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The stories of the Women of Abingdon

Women of Abingdon Blog Series

1st Blog post: Women at Abingdon Museum - https://abingdonmuseumblog.wordpress.com/2021/03/01/women-at-abingdon-mu...

2nd Blog Post: Abingdon Women in WW2 - https://abingdonmuseumblog.wordpress.com/2021/03/08/abingdon-women-in-wo...

3rd Blog Post: Abingdon Women in Local Government - https://abingdonmuseumblog.wordpress.com/2021/03/15/abingdon-women-in-lo...

4th Blog Post: Creative women of Abingdon - https://abingdonmuseumblog.wordpress.com/2021/03/22/creative-women-of-ab...


 

The Story of Mieneke Cox
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Mieneke Cox was born Jacomina Elsje Elias in the Netherlands in 1928. She studied history at the University of Utrecht, and first came to England in 1952, where she met George Cox, a scientist at Harwell. They married in 1954 and first lived in Oxford but moved to Abingdon in 1956. They had three children.
Mieneke Cox made major contributions to the promotion and preservation of Abingdon’s history. One of them was her research into the local history, which led her writing the most comprehensive history of Abingdon to date. The first book appeared in 1974, and further volumes between 1987 and 1999. Together they tell the story of Abingdon from its ancient beginnings to the end of the 18th century.
She also made her mark at the museum, where she was honorary curator between 1970 and 1980. Under her guidance the displays in the museum were completely revised. Her idea was to create “a tour of Abingdon-through-the-ages”, as she put it. Her aim was to revive the museum as an attraction for local people and the place for learning about and enjoying the history of the town.
The history of Abingdon was not Mieneke Cox’s only publication. She also wrote guides to St Helen’s Church, the Abbey and the museum, and articles for the local newspaper. She also created four historical pageants, one in 1970 for the Borough and three (1974, 1981, 1995) for St Helen’s Church.
In addition she was active in a number of roles in local societies and committees, all dedicated to the history and heritage of Abingdon. She was archivist at St Helen’s Church, a long-standing member of the Friends of Abingdon and a founder member of the Abingdon Area Archaeological and Historical Society. She was involved in setting up the Abingdon Excavation Committee which led to the appointment of Abingdon’s first full-time professional archaeologist in 1972 and to a campaign of very important excavations in and around the town.
In 1997 Mieneke Cox received a Mayor’s award in recognition of her services to the town.
Mieneke Cox died in 2009.

The Story of Mary Verney
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Mary Verney came from the Blacknall family, who for many years played a prominent role in Abingdon. Her great-grandfather William Blacknall came to Abingdon in the early days of the Borough and bought a number of properties, including the site of the dissolved Abbey. It was this that brought the Blacknalls into dispute with the Stonhouses about the extent of the fishing rights on the Thames passing the Abbey grounds. This dispute famously led to the creation of the Monks’ Map.
From the time of William onwards the family amassed a fortune and had a hand in a number of industries, including corn mills, fulling mills and fisheries. Later the family divested itself of those industrial concerns and concentrated on property. William’s grandson John was a major landowner with properties all over Berkshire and beyond.
John’s only heir was his daughter Mary – there were no sons, and Mary’s sister died as a child. In 1629 Mary was married at the age of thirteen to Ralph Verney, who was only two years older. Officially Mary should not have married until she was of age (at fourteen), but this was ignored. Fortunately she and Ralph were happy with each other throughout their marriage. Mary actually lived with the family of Ralph’s mother until she moved to Middle Claydon, the Verney’s estate in Buckinghamshire, in 1631.
From 1640 Ralph Verney was MP for Aylesbury. These were troubled times for England. The Civil War started not long afterwards, but Ralph did not side with either of the parties, to the consternation of his family, who were Royalists. Ralph’s neutral stance did not help him, and in 1643 the family went into exile in France.
Being cut off from their estate produced severe financial difficulties for them. Ralph’s father, Sir Edmund Verney, had been in debt already, and now the family couldn’t even collect the rent from their tenants or the proceeds from their investments. A further difficulty arose when the Parliamentarian’s sequestered the Verneys’ estate. This meant that they claimed any income until Ralph Verney appeared in front of a tribunal which would judge the degree of his disaffection with the Parliamentary cause and fine him accordingly. Ralph had never been a Royalist, so his penalty would probably not have been too severe, but still he couldn’t do it. In 1645 he was formally ejected from the House of Commons, and with that he lost immunity from being arrested for debt. To get his income back, he would have had to return to England and present himself at Goldsmith’s Hall in London, but that would mean risking an arrest.
The solution was to send Mary instead, and in November 1646 she sailed for England accompanied by one servant. A difficult task lay ahead of her. She would have to get the support of friends and call in favours, get to know people with influence and lobby them for her husband’s case. She had to do all this on a small budget, which she did by staying in cheap lodgings and travelling on horseback because she could not afford a coach. We know much about her actions and about her husband’s thoughts because they wrote to each other often, and the letters have been preserved. They show Mary as a smart and resourceful woman who eventually managed to get her husband’s case heard in front of a sequestration committee. The decision was to lift the sequestration, and the Verneys’ income from their estate was restored to them. Still Mary had the task of raising money to pay some immediate debts. All this had taken well over a year to accomplish, and Mary did not return to her husband until April 1648.
Of the Verney couple, Mary was the more active, decisive and confident partner, whereas Ralph was hampered by religious scruples, a troubled conscience, and a tendency to brood. Sadly Mary did not live for much longer after being reunited with her husband. She died in 1650 of heart disease.
Please visit Abingdon Buildings and People at https://www.abingdon.gov.uk/.../mary-verney-nee-blacknall to view a portrait of Lady Mary Verney and discover more about her story.

