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Bessie Rayner Parkes – 1829~1925

February 16, 2012

I hate the idea of women being identified only as mothers of great people.  So a look at Bessie Rayner Parkes needs to go beyond the fact that she was mother to of Hilaire Belloc and Marie Lowndes-Belloc. By the same measure, I must also go beyond her parents’ great heritage (daughter of Joseph Parkes, a solicitor and Unitarian, and Elizabeth Priestley, eldest granddaughter of the scientist Joseph Priestle) to find out what earned Bessie a place in our history.

So according to the Literary Heritage website she established the English woman’s journal in 1958. It’s aim was the advancement of ideas on the reform of women’s education and legal rights. As is sometimes the case, sharing ideas through a journal gave rise to some tangible improvements: a women’s employment bureau, reading room, clerical school, and the Victoria Press.  She set the journal up with Barbara Leigh Smith, both were from politically active families.  They had slightly different views about the purpose of the journal: “Parkes saw the Journal as an expression of a moral crusade, to reclaim fallen prostitutes, or to promote improvement in workhouses. Bodichon wanted its offices in Langham Place to be the the London hub of practical feminist enterprises. An employment register won so overwhelming a response that it grew into the Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women (still active today)” according to an article in the Independent in 1999.  Nevertheless, they were clearly close friends. One source  describes how they embarked on “an unchaparoned trip across Europe in 1850 to visit some friends who were training to be artists in Munich.” Small, but courageous steps towards giving women the freedom we enjoy (take for granted) today .  That same source contains detailed information about the circulation of this small scale monthly – reaching around 1,000 readers a month.  Rather like their defiant ‘un-chaperoned’ trip a small step, but significant in developing thinking around feminist issues of it’s day.

She was a poet of some note.  So I leave you with her call to action: “Rise, Leav’ning the masses with your energies.” from To Birmingham:

To Birmingham

Bessie Rayner Parkes

Dear smoky Birmingham, since long ago
I left your native streets, my heart and hope
Have been with those dense crowds which daily flow
Over their pavements, finding ample scope
For meditation and for thought-born plan
Of active life within the destinies
Of these my fellow-townsmen. Every man
Inherits a great memory, how was won,
Hardly, the first of many victories
Over Feudality; and a command
Insep’rably goes with it hand in hand,
That, as the father strove, should strive the son.
Therefore, brave Town, say to thy best ones, “Rise,
Leav’ning the masses with your energies.”
May every effort as the spring-dew fall
On a prepared soil, and, like the ore
On which you spend your labour, may there spring
From out your social depths a noble power
To cope with and work out each worthy thing.


Women MPs in Brum

January 6, 2012

It occurred to me it might be interesting to look at which women have represented the people of Birmingham in Parliament.  Edith Wills was the first woman MP in the city serving from 5 July 1945.  It had always seemed to me that we had been well represented with a high proportion of our MPs being women.  It seems not.  Whilst that may have been true for a while, it seems they all served at the same time.  Only 10 women have been an MP in Birmingham.  Here they are:

Name Election date Party Constituency From to Years
Edith Wills 5 Jul 1945 Labour Duddeston 1945 1950


Dame Edith Pitt DBE    2 Jul 1953 Conservative Edgbaston 1953 1966


Dame Jill Knight, DBE    31 Mar 1966 Conservative Edgbaston 1966 1997


Mrs Doris Fisher 18 Jun 1970 Labour Ladywood 1970 1974


Miss Sheila Wright 3 May 1979 Labour Handsworth 1979 1983


Rt Hon Clare Short 9 Jun 1983 Labour (’06 – Ind Lab) Ladywood 1983 2010


Dr Lynne Jones 9 Apr 1992 Labour Selly Oak 1992 2010


Rt Hon Baroness Estelle Morris 9 Apr 1992 Labour Yardley 1992 2005


Ms Gisela Stewart 1 May 1997 Labour Edgbaston 1997 date


Shabana Mahmood 6 May 2010 Labour Ladywood 2010 date


Since 1945 there have been just two years when Brum had no women MPs (1951-52). For  1 (election) year, there were 5 women MPs and for the rest of 1992 to 2005 we had 4 women in office at a time. They were Jill, then Gisela alongside Clare, Estelle and Lynne.

The longest serving female MP in the city is Joan Christabel Knight, Baroness Knight of Collingtree, DBE (31 years) closely followed by Rt Hon Clare Short – 27 years.  Edgbaston has been served by women MPs continuously since 1953 – I wonder how many other constituencies in the land can claim the same. As of January 2012 there are two women serving.

A few held higher office:

  • Jill Knight, along with David Wilshire, was responsible for introducing the Section 28 amendment to the Local Government Act 1988, which barred local authorities from “promoting”homosexuality. She was also an opponent of abortion, and supported successive attempts to reduce the time-period when the operation could be legally performed.

More information about all these MPs (and the male ones too…) can be found at  All the dates information for this post came from here

New Year’s Honours 2012

December 31, 2011

So New Year’s Eve arrives and so too the usual honours.  Overall 43% this year have gone to women according to Direct Gov.  S0 what of the Brimmin?  Well a Dame, a CBE, OBE and 2 MBEs compared with 5 MBEs last year.  An OBE also went to a male teacher at Swanshurst School. Frankly anyone who can spend all their working days in a school of nearly 2,000 teenage girls and still deliver inspiration and education deserves a medal, so an honorary mention to him.

