Extraordinary women

We take a look at the lives of a selection of the extraordinary women of Chesterfield.

Women mean business

In the world of business, Chesterfield women have shown their mettle for centuries.

Early accounts of the widow of Richard the Tanner who inherited her husband’s business in 1185, for example, or Sara - widow of Ralf the Clerk - who took responsibility of their land in the 1200s. 

Here, we look at more recent histories of some business minded women who made their mark in Chesterfield.

Elizabeth Short (nee Redfern)


Redfern's Butchers
S E Redfern’s, High Street, Chesterfield, circa 1881


The sign reads 'Purveyor to Her Most Gracious Majesty The Queen’.

When Elizabeth Redfern married William Short, two upwardly mobile Chesterfield families came together. 

In 1894, Elizabeth’s brother (local well-known butcher Samuel E Redfern) died in a tragic passenger train accident and Elizabeth (aged 53) inherited money and property. 

At the time of her death, in 1898, the far longer list of properties she owned clearly shows how enterprising Elizabeth Short had been. Her astute business sense had seen her money invested in purchasing, selling and developing properties all over Chesterfield. Elizabeth’s will provided assets for each of her children, who were shareholders the new firm of S E Redfern Ltd. 

Elizabeth was buried, alongside her husband and brother, at Spital Cemetery.

Information courtesy of J A B Short Ltd.

Amy Wright

When Amy Wright’s husband, William Wright ‘Master Mason and Provisions Dealer’ died in 1872 she immediately took over the business. 

She had lost her eldest daughter, Margaret, and then her youngest daughter, Eleanor only a short time before and, although grief-stricken, Amy didn’t hesitate in maintaining the stone works.  The business was sound and so – like many women who lost their husbands in this period – Amy kept going. 

What is extraordinary about Amy is that she herself became a skilled mason in her own right. An 1883 newspaper article about the new St James’s Church in Temple Normanton details how the font and pulpit ‘are the work of Mrs Amy Wright of Chesterfield, from the designs of the architects.’ Another surviving example of Amy Wright’s work is at the Masonic Hall on Saltergate. 

Amy died in 1893 and was buried with her husband and daughters in Spital Cemetery.


Amy Wright
Advert in Derbyshire Times, 1872


Information courtesy of Lauren Butler, Amy’s great, great granddaughter.

Blanche Eastwood

Blanche Eastwood

Blanche Eastwood is seated at the far right of this image of the Eastwood family, circa 1886. 
George Eastwood (her uncle) is standing at the back and grandfather Edward, the founder of the Wagon Works, is in the foreground.

Image courtesy of Liz Cook, Friends of Spital Cemetery.

Eastwood Wagon Works

Blanche’s Boys. Workers at the Eastwood Wagon Works, circa 1940s. (1993.1179)

Blanche was the niece of George Eastwood owner of the Eastwood Wagon Works and Mayor, three times, and had acted as ‘mayoral consort’ for her uncle from 1905 to 1907.

After the death of George, in 1934, Blanche inherited and continued the operation of the Eastwood Wagon Works.

Blanche was not just admired for her business sense and determination, however, she was also esteemed for her efforts in social welfare.

She was a magistrate and a long serving town councillor. She was a leader in the Girl Guide movement and President of the Ragged School. Blanche was also a member of the Board of Management for the Royal Hospital before the establishment of the NHS in 1948.

Blanche died, aged 90, in 1963.

Marjorie Willet

Marjorie was born and raised in Staveley. When she left school at fourteen, she worked in Madame Lucille’s Milliners, on Glumangate, and quickly becoming manageress of the shop.

In 1931 she married Basil Willet, the owner of Willet’s Sweets. Then Marjorie herself established her own successful business ‘Marjorie Willet Ladies Outfitters’ on Cavendish Street.

In 1971, Marjorie and Basil became Mayor and Mayoress of Chesterfield. Marjorie was passionate about charity and community work throughout her life and worked on the management committee of Scarsdale Hospital.

Marjorie passed away at the age of 108 in 2014. 

The great and the good

Affluent women from important families might have been expected to be satisfied with a life of leisure, but Chesterfield saw determined women use their privileged position to change people’s lives.