The story of Mary Buckland
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Mary Buckland is remembered today as a pioneering palaeontologist. She came from the Abingdon Morland family, born in 1797 in Marcham, as the daughter of Benjamin Morland, a solicitor and prominent citizen of the town.
After the early death of her mother, Mary Morland was looked after for a while by Sir Christopher Pegge and his wife. Pegge was professor of anatomy in Oxford, and it is likely that Mary developed an interest in fossils during that time. For Mary this was not just an occasional pastime. She studied the subject seriously and corresponded with George Cuvier, a leading scientist and often regarded as the founder of palaeontology. She sent him specimens and produced illustrations for him.
In 1825 she met and married William Buckland, an Oxford clergyman who also had an interest in geology. They both travelled to places of geological interest and attended scientific conferences.
Mary and William had nine children, five of whom survived into adulthood. She took great care over their education and upbringing. Besides that she also taught geology at the school in Islip and collaborated with her husband as curator of his collections and on scientific publications. She drew illustrations for his publications and developed techniques to reassemble fossil fragments. Their greatest joint achievement was the publication of the Illustrated Geology and Mineralogy in 1836.
On top of all that, Mary Buckland was also active in charitable work.
In 1856, William Buckland died. Mary continued to work on her scientific interests, which now also included marine zoophytes, microscopically small sea creatures. Her collaborator on this was her daughter Caroline.
Mary Buckland died in 1857.

The Story of Gabrielle Lambrick
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Gabrielle Lambrick is regarded as one of Abingdon’s foremost local historians.
She was born Gabrielle Jennings in London in 1913. At school she was noted for being an accomplished pianist. But she was already interested in history, the subject she studied at Girton College, Cambridge, under Dr Helen Cam, who was herself born in Abingdon.
Having gained a Certificate in Education, she started out as a teacher of history and current affairs at Brighton High School, where she was also the school librarian and supported pupils in extracurricular activities like sport and drama.
When the war broke out in 1939 the school was evacuated, and Gabrielle Lambrick changed jobs. She now joined the Treasury, where her career took her to an appointment as private secretary to the Financial Secretary and then to the Overseas Finance Section. She was a member of several British delegations to post-war conferences, including a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in Moscow in 1947 – an indicator that she held an important post within the Treasury.
In 1948 she married Hugh Lambrick, a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and the couple moved to Boars Hill. A love of music had brought them together, but they also shared an interest in history, and Gabrielle supported her husband’s research into military and Indian history.
Later she started her own research, focusing on the history of her local area.
During her research she realized that the cartularies of Abingdon Abbey were still unpublished.
The Latin cartularium is the word from which our word charter is derived, and a cartulary is a volume of manuscripts which collects together transcripts of charters, records and title deeds of an estate or a monastery. Two of these cartularies survive for Abingdon Abbey, one of the most important Benedictine monasteries in England during the Middle Ages. During the last years of her life Gabrielle Lambrick devoted a lot of effort to getting these manuscripts published. In this she was supported by her former tutor at Girton College, Dr Helen Cam, and other historians.
They were finally published in two volumes (1990 and 1992) as Two Cartularies of Abingdon Abbey by the Oxford Historical Society, edited by Cecil F. Slade and Gabrielle Lambrick.
During her lifetime Gabrielle Lambrick published a number of articles about Abingdon and the surrounding area in journals like Oxonensia and the English Historical Review. She also wrote a guide book to the church and parish of St Peter’s Wootton in 1964, and a booklet on The Business Affairs of Abingdon Abbey, which was published by the Friends of Abingdon.
Gabrielle was an active member of the Friends of Abingdon for years, and she also co-founded the Abingdon and District Archaeological Society, which became the Abingdon Area Archaeological and Historical Society. Having had the support of other historians like Dr Helen Cam, she in turn supported other Abingdon historians, like Mieneke Cox.
Gabrielle Lambrick died in 1968. In acknowledgment of her services to local history, the AAAHS hold an annual lecture in her memory, and she is also one of several Abingdon historians who are commemorated in street names in the Caldecott area.
A lovely photo of Gabrielle Lambrick is featured in 'Abingdon Buildings and People' article at https://www.abingdon.gov.uk/his.../people/gabrielle-lambrick please check it out to find more information.

Women & Abingdon's Heritage
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Abingdon has a long and fascinating history and a rich heritage, and there are a number of individuals, societies and organisations who are committed to preserving this heritage and promoting the history to local people and the outside world. In particular, there are many women dedicated to this task, as there have been in the past.
Jackie Smith is one of the foremost guardians of Abingdon’s history. She is the honorary archivist for the town and cares for the Council’s documents and records. The archives go back to the early days of the Borough, and Jackie Smith not only looks after them but also has an extensive knowledge of the contents.
She is also the honorary archivist for Christ’s Hospital of Abingdon, and for the Abingdon Area Archaeological and Historical Society, of which she has been a member since 1969. She is also very active in sharing her knowledge, by giving talks and writing books and articles. For many years she has written a series of articles about many aspects of Abingdon’s past, which appear in the Abingdon Herald under the title “Heralding the Past”.
The AAAHS, which came into existence in 1968, had several women among the founder members. One was Mieneke Cox, who promoted Abingdon’s heritage on several fronts. Another was Judy Thomas, who also has publications about local history to her name. Both women have received a Mayor’s Award in recognition of their engagement.
Another society which was founded to preserve Abingdon’s heritage is Friends of Abingdon. It came together in 1944, first with the aim of preserving the Abbey buildings, but then expanded to preserving other important buildings, for example the Carswell Fountain. Again women were instrumental in setting the society up. One of them was Agnes Baker, one of our foremost local historians. Joan Harcourt-Norris, Mayor in 1971/72, was also active in the Friends of Abingdon, as was, of course, Mieneke Cox. Today one of the leading lights of the society is Hester Hand, who is also a recipient of the Mayor’s Award.

