Action-packed

Hello All

I love a bookend and who can deny that a few days that start with Vikings and end with Vikings are a good thing?…ok…ok….Franks….Anglo-Saxons….Celts…..

It appears Kirkstall Abbey was ready to let bygones be bygones

And happily allowed a Viking village to be pitched outside the Nave.

The Norse looked friendly enough but the re-enactors from Ormsheim Vikings showed us their more unapproachable side too

The smiley devils!

Set inside and around the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Festival was in full swing with choirs, hawks, stalls, ponies and dogs on show when we gathered en familie for a marvellous day in the sunshine. Peanut had a particularly good time being borne on Uncle D’s shoulders to watch dancers in the nave and later racing around the cloisters to the music of the wonderful Otley Ukulele Orchestra.

After all that excitement a genteel woman of Cumbria was just what I needed and last Wednesday JG and me continued our progress around the Women of Cumbria exhibitions with a return visit to The Ruskin Museum in Coniston for the small display on Elizabeth Smith (1776 – 1806).

Miss Smith is a rather elusive figure aptly described by twentieth century Lakeland poet Norman Nicholson in 1953 as:

A shadowy form … a ghost even when she was alive…’

Although she had an extraordinary talent for languages – she was fluent in French, Spanish, German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew – and was a geometrician, musician and poet it was her early death that aroused the interest of the Lakeland literati, especially DeQuincey (that well known self-confessed opium eater) rather than her accomplishments in life.

Elizabeth died of consumption living her last few weeks in a tent that her father had put up in order that she could breath more easily and enjoy the glorious views of Coniston. Yet even in death she seems to have just melted away.

To me she is an icon of the many similarly gifted women of her time who were invisible. She left me a little heavy hearted for all the talented women who have vanished from our consciousness.

Ready for a gear change? After the peace and wistfulness of Elizabeth Smith I was whisked away on Saturday by No1 Daughter to London for a fabulous Animals Asia Bear-B-Q right in the heart of the busy city.

Organised by fantastic Animals Asia supporter Sarah D on the roof terrace of Knight Frank at 55 Baker Street the event was a huge success. Sarah D is an absolute powerhouse of a woman with such compassion and commitment to the Animals Asia cause. Big thanks Sarah and to your wing-man Ray.

The setting was wonderful (as were the raffle prizes)

The food was the very best vegan food I have ever tasted (the veggie option looked scrumptious too).

And Animals Asia ace ambassador actor (who knew I could get so many A’s in a phrase) Peter Egan was super lovely – as were the chefs he’s standing with…did I mention that food…?

It was a day spent with some of the most amazing passionate people I have ever met. Everyone friendly, chatty and interesting. It was also a day that allowed me a proud mum moment. Well done No1 Daughter!

London was hot hot hot so it was a relief to return up North and enjoy a quiet Sunday sitting in a local nature reserve for a relaxing picnic organised by No1 ‘son-in-law’. Thanks RP.

Looking at the colour of the grass it is not only London that has been a tad warm!

Yesterday and flowers from friends herald

The arrival of another birthday! It really doesn’t seem like a year ago that I hit that significant 60. Eeeeek. Luckily before I could get too maudlin No 1 Daughter and Peanut lifted my day.

First we stocked up on goodies for lunch from The Garden Vegan Take-Away here in sunny Kendal.

Amazing victuals – pasties, salads, sandwiches, wraps – perfect for a happy day spent wandering the grounds of my favourite haunt Levens Hall. Peanut was in her element exploring and running around the gardens (a real must see if you are in this neck of the woods, the gardens that is not the running..).

Going …

Going …

Gone!

She humoured her Omi with a sedate walk around the cottage garden.

She was captivated by the blooms (it could also be the path, she has a penchant for gravel!)

And was fascinated by the squashes and courgettes.

What a fabulous day we had.

As for those Vikings! No1 Son knows me well ….

Until next we meet,

Moke x

Something in the water

Hello All

Wednesday 4 July 2018 – Part 2: Ambleside

Leaving Grasmere, Wordsworths and Shelleys behind JG and me boarded a returning 555 bus to travel the short distance to Ambleside.

The Armitt Museum is one of the smallest but most intellectually compelling museums I know.

Snuggled within the grounds of Charlotte Mason College the Armitt is a unique combination of library, museum and gallery.