Mary Swanwick

Daughter of industrialist and railway pioneer Frederick Swanwick, Mary’s principle cause was education. She was a member of education committees specific to Chesterfield and sat on the Education Committee of Derbyshire County Council. Mary was also a Manager of the Whittington Council of Schools. 

Her devotion to improving social welfare in Chesterfield also saw her steadfast support of projects like the Chesterfield Settlement established by Violet Markham. Old Whittington Infants and Junior School was re-named after Mary Swanwick in the 1930s, to acknowledge her lifelong support of Whittington schools.

Mary Swanwick

Sketch of a young woman by Joseph Syddall. (1986.36)

Mary’s support of individual students changed lives. 

Artist Joseph Syddall, son of a carpenter, simply couldn’t have gone to the Herkomer Institute, Surrey, without her financial support.

Violet Markham

Violet Markham

Portrait of Mayor Violet Markham, 1927.
Photographic Artist 'H G Morgan 7 Cavendish Street Chesterfield'

Violet was born into one of the most important and wealthy of Chesterfield families.

When she was in her twenties, however, she became increasingly aware of the shocking gap between rich and poor demonstrated by the awful conditions of Chesterfield’s slum dwellings. 

In 1902, Violet established the Chesterfield Settlement on Church Lane which aimed to improve social welfare and continued supporting the community until 1957. 

Often using her own money, she ensured the provision of clinics, youth activities and a school for young mothers. 

Violet was on the Chesterfield School Board which brought about reform and greater emphasis on education for all. Later, when Violet was Vice Chairman of the Chesterfield Education Committee, she ensured that Chesterfield surpassed many larger towns across Britain in terms of educational provision.

Lady Olave Baden Powell

In relation to the Girl Guides the name Olave Baden Powell is a famous one. But did you know that Olave was born in Chesterfield?

Olave was the youngest daughter of - owner of Brampton Brewery - Harold Soames and, although her family left Chesterfield when she was about ten, she spent much of her happy childhood here. Olave never forgot her beloved home town.

Aged 23, Olave met and married Robert Baden Powell. When Robert asked his wife to assist his sisters in managing the Girl Guides, young Olave proved herself more than up to the task. She modernised an outdated and staid provision, transforming it into something challenging, character building and far more akin to what her husband had created for the Boy Scouts. 

Hanson Guide Camp

Girl Guide Camp in Derbyshire by artist Phyllis Hanson.

Those who teach 

An area where women have certainly made their mark is in teaching. 

From the late Victorian period and the advent of compulsory primary education, women were central to learning provision. In Chesterfield they were a driving force in schools across the borough, ensuring children had education regardless of class or gender. 

Several local schools were indeed founded to improve opportunities for girls and young woman in Chesterfield.


Teaching Staff and student teachers at Newbold Church of England School, 1904.
Front centre is 16-year-old Jessie Orwin, one of the young trainee teachers. 
(Orwin Collection)

At this time teaching was one vocation that young educated woman could follow, but only until they were married. Many female teachers chose to remain ‘spinsters’ in order to continue their careers.

Chesterfield Girls’ High School and St Helena’s

In the late nineteenth, frustrated with having to send daughters elsewhere to be educated, Chesterfield’s most prominent businessman established a high school for girls in Chesterfield. 

In 1892, Mrs Wilkes and Mrs Stevens became the headmistresses of the new Chesterfield Girls’ High School.

Although initially fee-paying, it became the responsibility of the County Council in 1906.

Chesterfield Girl’s High School changed its name to St Helena’s in 1944. The new name recognised St Helen’s House, the historic site of St Helen’s Well, where the school had been re-located in 1922.

Staff Chesterfield Girls

Staff photograph from Chesterfield Girls' School, circa 1920s. 
Sitting front centre is Miss Munroe, headmistress of Chesterfield Girls’ School from 1913 to 1925.

St Helen's House

Watercolour of Chesterfield Girls’ High School (St Helen’s House) by artist Phyllis Hanson (former pupil), c1927 (1996.1989)

Derby Lane Girls’ School opened in 1908 and was taken over by the Borough in 1911. 

