Wales

Tagged with: women

Posts (15)

  1. Senior web producer, BBC Wales

    The Women's Institute (WI) is a the largest women's volunteer organisation in the UK. The movement originated in Canada in 1897, but crossed the Atlantic in the early 20th century. You may, however, be unaware that the British organisation began in 1915 on Anglesey, north Wales.

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  2. BBC Wales News reports on the incredible secret life of 94-four-year-old Mair Russell Jones. Mair Russell Jones remembers her code-breaking days at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes For over 50 years Mair kept quiet about her wartime work which helped to hasten the end of World War Two b...

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  3. The legend of the Llanddona Witches might not be the best known of Welsh legends but it is one that has a clear origin - well, as clear as you are going to find at this distance in time. Llanddona beach (image by Kristofer Williams) According to the legend a boatload of men and women, ...

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  4. This week saw a very special reunion at Iscoyd Park near Wrexham. Five women, all in their late 80s, gathered in north Wales to celebrate the 70th anniversary of their evacuation to the stately home during World War Two. Catherine Fisher, Sheenagh Bradbury, Sonia Vanular, Marguerite McGuire ...

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  5. Sarah Siddons was the most renowned actress of 18th century Britain. Her performances at Drury Lane and Covent Garden - particularly her portrayal of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth - were so powerful that audiences swooned and often had to be helped out of the theatre in various stages of distress. In the words of essayist William Hazlitt, Sarah Siddons "was tragedy personified." And yet what many people do not realize is the fact that this incomparable tragedienne was born in Wales, in the little market town of Brecon. The date was 5 July 1755, and the place of birth was a room above a small tavern in High Street. These days the place of her birth is known as The Sarah Siddons Inn and the pub sign, now proudly displayed outside the door, is a replica detail of Sir Joshua Reynolds' famous 1784 painting of the actress. When she was born here, however, the pub was called The Shoulder of Mutton, a tiny place that stood in the shadow of the much larger and grander St Mary's Church tower. Sarah was the daughter of the actor-manager Roger Kemble, a man who travelled the country with his small troop of actors - a dozen at the most - entertaining people in the courtyards of country inns or market squares in a way of life that was not far removed from that of Shakespeare's strolling players over a century before. Actors would each play several roles and while their performances were wildly applauded and greatly looked forward to, the travelling companies were certainly not regarded as respectable. Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mr Kemble, was a piece of advice that might have been given to Roger Kemble. It was advice he chose to ignore. Acting was in the blood - Sarah's grandmother was the famous actress Fanny Kemble - and the lure of the footlights was too great, for both father and daughter. As a young child, Sarah was regularly appearing in her father's stage shows. By the time she was a teenager she was an experienced performer. Legend has it that the handsome actor William Siddons, a member of Kemble's troop, proposed to Sarah during one performance at The Bell Inn at Brecon. Whether or not that is true, the announcement caused dismay to her parents who had intended her to marry someone of "greater quality" and Sarah was sent off to work as maid to Lady Greathead. It was a short engagement but it does show the social status of actresses at this time - and also the social connections of the Kemble family. Realising that Sarah was serious, her parents relented and she returned to the company and duly married William. They had seven children, five of them dying young, but the marriage was not a success and eventually culminated in an informal separation. Acting was more important for Sarah than marriage. After a false start when David Garrick booked her to appear at Drury Lane - she did not impress and the manager had to write to tell her that her services were not required - Sarah spent six years touring the provinces in what would now be called rep shows. She returned to the London theatre in 1782 in Garrick's adaptation of The Fatal Marriage. She was an instant success. Over the next 20 years Sarah Siddons became the toast of Drury Lane. Her tall, beautiful figure and stunning good looks made her ideal for the role of Lady Macbeth, a part where she was easily and effortlessly able to show the vicious nature and passion of the woman who led Macbeth to his doom. Her personal favourite role, however, was not the evil Lady Macbeth but Queen Catherine in Shakespeare's little-known play Henry VIII. Sarah Siddons was the most famous actress of her day, at a time when the job of actress was at last beginning to become respectable. She held soirées or receptions where the rich and famous - men such as the Duke of Wellington, Edmund Burke and Samuel Johnson - regularly attended. In 1802 Sarah left Drury Lane for Covent Garden, appearing there to more huge acclaim for a further 10 years. During her years on the stage it was recorded that "Siddons Fever" gripped the theatre going world, a form of mass hysteria with which many modern audiences may relate. Joshua Reynolds painted a famous portrait of her, even signing his name across the hem of her dress on the painting. It could not go on forever, of course, and on 29 June 1812, at the age of 57 years, Sarah retired. During her farewell performance in Macbeth the audience was so moved that they simply refused to allow the play to continue after the sleepwalking scene where Lady Macbeth makes her final appearance. In desperation, the curtain was closed, only to re-open a few minutes later with Sarah in her day clothes, sitting centre stage. She made an emotional speech that lasted for nearly 10 minutes before quitting the stage - not quite for ever as the lure of fame and public adulation were too great, and she did relent to did make the occasional guest appearance over the next few years. Sarah Siddons died on 8 June 1831, renowned and acclaimed as the greatest actress the world had ever seen. Over 5,000 people attended her funeral and internment at St Mary's Cemetery in Paddington. These days there are statues to her, streets named after her and, of course, that pub in Brecon. In 1952 the Sarah Siddons Award was created, thus imitating a fictional award of the same name that had originally been mentioned in the film All About Eve. The award is given each year by the Sarah Siddons Society for outstanding performance in the dramatic arts. Perhaps the most interesting commemoration of the great actress, however, was the naming of an electric locomotive after her. This came in 1923, on an engine built for the Metropolitan Railway - the engine still exists and still runs, the oldest working main line electric locomotive in Britain. Not bad for a young girl from Brecon!

