Category Archives: Books

Books History Women's history

Notes from One Hand Tied Behind Us: The Rise of the Women’s Suffrage Movement by Jill Liddington and Jill Norris

p. 92 “one winder could keep half a dozen weavers busy. Yet there seems to have been something rather distinctive about the women in the winding room. It was generally considered that they formed a select group (although their wages were usually lower than those of women weavers) because their winding room was far quieter than the weaving shed, and they did not have to resort to lip reading. Selina Cooper worked in one of the winding rooms at Tunstall’s mill in Brierfield and impressed this point on her daughter: …’Used to talk, used to chat all the time they were working”…the list of winders who went on to become active suffragists is impressively long… Selina Cooper and Ethel Derbyshire were two of the most outstanding. Others include Violet Grundy, Secretary of the Ancoat Winders’ Union formed with the help of Eva Gore-Booth and Sarah Dickenson in the 1900s and Annie Heaton, a winder from Burnley, active in the Women’s Trade Union League from 1893 and one of Esther Roper’s earliest suffrage organisers.”

p 93 “Women weavers comprised by far the largest group in the mill, nearly a third of all employees and two thirds of all women workers. In all they totalled over 150,000 strong. The typical Lancashire mill girls were weavers, in shawls, clogs and ‘laps’ pieces of cloth from cut ends to protect clothing from loom friction, oil and grease, while from their leather belts hung the tools of their craft, scissors, comb and reed-hook… Alice Foley… “At first I was highly terrified by the noise and the proximity of clashing machinery… It was .. stifling, deafening and incredibly dirty.’ It was dangerous as well. A weaver would be in charge of two to four looms, and each minute of the working day the shuttle would be thrown by the picking-stick across each loom no fewer than 200 times a minute. Accidents – including scalpings and amputations – often happened, and were reported in the local newspapers. One typical report about the death of a 15-year-old girl in Oldham read: ‘Whilst doing something at her loom her hair was caught in the working and her neck dislocated. She was not missed until the works had been closed, and when seach was made about 7 o’clock her dead body was found under the loom.”

p. 85 |”In 1884 the local grouping of weavers, escpecially strong in Blackburn and Burnley, joined together to form one united union, the Northern Counties Amalgamated Association of Cotton Weavers. .. the Association grew at a great rate. Within four years there were 40,000 members, representing one in four weavers. Three years later, in 1891, this had grown to 65,000, of whom two out of three were women… no other trade union anywhere had anything like its massive number of organised women workers.

p. 96 “completely equal pay in the weaving sheds was a myth. Nevertheless, women could earn far more by weaving than they could for any other job open to working class women, and the men and women weavers were paid at much nearer equal rates than in any other trade.

p. 99 “The Lancashire cotton unions, however, were still run by men who were neither socialist agitators nor idealistic visionaries. They were hard-headed men whose skills were of rapid calculations to fractions of a penny to assess a member’s earnings … They were not overtly political, and, along with the miners, tended to drag their feed over the cause of independent labour representation in parliament… In 1901 the only cotton union affiliated to the Labour Representation Committee was the tiny Colne Weavers’ Association, already well known for its unusual socialist tendencies.”

p. 104 “the National Union of Teachers, heavily dominated by the minority of men, had little interest in the particular grievances of its women members. It saw no reason to campaign against the differentials between men’s and women’s wages (men earned about 30% more) .. the union only finally accepted the principle of equal pay in 1919, and even then the women were accused of rushing the issue through while men teachers were in the forces”.) Women teachers acted timidly over the question of the vote: although some teachers did eventually form their own Franchise Union, individual branches of the NUT were usually opposed… In the Wigan branch, for instance, a resolution on women’s suffrage was debated, but ‘despite the fact that three fourths of the members present were ladies, not a single supporter of the resolution was to be found.

p/ 137 “To Guild members … it seemed vital for women to take up their opportunities to stand for local elections, both in their own right and as valuable political experience. If women could prove themselves capable of sitting on local School and Poor Law Boards, surely it strengthened their claims to the parliamentary franchise.