In the 1930s extra funding for the new Domestic Centre, focused on teaching domestic science, cooking and needlework. However, one pupil also wrote how school was more interesting since ‘extra modern lessons such as painting, gardening and algebra have been added’.

Derby Road Girls

Derby Lane Girls’ School, 1930. (1991.1243)

The Violet Markham School, named after a women who’d done so much for education in Chesterfield, opened on Highfield Lane in September 1928. It aimed to provide improved educational conditions for many young girls from Whittington and Newbold and encouraged pupils to stay in school past the usual leaving age of fourteen. 

Robo’s angels

Robinsons, a company at the heart of Chesterfield’s local history, certainly owed much of its success to the labour of a chiefly female workforce. 

But, the women of the Robinson family also boosted the business. Just as determined, motivated and progressive as their male relatives, they ensured Robinsons was an exemplary firm both commercially and socially.

Lint Crimean

Lint workers, Crimean War, 1860s. Before mechanisation, producing lint on the primitive treadle frames must have been back breaking work for women employees.
Image courtesy of Robinsons.

Sixth Floor

A Christmas celebration in the Sanitary Towel Department of  Robinsons’ Six Storey Building, 1946. 
Image courtesy of Robinsons.

During and after the war sanitary towel sales soared. 

Women working in the War Effort were issued with free sanitary protection and so Robinson’s Mene towels became hugely popular thereafter.

Martha Robinson

Martha Robinson

Photograph Portrait of Martha Robinson, c 1860.
Image courtesy of Robinsons.

John Bradbury Robinson started his budding pill box business in 1839. However, as with all new ventures, money troubles hit and in the early 1840s John took a trip to America to gather ideas and look for new markets. 

Unfortunately, John didn’t mention this scheme to his wife, Martha. She was left to hold the fort in Chesterfield and face up to the task of keeping both business and family afloat. 

Would Robinsons’ have survived the ‘Hungry Forties’ without this extraordinary woman? Probably not.

Martha, with help from her father in law and brother in law, was the reason Robinsons weathered the storm. Without her determination, devotion and dedication it may have all foundered and Chesterfield’s history would have been very different.

Florence Robinson

Florence Robinson

Portrait of Florence Robinson as Mayor, 1946.
Image courtesy of Robinsons.

Miss Florence Robinson, granddaughter of Martha, was born in 1888. 

After attending school in both Chesterfield and London, she began her career as a nurse, serving throughout the First World War at a Military Hospital in London. 

After the war she returned to Chesterfield and took up her post as head of Robinson’s Health and Welfare Department. She transformed it into a formative centre for young women. It trained young girls for their roles at Robinsons but also taught health, safety and personal hygiene.

She spent the next 40 years looking after the employees of Robinsons’ and ensuring that new young staff developed within the firm. 

One of the best-known clubs, bringing Robinson workers together and fostering talent, was the Robinson Operatic Society founded by Florence in 1922. Florence was a driving force behind sports clubs. She also organised the annual week at Abergele, giving young workers perhaps their first seaside holiday.

In 1939 Florence became a director of the company and in 1946, when Florence was elected Mayor, the women at Robinsons presented her with a cameo brooch as a symbol of their love and affection for this special lady. Florence passed away in 1976.

War works

In the twentieth century Britain was hit by the full force of two world wars and the conscription of men resulted in a shortage of labour which could only be filled by those left behind – women. 

In Chesterfield, the war effort would prove that woman could not only do ‘men’s work’ but that they often excelled in these roles. 

World War 1

Munitions Workers

Munitions workers at Stonegravels, Chesterfield circa 1916.

The introduction of conscription (compulsory military service) for men in 1916 resulted in women being urgently recruited into typically men’s roles and into munitions production.

Munitions Whittington Workers

Munitions workers outside the munition’s factory of the Patent Electric Shot Firing Co, circa 1917. (1994.1657)

Between 1917 and 1918, British munitions factories were the largest single employer of women workers.

Susannah Williams

Born in Retford, Nottinghamshire, in 1872, Susannah moved to Chesterfield in 1895. 

After the death of her husband in 1910, Susannah lived in Spital with her three children.

