During lockdown, my running club has been having a weekly scavenger hunt, where we are given three things to find during three runs that week and we report back with photos etc. One item was to take a selfie with a blue plaque. My blue plaque celebrated south Bristol shero Princess Caraboo (see photo above and text below).
Having already done self-imposed running challenges such as running my name and various other keywords in street signs, I decided to write up a local tour of landmarks that are significant to some of the local old dead women in my books. It's something I'd been meaning to do for ages but never had the time.
So for anyone who wants it, here is a self-guided tour around 12 of south Bristol sites that acknowledge the women who stood there before. Plus a short paragraph about her. If you go for the run/walk, please let me know how you get on and do share any photos.
Depending on where you start, the route is approximately five miles based on the assumption that you start and finish in Victoria Park. I'm also going to assume you have Google Maps or similar on your phone, so am not going to give detailed directions.
PS - 'Volume One' or 'Volume Two' after the woman's name denotes which volume of my book The Women Who Built Bristol the woman is in. If you'd like to buy a copy, please buy direct from me as I don't get money from copies purchased elsewhere. Each book contains 250 wonderful women, so you get good value for money. If you're local, let me know and I'll hand deliver to save you P&P.
If you'd like more running tours highlighting amazing but neglected old dead women in different areas of Bristol, let me know and I'll see what I can do.
WOMAN ONE - ADA MARLEY (volume two)
30 Stanbury Road
Starting from the lodge in Victoria Park, head a short way down Nutgrove Avenue and cut down Stanbury Road. At the other end, where the road joins Raymend Road, notice No 30 on the corner and look up to a blue plaque celebrating self-employed dressmaker Ada Marley. An unofficial plaque, this one was erected by the house's resident who had researched his house's history in the hope of finding an interesting ordinary woman to commemorate. In Ada, he found her.
WOMAN TWO - SARAH SEYMOUR (volume two)
St John's Burial Ground, just off St John's Lane
Keep going down Raymend Road to meet St John's Lane and follow it all the way round until you notice an unassuming park on the right called St John's Burial Ground. Take the steep path to the top, then cross the grass to where a graffittied metal container is. To the left of the container, behind some overgrowth, is where you will find the treasure.
One week before the vicar of St John’s church in Bedminster had been expecting to marry Sarah Seymour to her beau Harry Larcombe in June 1859, he found himself conducting a joint funeral for the couple. Sarah and Harry were drowned following a boating accident off the coast of Watchet in which at least six other people also died. The burial of Sarah and Harry was the very first in the new cemetery. And due to the massive press attention the Watchet drownings had generated, their funeral became a public event attended by around 5,000 people.
WOMAN THREE - ETHEL HAWKINS (volume two)
240-248 West Street
Back down the steep slope of the burial ground and cross the road to Francis Road, and then turn right up Bedminster Road before going over the Parson Street railway bridge to West Street. Rock Cottage is right in front of you on the bank.
In the late 1890s, Rock Cottage was the home of the wealthy Bennett family. The story goes that toddler Henry was causing so much noise and disturbance one afternoon that his nursemaid, Ethel, took him into the garden so his elder siblings would not be disturbed during their lessons. While sitting on the side of the old well at the bottom of the garden and holding Henry in her arms, Ethel was terrified when the wall gave way beneath her and both she and Henry tumbled to the bottom of the well. Ethel had wrapped herself around the young boy to protect him, meaning that it was she alone who became agonisingly impaled on a rusty pipe at the bottom of the well.
WOMAN FOUR - JESSIE STEPHEN (volume one)
27 Chessel Street
Keep going up West Street and then turn left onto Chessel Street. At no 27 there is an official blue plaque for the wonderful Jessie Stephen. She's one of my most favourite of all the old dead women in my books. Suffragist, trade unionist, politician, pacifist, life-long women's rights campaigner. Even at the age of 85, Jessie was attending up to three women's rights meetings each week. You can read a biography I wrote about Jessie on this link.
WOMAN FIVE - ELIZA STEELE (volume one)
248 North Street
Carry on down Chessel Street until the end, then turn right and then left to wiggle onto North Street. Remember to look ahead so you see the view across to the Suspension Bridge. Head down to No 248 and a shop called Health Unlimited. This is our next stop.
When bootmaker Walter Steele died in 1924, his widow Eliza picked up the reins and continued the family business as a bootmaker and cobbler at 248 North Street. After all, what choice did she have? Walter’s death left Eliza a widow with five daughters to support, and it was not uncommon for widows and fatherless children to end up in the workhouses, even in the early 20th century. Eliza persisted for the sake of her daughters and as the head of a family of six she must have worked all hours of the day to avoid that dreaded fate.
WOMAN SIX - LOUISE COLLARD (volume two)
57 North Street
Turn around and go back up North Street the way you came, keep going until you reach No 57 at the other end.
At the corner property of 57 North Street, you can still see the Victorian tiling that reads ‘AD Collard’ outside the former butchers’ shop which was run in its prime by Bedminster-born Louise Collard and her husband Aldred. Louise and Aldred, who lived above the shop, had taken over the running of the family business following their marriage in the mid 1890s. Louise became a well-known and “strong-willed” figure who had grown-up in the trade because her parents had run a butchers shop on East Street. Louise continued to work at the North Street shop until the 1960s when she was well into her 90s.
