Who was the first British woman to start a campaign group for votes for women?

Lydia Becker

Everyone must have heard of Margaret Thatcher the first female British Prime Minister.

And probably Nancy Astor, the first female British Member of Parliament to take her seat in the House of Commons.

And Emmeline Pankhurst, the woman who lead the suffragettes in their campaign to get votes for women.

But what about Lydia Becker?

She has her place in history too as a fierce advocate for women to have the right to vote and the first British woman to organise a campaigning group to achieve it.

Lydia Becker was born in Manchester in 1827. She was the oldest child of a large, well-to-do family with fifteen siblings. Her grandfather was a German emigrant and her father, Hannibal Becker, was a manufacturer of vitriol and other chemicals.

Lydia’s mother died in 1855 and Lydia had to take responsibility for the upbringing of her younger siblings.

In 1871, aged forty four, she was running her father’s home assisted by a cook and a housemaid.

Lydia was well educated and developed an aptitude for botany. She gained recognition for her collection of local dried plants and entered into correspondence with Charles Darwin about them. She wrote a beginner’s guide to Botany which was published in 1868.

She started a scientific group for women in Manchester but her life took a new direction after she attended a lecture about women’s suffrage. Lydia wrote a pamphlet about votes for women and teamed up with Emily Davies and Elizabeth Wolstenholme to form the Manchester Women’s Suffrage Committee reputedly the first campaigning organisation for votes for women.

Lydia and her fellow suffragists were up against huge opposition. This is demonstrated in the final verse of an “Ode to Lydia Becker” published in the Whitehaven Advertiser in 1868.

In polling booth for town or shire
No marriageable maidens linger
Or widows, who again aspire
To have a ring put on their finger
For men who want good wives they know
Would rove from Manchester to Mecca
Before they’d hand or heart bestow
On thy disciples, Lydia Becker.

In 1870, Lydia started a magazine, the Women’s Suffrage Journal.

Lydia committed herself to achieving the vote for women through peaceful means and she worked tirelessly on campaigns, speeches and her writing.

One meeting where Lydia spoke was attended by a teenage Emmeline Pankhurst who was at her first suffrage meeting.

In 1889 Lydia became unwell and went to the French spa town of Aix-les Bains to take the waters but she contracted diphtheria and died in Geneva in 1890.

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Who was the first British woman jockey?

female jockey

In 1971 the Jockey Club reluctantly took the decision to allow women jockeys to race on British race courses.

The Club approved a series of amateur, all women races on the flat as a result of a female riders campaign started by Mrs. Judy Goodhew, of Longfield in Kent.

Hayley Turner, born in 1983, was the first British woman to have a successful career as a professional jockey. Part of her achievement was to become, in 2008, the first woman to ride one hundred UK Flat race winners during a single year. She retired from professional horse racing in 2015.

However, many years previously, a notorious woman named Alicia Meynell scandalised the racing fraternity when she competed, for money, against male riders with large amounts of gambling on the outcome of her race.

Alicia was known at the time as Mrs Thornton because she lived with a Colonel Thornton even though he was inconveniently married to someone else. The colonel, although renowned as a sportsman of the hunting-shooting-fishing variety, had lost much of his fortune and sought to recover some of his money by betting on Alicia’s success in the race.

Unfortunately, Alicia lost her first race of four miles against her brother-in-law, Captain William Flint, at the Knavesmire in York in 1804. The stakes were a thousand guineas and it was reported that over £200,000 was gambled on the outcome of the race although this has probably been exaggerated with the passing of time!

The twenty two year old Alicia rode side-saddle and wore a leopard coloured dress with blue sleeves and a blue cap. She was in the lead for most of the race but was overtaken by the Captain three quarters of the way round the course.

The following year Alicia tried again, this time with more success. In the first race her opponent, Mr Bromford, withdrew from the race at short notice so all the winnings were given to Alicia and Colonel Thornton.

The second race was against Frank Buckle, the top jockey of his day who in a fifty year career won the Derby five times, the Oaks nine times and the St Leger twice. He retired in 1831 and in 1805 was at the peak of his career.

Alicia weighed in at 9st 6lbs against Frank’s 13st 6lbs. She again rode side-saddle and this time wore cap, waistcoat and shoes in purple, a yellow skirt and embroidered stockings.

Right from the start Alicia took the lead and despite several attempts by Buckle she held on, riding to a win amid great appreciation of her horsemanship.

Alicia never raced again and appears to have separated from Colonel Thornton who continued to engage in disputes with the brother-in-law, Captain Flint. Flint spent time in the debtors’ prison and Thornton sold up his property and re-branded himself as the Prince de Chambord going off to live in France. Flint died in York of prussic acid poisoning which he was using to self-medicate for an asthma attack. And, according to History and other thoughts, Alicia eloped with a soldier in 1806 and was never heard of again.

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Gangs of New York

New York

visited New York in 1911

a few days ago

and went back to YouTube to see what else I could find.

This clip from 1931 shows a different side to living in the city.

Gangsters not just in the movies!

And this is Al Capone’s cell in Eastern State penitentiary.

Al Capone
image credit: By Mike Graham from Portland, USA (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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Interesting photo collection from pre-NHS days


The archive at Historic England has found a collection of 4000 photographs of nurses in pre-NHS days.

Search MED01/ for the whole collection or MED01 egBrighton for a specific place to see if there are any photos from a hospital near you.

This is my favourite photo so far. Click on the image for an enlargement.


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Rare old film clips of Queen Victoria


According to the accompanying notes, this film of Queen Victoria visiting Dublin was made on this day, April 4th 1900.

The film is a bit blurry in places and it’s quite difficult to see Her Majesty but the crowds and accompanying cavalry are very clear.

The oldest film of Queen Victoria was made at Balmoral in 1896.

This clip shows Queen Victoria getting out of a carriage on arrival at a garden party in 1898.

It’s in medium close-up and, after several seconds of film  of the horses’ rears, Victoria is clearly visible. After the Queen has gone out of shot, the remainder of the film is of the guests at the garden party. There are some lovely fashions including parasols.

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