When WW1 broke out, Susannah was one of the many Chesterfield women who stepped into ‘men’s’ roles, becoming forewoman at the Staveley Coal and Iron Company. 

She walked from Spital to Staveley every morning, working long days managing teams of women munitions workers.

After the war, like so many women, Susannah was replaced by a man. 

She later became a housekeeper for the Markham family.

Susannah passed away at the age of 84 in 1956 and is buried at Spital cemetery.

World War 2

The Women of Staveley Works

In WW2, it took fifteen women working in factories to keep one British soldier fighting at the front. 

When British industry focused on wartime production, Chesterfield played an important role. 

The Devonshire Works at Staveley produced thousands of gun barrels and later anti-tank guns.

Who were the workforce producing munitions to meet such demand? Women.

Rose Bond from Staveley, for example, worked in Westminster until the War, then returned and worked at Staveley Works in Electrical Welding. Lily Hibbard was employed in the challenging role of welding together tanks. Rose, Lily and thousands of women like them nationwide were vital to the war effort of WW2. 

Mildred Stanley (nee Blunt)

Mildred Stanley

Mildred Stanley, circa 1950.
Courtesy of Mildred Stanley and Abi Makin. 

Mildred was born in 1924 and brought up in Staveley. 

Mildred started work at the age of fourteen in early 1939. Her first job was at Pearson’s Pottery, Whittington, then later at Sheepbridge Works as part of the War Effort. 

At Sheepbridge, Mildred undertook the top-secret work of polishing ‘specimens’ - delicate glass cylinders - for use in the construction of fighter planes. 

Shortly after, Mildred moved to munitions production at Staveley Works. Initially, she worked in the foundry; very hot and unpleasant. Mildred was also trained to drive cranes; loading and unloading pipes and cylinders. At Staveley, she was the only woman crane driver working in this typically male role.

Connie Kee

Connie Kee

Connie Kee, circa 1940s.
Courtesy of David Kee

Connie was born in 1913 and began work at the age of fourteen at Robinsons. Like many Chesterfield women Connie watched her husband go off to fight in the Second World War. 

Sadly, whilst he was away, Connie lost her first baby son, Malcolm, in 1940. Her doctor advised that returning to work quickly would help. Connie returned to Robinsons until 1942 but then took up a position at Plowright’s. Connie became a burner, using an oxyacetylene cutter to cut armoured plating for tanks.

She also operated the crane, moving metal plates around the factory bay. One day, seeing the men in the bay not working hard enough, she staged her own personal protest. She refused to operate the crane, sitting on the trap door to stop anyone getting in, until the men below ‘worked as hard as her husband, fighting in Europe’.

In public service

Chesterfield’s tram girls

When conscription came into full force in 1916, male transport staff were quickly absorbed into the armed forces. Chesterfield Tram Corporation, like others throughout Britain, decided to recruit women.

By 1917, women were not only conductors but forming full crews operating 18 trams in the borough. 

1918-19, the end of WW1 saw the numbers of female staff dwindle as male staff came home. In other parts of Britain tram girls had begun to receive notice to say they were no longer required.

In Chesterfield, a collision in 1920 (though the drivers were never named as women) was used as an excuse for the Corporation to ‘release the remaining female tram drivers…as soon as possible.’

At the request of the transport union, all other female staff, working as conductors, were replaced by male staff by 1922.

Women in Blue

In the early twentieth century women employed to assist the police were generally the wives of officers. Increasingly, after 1910 and especially during WW1, women police volunteer organisations were formed. From these beginnings, Britain’s first woman police constable, Edith Smith, was appointed in Grantham in 1915. 

Between 1920 and 1930, policewomen or matrons became a part of a local forces and WW2 far increased the appointment of young women constables in the WAPC.

Jessie Webster

Jessie Webster
Jessie Webster, circa 1925

Derbyshire’s first policewoman, Jessie Webster, joined Chesterfield Borough Police in 1925. 

Jessie’s chief duties at this time involved assisting with incidents involving women and children. She was also employed by Sheffield City Police to escort female prisoners.

Jessie Webster had a real passion for first aid and established the Chesterfield Women’s Ambulance Class. 

