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Monday, 8 January 2018

In the Bleak Midwinter...

A young oak tree came down across our track
I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year! It was quiet here at Tottering Towers. The only excitement was a heavy fall of snow. It brought down lots of branches in the wood. One fell onto the electricity cable supplying us, and some other houses on our hillside. It snapped with a huge bang at 4am, waking everyone. While we were all in darkness, the night outside was filled with sparks from the arcing electricity cable. It was quite scary for a while. 
We cook with electricity and it powers our gas central heating, so we had to find alternatives. Housework keeps you warm, but it's not very exciting. We could boil a kettle on our gas hob to make tea, and it was a good excuse to live on soup and cake!
Flares, from Pixabay
So many people were affected by the bad weather across Gloucestershire and the surrounding counties, it was 9pm that evening before we had light and heat. A brave engineer had to repair the damage while standing on top of a cherry-picker in a stiff, freezing wind. 
It's only when there's a break in the supply that we realise how lucky we are to be living at a time when life is relatively easy. Imagine you're a Victorian woman living in a city tenement. In the days before electricity, every morning is pitch black and freezing. The only sounds come from rats scrabbling beneath the bed your wheezing children share. Snow blows in under the door of your single room. Fetching all the water you need from the communal well will be a slippery job today. If your husband gives you some money, your family can eat. If not, hard luck. He’ll go to the pub. You and the children will have to go hungry. 
Women in those days had no voice, and no power. They lurked in the footnotes of history until they gained an element of control, first over their own money, later their vote and finally, their lives. Much of that progress was driven by women themselves. It took a hundred years of hard work, lobbying and violence before their lives improved to anything like today’s standards. The only way was up—and women from my old home town, Bristol, led the way. 

2018 is the centenary of the first British women getting the vote. The publisher Pen and Sword Books is producing a series of books to mark this defining moment. Each volume concentrates on one British city. My contribution covers Bristol.  Struggle and Suffrage—Women’s Lives in Bristol, 1850-1950 will be published later this year, and there will be all sorts of events to mark the centenary. To make sure you don’t miss anything, sign up for my newsletter in the boxes at the tip of this page, and follow my author page on Facebook.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Review: Women and The City: Bristol 1373-2000, Edited by Dr Madge Dresser

Find out more at http://amzn.to/2Cgv5r0
Women and the City: Bristol 1373-2000 is a collection of essays by respected academics. It’s a lively, absorbing read. A good balance has been struck between well-written prose and contemporary illustrations. The book and its content is presented in a way that invites even a casual reader to keep turning the pages. There’s a handy list of abbreviations right at the front, which is much easier than having to flick through to the index, or notes, each time a set of initials pops up in the text. Other academic works would do well to follow this example.

I bought Women and the City: Bristol 1373-2000 to help with research for my own book, Struggle and Suffrage: Women’s Lives in Bristol 1850-1950, but after studying the sections relevant to my own work I went straight back to the beginning of the book and read it all. It’s a mine of information for anyone with an enquiring mind. I’d particularly recommend it to aspiring historical novelists in search of inspiration. The fact that a woman (Ann Barry) held the lease of that stronghold of “Enlightened” masculinity, the Exchange Coffee House in Corn Street offers all sorts of dramatic possibilities, for example. It’s often forgotten that Bristol women struck a significant blow in the fight against slavery. The formation of the Bristol and Clifton Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society is never as widely reported as Bristol’s part in that terrible trade. This book helps to put that right. 

Women and the City: Bristol 1373-2000 is curated by Associate Professor of History at the University of the West of England and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Dr Madge Dresser. The breadth of its content and unique style of each contributor makes for a fascinating read. It offers great insight into the history of Bristol and its people. Anyone who knows the city will look at local landmarks with new eyes after reading it.  

To sum up, this is an invaluable collection for historians, and anyone interested in women’s studies. It’s also an inspiring read for the rest of us.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Season's Greetings!

I hope you've had a lovely rest over the Christmas season. Wishing you a Happy New Year, and a peaceful, productive 2018.