Women in Industries
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Women have always formed part of the workforce in various industries in Abingdon. They became especially important during times of war, when they replaced the male workers who had joined the armed forces, but they also played a part during other times.
As a large employer in Abingdon, the MG factory always had women as part of their workforce. Many of them did clerical work, as shorthand typists, copy typists or file clerks. Winifred Green, who had come as a six-year-old evacuee to Abingdon in 1939, later became a clerk at MG. Edna Carter, who was born in Abingdon in 1923, worked there as a secretary.
During the war, however, many women would take jobs which under normal circumstances would have been almost exclusively performed by men. But with many men away with the armed forces, women stepped up and took over their jobs as draughtsmen or in production. The MG factory had changed its output to make tanks and aircraft components, and women played in part in all of that. Norah Jones, born in Abingdon in 1921, was one of them. She was now riveting instrument panels. Or Iris Dixon, who started work at MG in 1942 and was involved in Tempest Aircraft inspection.
Women were also increasingly hired for unskilled labour. The MG works made engines for the Lancaster bomber, and changed the process so that it was broken down into many small easy steps. This made it possible to firstly increase the production rate and secondly for unskilled workers to perform these tasks. As a result, more and more female workers, who could not be expected to be trained in mechanics, were taken on to construct these engines.
During World War 2, 40% of the MG workforce were women.
Another large employer in Abingdon was Clarke’s clothing factory. In fact, at the start of the 20th century, it was the largest employer, and many of the employees were women. At the factory on West St Helen Street, the women operated the cutting and sewing machines. They were even involved in a dispute with the owners in 1883, when they were suddenly required to pay themselves for the thread they used. The women went on strike to protest against this. Apart from doing work on the premises, many women also were employed as part workers. This meant that the pre-cut parts of clothing were taken to their homes, where they sewed them together to make the finished garments, for which they would earn one or two pence per piece. Clarke’s employed about 500 such workers, in Abingdon and the surrounding villages.
At Pavlova, the effect of wartime on the workforce was visible during World War 1. Photos of the time show a number of women among the workers, who would probably not have been there if it hadn’t been for the war.

These are just some examples from history. During the later part of the 20th century it became more and more common for women to work as well as men, even when they had started families. But we have selected these examples to show that women have always been needed to keep the industries in Abingdon going.


Women at the Pavlova Leather Tannery
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The Pavlova leather factory was for many years one of the major employers in Abingdon. It was named after the ballerina Anna Pavlova – one of the founders of the Pavlova Leather Syndicate was reputed to be a fan. Like other industries in Abingdon, Pavlova employed women as well as men. Not only were they working at the factory, but also as outworkers, who took material to work on in their own homes. The proportion of women in the workforce grew particularly during World War 1. Photographs taken at Pavlova during that time all show women working alongside the men.
World War 1 was a boom time for Pavlova. Army requirements had increased the demand for belts and gloves, and saddles for the cavalry. The factory also made leather helmets and fur-lined boots for the pilots of the newly established Air Force. All in all this meant that the demand for its products increased so much that the company expanded, built new buildings and hired more and more workers. As it was wartime and many of the men of the town were away with the Army, women were recruited in much greater numbers. The photographs show them doing the same jobs as the men – handling the heavy skins, cleaning them and treating them.
Because the factory had made so much for the armed forces, it experienced a slump after the war. Demand decreased, the company shrank its workforce and moved out of some of its buildings. This is how the MG company came to move into some of the former Pavlova buildings on Cemetery Road, bringing with it its own female workers.
Pavlova continued to operate and was still one of the biggest employers in the town, but it never experienced such a boom as during the years of World War 1. It finally closed in the early 90s.

PCSO Ali Blood
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PCSO Ali Blood is one of a team of three Community Support Officers who cover Abingdon.
She has worked for Thames Valley Police in Abingdon for two decades. First her work was office-based, but she decided to move to the front line of policing as a PCSO over twelve years ago.
Ali’s beat includes the museum, and the staff members know and appreciate her. She comes in periodically to see how we are doing and for a little chat. She also gave up her time to give a presentation to museum staff on personal security.
It is not only the museum who values her friendly and helpful presence in the town. In 2018 Ali was named Oxfordshire’s Community Support Officer of the Year at the Community Policing Awards. Not only that, but she was also awarded the prize for being the best in the force overall.
Once the museum reopens, we look forward to seeing her again.

Women in Media and ShowBiz
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Women from Abingdon have gone on to become journalists, actors and musicians, appearing on stage and on television. Today we highlight some of them:
Joyce Barnett was born in Abingdon in 1912. She came from a family which was keen on the theatre, and Joyce had a memory taking part in an amateur dramatic production at the age of five. Later she joined the Guild of Abbey Players, which was founded in 1927. They performed at the Corn Exchange and took part in the Annual British Drama League Competition, where in 1936 they won the Howard Walden Trophy.
After school Joyce took a job with Pope’s insurance and continued to act with the Guild of Abbey Players until 1944, when she got a job with the City of Birmingham Orchestra. But in 1946 she started a professional acting career with the Lowestoft Repertory Company, which a friend of hers had set up. She also toured with another company and appeared on stage in London. When asked by an oral history interviewer whether she had worked with well-known people, she named Nigel Davenport and David McCullum – “he was a charming boy, I liked him very much”, she said. Joyce also spent over 5 years with the White Rose Players in Harrogate. She recalled that some famous actors worked in Harrogate at that time – Trevor Howard, Dulcie Gary and Sonia Dresdall – but she didn’t work closely with any of them.
In 1954 however, Joyce gave up the stage and returned to Abingdon. After working at Brize Norton for a few months, she returned to Pope’s insurance, where she stayed until her retirement. When she was asked why she returned to Abingdon, she cited family reasons, but added “it’s a jolly nice place to live”.
Bridget Kendall was born in Abingdon in 1956, but educated at the Perse School for Girls in Cambridge. She studied Modern Languages and then Soviet Studies as a postgraduate at Oxford, but also spent time at universities in Moscow and Voronezh and at Harvard. In 1983 she joined the BBC World Service as a radio production trainee and, as a fluent Russian speaker, became the BBC’s Moscow correspondent. In 1994 she became the Washington correspondent and in 1998 the diplomatic correspondent. She has reported on world events like the break-up of the Soviet Union, and interviewed world leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev and King Abdullah of Jordan. From 2008 she also hosted “The Forum”, a discussion programme on the BBC World Service. She has received many awards for her journalism, and was awarded an MBE in 1994. In 2016 she became Master of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, the first woman to be elected to the post. At the same time she still broadcasts for the BBC as an external contributor.
Michelle Stephenson was born in Abingdon in 1977. At the age of 17 she was briefly a member of a pop group called Touch, which after a number of personnel changes morphed into the Spice Girls. By that time, however, Michelle had left the group. She continued to have a varied career in music and the media, as a television presenter and a session singer for various record companies. She is also a songwriter and has formed a songwriting partnership with two partners under the name SHESongs. Under this name she has recorded and released an EP of her songs in 2003.
Kate (Kathlyn Mary) Garraway was born in Abingdon in 1967 and went to Dunmore Primary School and Fitzharry’s School. After studying English and History, she started a career as a broadcaster and has been a presence on TV and radio ever since. She started as a news reporter and presenter on ITV Central, and then presented a number of TV shows, starting as a news presenter on Sunrise, and then going on to present GMTV, Daybreak, Lorraine and Good Morning, Britain. She has also taken part in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and Strictly Come Dancing. On radio she started out at BBC Oxford, and for many years she has presented a mid-morning show on Smooth Radio.