The Armitt was founded as a library by Mary Louisa Armitt – known to her friends as Louie – to foster the exchange of ideas among the local community. And what a community!

Ambleside in the 1800s and early 1900s was the centre of a remarkable intellectual culture in which many of the key players were independent women. Amongst these were Mary Louise and her sisters, Sophia and Annie Maria; Harriet Martineau; Annie Jemima Clough; Charlotte Mason and famously Beatrix Potter. A powerhouse of polymaths. But had you heard of them all? I certainly hadn’t …. and I live on the doorstep!

The Armitt’s “A Woman’s Place: Ambleside’s Feminist Legacy” rectifies this.

Here are the inspirational women we met (no photos allowed so bear with my scratchy portraits):

Founders of the Armitt Library – the Armitt Sisters

Sophia, Annie Marie and Mary Louisa Armitt were seriously gifted sisters originally from Salford. Each had her own area of expertise and talent, botany, music, English literature to name a few.

Thankfully Mary Louisa ignored Ruskin’s advice to keep to women’s activities. I don’t think he would have included in those the founding of a library and we would have been all the poorer.

There is definitely something in the Ambleside water as the talented Armitts were not the only women of note drawn to the area.

The first female sociologist – Harriet Martineau (1802 -1876)

This rather doe-eyed portrait probably belies the steely woman Harriet was. Born into a Unitarian family of Huguenot ancestry she travelled widely (in those skirts?!) and was a proponent of higher education for women. Her interest in social theory earned her the ‘first female sociologist’ moniker.

She was a woman ahead of her time:

“If a test of civilisation be sought, none can be so sure as the condition of that half of society over which the other half has power”

… and there were more…

First Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge – Anne Jemima Clough (1820 – 1892)

While losing out in the portraiture stakes (sorry Anne) Ms Clough certainly did not lose out when they were handing out brains and humanity. Anne Clough was a suffragist (akin to a suffragette but earlier and non-violent) and like Martineau was a promoter of higher education for women becoming the first principal of Newnham College, Cambridge University.

While in Ambleside (where else?) she opened a school at her home Eller How for local children. Fascinated by her stories and travels her pupils couldn’t resist being drawn to her and learning through her informal methods of teaching. Moving south to help her widowed sister-in-law she initiated a scheme for peripatetic lectures which blossomed into the development of a new Cambridge college.

Homely and good humoured, like the children at Eller How, Anne Jemima’s students cherished her. While not a natural administrator her humility and ability to admit when she was wrong allowed her to work creatively and successfully with her colleagues.

She sounds great and is a bit of Her-story I have never learned about.

Home Education and the Teacher’s Teacher – Charlotte Mason (1842 – 1923)

Best known in these here parts for being the light behind the teachers’ training college set up after her death Charlotte was also a supporter of home education. She co-founded the Parents’ Educational Union to provide resources for home educating parents and published the Parents’ Review a regular publication with articles on home educating.

Perhaps because of this Charlotte is well known in North America. Infact we learned that a large number of American and Canadian home schoolers visit The Armitt to find out more about her.

Last but not least …

Naturalist, artist, writer and conservationist – Beatrix Potter

(Oh the sacrilege.)

Living in an age of change Beatrix expertly followed her own path. Through her much loved Tales of Peter Rabbit and other children’s books Beatrix an astute businesswoman ensured her financial independence. She earned enough to engage in farming, assemble a great estate and become a Herdwick sheep breeder. All this from an expert on fungi!

Beatrix supported The Armitt and thanks to her beneficence the museum holds an amazing collection of her scientific drawings. They bowl you over with their detail and some are even hard to distinguish from photographs. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to see Beatrix Potter’s academic work it is astonishing.

You still there? I couldn’t stifle the urge to share these inspirational women with you I hope you enjoyed meeting them.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

Keep on marching…

Hello All

Wednesday 4 July 2018 – Part 1: Grasmere

The sun continues to shine, moors and heaths burn and reservoirs run dry. Welcome to the new California! Thankfully the Women of Cumbria are going nowhere. They are a sturdy bunch – hot? phah! – so the march of the modern women (me and JG) continues … even if I am sweating …. sorry …. glowing like a Gloucester Old Spot (oink!).

Hopping on the 555 Stagecoach Bus from Kendal – choosing seats on the shady side of the top deck – we set off. What a corker of a day. We visited two museums and ‘met’ a host of incredible women.