Meanwhile, 5 women working with, for and about people and communities; this is becoming a theme of the brimmin awardees:

Dame Julie Moore

Chief Executive, University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. For services to Healthcare.

Professor Karin BARBER CBE PHd FBA

Professor of African Cultural Anthropology, University of Birmingham. For services to African Studies.

Mrs June Guiness OBE

Head of Policy, Forensic Science Regulation Unit, Home Office

Ms Jane Hopkins MBE

Founder, MumsClub. For services to Entrepreneurship

Mrs Antonina Robinson MBE

Executive Officer, Jobcentre Plus, Department for Work and Pensions

Congratulations to you all, be proud and continue to inspire.

If I’ve missed any please let me know.  The full list is here.

PS – I’ve altered this on 5 January.  I read Karin’s award wrongly: she’s a commander not officer.  Unfortunately I also misread  Jane and Antonina, they are both members not officers.  Jeez, I really do struggle with the pdf released by the government – its not easy to use.  My apologies for the mistakes, I hope it didn’t cause any problems or embarrassment.

Support for another Birmingham Women’s festival

November 8, 2011

I had a visitor to the brimmin site referred from another yesterday. Not unusual, but exciting. The site is seeking to encourage brummie women to pull together a Women’s festival in March to coincide with International Women’s Day. Fitting as it’s 25 years since my good friend Emma co-ordinated the first.

I’ll keep my eye on it. Meanwhile, anyone with the time and energy, pop over there and get involved.

In case you can’t find the link to the Birmingham Women’s Festival hidden in this post, it’s here: 

EDIT 22 Feb 2012, the festival is taking shape and has a new dedicated website: 

2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours

June 11, 2011

So it’s the Queen’s Birthday.  Sitting here watching the Trooping of the Colour, gives me time to search for all the women from Birmingham on her honours list.

From what I have gleaned there are eight this year, which is quite a few.  Let’s take a look:


For services to Healthcare.

Her Honour Frances Margaret KIRKHAM CBE

For services to the Legal Profession and to the Administration of Justice.


For services to Training and to Exports.


For services to Business and to the community in Birmingham.

Fiona Margaret ADAMS  MBE

For services to the community in Moseley, Birmingham


For services to Vulnerable Women in Birmingham


For services to Local Government


For services to Art.

I’m quite sure there are more women on the list who could claim a Birmingham link.  The Birmingham Post details all of the West Midlands honours.  Some names are ringing bells and others almost certainly live there.  Please add a comment if I’ve missed anyone.

Dilys Halford

June 7, 2011

The Birmingham Mail writer, Brian Halford, has put together a blog which follows the Warwickshire County Cricket Club 100 years ago, in the 1911 season, when they won the championship for the first time.  Hat-tip to Steve Nicholls for tweeting about it).  A fascinating read, if you are interested in cricket, or history or both.  Today’s introduces us to Algernon J Halford’s wife.  It’s a lovely piece, in which he discovers (through reading the local paper) that his wife is a suffragette.  I am quite sure his response is a true reflection of husbands’ attitudes of the time.  I fully recommend you read it.

If only she were real, she’d be right there under D on the brimmin list!

Bertha Ryland – 1882 ~ alive 1963

January 12, 2011

There is a lot of recorded information online about the high profile women of the Suffragette Movement in the UK and Birmingham.

Bertha was clearly one of the more active campaigners based in Birmingham. She had been involved in window smashing campaigns in London prior to her best known act, when on 8 June 1914 she was arrested for attacking a painting in Birmingham Art Gallery. The painting in question was Master Thornhill by George Romney a fashionable portrait painter of the 19th century.

“…I attack this work of art deliberately as a protest against the government’s criminal injustice in denying women the vote, and also against the government’s injustice in imprisoning, forcibly feeding, and drugging suffragist militants…”

Bertha Ryland, quoted in Elizabeth Crawford, ‘From Frederick Street to Winson Green.’

That reference document above is a fantastic narrative ‘Votes for Women: Tracing the Struggle in Birmingham’. I found it on the magnificent Connecting Histories Website, which was a 3 year project by academics and archivists to record local history stories. Well worth a rummage.

In 1907 a hyperlocal (sic) publication called Edbastonia ran an advert. Bertha Ryland served as Honorary Treasurer of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), which placed this advertisement for funds and office space when it was getting started in Birmingham. Edbastonia was established in 1881, determinedly non-political, it rarely commented on women, save to recognise some good charity work. Women like Bertha were high profile residents of Edgbaston and the editors could not help but start reporting their stories.

I like that this advert gives us various home addresses. Bertha lived at 19 Hermitage Road, Edgbaston, the hyperlink takes you to the Google Map with a wonderful street view of the house. I wonder if the current owners have any idea!

Information about our brimmin comes from the strangest of places. Here is an article from an ancestry website. Walter Ryland on the hunt for ancestors tells of a medal for valour featured on Antiques Roadshow in 2000. It transpires it was awarded to Bertha on her release from a stint in prison, after she was paraded triumphantly through the streets. The medal was given by the WSPU – one can only assume the advert had the desired effect. I wonder what recognition she was given in response to her more direct action in 1914?

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