The Story of Elizabeth Poole
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Not much is known about the “Abingdon prophetess”. Elizabeth Poole, and her association with Abingdon only lasted for a few years, but it was during a time of change and upheaval for the town.
Elizabeth Poole was probably born in London in 1622. She appeared in Abingdon in 1644. This was the time of the Civil War, and Abingdon was garrisoned by Parliamentarian troops from London. It is likely that Elizabeth had come to Abingdon in search of a boyfriend who was among those troops. It seems that she didn’t find him, but while in Abingdon she became part of the religious group led by John Pendarves. Pendarves was an army chaplain who had also come to Abingdon in 1644 and moved into the empty vicarage at St Helen’s. He was appointed vicar for a while, but resigned again in 1650 when he began to built up a community of Baptists. They were Puritans, and Pendarves himself was a millenarian, looking forward to the Second Coming of Christ. The group also attracted mystics and seers, although the Baptists themselves did not encourage such mysticism. Pendarves’ wife Thomasine was of a much more mystical bent, and came into conflict with her husband about that. She became friends with Elizabeth Poole, who herself had developed a gift for spiritual insight and prophecy.
In 1648 Elizabeth Poole was back in London, where the Parliamentary troops had now seized power. Her reputation was such that she was attached to the Council of Officers, which debated the future of the deposed king and the whole nation. As “the gentlewoman of Abingdon” she spoke in their sessions and also to the soldiers. Her status seems to have rested on her prophetic gifts, but when she advised that the king should be imprisoned but kept alive, she went contrary to the opinion of the Council. Whether they simply disliked her advice about the king or whether they now questioned her prophetic gifts is not clear, but she was dismissed from the Council.
Elizabeth Poole remained in London as a religious activist. She is on record as being arrested in 1668 for operating an illegal printing press, but beyond that nothing further is known about her.
Please visit https://www.abingdon.gov.uk/history/people/elizabeth-poolehttps://www.abingdon.gov.uk/partners/history to discover more about Abingdon's buildings and people.

The story of Ena Mitchell
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Ena Mitchell was born in Hampshire in 1918. She married her husband Bill in 1939, but he went to serve at the front in World War 2, and he was killed in action in Belgium.
Ena now found herself a single mother with a young daughter. In 1954 she moved to Abingdon to make a new life for the two of them. Her daughter went to St Helen and St Katherine School, while Ena found a job as a traffic warden – the first woman to do that job in Abingdon! Her daughter later emigrated to Australia.
Life was no easier for a single mother in the 1950s than it is now, and Ena was aware that there were many women in her situation, who had lost their husbands in the war and now had to try to combine their responsibilities for their children with the necessity of earning a living. She wanted to fight for the rights of those women, and she did so by joining the War Widows Association.
This organisation was founded in 1971, and at first their fight centred on the War Widows’ Pension, which was never very high, but was nonetheless fully taxed by the Inland Revenue. The Association came together to campaign against this, as it left war widows with not enough money to support a family, and many of them, like Ena, had children.
Over the years Ena became a great champion of the War Widows Association. She has even met Prince Charles and has been invited to No 10 Downing Street.
Ena was also a champion for another charity, the Royal Star and Garter. They were founded in 1916 and started off with a home for severely disabled soldiers. Today they run several care homes for veterans with disabilities or dementia. Over the course of five decades, Ena raised thousands of pounds for them.
She also sold poppies for the Royal British Legion. Being a mother, the welfare of children was also important to her, and she was active in children’s charities.
In 2018 she turned 100 years old. On that day she received a special blessing at Trinity Church, and her granddaughter and great-granddaughter came from Australia to celebrate with her.

Honorary Freewomen of Abingdon
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The Freedom of the Borough is an honour which a parish or a town can bestow upon citizens to reward them for services to the community. It can also be given to visiting dignitaries. The term stems from the feudal society of the Middle Ages, where there were free men as opposed to serfs. Today it is a way of acknowledging an individual’s contributions to the life of the community.
The making of a Freeman or Freewoman entails a ceremony in which the recipient makes a declaration of office and receives a medal and a scroll from the Mayor. It is the highest honour that Abingdon can bestow on its citizens and is only rarely given. So far five women have been made Freewomen of Abingdon.
The first Freewoman of Abingdon was Joan Gladys Harcourt-Norris in 1988, who was a Councillor and Mayor in 1971/72.
The second was Janet Morgan, former Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council and Mayor of Abingdon in 1988/89.
Further women who have received this honour are Lesley Legge (Mayor 2000/2001), Marilyn Badcock (Mayor 1989/90) and Julie Mayhew-Archer (Mayor 1997/98). They were honoured not just for their work on the Town Council and other councils, but also for their work with community groups. All three were honoured in a ceremony in 2019, which featured Morris dancing and speeches detailing why these women have deserved the honour they have been given.
The Freedom of Abingdon was also given to Christ’s Hospital, and the Master represents that freedom. So while Glynne Butt was Master of Christ’s Hospital, she also was a Freewoman of Abingdon. Her husband, former Mayor Vernon Butt, was also a Freeman of Abingdon.
Apparently having the Freedom of Abingdon means that you can drive your sheep across Abingdon Bridge without charge!
 