At first women met with prejudice and some hostility. ‘Men bitterly resented this advent of women in their special preserves,’ one Lancashire Guildswoman and Poor Law Guardian remembered. When Sarah Reddish came top of the defeated candidates in the Bolton School Board elections in 1897, it was expected that she would be co-opted on to it, as was usually the case. But because she was a woman, the Board refused to consider her. Happily, the Bolton electorate voted her in at the next election.”

p. 138 “Such women had considerable effect in humanizing the administration of the harsh Poor Laws, particularly in working class areas where previously few women had been eligible. Mrs Bury found that ‘before women sat on our Board all girls with sad histories had to come alone before a large body of men. Now, after I had pleaded with the Board and got a resolution passed, the women Guardians and matrons dealt with the cases in a separate room. Mrs Pankhurst, who was elected to the Chorlton Board of Guardians in 1894, found equally intolerable conditions: the girls working in the workhouse were not provided with nightdresses or underwear because the matron had not liked to mention such indelicate matters in front of the men on the Board.”

p. 144 “a petition to be signed exclusively by women working in the Lancashire cotton mills. This would show the rest of the country how powerful the demand for the vote really was among industrial women. It was a radically new tactic for a regional suffrage society to adopt… the petition was unequivocal: … ‘in the opinion of your petitioners the continued denial of the franchise to women is unjust and inexpedient. In the home, their position is lowered by such an exclusion from the responsibilities of national life. In the factory, their unrepresented condition places the regulation of their work in the hands of men who are often their rivals as well as their fellow workers…’

The petition was launched with maximum impact on 1 May 1900 with an open air meeting in Blackburn… seemed the obvious place: with no fewer than 16,00 women working in its weaving mills, it had a stronger tradition of women’s work than anywhere else in Lancashire. The earliest weavers’ unions had been established there, and women members had early acquired a reputation for militancy after the part they played in the 1878 strike.”

p; 146 “The summer of 1900, reported the Englishwoman’s Review, was ‘quite an experience’… ‘Canvassers in 50 places … were soon at work … going to the homes of the workers in the evening, after factory hours.. Some employers allowed petition sheets in the mills, and others allowed canvassers to stand in the mill yards with sheets spread on tables so that signatures could be got as the women were leaving or returning to work”.

p/ 205 “On 23 October 1906 Mrs Pankhurst led a demonstration to the opening of Parliament in protest against the omission of women’s suffrage from the Government’s programme. Scuffles broke out and 10 women were arrested and imprisoned. .. Working class suffragists recoiled from such behaviours. They felt that they had nothing in common with people who could donate £100 to WSPU funds or whose response to a crisis was to write to The Times. .. The radical suffragists wrote to Mrs Fawcett to make this point: although they had supported the interruption of a Liberal meeting in the interest of free speech, militancy for its own sake merely alienated all the support they had so carefully built up among the textile workers. .. Their letter is phrased a little primly, but it does reveal the dramatic class differences that now existed between the suffragettes and the radical suffragists: “Our members … it is not the fact of demonstrations or even violence that is offensive to them. It is being mixed up and held accountable as a class for educated and upper class women who kick, shriek, bite and spit. … It is not the rioting but the kind of rioting.”

p/ 222 “In 1911, it decided to show the strength of its support outside the maelstrom of London politics by organizing a massive pilgrimage that would converge on the capital from all corners of Britain an present a petition signed by 80,000 women demanding the vote. To thousands of members in the mushrooming suffrage societies the pilgrimage entailed considerable personal commitment and physical stamina. Few Lancashire women could spafre the time to walk the 200 miles … the only woman from her suffrage society who walked the whole distance was Emily Murgatroyd. ‘It took her about a fortnight. And they got hospitality …’ Mary Cooper explained. ‘and blisters on their feet. She was a real character, and very active physically. Emily’s weaver wages – then about 23s – were badly needed at home… ‘I had to save up money to leave with my mother,’ she said ‘because she couldn’t manage to get along without it. When I went away on suffrage work I always left a pound at home.’ Married women coming back from demonstrations or pilgrimages knew that the weekly wash waited for them. ‘Working housewives,’ commented Hannah Mitchell, ‘faced with this accumulation of tasks, often resolved never to leave home again.”

