10 January 2012

Women Writers of Nottingham

Last March the Nottingham Women's History Group published the booklet 'Women of Nottingham: A Walk around the City Centre'. As several of the women featured were writers, I decided to follow this part, although my route is not the same as in booklet. A few of the associated sites are pretty tenuous, but that in no way detracted from my interest in the exercise.

This medieval structure at the corner of Castle Road and Castle Gate was once known as 'Severns', and was moved here in 1970 from Middle Pavement several hundred yards away. It became the Lace Centre after some years, illustrating an industry in which largely women were employed.

Grass and wild flowers hang over the guttering, and the building is now for sale.

The booklet notes that Hilda Lewis (1896–1974) wrote historical fiction, and that the novel Penny Lace is about the local industry.

I reproduce this from a previous post I made on the busts of writers displayed outside the entrance to Nottingham Castle Museum, which shows Mary Howitt (1799–1888), who was mainly noted for her poetry, with her husband William.

Ann Gilbert (1782–1866), who was born Taylor and a children's poet like her younger sister Jane (who is best remembered for 'Twinkle Little Star'), lived here at 51 Castle Gate from 1830. Ann was also a literary critic and established the Nottingham Ladies' Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves. Her son Josiah wrote Cadore: or, Titian's Country, and also edited Autobiography and Other Memorials of Mrs Gilbert.

Abigail Gawthern (1757–1822) spent most of her mature life at 26 Low Pavement. A rich property owner, she left a diary recording in great detail the events of her life.

The artist Laura Knight (1917–70) was born in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, went to Nottingham School of Art, and was once a member of the Nottingham School of Artists. I include her here because she wrote two autobiographies: Oil Paint and Grease Paint (1936) and The Magic of a Line (1965).

Charles I raised his standard on a mound behind this slightly vandalized plaque. The Governor of Nottingham Castle was one of the signatories of Charles's death warrant, and his wife – the translator and poet Lucy Hutchinson (1620–81) – wrote Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson.
Lord Byron lived here at 76 St James's Street in 1798 when he was attending hospital, although of course he was not here when his wife Annabella Milbanke gave birth to their daughter Augusta Ada. Ada Lovelace (1815–51) is noted for her work with Charles Babbage's on his analytical engine.
For good measure and because I find it attractive, I include a building not – as far as I'm aware – associated with any writer, but which is also included in the walk. The Rotunda, which was the Jubilee Ward section of the General Hospital, was built in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria's jubilee, and the booklet seems to include it because earlier this century it was 'the venue for the Lesbian club, Eternity'.

This is an interesting booklet that brings attention to several writers who are not exactly widely known – not even to that many people in Nottingham, I suspect – so it is most welcome.

One woman not mentioned, though, is the indefatigable Constance Penswick Smith, who campaigned for the revival of Mothering Sunday in the first half of the 20th century, and who wrote a number of books and plays on the subject. A link to information on her, which includes a mention of her 'headquarters' at 15 Regent Street, Nottingham, is here.

One major complaint – not about the booklet, but about a comment in the Nottingham Women's History Group website, where it mentions a talk on Nottingham women in sport as being 'In celebration of the Olympics'. What? 'Women of Nottingham' has drawn attention to minority groups and mentions not just women but homosexual women, working-class women, etc, and yet the group publishing this booklet appears to applaud one of the most obscene actions perpetrated in this country in many years: the Olympic Games, which has caused the destruction of a huge area of London, and one that was significantly peopled and enjoyed by those far less fortunate than many from other parts of London. Please read this link for a small indication of the horrors performed in the siting of the Olympic Games, which has been studied in great depth by our tireless national treasure Iain Sinclair.

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