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Hidden stories of town’s remarkable ‘ordinary’ women celebrated

Heritage and history

Friday, 08 March 2024
Deputy Mayor Philippa Storey (centre) with members of the research group (L-R) Maria McGuigan, Val Harris, Colette McPartland, Edna Reddy, Avrille McCann, Marie Dunn, Heather Walker and Catherine McPartland

The lives of the extraordinary women who shaped early Middlesbrough have been given the spotlight as part of a special celebration.

The voices of those women who led tough, ‘ordinary’ lives - yet quietly became heroines in their own family or community - have remained relatively unheard.

Now, a new project has shone light on those lost stories on International Women’s Day.

Deputy Mayor Philippa Storey and a host of guests gathered at MyPlace, the original Custom House in Middlesbrough’s historic centre of St Hilda’s, to learn more at a special event on Friday (March 8).

Cllr Storey said: “It was truly inspirational to listen to the stories of women who made Middlesbrough.

“Our town boomed on heavy industry, but the courageous women of Middlesbrough were responsible for shaping much of what made us great.

“As our town rapidly grew and people migrated to Middlesbrough for work, the things we now take for granted – like housing, medical care, welfare and education – barely existed.

“But with relentless passion and drive, our women broke down the social and political barriers of the day to help shape their town and I’m proud that they have been recognised.”

Cllr Storey thanked members of the Rekindle Research Women’s Group who hosted the event.

The Research Group grew from the Rekindle project, which aims to teach digital skills to older people and was launched by Middlesbrough Council’s Digital Inclusion Adviser, Steve Thompson.

Catherine McPartland, from the Women’s Research Group, said: “It is wonderful to have the opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary so-called ‘ordinary’ women of Middlesbrough, who were quite remarkable in their own right.

“The stories of these women who were integral to the development of Middlesbrough have been hidden, but they deserve to be remembered and honoured as much as anyone else.

“Being involved in the Women’s Research Group has been fascinating and we’ve all learned so much about our town. I’d encourage anyone in the area to come and find out more.”

The Rekindle Research Group has been researching St Hilda’s and the town’s origins for the past 18 months, producing Border Voices, a digital walk bringing Middlesbrough’s original riverside heart back to life.

But much of the information originally focused on men, so the Women’s Group got to work recording the voices and stories of women, many inspired by Lady Florence Bell’s famous 1907 study into the lives of workers and their families, ‘At the Works’.

A selection of those were played at the event, held in the auditorium outside MyPlace, with new QR codes installed so that visitors can listen to the stories and find out more.

The event also marked the contributions of other women who gained local, national and international fame.

They include Middlesbrough’s first female MP ‘Red Ellen’ Wilkinson, the town’s first female councillors Alice Schofield-Coates and Marion Coates-Hanson, as well as the women who established Middlesbrough’s sorely needed first cottage hospital and a women’s only hospital and those who created schools and educated the children of the town.

Edna Reddy and Cllr Storey explore a picture display and QR codes telling the hidden stories of women in Middlesbrough