Honouring Emily Williamson
This little porcelain mug uses a new drawing of Emily by the artist Clare Abbatt, together with the original RPSB emblem (Latin motto: Respicite Aves Coeli – ‘Look at the Birds of the Air’). It’s a fundraiser for conservation work at Fletcher Moss Park in Didsbury, garden of the RSPB’s Victorian founder Emily Williamson. It was here, at The Croft, that she held her first all-female tea party in 1889. Women signed a pledge to wear no feathers – and so the Society for the Protection of Birds was born. Read about my search for the elusive Emily Williamson here.
Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4
Hear all about Etta Lemon, the ‘Margaret Thatcher’ of the birding world. How did this remarkable character hone her campaigning skills, and why was she stabbed in the back by the men who took over the RSPB?
Secrets of the National Trust with Alan Titchmarsh (Channel 5)
Erddig Hall in North Wales was once home to the Yorkes – a family famously kind to their servants. Or were they? I uncovered the story of ‘thief cook’ Ellen Penketh, jailed in 1907 for allegedly stealing £500 from her insecure mistress Louisa Yorke.
Radio Gorgeous interview with Josephine Pembroke, talking twitchers (why are hardcore birders almost always men?), the mysterious workings of the RSPB (why wouldn’t they let me revisit their archives?) and Mrs Pankhurst’s penchant for fashion (why so many feathered hats?).
Bromley RSPB – Wednesday 12 February, 7pm.
Dorking Museum, Surrey – Thursday 19 March, 7pm. £5 includes glass of wine.
Guildford RSPB – Wednesday 25 March, 7pm.
Ilminster Literary Festival – West Somerset. Thursday 28 May, 2.15pm.
Worthing Antiques, Arts and Collectors’ Club – East Sussex. Tuesday June 2, 7.30pm
Macclesfield RSPB – Tuesday 12 November, 7.45pm
Hawkhurst U3A, Kent – Thursday 7 November, 10am
The Wigmore Lectures, Gillingham, Kent – Wednesday 16 October, 8pm
Banbury Ornithological Society, Banbury Cricket Cub, Oxford – Monday 14 October, 7.30pm
Grosvenor Museum, Chester – Monday 7 October, 7.30pm.
The rise and rise of ‘murderous millinery’ – and the women who fought back on behalf of the birds. From the first polite Victorian tea party, to billboard parades at the summer sales, to an angry brick through the Home Office window.
Reigate & District Family History Group – Thursday 19 September, 8pm
‘The Housekeeper’s Tale’: drawing on entirely new sources, the stories of a handful of heroic women who ran some of Britain’s most prominent households.
Westgate Literary Festival, Kent – Sunday 15 September, 12-1.30pm.
Victorian eco warrior Etta Lemon was born in Hythe, just 30 miles east of Westgate. How did she make her RSPB campaign go global?
Hastings LitFest SUNDAY 1 SEPTEMBER 12-1pm
Looking forward to sharing this provocative story about women getting political – ‘Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather’ was, after all, written in suffragist Muriel Matters’ home on Pelham Crescent, Hastings.
Birdfair 2019, Rutland Water – SATURDAY 17 AUGUST 3.45-4.15pm Author’s Tent.’The Cruellest Plume of All’: By 1903, an ounce of egret feathers was worth twice its weight in gold. Discover how a core of brave women ran a hard-hitting campaign to save the Great and Little Egret from certain extinction.
Croydon RSPB’s AGM – MONDAY 12 AUGUST
Home of Eliza Phillips, RSPB co-founder and hugely influential publications editor. We’re still hunting for a photograph… but we have at last found her tombstone. How should she be remembered?
Buxton Festival, Pavilion Arts Centre – SATURDAY 6 July, 10.30-11.30am.
With celebrated nature writer Mark Cocker and novelist-adventurer Jean McNeil: an informal and lively debate to kick off the festival, on conservation, feminism, climate change, and the writer’s art.
Trentham Church, Stoke on Trent – 4 July, 7pm.
As a young church-going woman, Etta Lemon used to name and shame ladies in the congregation who wore feathered hats, or ‘murderous millinery’. Why was her compassion for the birds later dismissed as ‘Christian ornithology’ by the men who took over the RSPB?
Festival of Chichester Chichester Library, Tower Street– TUESDAY 2 JULY, 7.30pm. £5. I’m looking forward to sharing the back-story behind my book. Secrets, lies … and sensational fashion archives.
Mondays @ The Mills at Highgate School, London – MONDAY 1 JULY, 7pm.
