Further Herefordshire Narratives: Women

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Elinor M. Brent-Dyer lived and worked in Hereford between 1933 and 1964. She was a teacher and a writer, particularly of school stories for girls. Her most famous series of school stories were the ‘Chalet School’ books. She started writing the ‘Chalet School’ books in 1925 and continued with the series throughout the rest of her life. The last one was written in the 1960s and published posthumously in 1970. It was the 59th of the series – a unique series of such length.

Elinor moved to Hereford in 1933 with her mother and worked as a governess to a family in Peterchurch before starting her own school, the Margaret Roper School; in 1938and was its headmistress until it closed in 1948. By this time, the income generated from her writing was sufficient for her to cease teaching but she lived at Lichfield House on Bodenham Road (her home and the school) until 1964 when she moved to live with friends in Surrey. Herefordshire was used as the setting for six of the ‘Chalet School’ books, published in the 1940s, the only time that she ever used a home setting for the series.

WALK LOCATION: Bodenham Road, Hereford.(between Southbank Road and the A438 Ledbury Road)

Ella Mary Leather

Ella Mary Leather, born near Dilwyn, Herefordshire, in 1874, is a renowned collector of the folk songs, tales and dances of Herefordshire.

The daughter of a farmer she was educated in Hereford at Clyde House School and Hereford High School for Girls. After marrying Francis Leather in 1893, a solicitor in Weobley, she moved to Weobley and spent the rest of her life there.

Becoming aware that the modern world would cause many of the old country customs of her childhood to die out in 1905 she contributed a chapter ‘The Folk-lore of the Shire’ in ‘Memorials of Old Herefordshire’ by the Revd. C. Reade. In 1912 her book ‘The Folk-Lore of Herefordshire was published and is still considered to be one of the seminal texts of English folklore, containing the lyrics and music of 23 traditional carols, ballads and songs.

She was encouraged by leading folklorist, Cecil Sharp and the young composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. He was aware that Herefordshire had potential as a source of folk songs and not only sent her a phonograph to record songs but also made several visits to Weobley accompanying Leather on visits to local gypsy camps. Ella Leather collaborated with Vaughan Williams in the publication of ‘Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire’. She was also interested in Morris and folk dancing and founded the Herefordshire Folk Dance Society in 1925 not many years before her death in 1928.

Dame Laura Knight

Dame Laura Knight had a studio in Colwall, Herefordshire at the start of World War II, dividing her time between London and Herefordshire until her death. Her mother taught part-time at Nottingham School of Art and Laura was enrolled there as a student when she was 13. Due to her mother’s illness, she began teaching at art at 15.

Later, she won a scholarship and gold medal in a National Student Competition held by the South Kensington Museum. This article (Hadley, 2013) describes her as “on the margins, but not outside them”. Her work, though not popular with all critics, was hugely popular in her lifetime; she worked in the social, illustrating women from all areas of life, including those who would be seen as marginal, such as the gypsy-traveller community.

Dora Carrington

Born in Hereford (1893), Dora Carrington was closely associated with The Bloomsbury Group. She won several prizes, including a scholarship at the Slade, and her work, though not well-known or applauded during her lifetime, could be considered ahead of its time in its eclecticism and experimental nature. She painted on a range of surfaces, from trunks to wall tiles to pub signs, experimenting in leatherwork alongside more traditional mediums such as woodcuts.

Dora Carrington was the subject of a major retrospective at The Barbican in 1995, following an upsurge of interest in her individual and unique style. Her biography is equally a subject of interest, and she was portrayed by Emma Thompson  in the 1995 film ‘Carrington’.

Carrington was not consciously a pioneer or a feminist, but in her determination to live life according to her own nature – especially in relation to her work, her passionate friendships and her fluid attitude to sex, gender and sexuality – she fought battles that remain familiar and urgent today. 

