Women’s History Month

Not only does International Women’s Day fall in March, it turns out it is also Women’s History Month.

As you will all know from previous posts I’m interested in local history and politics and I recently made this list of famous/interesting women from Lambeth. I was also a little bit shocked to discover that none of these make it onto Wikipedia’s list of famous people from Lambeth! When I get a minute to figure out how to update a Wikipedia page I will attempt to rectify this (feel free to get there first if you have the skills)…

Leader of women’s rights Annie Besant

Annie Besant was born in Clapham and lived for some time in Gypsy Hill.  She was a passionate advocate for women’s (and people’s) rights and helped organise the first women’s union – the Bryant & May matchgirls – and their strike.  She went on to help Ghandi in India which is where she died.


Muriel Matters – suffragette

Muriel was born in in Australia but whilst she was active as a suffragette she lived in Kennington.  She was famous for her ‘stunts’ which included flying over London in a hot air balloon dropping suffrage leaflets on the citizens below and chaining herself to the grille in the Ladies’ gallery of the House of Commons


The first woman councillor we never had – Lady Sandhurst

In the first London County Council elections of 1889 two women were elected councillors, Jane Cobden (for Bow and Bromley) and Lady Sandhurst for Brixton.  The third place candidate in Brixton raised a legal objection about a woman taking a seat on the council and she was replaced by him.  Other legal challenges meant that Cobden could sit but not vote.


The first woman alderman (sic) for the London County Council, women’s rights campaigner, social reformer and cultural pioneer – Emma Cons

She worked in Lambeth to improve housing conditions, took over and ran the Old Vic theatre, founded Morley College and still found time whilst on holiday in Cyprus in 1896 to help Armenian refugees.


War hero who died for her country – Violetta Szabo

Born in France she and her family settled in South London when she was 11.  When war broke out she was working at the perfume counter at Bon Marche in Brixton.  She was an operative of the Special Operations Executive working as a saboteur in occupied France where she was captured, tortured and finally executed at Ravensbruch at the age of 23.


Cultural rebel and pioneer – Joan Littlewood

Joan Littlewood was born in Lambeth and passionately believed that arts and culture should be for everyone – she sought to democratise theatre and is most famous for her production ‘Oh What a Lovely War’.  However her lasting legacy is her Fun Palace idea – ‘everyone an artist, everyone a scientist’ creating a community led environment to enjoy and experience arts and science.  This has been taken forward by WEP founding member Stella Duffy (also a Lambeth resident) who runs the new Fun Palaces project.


Some other little snippets…

Mrs Sarah Pain, about whom little is known except that in 1722 she gave a piece of land for the purpose of building a workhouse which was immediately erected and in 1726 a large brick house was opened near Lambeth Butts for receiving all the poor of the parish.

This grew into the first Lambeth Workhouse which was located on Black Prince Road, it subsequently moved to the buildings which now house the Cinema Museum in Renfrew Road.

In 1758 John Fielding (the man who set up the Bow Street runners) instituted an asylum for female orphans and for the reception of deserted females the settlement of whose parents cannot be found.  Orphans were admitted between the ages of 8 and 10, trained until 14 and then placed as servants with respectable families.

Richard II’s Queen – Isabella – intervened between a rampaging mob and John of Gaunt and calmed the situation.

Would be queen, Arabella Stuart was kept imprisoned at Vauxhall.

Nell Gwynne is reputed to have had a house here.

I can’t imagine that mine is an exhaustive list and I’d be pleased to hear from anyone with other suggestions.


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