PS: A bonus fact that is not about a woman who built Bristol but is about a woman’s father-in-law. Aldred Daw Collard was known as both ‘the worst poet in Bristol’ and ‘the poet butcher of Bristol’. The small and badly weathered gargoyle and sign for ‘Poet’s Corner, 1882’ was commissioned by his customers.
WOMAN SEVEN - IRIS KNIGHT (volume two)
28 Warden Road
Follow North Street until it becomes Dean Street and then turn right onto Warden Road. No 28 is the former home of our next woman.
Iris Knight was a councillor who worked hard to gain a position of power and to achieve some semblance of change for the future women of this city. When her father’s business was hit by the depression of the 1920s, Iris took a job as a clerk to support the family. Iris remembered: “I was the only wage-earner for a family of six. My father, self-employed, did not qualify for the dole, so apart from the odd jobs he did we all lived on the 35 shillings a week I brought home … Those two years turned me into a socialist.” As a Bristol councillor, one area Iris was involved with was supporting the striking miners in the 1980s and she was an active member of the pressure group Women Against Pit Closures.
WOMAN EIGHT - LILY HARRIS (volume two)
14 Southville Place
Go back down Warden Road to Dean Lane and turn right to keep going up Dean Lane, follow the curve of Alpha Road and then turn right onto Southville Place.
Lily and William Harris lived at No 14 Southville Place. When World War One was declared, William was called up to serve as a rifleman and was sent to France, where he became a prisoner of war. He wrote to Lily at Southville Place, asking her to “send golden syrup”, a message which she interpreted as “send gold in syrup” and swiftly sent him a tin of treacle containing a gold sovereign that she hoped would somehow help him escape. For the rest of his life, William wore Lily’s sovereign on his watchchain as a good luck charm.
WOMAN NINE - EMMA SAUNDERS (volume one)
Temple Meads Station
From here, nip down the short footpath towards Asda and turn left on to Coronation Road. Follow the main road round, go past St Mary Redcliff (so many stories about old dead women in there) and head to Temple Meads train station. Right at the entrance to the station you will notice a carved stone cameo commemorating Emma Saunders.
After working as a teacher, in 1878 Emma began a Bible class for Bristol’s railwaymen, which would lay the foundation for her future as ‘the railwayman’s friend’. Emma went on to run a mission for railwaymen, to visit sick railwaymen in hospital, and to found the Bristol and West of England’s Railwaymen’s Institute, which provided educational and spiritual classes for the workers in an effort to steer them away from the temptations of alcohol. Although she sounds like a pious do-gooder, the men absolutely loved her because they knew she saw the good in them.
WOMAN TEN - CLARA BUTT (volume one)
3 Bellevue Road, Totterdown
Come out of Temple Meads and head up the Wells Road. Go past the corner with Fowlers' motorbike shop, over the railway bridge and turn right onto Bellevue Road. At no 3, there is a blue plaque marking the spot where Clara Butt lived as a child.
National treasure Dame Clara Butt moved with her family to live here in 1880. While attending the Bath Road Academy, young Clara took singing lessons and was trained to become a soprano. Such was her talent that by 12, Clara was being taught by Bristol’s finest singing teacher Daniel Rootham. Clara’s career skyrocketed after this and she became famous all around the world but she never forgot her connections to Bristol..
WOMAN ELEVEN - IRENE ROSE (volume one)
27 Richmond Street, Totterdown
Not far to the next stop. From Bellevue Road, go back a few steps and then turn right onto Cambridge Road and follow that round to Richmond Street. And at No 26 we find a plaque for singer Irene Rose.
Even at the age of 16 she was the star turn at a summer show at Bristol Zoo, to be accompanied by the zoo band no less, where the advertising billed her as “Miss Irene Rose (Clever Child Vocalist)”. Four years later and she was also the highlight in the spring show at the Theatre Royal: “A favourite from the Theatre Royal pantomime appears in the person of Miss Irene Rose. This dainty little versatile vocalist contributed four songs last evening, and she has evidently made a lasting impression upon Bristol.” Irene went on to become President of the Music Hall Ladies’ Guild.
WOMAN TWELVE - PRINCESS CARABOO (volume one)
11 Princess Street, Bedminster
Keep going along Richmond Street, down the lovely stone steps, until you hit St Luke's Road, then turn right towards Spring Street and weave around to Princess Street (get Google Maps to guide you, it's a bit fiddly but not far). This is a desolate trading estate but, on the side of an unassuming timber yard, is a detailed blue plaque for our final dead woman today: Princess Caraboo, aka Mary Wilcocks.
In 1817, a cobbler met a confused young woman wearing unusual clothes and speaking a language he couldn’t understand. Eventually a Portuguese sailor claimed that he knew what she was saying. The sailor explained that her name was Princess Caraboo, that she came from the island Javasu in the Indian Ocean and that she had been captured by pirates before swimming ashore and finding herself in Bristol. And there's more... but you'll need to read the book to find out.
And that's it, you're finished for today. Well done. Do let me know how you get on. I'd love to know if anyone actually follows these suggestions. And maybe I'll do some tours of other areas of Bristol to take in other amazing dead women who so rarely get the love they deserve. Let me know any requests.
Of course, there are plenty more tours of amazing old dead women you can do in Bristol. There are plenty of interesting dead women to be found in Clifton, which is not my usual habitat so I will direct you towards Lucienne Boyce who has some suggestions of suffragette-themed walks in Clifton (there's nothing to stop you running them) on her website.
And if you'd like to buy any of my books, please let me know. If you're local, I will hand deliver to save you postage.