Women who received the Mayor's Award
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The Mayor’s Award is presented to those who have given outstanding service to the town and the community in Abingdon in many different capacities. These are the women who have received a Mayor’s Award between 1995 and 2018:
1995/1996
Gwenneth Smewin, Headmistress of Dunmore Infant School for approximately thirty years
1996/1997
Mieneke Cox, for services to local history
Jocelyn Glass, for services to local drama
1997/1998
Joan Aspley, for services to Lady Eleanor Court Luncheon Club, and to Girl Guiding
Jane Morgan, for services to the Charter Day Centre, St. Helen’s Church, Amnesty International and the Child Contact Centre
Doreen Sillman, for services to foster caring
1998/1999
Edna Carter, for services to the Abingdon branch of Muscular Dystrophy
Ann Coulter, for services to the Abingdon Branch of the British Red Cross
Valerie Golding, for services to the WRVS Darby and Joan Club
1999/2000
Dorothy Dawson, for services to the Abingdon Branch of the NSPCC
Judy Thomas, Abingdon Archaeological and Historical Society
Judith Penrose Brown, Scout Association of Abingdon
2000/2001
Edna Hole, for the Abingdon Community Hospital “Save Our Beds” campaign, and for many years’ involvement with the Northcourt W.I. and Abingdon Bowls Club
Margaret Langsford, for the Abingdon and District Millennium Miracle Project and the Church in Abingdon
Angela Ross, for services to the Abingdon Arts Festival and the enhancement of Music for Teachers and Pupils through the Music Practice
2001/2002
Jenny Goode, for services to Town Twinning
Angela McKnight, for her fundraising for many charitable organisations
Judith Payne, for services to the Abingdon Artists
2002/2003
Mrs Norah Jones, for services to local Clubs and Societies in particular Abingdon Bowling Club, Abingdon Trefoil Guild and for supporting the annual Over 70’s Christmas Party
Averil Tonkin, Abingdon Rowing Club and Abingdon Silver Wheel and for her support to Abingdon Town Council during her husband’s service as Town Clerk of Abingdon
2003/2004
Florence Yates, founder member of the Abingdon and District Citizens Advice Bureau
Eileen Bagshaw, for thirty years of acting, directing and writing for Abingdon Drama Club
2005/2006
Sue Strong, for setting up the Breakfast Club for people unable to get out and about
Eileen Keer MBE, for her long involvement with Radley Athletic Club and coaching at Tilsley Park Abingdon
2006/2007
Lillian Barry, for working in the caring profession and producing a local newsletter for fifteen years, and being an active volunteer within many of the town’s charity shops
Jean Anns, for being an active fundraiser for the Abingdon Band, her involvement with Abingdon Twinning Society, and her sewing skills – making and mending the town’s civic robes
2007/2008
Margaret Jones, for painting the life-sized characters from Abingdon’s history on the walls of the Stratton Way Underpass
2008/2009
Pauline Selleck, Abingdon Dance Studio – known as Selleck School of Dancing
2009/2010
Hilary Kell, for her involvement with Abingdon in Bloom and the Citizens Advice Bureau
Ann-Marie Lloyd, Abingdon in Bloom, Horticultural Society and Abingdon and District Twin Towns Society
Joan Lambourn, for forty years helping the local WRVS Darby and Joan Club
2010/2011
Ruth Weinberg, for the fundraising appeal by Abingdon Museum Friends
Dorothy Dawson, Abingdon National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
2012/2013
Jill Carver, Chamber of Commerce and Fairtrade and Abingdon Means Business
Hester Hand, for her involvement with the Citizens Advice Bureau, Friends of Abingdon and Choose Abingdon Partnership
Lauren Gilmour, Museum Project Award
Jackie Smith, for many years’ service as archivist for Abingdon Town Council and Christ’s Hospital
2013/2014
Eleanor Dangerfield, Green Gym and Residents Association
2015/2016
Janice Gordon, The Barns Cafe
Flt. Lt. Joan Smith, former Commanding Officer 2121 (Abingdon) Squadron Air Training Corps
Mrs Jenny Berrell, former curator of Abingdon Abbey
2016/2017
Valerie Keates, a local resident who made her property available to assist in Town Flood Defences
Helen Ronaldson, Abingdon Monday Club
2017/2018
Ann Smart, Volunteer at Abingdon Cuts Plastic Group/Abingdon Carbon Cutters
Emma Beacham, Volunteer with the Abingdon More In Common Group
Shirley Thomson, Volunteer with the Abingdon Child Contact Centre
 