Books History Women's history

Notes from First Contact: Rome and Northern Britain

p. 9 “It is suggested that the Brigantines were recognised as Roman allies not long after the invasion of southern England in 43, and certainly by 47 when the Roman province appears to have extended to the southern border of Brigantia. The strength of the alliance appears to have been such that the governor, Osrorius Scapula, felt his northern flank secure enough to commit to campaigning in North Wales … the Brigantian ruler Queen Cartimandua certainly proved to be a loyal ally in 51 when she handed over Caratacus, the leader of anti-Roman resistance initially in southern England and later in Wales. Not that Brigantia was entirely quiescent – Tacitus records a revolt in Brigantia in 47 and eventually Cartimandua and her consort Venutius, who had ‘long been loyal’ to Rome fell out … became the leader of an anti-Roman faction…. requiring Roman intervention to rescue the queen. [probably] 69, with Ventius taking advantage of the chaos of the year of the Four Emperors.”

P 15 “the incumbent governor of the province was Bolanus, an appointee of the Emperor Vitellius. Tacitus shows little enthusiasm for Bolanus… yet not only did Bolanus survive Vitellius, but he was retained in post by the victorious Verspasian until 71, when he was succeeded by the new emperor’s relative, Quintus Petillius Cerialus. On his return to Rome, Bolanus was rewarded with elecation to the inner core of the aristocracy, the patriciate, and evidently continued to enjoy the favour of the Flavian regime. .. The Flavian poet, Papinius Statius … credits Bolanus with some apparently striking achievemnts in Caledonia … constructed forts and watch towers, and stripped a British king of his armour.”

p. 17 “.. lacked the long aristocratic lineage that had been shared by all of his predecessors. To the Roman way of thinking – no matter how unrealistic this hope may have been – such lineage was regarded as carrying with it the accumulated wisdom and experience of past generations. The son of a tax-collector and a first generation senator, a provincial governor appointed in Nero’s last years, when the Emperor appeared to be deliberately bypassing those candidates who were ‘best qualified in terms of their birth for such posts, Vespasian was not, for some in the Senate, the stuff of which emperors were made; he lacked prestige (auctoritas) and needed to devise a means of acquiring it… the uncertain military situation in Britain … surely provided a field in which military glory, and, with it, auctoritas, could be sought and won…. The circumstances were now right, therefore, for the unveiling of a ‘British Project’ – nothing less than the completion of the conquest of mainland Britain, and probably, Ireland too.”

p 18 but “even by the close of Vespasian’s own reign, the ambitious project was being scaled down: the ‘Elliptical Building’ in the fortress at Chester did not, at this stage at least, progress beyond the laying of its foundations… the two campaigns which took place in Titus’s reign appear to have been more consolidatory in character… Titus’ reign saw the withdrawal of detachments from the British legions – presumably in response to growing uncertainties elsewhere. .. Tacitus’ reference to the invasion of Ireland in the context of Agricola’s fifth campaign in southwest Scotland has the tone of a piece of wistful nostalgia – for an exciting and achievable project the opportunity for which, however, had passed.”


From At Hawthorn Time by Melissa Harrison

The homeless character Jack writes in his notebook (p. 59):

“Where are the primroses that used to carpet that wood? Why don’t you coppice it if you say it is yours? You think it doesn’t matter, that it is just a wood. You think things will always be the same. You think you have dominion – that you’re not part of things. .. But if there is no light the primroses can’t come. Is it spring you are afraid of or something else? Life finds a way but not like you think. I am still here.”

Good read

Books Environmental politics History

Notes from Wonderland: A Year of Britain’s Wildlife, Day by Day by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss

p. 23 18 January “the hedgerows in local farmland golden in the afternoon sun. An idyllic rural scene perhaps, but things are not as they seem. .. each mawthorn and elder twig is barnacled with yellow lichen, related to the species twhose paintball splashes enliven old tiled roofs and add thousands to the value of country cottages. These are Xanthorias, and, in common with all lichens, are a symbiotic partnership between a fungus and an alga: the alga makes food from sunlight for the fungus, which provides the alga with a stable substrate. … Lichens are well known as pollution watchdogs. Many species are sensitive to sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere and so are scarce around heavy industry and in city centres. In recent years, cleaner air has brough many species back… But .. the yellow hedgerows… seem to be a sign of improved air, but are not. Xanthoria lichens are very tolerant of high levels of nitrogen dioxide, which derives partly from the nitrates used in agricultural fertilisers … a jaundiced view of an over-fertlised landscape.”

