoted to sister, and in September 1917 she was appointed Sister in Charge of the 58th Casualty Clearing Station at Lillers. It was here, in March 1918, that she was severely wounded. During a bombing raid, an ammunition train exploded near the casualty station. She sustained multiple bomb wounds to the forehead, the neck, the right leg and the right foot, as well as a broken arm and spinal injury.
The report from the Officer Commanding 58 Casualty Clearing Station concluded:
'... Miss Maxey's tact, zeal for work, and influence for good are of the highest order. On the night of 21 March 1918, when lying wounded, she still directed nurses, orderlies and stretcher bearers, and refused aid until others were seen to first. I have the greatest pleasure in giving this testimony to one of the finest Nursing Sisters I have ever met.'
Kate was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal 1st Class and Mons Ribbon in 1914, for distinguished service in the field, and gallantry during the bombing raid. The Military Medal was also awarded to her in 1918 for bravery under fire.
Additionally, in 1920, Kate was one of the very first recipients of the Florence Nightingale Medal, awarded by the International Red Cross Committee ‘for nursing services from 1914 to 1918, especially at No. 58 Casualty Clearing Station’.
Nominated by Dorothy Rand
My heroine is Bella Lawson of Beamish who pioneered Child Welfare Clinics in County Durham, worked tirelessly for the Labour Party and for the community in many ways. This nomination is as a representative of Durham's Labour Women.
Isabella Graham Scott was born in Newcastle in 1882 and then the family moved to Southwick, Sunderland . When Bella was a 10 year old schoolgirl her mother died, her father drank a lot and didn't bother about the family. Bella was left to fend for herself and cleaned houses. Four of her siblings died before their fifth birthday. When she left school aged 13 Bella went into service with a Quaker family who were shipping owners, here she learned to do things correctly and speak quietly in perfect English.
She met Jack Lawson at Boldon Colliery and they thought alike, Jack said "The Socialist Movement had us in its grip." Shortly after they married in 1906 Jack had the opportunity to attend Ruskin College, Oxford. Bella was adamant that he should go, they sold their few pieces of furniture and Bella went into service in Oxford. In 1910 Bella joined the Womens' Labour League and attended monthly meeting until its demise. She also went to London to march with the Suffragettes, she didn't smash windows or chain herself to the railings, she was a Suffragist.
Bella was passionate about Child Welfare, after WW1 Bella and other women were given £5 each by rich ladies to start Child Welfare Centres. She set up four - Boldon, Washington, Stanley and Grange Villa (which soon moved to West Pelton when the Miners' Welfare building was opened.) Labour women volunteered to run the Centres. Bella worked at West Pelton for over 40 years. After 1918 Womens' Sections of the Labour Party were set up, by 1919 Chester le Street, Grange Villa and Pelton were set up under Bella's influence.
The Womens' Gala started in 1923, Bella was in the forefront of this and the women were allowed to use Redhills as their base.
She spent her entire life thinking about others and what she could do to help people. Wartime service in WVS, the Parish Council, the WEA, the Save the Children Fund and a collector for National Savings were just some of the activities of this tiny, frail looking woman. People wondered where her energy came from. "There's nowt on her!" they said. She was entirely without ambition, wanted no honours. Jack said "In what she is doing she gets what she wants out of life."
The Aycliffe Angels
Nominated by Tim Dredge
The Aycliffe Angels were women from Aycliffe and the surrounding area. They were munition factory's workers numbering around 17,000 women who worked filling shells and bullets and assembling detonators and fuses for the war effort in WW2.
They became known as the "Aycliffe Angels" after a Nazi propaganda broadcast from Lord Haw-Haw threatened that "The little angels of Aycliffe won't get away with it" and promised that the Luftwaffe would bomb them into submission.
The main site was at ROF59 which is still in Aycliffe and is now a climbing centre trampolining park and community space. It still has some of the features from its role as a munitions factory. ROF Aycliffe operated 24 hours a day, employing over 17,000 workers in three shift groups.
It was operational for just over four years producing some 700 million bullets and countless other munitions. By its nature the work was very dangerous and many workers were killed and injured during the manufacturing process; however due to the secrecy surrounding the factory and its workers, many incidents went unrecorded and unreported in the news and the worker’s efforts went unrecognised. There were a number of serious and fatal explosions, with eight women being killed in one blast.
The factory was visited during the war years by Winston Churchill and members of the British Royal Family although the factory was designated as a 'Top Secret' installation and surrounded by high fences with barbed wire.
The Angels have been recognized in a few small ways but not by a blue plaque. It would be fitting perhaps that such a large body of women who worked so valiantly against fascism and for our country be recognised by a blue plaque.
85 million people died in WW2. How many more would have died if the Angels hadn’t done what they did to defeat Hitler and his allies. How many families had people saved because of the service they gave to this country?
The winning proposals will be put to Durham County Council in the hope the first blue plaque in the area will be erected in celebration of a local woman. Thank you to the Women's Banner Group for organising this event.
katherine bruce glasier
Written and researched by Nick Moule and Bob Abel
Katherine Bruce Glasier was one of the most influential activists in the international Labour movement in the early 20th Century. Katherine was a founder member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), a lifelong campaigner, an impressive speaker, author of many articles, and a close friend of early pioneers of the Labour movement. Keir Hardy considered her the 'mother of the ILP'. In her obituary in the Manchester Guardian in 1950, she was summed up as being ‘a Socialist evangelist [whose] speeches had the emotional force of a revivalist’.