Agnes Leonora Challenor
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Agnes Leonora Duncan was born in Wales in 1882. She met her future husband Bromley Challenor when she visited her two brothers, who were borders at Abingdon School. The couple married in 1914 and moved into a house in Abingdon which was a joint wedding present from the Duncan and Challenor families. They had three children.
Agnes had a great interest in music and became a member of the Abingdon Madrigal Society and the District Musical Society.
In 1927 she worked as a fundraiser for the new organ and St Helen’s Church, and a year later for the Parish Hall. She was further active in the town’s life by becoming a founder member of the Abingdon Townswomen’s Guild and in 1939 the Abingdon Women’s Voluntary Service. These organisations played an important part in the preparations for war. For example, when thousands of gas masks were provided for the local people, they were delivered in kit form, and the members of the Townswomen’s Guild assembled them before distribution. The Women’s Voluntary Service also did a lot of war work, be it clerical work, driving or cooking.
Because she was known for all this work in the community, Agnes Challenor was co-opted onto the Borough Council when a place fell vacant in 1941. This was the start of her many years of service as a Councillor. In 1950 she was elected Mayor, the first woman in the Borough’s history to hold that post. Her daughter Janet was the Mayor’s escort.
In 1951 she was the first woman to be elected as Alderman.
Besides her work on the Council, Agnes Challenor was active in charitable work, for example for Christ’s Hospital of Abingdon. She also formed the Abingdon branch of the British Sailors’ Society, and she supported the Church of England Children’s Society and Dr Barnado’s Charity.
In 1953 she had a stroke. She continued to work for some time, but in 1956 ill health forced her to retire from the Council and from Christs Hospital.
She died in 1967 at her home in Abingdon.
During her time as Councillor and Mayor, she had hoped that her example would inspire other women to put themselves forward for those roles. Today there are a number of women on the Town Council, and many women have been Mayor in the last decades, so her hopes have definitely come true.
 

Helen Cam
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Helen Maud Cam was born in Abingdon in 1885. Her father was headmaster of Abingdon School, and he educated her at home. Helen went on to study History at Royal Holloway College, London, and gained a First Class Degree. She studied further at the University of London, gaining an MA in Anglo-Saxon and Frankish Studies. This led to a one-year Fellowship at Bryn Mawr College and to her first book: Local Government in Francia and England 768-1034. The title indicates where her interest lay: in local government and local history, as opposed to the grand sweep of constitutional and national developments.
She held teaching posts at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and Royal Holloway College, until in 1921 she became a Fellow of Girton College, Cambridge, teaching Medieval History. One of her students there was Gabrielle Lambrick, who went on to be one of Abingdon’s foremost historians. Helen Cam did not write about Abingdon herself, but she supported Gabrielle Lambrick, who stayed in touch with her and whose interest in local history aligned with hers.
In 1948 Helen Cam went to America and took up a professorship at Harvard, which she held until her retirement in 1954.
In acknowledgement of her work she was elected to the British Academy in 1945, only the third woman to become a fellow there, and the first woman to deliver the Raleigh lecture. She was also elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received honorary degrees from Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, North Carolina University and Oxford University. In 1957 she got a CBE.
Helen Cam died in 1968.
 

Musical Women of Abingdon
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Music plays a big part in the lives of many people in Abingdon, and there are a number of choirs, societies, groups and bands in which men and women come together to make music.
Here are some examples of Abingdon women for whom music is an important part of their lives.
Glynne Butt studied botany at Somerville College, Oxford, and had a career in education, becoming Head of Our Lady’s School, a school governor and an inspector. But she also found the time to pursue musical studies. Her instrument is the viola, and now that she is retired, she has even more time for her music. She performs with a variety of string ensembles and is a founder member of the Abbey Strings. She also plays with the Oxford Sinfonia.
Pauline Selleck has a special relationship to music – as a dancer! Pauline was born in Abingdon and went to Our Lady’s. She then taught ballroom dancing. Eventually she ran her own dance studio known as the Selleck School of Dancing. In 2009 she received a Mayor’s award for services to dance.
One of the groups which you can hear perform in Abingdon on civic occasions is the Town Band, and Alison Rich is Principal Cornet player with the band. She was a National Youth player and has previously played with the Oxford City Band. With the Abingdon Band she has performed for all kinds of civic ceremonies in Abingdon – not least the Bun Throwings! - but also at the Lord Mayor’s Parade in London and at Windsor Castle. She also has a very particular role: she has played the Last Post at the war memorial on Remembrance Day for years.
Last but not least we must mention Agnes Leonora Challenor, who is known for being the first woman to become Mayor of Abingdon. She had a great love for music, being a member of the Abingdon Madrigal Society and the Abingdon and District Musical Society. She even had her own grand piano. She passed a passion for music on to her descendants as well. Her son Bromley gave up a career as a solicitor to become a piano teacher and a church organist. Her great-granddaughter Helen Roberts became the accompanist for the famous Treorchy Male Voice Choir.
 

Charlotte Cox
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Charlotte Cox was born in Abingdon (on Ock Street) in 1817. At almost twenty years old, she married a carpet weaver, William Higgins, in St Helen’s Church. They had two daughters, but after six years of marriage William died. Two years later Charlotte married again, a gardener called William Wilsdon. Sadly he too died a few years later. The couple hadn’t had any more children.
At some point before 1851 Charlotte had moved to Oxford with her children, as the 1851 census shows. It is not known whether she worked before, but now she was working as a tailor. She had also taken in two lodgers, making some extra money that way.
In 1854, there were outbreaks of cholera and smallpox in Oxford. It is possible that Charlotte Cox did some nursing during that time, although it had not been her profession. The experience enabled her to volunteer for the Crimean War nurses.
The Crimean War had broken out in 1854. It is still remembered today not only for its battles but also for the appalling conditions which decimated the troops. Apart from the cold weather as winter approached and a lack of food, there was also medical neglect. The main hospital was at Scutari, but the British Army had brought few ambulances, and there were great problems in getting the wounded to Scudari. Even so the hospital was overwhelmed and ill-equipped, so that even among those who reached the hospital many were left untreated for weeks. Reports of the shocking conditions appeared in The Times, and they inspired Florence Nightingale, who was a trained nurse, to answer a government appeal for staff. She was so well qualified that she was appointed Superintendent of the Female Nurses in the Hospitals of the East. In October 1854 she left London with a party of nurses. Further groups of nurses followed, and Charlotte Cox joined one of them, travelling to Scutari in March 1855.
Statistics (collected by Florence Nightingale herself) show that more soldiers died from disease than from wounds – not surprising if one considers the conditions: the hospital was dirty, there was a lot of vermin, lice were everywhere, clothes and bedlinen remained unwashed etc. Here the nurses made improvements. They raised the standards of cleanliness and opened food kitchens. This improved the physical wellbeing of the wounded, but they also looked after the mental wellbeing of the soldiers, by helping them to write home and introducing reading rooms for them.
Charlotte Cox worked at the hospital in Scutari until May 1856, when she was invalided home. She returned to Abingdon, where she married for the third time, an engine driver called William Andrews, who was a widower with three children of his own. By 1869 he had died, but Charlotte remained in Abingdon for many years. She had enough money now to live on without having to work.
Late in life Charlotte Cox moved to Swindon with one of her daughters, where she died in 1896.
A photo and an artist's impression of Charlotte Cox is featured in 'Abingdon Buildings and People' article at https://www.abingdon.gov.uk/history/people/charlotte-cox please check it out to find more information.
 