She retired from the force in 1940 and sadly died soon afterwards.

Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps

During WW2, the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps (WAPC) was founded as part of the war effort; providing typists, administrators and drivers to support the police force. 

In Chesterfield there were 21 WAPC officers between 1938-45. A number of these women went on to join the police force after the war. 

WAPC Badge

WAPC badge of Emily Mary Dudley. (1998.465)

Margaret Bacon (nee Godley)

Margaret Bacon

Margaret Godley, circa 1939.

Margaret Godley, from Bolsover, joined Chesterfield Borough Constabulary as a Junior Clerk in 1936. She referred to herself as ‘one girl among 150 menfolk’.

When P W C Jessie Webster was taken ill in 1938, the Chief Constable wrote to the Home Office to request Margaret (aged 18) be made Acting Police Woman. Permission was granted, but Margaret was deemed too young to hold ‘power of arrest’. 

During WW2 Margaret attained her Home Nursing Certificate and Anti-Gas Training as well as being commended for an arrest made in 1940.

Margaret left the force in April 1945.


Policewoman R W Mellor, back row third from right, joined Derbyshire Constabulary in 1952. She was stationed at Chesterfield, Alfreton and Ripley and retired from the force in 1962. (1994.982)

Saving Lives

Working in healthcare has been a role that women have filled throughout history. 

From treatment and healing, to caring and supporting, to delivering babies, in Chesterfield (as elsewhere) women have all too often been unsung heroes, even though their impact has been immeasurable.

Markham Ward

Nurses and patients on Markham Ward, Chesterfield Hospital, 1910. 
By 1908 the original hospital had been developed to include a nurses’ home between Holywell Street and Infirmary Road. (1997.322)

Children's Ward

Nurses and young patients at Chesterfield Hospital Children's Ward, 1909. In 1922, the Maternity and Infant’s Hospital was opened close to the main hospital. The same year, Dr Helen Hodge became Assistant Medical Officer of Health and made significant improvements for Maternity Care and Child Health and Welfare in the Borough. (1992.179)

Anne Veronica Fletcher

Anne Veronica was born into a mining family in Chesterfield. 

At the age of 20 she went to train as a nurse in Bradford and in March 1915 Anne joined the Territorial Nursing Force and was posted to East Leeds War Hospital.

She served there until June 1917 tending to the most serious cases of wounded soldiers. During a visit by King George V, Anne was complimented on her ‘skilful bandaging’. 

In early 1917, Anne was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She left Leeds and was admitted to Walton Sanatorium in June 1917. In July 1917 Anne Veronica, already seriously ill, was awarded the Silver War Badge, given to personnel honourably discharged from military service.  

She died, aged 27, at home in Spital Gardens in March 1918. In 2011 a request that Anne’s name should be added to the CWGC Debt of Honour Roll was accepted.

Marjorie Cowley (Babs)

Born 1891 in Newbold, trained to be a Red Cross nurse and served in the latter part of WW1. 

Whilst on the hospital ship ‘Newhaven’ she met Australian soldier Howard Whitall, who was suffering from Trench Fever and on his way to Grange Hospital in Southport. After a whirlwind romance Babs and Howard married in February 1918 and later moved to Sydney. 

Information courtesy of Janet Murphy.

Nurse Whitmore

District midwife at Sheepbridge, circa 1920s.

Nurse Whitmore delivered hundreds of babies in Sheepbridge, Old Whittington and Apperknowle. 

She touched the lives of many in Chesterfield in her role as district midwife from 1918 to 1930s.

Premature Ward Scarsdale

Two nurses watch over a new-born baby in the Premature Ward of Scarsdale Maternity Hospital. (1989.846)

Scarsdale Hospital, which opened in 1904, saw countless wonderful doctors, nurses and midwives bring new life into Chesterfield. The hospital closed in 2001.

Creative Types

With regard to the arts, music and literature, Chesterfield has certainly produced a number of gifted women. 

Gladys Jones

Gladys Jones (pen name Gwen John) – actress, playwright and biographer – spent her young life at Spital Lodge, Chesterfield.