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  6. Allen Raine, the pen name of Anne Adaliza Puddicombe, was one of the best-selling authors of the late Victorian/early Edwardian age. Her books sold millions of copies, not only across Wales but in the whole of Britain, and yet these days she is largely forgotten or ignored. She was born Anne...

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  7. BBC Wales History blogger Phil Carradice joined The One Show's roving reporter Angelica Bellto talk about last invasion of Britain in 1797. It took place in west Wales when 1,400 members of the French Légion Noire landed on the Pencaer Peninsula just outside Fishguard. You can watch Phil's debut on The One Show on the player below. You'll need to scroll the time bar to 16 minutes and 20 seconds into the programme. If you'd like to read about the last invasion of Britain, take a look at Phil's article on the BBC Wales History blog.

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  8. At the end of the 19th century she was known as the Welsh Fasting Girl and regarded as a miracle: the little 12-year-old who had not eaten for over two years. In an age where spirituality clashed with the new teachings of science, she was an undoubted phenomenon, but whether or not her "miracle" was of her own making or something that was forced on her by manipulative parents remains unclear. However you view it, the story of Sarah Jacobs is one of fascinating and tragic proportions. In the end she was killed by her own fame, a fame that, to begin with at least, she seemed more than eager to grasp. Sarah Jacobs was born on 12 May 1857 on a farm just outside the village of Llanfihangel-ar-Arth in Carmarthenshire. Her parents, Evan and Hannah Jacobs, held respectable positions in this rural community, Evan having been a deacon in the local chapel. At the age of nine Sarah fell ill with convulsions of some type. As she recovered she was allowed to sleep in her parents bedroom, a warm and comfortable environment compared to the loft where she would otherwise have spent her days. There was no denying that lying in bed all day, composing poems and reading the Bible, was far preferable to looking after the animals on the farm. Spoiled and cosseted, she began to refuse food. She was genuinely religious but whether her refusal to eat had spiritual undertones or was simply the machinations of a manipulative anorexic has never been clear. She was a self-possessed and bright child and, whatever the cause, she soon began to see the value in what she was doing. Perhaps her parents encouraged her in what was clearly a deception that fooled virtually everybody. Evan and Hannah later claimed that their daughter had had no food whatsoever from 10 October 1867 until her death two years later in December 1869. As the fasting went on Sarah became something of a local celebrity, with people from the village wondering at her refusal to either eat or drink. And so it might have remained if the local vicar had not written to the newspapers about this amazing miracle that was occurring in his parish. Sarah's fame was assured almost overnight. Soon people were coming from far afield, from the English cities as well as Wales, catching the train to Pencader and walking over two miles to the farm to stand gazing in wonder at this young girl who was defying the laws of nature. They brought gifts and money for her, dropping their sovereigns onto the bedspread as she lay, surrounded by flowers, reading and quoting the Bible. Everyone marvelled at her appearance, one visitor remarking: "Her eyes shone like pearls, as alert as my own - - - She had rosy cheeks and looked like a lilly amongst thorns." To live for over two years without food or water is, clearly, impossible but in the Victorian Age people really believed they were