The shocking and surprising story of women, birds, hats – and votes. Learn why ethical fashion was just as much a hot topic then as now.
Didsbury Festival: The Old Parsonage, Didsbury, Manchester. SATURDAY 22 JUNE, 7-8pm, £5. The RSPB has its roots in the drawing rooms of Victorian Didsbury. What made Emily Williamson hold her political tea parties, and how did the society take flight in the face of male derision? A rousing tale of women banding together – and achieving something extraordinary.
The Egrets Way AGM, Lewes, St John Sub Castro, Lewes, East Sussex
MONDAY 10 JUNE, 7pm. Once the Little Egret faced extinction, persecuted for its fine nuptial plumage. Now it can be found on the waterways of southern England – including the ‘Egrets Way’ along the River Ouse in the South Downs National Park. So how did the RSPB save the egret from this insatiable Edwardian fashion?
Wardown House, Luton
THURSDAY 6 June, 7.30-9pm. Working as a housekeeper was one of the most prestigious jobs a Victorian or Edwardian woman could want – and also one of the toughest. Hear some of the thrilling and poignant stories I uncovered for ‘The Housekeeper’s Tale’, in this grand old house where the ghosts of servants really do seem to flit through the rooms.
Celebrating 130 Years of the RSPB in Manchester Fletcher Moss Park, Didsbury, SATURDAY 1 JUNE 1-4pm. Emily Williamson founded the all-female ‘Society for the Protection of Birds’ at her home, The Croft, in 1889, asking women to sign a pledge to wear no feathers. Plaque unveiling by her great great niece, the bird ethologist Dr Melissa Bateson. Informal talk and book signing.
Queen’s County Bird Club @ New York ‘s Alley Pond Environmental Center.
WEDNESDAY 15 MAY, 7.30pm. How did the plumage trade operate? And how did a handful of women persuade us to fall in love with birds – rather than wear them on our hats?
Brooklyn Bird Club @ Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Zoo.
TUESDAY 14 MAY, 7.30pm. Founded in 1909, when plumed hats were at their zenith and the furious ‘feather fight’ cranked up a gear, Brooklyn Bird Club was once concerned with saving birds from women’s headgear. So just what was at stake?
The Royal Oak Foundation New York City, The General Society Library.
MONDAY 13 MAY, 6.15pm. $30 members, $40 guests.
An illustrated lecture on the brave women who campaigned, on both sides of the Atlantic, to save the birds from the plumage trade – and those Edwardian slaves of fashion who flaunted the offending millinery.
Women in Science Festival – at RSPB Pulborough Brooks reserve, West Sussex. SATURDAY 4 MAY, 10.30am. Few RSPB members have any idea their society was started by Victorian women – or that it was a hard-hitting, anti-fashion campaign. Why have these women never been celebrated?
Eastbourne RSPB Group
WEDNESDAY 1 MAY, 2pm & 7pm. Why has the RSPB not celebrated its female founders? A talk about the fascinating anti-fashion origins of our biggest conservation charities, and the cut-throat nature of the plumage trade.
Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society
MONDAY 29 APRIL, 7pm. Eliza Phillips, unsung co-founder of the RSPB, ran her emotional ‘Fur, Fin and Feather Folk’ meetings from her house on Morley Road, Croydon. From these beginnings, something extraordinary was born…
Westgate Litfest’s Afternoon Tea, Westgate-on-Sea, Kent
SATURDAY 27 APRIL, 3pm. Where better to explore the life of Kent-born Etta Lemon, unsung champion of the birds, than on the north Kent coast? Take the salt air, then settle down to learn why the Victorian ladies’ tea party was a political device.
FRIDAY 8 MARCH 1pm. Crawley Library, East Sussex.
An illustrated talk on the female founders of the RSPB – and the nature of women. What did it take to prick the conscience of an Edwardian slave to fashion?
Faversham Literary Festival
SUNDAY 24 FEBRUARY 2019, 3.30pm, The Assembly Rooms, Preston St.
Etta Lemon, prime mover behind the RSPB, was born 25 miles away at Hythe. How did this corner of Kent shape her magnificent future?
1 Fashion Street, Spitalfields, London E16LY
TUESDAY 12 February 7.30pm. ‘Millinery, Sequins and Suffrage’. £4.
We no longer wear dead birds on our heads, but extraordinary millinery still grabs attention. So where are hats headed? I’ll be joining celebrated milliner Piers Atkinson and innovator Rachel Clowes (of the Sustainable Sequin Company) to discuss millinery’s future, present and murky past – all in a part of London once renowned for the plumage trade.