Gladys was the sister of suffragette and activist Winifred Jones and fully supported the cause of women’s suffrage. 

In 1912 the Derbyshire Courier carried an article with the headline Chesterfield Lady’s Banned Play which reported that Gladys’ play Edge o’ Dark had been closed down because it was ‘the work of a suffragist’. 

Gladys, who later moved to London, would continue to promote women in many areas, most especially in the arts. She died in 1953 and was buried, alongside her sister, in Old Brampton.


Ornate oriental fan that belonged to Gladys Jones. Chesterfield Museum holds a beautiful collection of clothes and accessories once owned by Gladys which was donated to the museum in 1989. (1989.716)

Katherine Bacon

Katherine Bacon, the famous concert pianist, was born in Chesterfield in 1896. At four she began learning piano with a family friend and by the age of nine she was showing prodigious talent. 

After attending the concert of a young pianist, Arthur Newstead, she was asked to play for him, and this brief meeting started her weekly lessons with Newstead in London.

In 1914 Katherine went to study in Baltimore, where Newstead had accepted a job at the Peabody Conservatory. After her graduation from the conservatory in 1916, Bacon and Newstead married and the couple moved to New York. 

In the 1920s, Katherine became extremely well known. She played Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic and also played with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Later in life she taught at the world-famous Juilliard School of Music in New York and toured Europe and the Far East.

Phyllis Hanson

Phyllis was born in 1910, daughter of Fred Hanson who owned a saddlery and leather goods business. She was trained to work in the shop by her father and took over in 1952 when Fred died, continuing with the shop until 1965. 

Locally, Phyllis was perhaps most well known as an artist. Her father – who wanted her to continue the saddlery business – had not allowed her to attend art school but Phyllis constantly produced paintings, drawings and artworks. 

Her work focuses on everyday life in Chesterfield and Derbyshire landscapes. Phyllis was a familiar face in Chesterfield especially on the Market, selling produce from her allotment. She passed away in 1994.

P Hanson

Photograph of Phyllis Hanson with friends on steps of Chesterfield Girls’ High School. Written on the reverse, ''Happy Days'' (1996.2144)

Dorothy Webster

Miss Dorothy Webster was an artist, designer and illustrator from Chesterfield, who worked mainly during the 1920s and 1930s from her home and studio at 86 Saltergate.

She was the daughter of Mr A E Webster, the works manager of Robinsons’ Portland Works, and she was a student of Chesterfield School of Art.

In 1928, Dorothy won a competition to have her designs used by the L M and Scottish Railway Company. She went on to receive commissions for advertising art and worked for well-known companies in London and throughout Britain; including Robinsons of Chesterfield in their popular quarterly magazine, The Link.

Dorothy Webster

Watercolour of Creswell Crags. (1993.997)

Who Says Girls Can’t Play?

Some very famous sports teams have their origins in fierce but friendly competitions between local companies. 

It’s not surprising, therefore, that Chesterfield has also seen its working women come together in every kind of sporting activity and even make history.

Tug of War

Tug of War Champions – The Weavers! circa 1890s
Image courtesy of Robinsons

Robinsons Swimming

Robinsons’ Works Swimming Club. Image from The Link June 1929. 
Robinsons’ Walton Dam provided an area for sporting and leisure activities for staff. (1989.1196)

During WW1 conscription not only took men out of working and community life, it also swallowed up sports teams.

The popularity of a ladies’ football match between Bryan Donkins and the Tube Works on New Year’s Day 1917 proved there was an appetite for women’s football.

A tournament was therefore organised between local company teams. The proceeds of which would go to the Chesterfield Hospital and to soldier and sailor comfort funds. 

The first round saw Robinsons’ Wheatbridge Mills soundly beat Markham and Co 14-0. The following week Robinsons’ Holmebrook Works defeated Bryan Donkins with a very close 2-1 result. 

The all Robinsons final - Wheatbridge against Holmebrook – played on Easter Saturday 1917, saw Wheatbridge storm to a 3-1 victory. The match attracted an estimated 4,000 spectators and about £246 was raised. 