Agnes Tatham
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Agnes Clara Tatham was born in Abingdon in 1893. Her father, Meaburn Talbot Tatham, was a private tutor and a JP, and very much involved in the affairs of the town. The family home was Northcourt House, which is now a listed building. It was a large, well-to-do household, with 24 bedrooms, five servants plus a coachman.
Agnes became an artist, studying at the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Vicat School of Art. In 1920 she moved to Kensington, where she spent most of her life and career. She was a painter, mostly working in oils and tempera. She was also an illustrator and illustrated several children’s books. Her works were exhibited at the Royal Academy and other prestigious venues.
In 1970 Agnes Tatham returned to her childhood home, Northcourt House, where she died two years later.
Abingdon Museum owns one of Agnes Tatham’s paintings, entitled ‘Autumn Bunch’. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Borough of Kensington Annual Artists Exhibition and was originally bought by the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council. Leighton House Museum, who looked after the painting for many years, offered to transfer it to the Abingdon Museum collections a few years ago, acknowledging the connection of Abingdon to the artist as the place where she had spent the beginning and the end of her life. The painting is now kept by Abingdon Museum and has been displayed to celebrate this Abingdon-born artist.
 

Elizabeth Aldworth
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Elizabeth Aldworth was born in 1921 in East Harting, Sussex, where her parents were living at the time. The Aldworth family was from Abingdon, though, and Elizabeth’s grandfather had a bakery on West St Helen Street. She came to Abingdon as well with her parents when she was a small child and grew up in a house on Bath Street. She went to school at St Helen’s, and it was there that she first discovered her love of literature. She went on to study English at St Anne’s College in Oxford with a view to becoming a teacher.
She was still at school when the Second World War broke out, and she started to do volunteer work, like helping in a canteen in the church hall behind St Nicolas Church, which provided food for servicemen. While she was at university, she worked as a fire watcher at the Department of Education in Oxford. This involved keeping an eye out for fires caused by incendiary bombs, often at night. Fire watchers were issued with a handbook and also received some on fire extinguishing equipment, so they were able to tackle blazes without having to wait for the arrival of the fire brigade. Elizabeth’s copy of the handbook is now in the museum collection. She also worked in the Admiralty Photographic Library, which was based at the Bodleian in Oxford. During vacations she volunteered for the Salvation Army canteen at RAF Abingdon.
After her studies and teacher training, Elizabeth got her first teaching job in North Wales, and later she was in Bristol. She came back to Abingdon in 1966 and started as a teacher at John Mason School. In an interview she recalled that the school was a grammar school at the time, and that the head teacher was keen that different languages should be taught, which at one point included Chinese. Elizabeth herself taught English, mainly to the Sixth Form, and also acted as Deputy Head for a year when a colleague fell ill. She retired in 1980, by which time the school had become a Comprehensive. “I quite enjoy bumping into ex-pupils in Abingdon,” she said. “It was a very lively, go-ahead school and I very much enjoyed the Staff Room atmosphere that was good-humoured and friendly.”
In her old age Elizabeth was a resident of Old Station House, where she still kept many mementos of her family, some of which she lent to the museum for an exhibition on World War 1. She shared her life story and her memories of Abingdon with the Abingdon Oral History Project in 2002.
 

Dorothy Richardson
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Dorothy Richardson was born in Abingdon in 1873. Her grandfather, Thomas Richardson, was a grocer who owned shops in Abingdon, but her father, Charles Richardson, sold the business, speculated with the money and lived on the proceeds, which eventually dwindled away and left him bankrupt.
Dorothy spent her childhood in the family home on Park Crescent, which is now part of Abingdon School.
She became a novelist, and her major work is a sequence of novels with the overarching title ‘Pilgrimage’ which eventually encompassed 13 volumes. The first in the sequence was called ‘Pointed Roofs’ and appeared in 1915. The novels tell the life story of a woman called Miriam Henderson, for which Richardson drew on her own experiences. Miriam spends her childhood in a ‘pretty old gabled “town” on the river’, a thinly disguised Abingdon, which appears in the novels as ‘Babington’. At several points in the novels Miriam remembers the garden of her childhood home, a representation of the garden behind the Richardson home on Park Crescent. Other localities in the area feature in the novels, like Blewburton Hill and Wittenham Clumps.
Richardson is regarded as a pioneering modernist writer, and the first to use a technique now known as ‘stream of consciousness’.
Richardson was not only a novelist, but also a translator and a journalist, contributing to a number of magazines and writing one of the earliest regular columns on the cinema.
Dorothy Richardson was married to the artist Alan Odle from 1917 until his death in 1948. She died in 1957.
In 2017 Abingdon County Hall Museum showed an exhibition, “Dorothy Richardson in Abingdon”, to celebrate the writer’s life and work.
 

Doreen Evans
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Doreen Evans, born 1916, was a racing driver whose association with Abingdon came through the MG factory. Her family owned the Bellevue Garage in Wandsworth, an MG agent, and she drove MGs for the Bellevue team.