p. 62 18 Feb “Balloonwort is an annual liverwort, which is most conspicuous in winter. It grows on arable land that isn’t over-distrubed and which hasn’t been exposed to herbicide. For this reason, it’s now quite rare and mainly found in places such as market-gardens or the bulb fields of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly… Each plant was made up of hundreds of minute inflated pods, which protect the male and female liverwort’s sex organs. … in a few weeks, the plant’s tiny balloons would dry out and release their spores, unseen and largely unappreciated.”

p. 82 4 March “The mole … it’s thought there are about 30 million of them in Britain .. they did play a small but significant part in English history when in 1702 King William II (William of Orange) died following from a fall from his horse, which had stumbled into a mole barrow. His rivals, the Jacobites … reportedly toasted “the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat”.

p. 95 17 March ” “Oxfordshire isn’t alone. Adders have also gone from Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire and are on the very brink in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Greater London. In my own county of Worcestershire, they are disappearing so fast that even in their remaining hotspot they are in grave danger…Male adders emerge from hibernation in late February to soak up the sun’s rays and mature their sperm in preparation for mating in April and May. I’ve even seen them basking while snow was falling: their ability to harness the warmth of the sun is so well developed that they are the only European snake to live within the Arctic Circle… Human persecution is part of the problem, as is simplification of habitat: too much shading can force the snakes into less suitable areas and, because they hibernate communally, a forestry bulldozer can easily wipe out large elements of the population.”

p. 136 18 April

“out smallest terrestrial mammal, the pygmy shrew… while a blue tit has to eat about one-third of its body weight each day, the pygmy shrew must gorge on an astonishing one and a quarter times its own weight. If it fails to do so, every single day of its life, it will die.. can weigh as little as two and a half grams 0 less than a penny … long pointed snout typical of shrews, which it uses to sniff out prey such as beetles, woodlice and spiders… a tail that may be almost as long as its body… they have to use existing burrows, and hope that they don’t come across any of the permanent residents … typically live for just a few months, and rarely much longer than a year.”

p. 140 “Adult lampreys are indeed primitive creatures armed with large sucker mouths ringed with rasping teeth. Their lack of a jawbone, or indeed any bones – they are cartilaginous, like sharks – and the presence of a pineal eye on the top of their heads, which registers only light, has led from biologists to wonder if lampreys should be classified as fish at all… lampreys pre-date the dinosaurs by hundreds of millions of years, but are now in decline over much of the UK.”

p. 165 A friend of mine advises me to ‘never go on a picnic with an ecologist’ because all ecologists do is point out how good things used to be.”

p. 193 cuckoos’ decline “likely reason is the massive decline in the availability of the cuckoo chick’s main food, the caterpillars of our larger moths, which have suffered catastrophic declines in the south of Britain.”

p. 388 “the water shrew … nearly 2 million of them inhabit Scottish, English and Welsh, although not Irish, waterways … tail is fringed with stuff hairs, which act as a keel when it dives underwater and dog-paddles after invertebrates. To subdue its prey, it uses venom. Poisons in its saliva can affect the nervous system of creatures as big as frogs and shrew bite can cause a burning sensation on our own skin.”

p, 400 18 November “Lemon slugs .. a rich glowing canary yellow offset by delicate lilac grey tentacles…are secret connoisseurs of ancient woodland: that is woods that date back to 1600 or earlier in England and Wales and 1750 in Scotland… feed on forest fungi… but seem especially fond of those that match their colour such as ochre brittlegills or buttercaps.”



Books Environmental politics

Notes from The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicholson

p. 336

“Over the last 60 years, the world population of seabirds has dropped by over two-thirds. One-third of all seabird species is now threatened with extinction. Half of them are known or thought to be in decline. Some petrels, terms and cormorants have been reduced to less than 5% of the numbers that were alive in 1950. Albatrosses and shearwaters, frigate birds, pelicans and penguins have all suffered deep body-blows. Some bird families – the gannets and boobies, some gulls and storm petrels – have managed to keep their numbers up or even increase them slightly, but overall the picture is a decline of seabird numbers of about 70% in six decades. … Those seabirds whose numbers are even roughly known have dropped from about 300 million in 1950 to about 100 million in 2010… The graph trends to zero by about 2060. … we have brought this disaster on ourselves: through overfishing; by the massive accidental catching of birds in fishing hear; by their deliberate destruction; by introducing rats, cats, dogs, pigeons, goats, rabbits and cattle to the breeding paces of birds which were defenceless against them…; through pollution by oil, metals, plastics and other toxins; by the destruction of nesting sites by human development; and through the multiple effects of climate change and the acidification of the sea.”