Read more at https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1093153/carrington-s-letters/#fxWu357OtrBbQz4v.99

Blanche Parry 

Born to a well-connected family in Newcourt, Golden Valley, Blanche was a gentlewoman of Queen Elizabeth from her birth until she was 52. Blanche became chief gentlewoman on Elizabeth’s accession and Keeper of the Queen’s jewels. She was close to the Queen and, by contemporary accounts, valued at court for her various virtues,. Richardson (2007) describes her as  “discreet, meticulous, trustworthy, elegant”. Blanche Parry is  buried in St Margaret’s Westminster, her funeral costs all paid for by Elizabeth. More information

Lady Brilliana Harvey

Was the wife of Sir Robert Harley a prominent Parliamentarian during the English Civil Wars.  Many of the letters she wrote to her family have survived giving a clear insight into the events of the period. When war broke out, Sir Robert Harley, as a Member of Parliament remained in London, and Brilliana and her daughters were left at Brampton Bryan Castle  – an island of Parliamentary sympathy in an overwhelmingly Royalist Herefordshire.  Surviving records show how practical she was: flintlocks, powder and matches were added to her domestic shopping list. Items she thought she might need and in fact would need, in the event of hostilities. 

In July 1643 royalists turned their attention to Brampton Bryan Castle and Lady Brilliana.  Former neighbours, friends and relatives – all Royalist  – were ordered to destroy Brampton Bryan Castle.  Lady Brilliana was asked to surrender but refused to do so. Surviving correspondence shows that Brilliana firmly refused to surrender saying  “…my dear husband hath entrusted me with his house, but according to his pleasure, therefore I cannot dispose of his house but according to his pleasure…”. 

The village around the castle was attacked and the castle besieged for seven weeks. Lady Brilliana replenished her stores and went on the offensive sending out foraging parties and an attack force to the nearby town of Knighton.  However, by October 1643 the royalists were poised to renew the siege. 

After seven weeks the siege was lifted, and Lady Brilliana set about replenishing stores within the castle. Encouraged by the news that the siege of Gloucester had been lifted, she went on the offensive, sending out foraging parties and an attack force to the town of Knighton. By early October 1643 the royalists were again poised to renew the siege, and on 9 October 1643 Brilliana wrote to her son, Ned  “…I have taken a very great cold, which has made me very ill these 2 or 3 days, but I hope that the Lord will be merciful to me, in giving me health, for it is an ill time to be sick in. My dear Ned, I pray God bless you and give me the comfort of seeing you again…” 

Sadly she was never to see her husband or sons again as she died of pneumonia on 31 October leaving “the saddest garrison in the three kingdoms”. 

Florence Nightingale

Despite her life being very well-known, not everyone is aware that Florence Nightingale spent her childhood at Kinsham Court, Kinsham (just outside Presteigne, on the borders of Herefordshire and Powys).

Mary Howey

Suffragette and sister of Elsie Howey, a militant in the movement. During the 1911 census in Cradley, Herefordshire she wrote ‘Votes for Women’ across the form, a popular form of protesting the right for women to vote. Mary was imprisoned in 1908 after a demo. In Westminster. The Museum Of London’s Suffragette Fellowship Collection has a suffragette scrapbook that she made.

Violette Szabo

Served in SOE, captured and sent to Ravensbruck where she was executed. The Violette Szabo Museum is located in the cottage in Wormelow Tump, Herefordshire, that Violette’s English cousins formerly owned, and that Violette would visit before the war to enjoy walks in the surrounding hills. She also stayed at the farm while she was recuperating from her ankle injury and between her two missions to France. More information

Dorothy Wordsworth

More usually linked with the Lake District, Dorothy Wordsworth was a regular visitor to Herefordshire. This from a biography by Gittings and Manton:
 “On 10 February 1826 at a quarter to eight she left at last for her postponed holiday, ‘always ready’, as Sara said, ‘to enjoy whatever was proposed –  never making any difficulties. The proposal was a three months’ visit, accompanied by Joanna, to Thomas and Mary Hutchinson on their new farm. They had moved a year earlier into the calm, dreamlike country between Hereford and Hay-on-Wye. At their rambling, moated, many chimneyed farmhouse, Brinsop Court, which could comfortably shelter fourteen ‘Cumberland and Westmorland souls’, Dorothy passed months of the most unclouded happiness in her life.” 

Lady Mary Clive

(more to follow)