Settle in a comfy spot with a pot of your favourite brew – I am now mainlining green tea – a lengthy post lies ahead of you. And there is another to follow. No rest for the wicked.

Described in my trusty copy of Hyde and Pevsner as sitting in a ” Pastoral, Samuel Palmerish setting under the beetling fells…” Grasmere deserves its enduring popularity with visitors. Amongst those visitors were the Wordsworths, sister and brother Dorothy and William. Our day kicked off with a visit to their one-time home, Dove Cottage.

Once a wayside inn Dorothy Wordsworth initially occupied the panelled downstairs room in this 17th century whitewashed cottage.

Got to love the quirky terrier. What a rascal he looks.

On this hot day the cool of the homely kitchen and buttery was welcomingly refreshing.

Dove Cottage a place of “plain living and high thinking” saw Dorothy and her brother William at their most productive (1799 to 1808). However the cottage was soon crowded by William and his wife Mary’s growing family together with the coterie of the great (and often stoned) literati of their day it was no surprise that Dorothy moved to one of the smallest and coldest rooms she probably needed the peace and a good (if nippy) night’s sleep.

Up to fifteen people sometimes slept at the Wordsworth’s. Snug to say the least.

How inviting the garden would have looked. No wonder William treasured the time he spent at the top of the garden overlooking the house and fells from his moss clad retreat.

It seems that daffodils were not the only flowers on his mind.

No gardening pun intended but if I seem to have wandered from the Women of Cumbria path here I come tripping (almost literally those olden days folk had smaller feet than mine and their steps were not designed for clodhoppers like me) back onto it.

Dorothy was a wonderful writer and much ‘borrowed’ by her famous brother. William was influenced by her detailed descriptions of nature. Her “Grasmere Journal” probably inspired “Daffodils” together with William’s acclaimed guide to the Lake District.

Next door to Dove Cottage is the Wordsworth Museum and another woman who could easily have slipped under the shadow of a famous man. Can you guess who she might be?

Couldn’t get JG to pose. Can’t think why?! You of course guessed our visit was to learn about Mary Shelley in the latest exhibition in the museum’s Women Behind the Words series:

Mary Shelley (born in 1797) was a woman of many talents: a novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer and travel writer. It fair puts you to shame. “Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus” was born out of a stormy night’s challenge amongst friends when she was 19 years old (nineteen!!). Her other works include “The Last Man” set in the future of…the 21st century! Don’t want to worry you but we are all doomed.

Curated by Fiona Sampson to coincide with the publication of her book “In Search of Mary Shelley” the exhibition reveals an intelligent and radical woman. Mary’s life was beset by tragedy, the drowning of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and the deaths of three of her children, yet she devoted herself to looking after her only surviving child and her career as a professional writer. No mean feat for any woman in the 19th century. It is good to fly the flag for her, Dorothy Wordsworth and the other Women Behind the Words.

There’s a whole bunch of fabulous women to come…watch this space.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

Happy Fortnight

Hello All

Apologies for last week’s lapse. Things are all good here at Casa Moke just a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. I warn you this is a l-o-n-g post. You will be rewarded with a cuppa if you make it to the end.

What have I been up to?

Cooking.

Delicious Beetroot, Mushroom and Dulse Seaweed Burgers. Grating beetroot always makes the kitchen look like a crime scene but the consequent mopping up was worth it for these tasty burgers packed with yummy goodness.

I love seaweed however often forget how scrumptious and beneficial it is. Thanks to Kate Humble’s BBC series ‘Back to the Land with Kate Humble’ I was reminded and have found some fabulous producers. For this recipe and the Seaweed Cookbook I turned to The Cornish Seaweed Company. The book is a wonderful resource: along with plentiful recipes for everyone (vegans, veggies, omnivores and more) it profiles a huge variety of seaweeds and gives a guide to foraging.

Crafting.

Simple patchwork and a teeny-weeny amount of quilting are helping me gain more and more confidence on my sewing machine (sorry Snail of Happiness I have still not tried stretchy fabrics!). I am also rather pleased with the results if I do say so myself. No 1 Daughter has put in an order for cushions to coordinate with her soon to be decorated living room. Praise indeed.

Hot off the press…

Another cushion made almost entirely from scraps from earlier makes including at least two outfits for my granddaughter. I am smiling looking at it.

Some of you may remember my HUGE over purchase of wool for the simple Fair Isle jumper for Peanut.

