LADIES first

One was the first fe­male lord mayor in the coun­try, an­other was a refugee, an­other the first in Bri­tain to choose a con­sort with Down’s Syn­drome. The sto­ries of Nor­wich’s fe­male lord may­ors are told in a new book, writes ROWAN MAN­TELL

EDP Norfolk - - Books -

WHEN Ethel Col­man be­came Nor­wich’s first fe­male lord mayor, she also be­came the first woman in Bri­tain to be a lord mayor. She was fol­lowed by women with back sto­ries in­clud­ing ex­tremes of wealth and of poverty, and of war, es­cape, loss, tri­umph and decades of pub­lic ser­vice. Seven­teen re­mark­able women, who have each been Lord Mayor of Nor­wich, are cel­e­brated in a new book, launched this month.

The Lady Lord May­ors of Nor­wich, by Phyl­l­ida Scrivens, traces the fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries of all the women who been Lord Mayor of the city, from Ethel Col­man in 1923 to Mar­ion Maxwell in 2016.

In the year in which the na­tion cel­e­brates the cen­te­nary of women win­ning the vote Phyl­l­ida tells the sto­ries of Nor­wich’s fe­male first cit­i­zens. The sec­ond lady Lord Mayor, in 1930, was Ma­bel Clark­son, elected as Nor­wich’s first fe­male coun­cil­lor in 1913, cham­pi­oning free school meals for needy chil­dren, a liv­ing wage and de­cent pen­sions.

Phyl­l­ida in­tro­duces the war refugee from Eastern Europe, the am­a­teur ac­tress lord mayor, the Scot from the Glas­gow ship­yards, the hair­dresser lord mayor, the prison gover­nor’s wife and Felic­ity Hart­ley, lord mayor in 2006, who chose her son Christo­pher, who has Down’s Syn­drome, to be her con­sort. Felic­ity told Phyl­l­ida how meet­ing so many dif­fer­ent peo­ple dur­ing that year helped build Christo­pher’s con­fi­dence.

As she re­searched the lives of Nor­wich’s fe­male lord may­ors Phyl­l­ida even man­aged to track down a baby boy, fos­tered more than 60 years ago by 1983 Lord Mayor, Bar­bara Steven­son. “The fam­ily had grown fond of the baby and Bar­bara was heart-bro­ken when his mother claimed him back,” said Phyl­l­ida.

“My fear is that civic roles will soon be a thing of the past, con­sid­ered ir­rel­e­vant in a mod­ern world”

“They had had no con­tact or in­for­ma­tion on the baby ever since and of­ten won­dered what had be­come of him.” She traced him to Aus­tralia where he re­mem­bered his mum telling him about the kindly fam­ily who fos­tered him while she was ill.

Czech-born Va­lerie Gutts­man, Lord Mayor in 1979, had es­caped from Nazi-oc­cu­pied Europe and Phyl­l­ida found her de­tailed first­hand ac­counts in the Nor­folk Record Of­fice. They echoed themes from Phyl­l­ida’s pre­vi­ous book, which told the story of for­mer Sher­iff of Nor­wich Joe Stir­ling and his re­mark­able child­hood es­cape from Nazi Ger­many.

“Through­out my re­search I be­came in­creas­ingly aware of the com­mon threads shared by each Lord Mayor,” said Phyl­l­ida. “These in­clude the civic coach (now sadly moth­balled in Strangers’ Hall), the colour­ful and en­er­getic Whif­flers along with Snap The Dragon, the price­less re­galia, fur robes and, of course, the 17th cen­tury may­oral chain, now re­placed by a mod­ern ver­sion, a con­tro­ver­sial but un­doubt­edly more prac­ti­cal op­tion.

“It quickly be­came ap­par­ent that with lo­cal gov­ern­ment cuts and re­duc­ing pub­lic in­ter­est in civic life, the more ex­trav­a­gant trap­pings of hold­ing high of­fice are now on the way out. Gone are the coach, the lim­ou­sines, the chauf­feurs, the sit-down ban­quet on Mayor-Mak­ing Day and the for­mal ‘At Home’ event at Nor­wich Cas­tle.

“My fear is that civic roles will soon be a thing of the past, con­sid­ered ir­rel­e­vant in a mod­ern world.”

The fore­word for Phyl­l­ida’s lat­est book is writ­ten by Pa­tri­cia Hol­lis, for­mer leader of Nor­wich City Coun­cil and now Baroness Hol­lis of Heigham, who said: “Nor­wich has long been a rad­i­cal city, cel­e­brat­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion (with a may­pole), of­fer­ing safe space to chartists, non­con­formists, and refugees from the county and the con­ti­nent; and proud of its em­i­nent women, drawn from lead­ing lib­eral Nor­wich fam­i­lies and prom­i­nent in 19th cen­tury pro­gres­sive causes – anti-slav­ery and women’s suf­frage.”

“Some women lob­bied to be Lord Mayor, this be­ing the height of their am­bi­tion; oth­ers were sur­prised and de­lighted to be of­fered it. All were pro­foundly aware that as the city’s First Ci­ti­zen, they in­her­ited cen­turies of cer­e­mony and dig­nity, their names join­ing may­ors dat­ing back to 1403 on City Hall’s mar­ble wall.”

Phyl­l­ida will be talk­ing about her book, and the re­search which went into it, at the Nor­folk Record Of­fice on Thurs­day, March 8, and at Yamouth’s Time and Tide Mu­seum on Fri­day, March 9. “I am look­ing for­ward to shar­ing the sto­ries of these 17 re­mark­able ladies dur­ing 2018, the cen­te­nary year of women first be­ing given the vote,” said Phyl­l­ida.

Ruth Hardy, Lord Mayor 1950-51 wel­com­ing Queen Eliz­a­beth to the Assem­bly House in 1951. Her daugh­ter and of­fi­cial con­sort Mar­ion Hardy is in the back­ground

The Civic Coach car­ry­ing Lord Mayor Jenny Lay to the Civic Ser­vice at the Cathe­dral 2011

Ethel Col­man

The Lady Lord May­ors ofNor­wich 1923-2017, by Phyl­l­ida Scrivens, is pub­lished by Pen and Sword books for £12.99.It will be launched in the Pantry Restau­rant, Jar­rold at 6.30pm, on Thurs­day, March 1, in the pres­ence of the cur­rent Lord Mayor and Sher­iff and sev­eral for­mer lady Lord May­ors. Tick­ets, £5 from jar­rold.co.uk

Above (top to bot­tom): Ju­dith Lub­bock; Brenda Arthur was Lord Mayor of Nor­wich in 2005; Felic­ity Hart­ley and her son and of­fi­cial con­sort Christo­pher

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