p/ 10 Only 350 out of the 11,000-odd species of birds have taken to the sea. For all their difference, a certain way of life unites them, different from most birds, not living a year or two but, in the very oldest albatrosses, up to 80 or 90 years; not raising chicks the season after they are born but slow to mature, waiting many years before laying an eff; not hoping against hope with 8 or 9 eggs in each clutch, but often raising a single chick, long incubated in the egg, long fed in the nest; rarely moving on from one partner to the next but often faithful for many years, each parent relying on the other to raise the next generation. These life-histories are shared, significantly, only by the vultures, which must also look for rare concentrations of prey in the wide and hostile sterilities of the world, not at sea but in the desert. These are the edge-choosers, creatures whose lives have stepped beyond the ordinary into environments of such difficulty that they can respond only with a slow cumulative mastery which amounts in the end to genius.”

p. 28-34 “Until recently, people have only been able to guess what the fulmars did when they were not to be seen… The revelatory fulmar was a big male, number 1568, and was well known to the scientists. He had bred on Eynhallow with the same partner for the previous 11 years and just after midday on 23 May 2012 the Aberdeen scientists grabbed him.. His partner was away fishing. .. Three days later she came back and at 10.30 that evening 1568 headed out to sea… for two days he waited for the wind, afloat on the ocean just to the north-west of Orkney. But then the weather changed … strong south-easterlies began to blow… he set off to the north-west, a sustained 11-hour flight to the channel between Shetland and the Faroes, a rich picking ground for the plankton drifting up in the North Atlantic Current. He stayed there almost a day, hungry from his time on the egg in Eynhallow… early the in the morning of the fourth day, 1568 set off in the wing … and flew fast and hard out into the depths of the North Atlantic for 2.5 days, a thousand miles in 55 hours. He slowed at night, but during the day sometimes covered more than 40 straight-line miles in an hour. If you take the zigzag path of his dynamic soaring into account, he may have been travelling half as fast again… he arrived at the destination he had undoubtedly been seeking, the rich waters around a mountainous and broken section of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge called the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone. .. he feast for three days, not travelling far, but feeding on the plankton, squid and fish that gather at that meeting of the warm North Atlantic Current and the cold fertile waters coming down from the Arctic … After three days, 1,500 miles from Eynhallow, he turned for home, but intriguingly did not make a beeline for Orkney, instead flying, now into strong headwinds, to Galway Bay in southwest Ireland. It may be that he was choosing the headwinds that were nearer the centre of the depression and so slightly weaker … Arriving in Ireland he was many hundreds of miles outh of Orkney, but the Vikings used to navigate like this: leave the coast of Norway, aim as best you could for the mainland of Britain, hit it somewhere you would recognize and then follow the coast to your original destination. That looks like 1568’s method, aiming for the great unmissable wall of Europe … All the same, his geographical understanding was precise. He knew he was to the south of where he needed to be. He could expect that there would be homeward-heading southerlies on the eastern edge of a low, and having fed on the sea for eight hours off the rich sea life in Galway Bay, 1568 turned definitively north along the Atlantic coastline, hugging the shore until he reached the big headland of Erris Head … there cut north-east for Tory Island and then the Hebrides… He made his Scottish landfall at the great lighthouse of Skerryvore off the southwest point of Tiree. There again, in the surging tidal overfalls, he paused and few for a few hours … he arrived at nine in the evening on 9 June 2012, having travelled a straight-line distance of nearly 3,900 miles in just over two weeks. After a moment or two together, his mate left for her own (unknown) voyaging and 1568 settled on to the egg.. tucked his head under the wing, sitting on the sorrel and the thrift, and slept…. His ocean journeys were an act of memory. Here is a bird so attuned to the ways of planet and ocean, not only physically and instinctively but psychologically and even analytically, that it is possible to see in its whole being an intelligence different from but scarcely less than ours. The GPS tracks are a map of that mind, allowing a glimpse into a fulmar’s consciousness.”