Well I have found the perfect project to use the surplus. A Guernsey Wrap.

The pattern by Jared Flood is on Ravelry here. Versions of it can also be seen on one of my favourite blogs ‘Foxs Lane‘ … but I can’t remember where! It is a fabulous blog well worth a visit and you may even stumble on the wrap along your way.

Walking.

Walking buddies JG and JF set off clutching maps (OS Explorer OL7 – The English Lakes, South Eastern area) and compasses – they are part way through learning about navigation – with me their hill-loathing chum (how am I Cumbrian?!) in tow to complete the Kentmere walk we attempted last year when snow and ice made us/me decide to turn back. With the weather much improved – a DRY yet windy day – we set off in high hopes of sitting by a beautiful reservoir to eat our lunches.

Our day started with a charming easy stroll based on No. 3 in Norman Buckley’s book “Lakeland Walking: on the Level”. However as the hills of The Kentmere Horseshoe loomed in front of us it did look as if we were walking into Mordor. But hey! We had that attractive ‘lake’ to look forward to.

With a very flat valley floor and glacial moraines it was easy to see how the Ice Age sculpted this landscape. Ice now a thing of the past…things warmed up around end of April this year…lunch was calling and thoughts of dipping my tootsies in the lapping waters of the man-made tarn were becoming increasingly pleasing.

But what’s this?!

Or should that be what is it not?!!! Where has our reservoir gone? A couple of fellow walkers seeing our dropped jaws told us, it’s the result of a leak! In the past I have had small garden ponds and yes they have suffered the odd pond lining incident but a whole vanished reservoir? That is something.

Abandoning our visions of picnicking on a beautiful shoreline we crossed the spillway. Having watched much too much Nordic Noir I confess I was looking out at the wasteland for a skeleton or two at least. Happily I have nothing untoward to report but it was a very eerie setting…movie location hunters take note.

So being a bit agile (it says so in Buckley’s book) we followed a rough and narrow path back along the opposite bank of the River Kent until the going became easy again and we could stop out of the wind for sandwiches (hummus, peppers and celery if you were wondering) and have a short rest.

The walk back was idyllic. We couldn’t help but laugh at the adventurous and frolicking lambs (I thanked their mums for the wool) some of whom had perched themselves all over this glacial ‘dustbin’.

We admired the bridges.

And held our breath waiting for the bluebells to bloom.

All this and we barely got wet. A rare occasion in them thar hills.

Marching … Women of Cumbria

JG and I managed another tick on our ‘Women of Cumbria’ spreadsheet. We boarded the 505 Stagecoach bus to Coniston and had a wonderful time at the Ruskin Museum looking at all the displays and the exhibition dedicated to Annie Garnett a nineteenth century community entrepreneur who founded a textile industry in Lakeland.

Annie was one of six siblings and while her brothers went to school she was lucky enough to learn autonomously at home and particularly through her love of gardening. Taking her vision from Ruskin’s linen ‘industry’ Garnett founded The Spinnery in Windermere which gave women homebased work spinning yarns which were then woven at the spinnery. Many of the designs were created around plant forms.

Annie Garnett’s knowledge of weaving and textile history enabled her to create new fabrics and dye swatches that reflect her love of Lakeland’s colours.

Beautiful.

Garnett was not only a knowledgeable, inspired artisan she was also an astute businesswoman. By 1899 over 90 women worked as home spinners and embroiders. These workers were given training and also loaned their equipment for free. Annie clearly saw The Spinnery as a business and not a charity and she worked hard to promote it. Her management style was most certainly hands-on!

Lastly we could not leave Coniston without a ratch around a graveyard. We were looking for two gravestones.

Ruskin’s.

And W.G. Collingwood’s. Mission completed.

Are you ready for that drink? You’ve done really well to get here.

Tea drinking.

With a lack of dairy I have missed a delicious cuppa so I went to the Mecca of tea and coffee drinking which we are lucky enough to have here in Kendal, Farrer’s. I went experimental and by serendipity discovered a delicious brew.

And here I sit supping. Time you got the kettle on too. You have certainly earned it.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

PS I receive no freebies (I can dream) nor payment (does that happen?) for anything recommended in my blog. Mx

What now?

Hello All

Safe and sound at home what to do now?

Cook.

Plentiful seasonal rhubarb from a friend’s garden (thanks JG) makes up a wonderful mixed fruit crumble topped off with a dollop of coconut cream

Craft.