During the 1930s she raced several MG types, mostly at Brooklands. The cars were built and prepared for racing at the MG factory in Abingdon, and the company also backed the racing teams. Doreen Evans drove a Magna L-Type, a Magnette and a Q-Type. In those days both men and women competed in the same races, and in one of them she finished in front of her brother Kenneth, who was also a racing driver. In 1935 she teamed up with Kenneth to drive an MG R-Type in the Brooklands 500 mile race, but the engine developed a fault and they didn’t finish.

The same year MG entered a team of three MG Midgets, managed by George Eyston, in the Le Mans 24 hr race. Doreen drove one of them, partnered this time with Barbara Skinner. Further successes for her were a class win at the RAC rally in an MG Magnette, and achieving a record at the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb in an R-Type.

At the Brooklands International Trophy in 1936, her car caught fire, but she was able to jump out and suffered only minor injuries. The car was badly damaged, though, and in her next race, the Tourist Trophy, she would have driven an Aston Martin, not an MG. As it happened, her teammate Alan Phipps crashed the car before it was her turn to drive.

Doreen Evans married Alan Phipps, moved to America and stopped racing. She did, however, take up flying instead. She died in America in 1982.


Agnes Baker
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Agnes Baker was born in Banbury in 1898. She completed an Honours Degree in History at Reading University, and much of her life was dedicated to the history and Abingdon and of Berkshire.
She started writing about Abingdon’s history in the 1920s, when she wrote two plays, “Scenes from Abingdon’s History” (1924) and “Further Scenes from Abingdon’s History” (1929), which were performed at the Corn Exchange.
In 1935 and 1937 she was responsible for the historical processions during the celebrations for King George V’s Jubilee and King George VI’s coronation.
From 1932 she worked as a secretary and assistant for Arthur Edwin Preston, an accountant, councillor on the Borough and County Councils, three times Mayor of Abingdon and champion of local history. He worked to preserve many aspects of Abingdon’s history, in particular old documents, of which he built up a large collection. He also had transcripts made of documents held elsewhere. In this work Agnes Baker supported him after being recommended to Preston by Sir Frank Stenton, professor of Mediaeval History at Reading University. Agnes Baker also lived with Preston and his wife in their house on Park Crescent. The Prestons had no children, and it is likely that they and Agnes felt themselves to be something like a family. The arrangement only came to an end in 1942, when Preston died.
During the war Agnes Baker worked for the National Buildings Record, which recorded architecture under threat from aerial bombing, taking photographs and making drawings. They also recorded damage that was done by bombs to historic buildings.
Agnes Baker is regarded as one of Abingdon’s foremost historians, and she was a founder member of the Friends of Abingdon and the Berkshire Archaeological Society.
She died in 1955.
 
A photo with Agnes Baker is featured in 'Abingdon Buildings and People' article at https://www.abingdon.gov.uk/history/people/agnes-baker please check it out to find more information.

Charlotte Hardcastle
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Charlotte Hardcastle was born in Abingdon in 1828. We don’t know how long the family stayed there, as later census results show them living in Surrey and then in London. The 1861 census describes Charlotte as an artist. Her specialty was depictions of nature, particularly plants and birds, which she exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Academy and the British Institution.

In 1868 Charlotte travelled to Melbourne and married her cousin Edward Hardcastle. The couple settled in Hokitika on the South Island of New Zealand, were Edward had a job as a law clerk. There she was also active as an artist. Her works were exhibited in 1877 in Whanganui as part of an “Exhibition of Art, Science and Industry”. A reviewer in the Whanganui Chronicle praised the realism of her paintings: “Look at Flowers [one of the paintings] and make up your mind whether the drops on them are really drops of water or wonderful little transparencies, the effect of two or three clever touches of the artist’s brush.”

In 1884 the Hardcastles moved to Nelson, where Edward died in 1886. There are no records of further exhibitions by Charlotte, but she probably kept up with painting and also tried something new: wood engraving. Another artist living in Nelson, Emily Harris, wrote in her diary that she was taught wood engraving by Mrs Hardcastle, so she must have achieve a sufficient proficiency in it to be asked to give lessons.

Eventually Charlotte and her daughter Kathleen moved away from Nelson, first to Christchurch, then in 1902 back to Whanganui, where Charlotte died in 1908.

Not many of her works are known, but the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui has in its collections six watercolours of flowers by Charlotte Hardcastle. Here's the link to view them: https://collection.sarjeant.org.nz/…/9…/charlotte-hardcastle


Joan Harcourt-Norris
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Joan Gladys Harcourt-Norris was a Town Councillor and Mayor of Abingdon in 1971, but she was also a doctor. Born in 1907, she studied at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London from 1932. After women had been excluded from higher qualifications in medicine for a long time, a group of pioneering women set up the London School of Medicine for Women in 1874. For many years, this institution, which later became the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, was the only place in Britain where women could study medicine. Personnel shortages during the First World War prompted a few other hospitals to admit female students, but the numbers were severely restricted, and only the strongest candidates were admitted. These were still the conditions for women when Joan Harcourt-Norris studied, and the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine still trained a quarter of all female medical students in Britain. There were also bars to the employment of women after their studies, particularly after they married or became pregnant. Nevertheless, Joan worked at hospitals in London’s East End, and then set up as a GP in Chingford. She came to Abingdon in 1946, and continued to practice until 1952, when she was appointed School Medical Officer for North Berkshire. She also served on the District Health Authority.

She entered public life as a magistrate and then became a Councillor. In 1971 she was elected as Mayor, only the third woman to hold that office in Abingdon, and one of only two female Mayors during the 1970s.

She also cared for the heritage of the town, and was an active member of the Friends of Abingdon. She also supported Age Concern and the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council.

In 1988 Joan was granted the Freedom of Abingdon in recognition of her services to the town. She was a pioneer not once but twice, first in her profession as a doctor, and then as a female Town Councillor and Mayor.

She died in 2002.

 


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