witnessing a miracle. How Sarah got her food is not known. Some believe her sister was feeding her, passing titbit's from her mouth whenever they kissed. Others are inclined to the view that Sarah fed herself, climbing out of bed when the rest of the house was asleep. Her body would have become used to reduced amounts of food, and she had often refused to eat her lunch in the past. When at school she had asked her classmates not to tell anyone, her parents in particular. With her case attracting more and more interest, the vicar and the medical profession decided to mount a watch over Sarah. This was to last for a fortnight. Evan Jacob agreed but the watch did not last both day and night and the findings were unclear. As Sarah grew fatter and plumper, reaching full maturity despite her lack of food, people began to suspect fraud. Dr Phillips of Guy's Hospital decided to organise another vigil. Six nurses were brought in to mount a 24 hour watch on the girl. And now Sarah's position became really untenable. If she had previously been able to slip out of bed to find food in the night, now it was impossible. She could not admit to fraud or lying; pride or religious conviction, or even her undiagnosed medical condition, would not let her. And so she simply lay there, waiting to die, as the nurses watched and made notes in their diaries. The experiment was cruel: the nurses were instructed not to treat or help, simply to mount a watch. If Sarah asked for food they were to give it but otherwise they were to do nothing. And, of course, she did not, and the tragedy was to be played out until the bitter end. The Lancet, the main journal of the medical profession, later commented that practitioners everywhere should be "filled with feelings of shame and indignation." After four or five days Sarah lapsed into semi-consciousness and on 12 December 1869 she died. The 'miracle' was over. An autopsy was held at the Eagle Inn in the village and a sticky substance and the bones of a small bird or fish were found in Sarah's stomach. Clearly, she had eaten something. More tragic, however, were the grooves found on her toes - as if she had been trying to open the cap of the stone water bottle that had been placed in her bed, a desperate attempt to get water. Evan and Hannah Jacob were subsequently convicted of manslaughter and spent 12 and six months, respectively, in Swansea prison. No-one could prove that they had deliberately starved and, eventually, killed their daughter but they - like the medical profession, although the doctors and nurses were never prosecuted - were certainly guilty of doing nothing to protect her. Perhaps they really believed they were witnessing a miracle? So, Sarah Jacobs? A genuine miracle or a cynical exercise in fraud? Many people call her Wales' first anorexic - and there are certainly elements of that awful condition in her history. But above all, this is the tragic story of a young girl on the threshold of life, a young life that was, because of her own personality or because of pressure from outside, cut brutally short.

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  9. Tuesday 8 March 2011 is a highly significant date. This is a global centenary, marking the 100th anniversary of the establishment of International Women's Day (IWD). This world-wide celebration of women's rights and, significantly, of the part that women play in society has been held since Ma...

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  10. It's a sad fact that the good, old fashioned public house was, for many years, far less public than most of us ever imagined. Many Welsh pubs used to have 'Men Only' bars Half of the population of Britain was actually banned from many of these establishments, purely on the grounds of ...

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