Meeting up with friends for a crafty day is an immense and productive pleasure.

As is a session of solitary ‘just one more row’ late night knitting to get you to the finished cardigan.

But crucially there is always The Quest … March March!… Women of Cumbria I am back.

Time is running short on visiting a couple of the exhibitions before they finish so meeting up with ‘she of the rhubarb’ JG we were off on our latest mission.

Our destination was Penrith and Eden Museum for the “Lorna Graves: Memories of Belonging” exhibition. Truth to tell we were not expecting much. So we spent most of the day exploring Penrith.

It’s quaint emporiums.

It’s places of worship. St Andrew’s Church in Penrith is a hotch potch. The tower dates from 1397 yet the nave and chancel are Georgian

Those chandeliers by the way were a gift from the Duke of Portland as a reward to the parishioners for their efforts in defeating the Scottish army in 1745. We are on much better terms with our northern neighbours now!

I wish you could hear this clock – built by Aaron Cheeseborough in the early 1700s – a magnificently deep “tick tock ” emanated with each swing of the pendulum. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

In the beautifully blossom bedecked churchyard we went in search of The Giant’s Grave (who would want to miss that?!)

And his thumb

Turns out they are different giants. The Giant’s Grave consists of 6 ancient tombstones including the Scandinavian type Hogbacks. It dates from around the tenth century AD and has been moved from it’s original site in the cemetery. It is variously thought to be the grave of Owen King of Cumbria (920 -937) or Sir Owen Caesarius (aka Sir Hugh or Sir Ewan) a great boar-hunter. When opened in the seventeenth century the grave revealed the remains of someone with very long leg bones (sic) and a sword….but thankfully no boar. Oink.

As to the Giant’s Thumb it is a Norse Wheel Cross marking a separate burial in about 920AD. Not surprising to find such remains here. Penrith is a cross-roads for Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Norse cultures. Seems like Denmark has followed me home!

Now all this is grand but will not help us with our quest. Unbeknownst to us we had saved the best till last.

Penrith and Eden Museum is housed in the old Robinson’s Church of England school

The building is something of an exhibit in itself. The school’s history dates from 1670, although the construction is probably older, and was established by a wealthy grocer named Robinson (surprise!) as a school for poor girls. These girls were to be taught to read, work lace, knit and “other matters proper for young girls to learn and practice” (ideas on a postcard please).

In return the children had to “refrain from swearing, lying, stealing and quarrelling”. Some things never change. In the late nineteenth century the building was used as an infant school and remained as such until April 1971 when it closed.

Today the building holds a Tourist Information Office together with a small museum of artefacts relevant to the area.

Not sure about the Penny Farthing’s pertinence but it certainly suited the window position.

Oh yes The Quest!

The pennant heralded the wonderfulness of the Lorna Graves’ exhibition inside. Sorry but I cannot share any photos. It is understandable that photography was not allowed (I always ask first) but also a shame as I don’t think I have ever been as moved by an artist’s work as I was by the drawings and sculptures of this local ceramicist.

Lorna Graves (1947 – 2006) was born in Kendal and grew up on the land around Hadrian’s Wall. Having studied Earth Sciences she became an artist and back home in Cumbria found her inspiration in the landforms and ancient art of the county.

Her work is simple yet striking. The Raku pieces in particular radiate an ancient and spiritual quality that reflect her words:

“I feel the past pushing up against me from below: the herds of animals and the vegetation, the people and their dwelling places, the winds and floods, the times of peace and times of war, the chanting in the temples…”

Her archaic forms of beasts, women, shrines some glinting with gold lustre all drew me in. It was quite mind-blowing.

Dragging ourselves reluctantly from the Lorna Graves exhibition (we were really surprised at how brilliant this exhibition was) we set off for the train home. But Penrith had not finished with us as who can ignore a ruddy great castle? Especially when it is right opposite the train station.

Oh well in for a penny….

Hello Penrith Castle!

A friendly cat welcomed us to this monument to Anglo-Scottish relations (honestly we are all friends now).

Built in the late 1300s the castle was altered over time becoming in the 1470s under Richard Duke of Gloucester (soon to be Richard III – some of us up North like him!!!) a major residence. Thankfully in time it’s presence was no longer required. The castle fell into disrepair and what we see today is thanks to the excavations and conservation undertaken in 1923.