p. 148 Traditional societies have a long history of empathy with the wild animals that surround them. Stillborn children were buried on the wings of whooper swans in Mesolithic Denmark. At Isbister in Orkney, more than 600 sea eagle bones were missed in with the human remains laid in a Bronze Age tomb. In Shetland and Foula, shepherds used to feed titbits to the great skuas, the bonxies, that protected their lambs from the sea eagles and ravens.”

p. 164 guillemots are “’socially monogamous;, meaning that like human beings they are essentially monogamous but don’t always manage to keep to it in practice … guillemot wives call the shots … Great Island off the coast of Newfoundland … every summer for five years, darn to dusk, they watched 60 individually marked birds, an extraordinarily vivid psycho-theatre of seabird life … Some of them were undoubtedly badly behaved: one didn’t feed his chick and it starved, another knocked his chick off the cliff while fighting with a neighbour’ one didn’t know how to incubate the egg and another simply stood next to it rather than over it, so it cooled and died. This bird was attacked by her partner when he returned to the ledge. Another guillemot decided to drive her partner off the egg, which was then eaten by a gull. Every one of these offenders was kicked out by their husband or wife during the following winter, unseen by the biologists, but evidence enough the next year shown the marriage was clearly over. .. the female would have sex only with a male that had already shown some excellent paternal skills. Male birds from neighbouring nests which in previous seasons had carefully sheltered and few their chick and which, after two weeks or so, had called the chick down from the edge to the seas where they would look after them and feed them for many weeks: those were the birds the females would set their eyes on.”

p. 252 “Only by observing gannets from the same colony, particularly those gannets which are doing well in raising good strong chicks, watching where they are going and watching where they are returning from, will lead the young, inexperienced gannets to that part of the sea where they are likely to find fish not already fished out by the neighbouring gannetry … the effect is for each colony to develop a set of habits, a fishing pattern, a way of doing things which is unique to that colony, passed down across the generations, creating what is in effect a culture, a pattern of understanding and a way of life, tied to its own geography, unique to that gathering of gannets. Memes, or cultural clusters of knowledge and skills, are inherited across the generations.”

p. 274 “The great auk remains the King of the Lost. It was the first ‘penguin’, maybe a Breton or Welsh name, which the French still use for the razorbill… The last of the great auks were found and killed in the far north, in Newfoundland, Scotland and Iceland, but those were only the safest, most distant and residual refuges. They had once stomped and hunted across as much of the Atlantic as the penguins now cover in the Southern Ocean. Fossils have been found in Calabria in southern Italy, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, in Gibraltar and in the Canaries. A whole landscape at least 500,000 years old has been uncovered in a quarry at Boxgrove in Sussex, and here, alongside eagle owls, ancient swans, geese, gannets, cormorants and razorbills, were great auks with the bones and stone axes of the men who had butchered them… The body of a man in one prehistoric grave in Newfoundland has been found covered in more than 150 great auk bills, perhaps the remains of the most astonishing seabird cloak ever made, clacking and rustling around the body of the ancient chieftain like great auk chain mail, a sheath of Atlantic bird life.”

p. 278 But of all the great auk finds, the most endearing and unlikely was in the late Roman layers underneath the Laza del Marques in Gijon in northern Spain. The bones of the bird, which must have come in from the Bay of Biscay, just to the north, were surrounded by the remains of a lock of chickens. Were they simply different parts of a menu. Or did a great auk live for a while in an elegant, columned Roman coop, leading his gaggle of hens around him, clacking away at them with his giant ridged bill, king of the northern birds, treasured as a noble oddity by a provincial Roman, reading his Horace, sipping his vinho verde?”

