Look who’s coming to dinner
Lesley compiles a guest list of inspirational women
WOMEN have been making the news a lot recently and I’ve been asked several times which women have inspired me. Well there have been so many here in the county that I thought I would play the dinner party game this month and choose Suffolk women, past or present, who I would love to invite round for an evening together. I think I might need a big dinner table.
The Garrett sisters, Millicent and Elizabeth must both be there. It’s 100 years since some women first got the vote and both the Garrett sisters played major roles in the suffrage movement. Dame Millicent Fawcett, as she became, campaigned tirelessly for women to have the vote (see page 16), and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson put suffrage into action. She was the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon, and when she became mayor of Aldeburgh she was the first woman mayor in the UK. It would be fascinating to hear what they think of women’s roles today.
We’d have to have organic veg on the menu because I would also invite Lady Eve Balfour, one of the founders of the organic movement, a co-founder and first president of the Soil Association in 1946. She and her sister used inheritance money to buy a farm in Haughley Green where she launched the Haughley experiment, a comparison of conventional and organic farming. Sadly Eve Balfour died in the 1980s, but I would have loved to invite her to be one of my BBC Radio Suffolk afternoon sofa guests.
At dinner I would sit her next to a woman who has campaigned for modern farmers, Lady Cranbrook. She is officially Caroline, Countess of Cranbrook having married the Earl of Cranbrook in 1976. For the first three years of their marriage they lived in the Malaya jungle, and then came to the family farm and estate at Great Glemham, which Lady Cranbrook learned to run, at the same time as bringing up her family. She has won awards for campaigning for the local food industry, including fighting to keep local abattoirs operating. She is one of the founders of the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival, so our dinner would definitely be locally sourced.
I would also set a place for Flora Sandes, who was the only British woman to serve as a soldier in WW1. Her father was a vicar and they moved to Suffolk when she was nine. At the beginning of the war Flora signed up as an ambulance volunteer and travelled to the kingdom of Serbia, where she was able to enrol in their army. She ended up promoted to captain and was decorated with seven medals. Flora returned to Suffolk in her later years and I’ve spoken to people who remember seeing her driving around in her bath chair. She died in 1956 but what amazing tales she would have to tell.
I’d love to chat to Peggy Cole again. She would make a great addition to my soirée. Peggy became well known after starring in the film, Akenfield, and turning her council house garden into a major attraction. She was an ordinary Suffolk gal who got to do some extraordinary things, and as well as her stories of old Suffolk ways and folklore she would have some traditional local recipes to cook up for our dinner. She could help Eliza Acton with the menu. Eliza grew up in Suffolk at the turn of the 19th century and was probably the Delia Smith of her day. She wrote the very first cook book aimed at households, Modern Cookery for Private Families. Apparently it included one of the first recipes for Brussels sprouts!
Finally, there is one more person I’d invite – my mum. There is lots of talk of equality and opportunity for women, which I totally back, but I would also make a plea that we don’t forget what an important role being a mother is. Mums are shaping our future by bringing up their children, and along with all the other amazing women my mum has been my inspiration. She taught me the values in life and put up with my moods. She let me run free but kept me safe, and has given me ambition but kept me grounded. If I am ever worried my mum is the first person I go to for advice. We have shopped and laughed together, and I like to think I’ve inherited her lovely smile. I shall give her pride of place at the head of the table.
What a memorable evening that would be. Who would you invite? Let me know!
Above top: Millicent Fawcett Above middle:
Lady Caroline Cranbrook Above bottom:
Lesley and her mum, Ann Dolphin