Penrith is a treasure chest, of things to see and enjoy, often overlooked by visitors to the Lake District. We had a full and fabulous day and The Quest is one amazing exhibition nearer completion.

Before I go: congratulations to KC and JR on the arrival of your gorgeous baby boy SP. He is beautiful and I hope the cardigan fits soon!

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

Keeping crafty

Hello All

Inspiration has struck! Thank you Women of Cumbria.

Having seen several local suffrage stories I felt (no pun intended…) the time had come for me to make a small homage to the suffragettes. What better way for me to do this than …. needle felting! Ok it’s not chaining myself to Parliament nor enduring any kind of hardship for the cause (although those needles really..really smart when they stab a finger or three) but a little Suffragette Roundel was just the reminder I wanted.

Here’s what I did:

1. Gathered together my needle felting goodies: merino wool tops, foam mat, needles (36 worked best), pastry cutters for shaping and preserving my fingers (although not always!) and a cup of tea…of course.

2. Pressed merino tops into the pastry cutter and got felting to make flowers in the Suffragette colours of white, purple and green. I turned the woolly flowers over regularly so they didn’t stick to the mat as I stabbed away with the barbed needle (oooch ! ouch!) and then I finished them off free-hand in order to tidy the edges, give them definition and add a central dot of black (a friend says my flowers always remind her of liquorice all sorts…I know what she means).

3. Using the same method as the flowers (but with a different template) I made enough leaves to insert between each flower.

4. Played about with the layout of my six flowers and leaves.

5. Fired up the old glue gun (Kendal Cousin don’t get excited!).

6. Completed my Suffragette Roundel by attaching the felting to an embroidery hoop.

The Roundel is now a cheery but a 2018-relevant welcome to our home.

All in all it has been a satisfying crafty week. Invigorated by last Saturday’s visit to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival with the Crafty Ladies and the lovely goodies bought there for future projects

I realised I had better get a move on with some old projects. Those last seen tucked away in cloth bags that whisper to your conscience every time you try and scootle past.

With the companionship of a couple of crafty friends and a day set aside to get cracking with those dreaded works in progress I managed yesterday to get moving with a jumper for Peanut (lucky it is massive as I was seriously worried she would have outgrown it by several years before it got finished…).

BRD and KS it was great to be crafting together and also see your wonderful projects blossoming. Thanks for spurring me on. Keep crafting.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

Left right left right… the Women of Cumbria trail continues…

Hello All

I am culturally replete. Wednesday 14 March 2018, what a day! Three exhibitions, a bookshop and a castle all in a whistle-stop visit to Carlisle. To save your eyes and my sanity I am splitting the exhibitions et al into two posts. Today I am concentrating on the Women of Cumbria exhibitions currently on view in our lovely Border city.

“Sit up straight you ‘orrible little blogster you…” oh dear better get typing.

Trusty companion J and I went first to Carlisle Castle to see the ‘Follow the Drum Women’s Stories from the Regiment’ at Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life.

Carlisle Castle deserves a blog post all of its own but that will have to await a further visit – perhaps for the Poppies: Weeping Window display running from 25 May to 8 July 2018 – as I need to move on quick smart…yes sa-ah. Suffice to say the Castle has an incredible history which stretches from the 10th century to today. It has even been the headquarters of both a Scottish and an English King, although not at the same time!

‘Follow The Drum’ gave us a glimpse of life for the women who either followed their men to war or more latterly have joined the military themselves. The exhibition concentrates on the changing relationship between women and the army focussing on the period 1800 to the present.

Most amazing to me were the women of the early 19th century, those that followed their husbands to the Peninsula War (think Duke of Wellington, think Napoleon). While being regarded as camp followers or prostitutes these valiant women kept the men’s clothes clean, tended the injured and risked their own lives and health. Nonetheless they worried the army hierarchy who sought to regulate them by making their husbands responsible for their behaviour…. 21st century woman biting her tongue here.

The stories of women like Catherine Exley who followed her husband in the early 1800s to the Peninsula War are astounding. Having gained permission to join her husband Catherine was witness to the battles of Salamanca and Vittoria and in ever present danger. She notes in her memoirs that she tore the linen off her back in order to bind wounds and was used to fetch water to quench the thirst of the dying. Her story is both harrowing – she lost her son by following the regiment – and inspirational: it was the support of the other women and wives that kept her going. This mutual support is a theme that runs throughout the military women’s history.