Books Feminism History London Women's history

Notes from British Boarding Houses in Interwar Women’s Literature: Alternative Domestic Spaces by Terri Mulholland

p. 3 “Women living in boarding houses are diverse characters. They are not only widows and elderly spinsters, they are also younger working women, such as T.S. Eliot’s ‘typist home at teatime’ in The Waste Land, who must make her room serve as both bedroom and living space, with her ‘food in tins’ alongside her ‘drying combinations’. They may inhabit similar rooms, but their experiences are very different. There is Miriam Henderson, a young dental secretary, in Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage (1915-67_ series, embracing her independent life and her own ‘triumphant faithful latchkey’ and Mary Datchet in Virginia Woolf’s novel Night and Day (1919), an active member of the women’s suffrage movement who is portrayed working with purpose in her single room. They provide a sharp contrast to the middle-aged and unnamed protagonist of Storm Jameson’s novella A Day Off (1933), who lives a precarious life of uncertainty, waiting for money from her lover to pay the rent on her bed-sitting room. Boarding house rooms and the men who pay for them are also features of Jean Rhys’s interwar novels, where her female protagonists not only occupy spaces outside the family home, they also enact roles outside the domestic ideal, merging the boundaries between the wife in the house and the prostitute on the street. There are also the women who run boarding and lodging houses, as depicted in Stella Gibbon’s novel Bassett (1934), who experience the conflicts between the home as both commercial and family space. A common theme throughout all these novels is poverty; even those in paid employment struggle to make ends meet on their meagre salaries.”

“Life for women in Britain between the two World Wars has been retrospectively defined by its contradictions: increasing independence and greater opportunities outside the home, contrasted with a dominant ideology which maintained that a woman’s place was firmly within the familial structure. Census data for England and Wales shows the number of single women over the age of 25 increased from around two million in 1911 to over two and a half million by 1931, far outnumbering the number of single men whose numbers had not even reached two million.”

p. 8 “Between 1861 and 1911 female clerical workers in London increased from 279 to 569,850. There were around five million female workers at the beginning of the century making up 29 per cent of the total workforce…. Accommodation for the professional woman included the Ladies Residential Chambers on Chenies Street (built in 1888) and York Street (built in 1892) and Sloan Gardens House (built in 1889), which was run by the Ladies’ Associated Dwellings Company. However, these … had a long waiting list. They were also relatively expensive: the Chambers ranged in price from 30 to 90 pounds per year making it too expensive for the majority of working women. Sloane Gardens House was more affordable at 10 shillings per week for an unfurnished room, compared to between 18 and 25 shillings per week in a private ladies’ boarding house. In an article in The Contemporary Review in 1900, Alice Zimmern suggested that a woman would need to earn at least one pound per week to afford around 15 shillings on board an lodging and suggests that: “The lady who earns less presents a problem for the wages rather than the housing question”.

p. 126 “Writing in 1937, the American Mary Ellen Chase observes how on early Sunday evenings the streets of Bloomsbury ‘are punctuated by Americans traversing the distance from their rooms in boarding-houses and a hundred small hotels to the nearest red pillarboxe3s to post their Sunday letters home’.

p. 128 “For those women without the money to socialise in the more affluent circles, the metropolis did not necessarily foster the supportive community of expatriates they had envisaged. The New Zealand writer Jane Mander made a frugal living as a writer and editor in interwar London nad had a wide circle of acquaintances, but her compatriot Robin Hyde did not thrive in her new environment, and her ill health, depression and lack of money led her to commit suicide in her Kensington boarding house in 1939 … As Louise Mack herself acknowledged …”There are three grades of homelessness in London – Boarding-house, Apartments, Flat. If you live in Boarding-houses you cannot be known. If you live in Apartments you can go and see your friends. If you have a flat your friends can come and see you.”

p. 130 “Nancy Wake, an Australian who became famous for her work as a member of the French Resistance during the Second World War, travelled to London in 1932 and took up residence in a ‘cheap boarding house’ on the Cromwell Road. Like many of those growing up as part of the British Empire, Wake’s initial reactions to England, and particularly London, were mediated through the representations absorbed in childhood that had become as familiar to her as actual experience .. grown up in Australia singing a rhyme about Big Ben: I am Big Ben/Hear what I say/All other clocks/Get out of my way”. The implied message of British domination in this childhood rhyme was adopted unquestioningly by wake once she was in London. London’s history ‘made Sydney look infantile in comparison’ and Wake ‘felt a little sniffy when she gazed back on the tired old life she imagined her friends and family must be living in Sydney’.


Louise Mack An Australian Girl in London

Sara Jeannette Duncan An American Girl in London

Louise Closser Hale An American’s London (1920)