The Watts Gallery, Compton, near Guildford, Surrey
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER. Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather is a story rooted in Surrey: the women who fought to save the birds, and the women who fought for (and against) the vote, crossed swords in and around the Surrey North Downs. Fireworks ensued.
Surrey History Centre, Woking, Surrey: ‘The Road to the Vote’: Grand Finale
SATURDAY 24 NOVEMBER. Etta Lemon, ‘dragon’ of Redhill, lady mayoress of Reigate and prime mover behind the RSPB was also a leading light in the Anti Suffrage Women’s League. Should we be shocked – or was this entirely compatible with her conservative beliefs?
Victorian Eco-Activism and Manchester
TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER, 7-8.30pm at Friends’ Meeting House, Manchester.
I’m joining forces with Henry McGhie, Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology at Manchester Museum, to bring you a fascinating, untold story of Victorian Eco-Activism, Manchester and the Birth of the RSPB. From gentlemen collectors to lady campaigners – why are these early campaigners so maligned and misunderstood?
Elizabeth Gaskell House, Manchester.
WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER, 2-2.45pm. Rare images, a cast of invisible characters, and a surprising political secret. Discover Manchester’s leading role in saving the birds.
The Bloomsbury Festival: Activists and Architects of Change
SATURDAY 20 OCTOBER. London House, Goodenough College.
Suffragettes, feathered hats and the plumage fight. Why did the magnificently hatted Mrs Pankhurst cross swords with Mrs Lemon?
V&A lunchtime lecture, London
WEDNESDAY 17 OCTOBER. Birds and fashion, ethics and aesthetics. How a small group of Victorian women took on the mighty plumage trade – and won.
Knutsford Festival, Cheshire. Victorian Methodist Church venue.
FRIDAY 12 OCTOBER. A tale of two Manchester heroines, one lionised, the other all but forgotten. Step forward Emily Williamson, co-founder of the Society for the Protection of Birds.
Oldie Literary Lunch, Ilkley Literature Festival, Yorkshire
THURSDAY 4 OCTOBER. A three course lunch, three speakers, and ten minutes for each. It’s going to be pithy, revelatory and entertaining. I’m the only woman – standing alongside two veteran Labour Politicians, Austin Mitchell and Alan Johnson.
Hurst Festival, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex. Village Centre venue.
Sunday 23 September, 2018; 2-4pm; tickets £5.
One of my favourite local festivals, brilliantly diverse – from actors to brewers, artists to thinkers. Join me to consider the rights and wrongs of feathered hats – and to ask why women’s contributions to history are so often overlooked.
Trentham Parish Church, Stoke-on-Trent
Wednesday 19 September, 7pm. £5 entry includes refreshments.
In 1832 a shocking secret was uncovered at the heart of Trentham Hall. Trusted housekeeper Dorothy Doar, who propped up the fabulous lifestyle of the 1st Duke & Duchess of Sutherland, was discovered to be pregnant. Join me at the scene of the crime to hear the thrilling story of Mrs Doar – from her spectacular fall from grace, to her revenge.
Berkswich History Society, Staffordshire.
Tuesday 18 September, 2018, 7.30pm
Behind every work of social history and its writer is often an invisible researcher – in this case, Beryl Holt, Chairman of the Berkswich History Society. I’ll be sharing some of Beryl’s hard-won discoveries in what turned out to be a great detective hunt: rare images, a cast of invisible characters and a political secret at the heart of the RSPB.
Wardown House, Millinery Museum & Gallery, Luton
Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 7.30-9pm, tickets £10.
A forgotten collection of Victorian and Edwardian feathered millinery ornaments were found in the attics of this elegant mansion… Join me for an evening talk on this now vanished trade and its female workforce – and for an exclusive peak inside some very old hatboxes with curator Mary Miah.
Birdfair, Rutland Water Nature Reserve, Leicestershire, Saturday, 18 August, 2018.
You might know your birds – but do you know the extraordinary story behind the RSPB? Introducing Etta, Eliza, Emily and Winifred: the four angry Victorian women protesting against ‘murderous millinery’. They took their ‘feather fight’ all the way up to Parliament – and won. Join me at the ‘Glastonbury of the Birding world’ for the women’s story
I’m on the Nancy Astor Express. We’re whizzing west out of Paddington
Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4
Hear all about Etta Lemon, the ‘Margaret Thatcher’ of the birding world. How did this remarkable character hone her campaigning skills, and why was she stabbed in the back by the men who took over the RSPB? It’s the first item on the programme (later featured on Weekend Woman’s Hour, best of the week).