Primitive paintings exist of women like Catherine,

But I don’t think the reality of nineteenth century military life is truly reflected in the strangely charming pictures of these families. This sweet and colourful portrait of the Dollery family certainly belies the truth. Having outlived her husband poor Mrs Dollery was ‘rewarded’ by life and finally death in the workhouse.

But these women soldiered on. Later in the 1800s another stalwart was Mrs Skiddy – Biddy Skiddy to her friends. Biddy was remembered for washing the men’s clothes and supplying tea but she also carried her injured husband, complete with his rifle and kit, on her back for half a league (about a mile and a half) until she could lay him down in a bivouac. A tough cookie.

Thankfully the army came to realise that the military wives were assets, a steadying influence and good for the soldiers’ welfare. In fact for the Victorians the family image fostered by the military’s better treatment of the women improved the army’s poor reputation. Even so orders is orders and the Standing Orders of 1896 made it clear what the army expected of soldiers seeking to marry:

Despite the wars and dangers one thing survived, love. And this collection of cards sent by Private Wood to his wife and daughter during the First World War made my heart melt.

The final sections of the exhibition moved to the twentieth century and the active role of women in the military. With up to date accounts from serving female personnel like Private D J Ferguson. Her comments on military life brought an interesting insight into a woman’s perspective of life in the army today.

But before we knew it we were “Dis-missed” and off to our next Women of Cumbria port of call. Quick march!

Tullie House’s exhibition is a contrast to most of those we have seen so far. Instead of sighting the exhibition in one room (except for the Cracker Packers*) Tullie House has used the Women of Cumbria motif as an opportunity to highlight 10 objects around the museum and allow us to discover the stories of the women behind them.

Honestly I went to corners of the museum I have NEVER visited before! What a brilliant idea. Carlisle has had such a varied history the artefacts cover women’s history from the Romans up to the twentieth century. Sadly incompetent photographer that I am I have failed to transfer several of the objects that we looked at …. I can only offer up a few highlights. Drawing a veil over the Roman era – I know whatever next?! – I move swiftly to the Vikings and the beautiful ornate brooches used to pin a Norse woman’s clothing,

This grave good is one of a pair but I decided to edit its partner brooch as the photo was too wobbly. It reads ‘must try harder’ on my photography homework. I used to call these tortoise brooches but I notice that no such nomenclature was mentioned so I wonder if this is a new naming protocol (bit like the Brontosaurus vanishing in favour of the Brachiosaurus). These open work brooches are sizeable things not dissimilar in size to an adolescent … tortoise…. And while beautiful they are certainly strong enough to support clothing together with chains and jewellery strung between them.

Moving swiftly on before I get over fanciful there were a couple of exhibits I think particularly worthy of attention. One seems humble enough.

This dinner-sized porcelain plate painted with enamel is the work of Ann Macbeth. Ever heard of her? I certainly hadn’t yet not only was she (take a deep breath) a renowned embroiderer, artist and writer, member of the Glasgow Movement, associate of Charles Rennie Macintosh, lecturer at The Glasgow School of Art she was also an active suffragette imprisoned for her beliefs, a banner maker and also a proponent of women being able to earn their livelihood through craftwork. Born in Bolton she moved to Patterdale in the Lake District in 1920 and died in Cumbria in 1948. All round someone I would have loved to have met.

Finally – thanks for staying with me soooo long – another role I hadn’t considered much in relation to women (although my yarn stash should have taught me better) is that of collector. One of Tullie House’s most important artefacts was generously donated by talented musician and instrument collector Miss Sybil Mounsey-Heysham. Along with a number of wonderful antiquarian stringed instruments Miss Mounsey-Heysham gave the museum the Amati violin.

The father of violin-making Andrea Amati is thought to have made this violin around 1566. It forms part of the earliest (older than Stradivari by almost 100 years) and most famous set of stringed instruments. Amazing in itself but what I liked best was learning that Miss Mounsey-Heysham had probably played the instrument herself and that occasionally – for the good of it’s health – the Amati is still played. Like a teddy-bear that is hugged rather than kept pristine I can’t think of anything that would be more appropriate for this rare and beautiful instrument. Wherever they are in the universe I hope that Miss Mounsey-Heysham and Mr Amati enjoy the performance.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

* I haven’t forgotten the wonderful Cracker Packers. Watch this space. Mx