During the summer of 1917, Wheatbridge became champions of Derbyshire and their star player, Florrie Green, netted 25 goals. The following year Wheatbridge and Holmebrook came together for a match against the Mid Derbyshire Munitions Workers. 

After 1918, however, women’s football in Chesterfield swiftly declined with the return of local men from the front. 

Football Medal

Ladies Football Competition Chesterfield. runners up badge, 1916-17. (1989.532)

Chesterfield saw ladies’ football teams come to the fore again in the 1930s and community matches were also played in the 1950s and 60s. 

Girl's Cricket Club

Robinson’s The Link proudly reports the increase in membership of the Girls Cricket Club, meaning a second eleven. 
The fixture list includes matches against women’s teams from other Chesterfield companies, as well as teams from Sheffield and Nottingham, June 1934. (1989.1204)

Pioneers in politics

‘Democracy cannot flourish on flattery and dope. It needs at all times the antiseptic of courage and truth’ - Violet Markham.

The motto of the suffragettes – Deeds Not Words – is clearly demonstrated in the female political campaigners Chesterfield has produced. 

Women of courage and truth, dedication and determination, who aimed to change the world for the better and succeeded.

Emma Miller

Born Emma Holmes in Chesterfield, 1839, Emma Miller would go on to be revered in Australia as a woman who improved conditions for the working classes and played a central role in gaining the vote for women in Queensland in 1902.

Emma’s father, Daniel Holmes, was a shoemaker in Chesterfield. He was also a Chartist, campaigning for the rights of working people 1840s. Daniel was hugely influential on the politics of his daughter, who later campaigned for worker’s rights in Chesterfield and Manchester. 

Emma emigrated to Australia in 1878 and, after the death of her second husband, became increasingly involved in politics. She was a founder member of the Australian Labour Federation and a strong voice championing women’s rights. When Emma died in 1917, she was mourned by thousands who considered her the ‘Mother of the Australian Labour Movement.’

Violet Markham

Determined to improve social welfare for all, Violet was a force to be reckoned who wanted to see financial support going to those who needed it most. As the first female member of the Chesterfield School Board, for example, she ensured that funding for schools trebled.

In 1917, for her work in social welfare, she became the first woman to be awarded the Companion of Honour.

With regards to votes for women, Violet initially campaigned against women’s suffrage, arguing that women should focus on their families and not politics.  However, her mind was soon changed by seeing the power of women as a working and political force during WW1.

In the 1918 General Election, Violet stood as an Independent Liberal candidate for Mansfield. She later became the first female councillor in Chesterfield Borough and was then elected first female Mayor of Chesterfield in 1927/28. 

During the next thirty years Violet continued to have political influence in her home town and nationally. 

Violet died in 1959. Her memorial service, held in London, was attended by more than a thousand people.

Violet Markham

Portrait of Mayor Violet Markham, 1927. 
Photographic Artist 'H G Morgan 7 Cavendish Street Chesterfield'

Winifred Jones, Suffragette


Suffragette meeting, Market Place , Chesterfield, June 1910

At the turn of the twentieth century the campaign for women’s suffrage was gathering support and momentum and

Winifred Jones, from Spital Lodge, Chesterfield, was an enthusiastic suffragette. 

In October 1909, Winifred threw a stone through a window of the Newcastle Palace Theatre during a visit of Prime Minister Lloyd George. She was charged and sentenced to 14 days with hard labour in Newcastle Jail. The following November, Winifred found herself in jail again for ‘wilful damage of 10 Downing Street’.

In June 1910, Winifred had been in Chesterfield to chair a meeting addressed by famous suffragette Adela Pankhurst. Pankhurst argued that many women worked for wages and paid taxes and quoted a former Prime Minister Gladstone by saying that ‘taxation without representation was legalised robbery’. It was a powerful message which gained much local support. 

After the early 1910s, Winifred didn’t return to Chesterfield. She lived with her mother and sister in London and Oxfordshire. Winifred was, however, buried in the family vault in Old Brampton.

Barbara Castle   

Chesterfield can be proud to be the birthplace of one of the most famous British politicians of the twentieth century. 

Barbara Betts, daughter of Annie and Frank, was born at 67 Derby Road in October 1910. When Barbara was twelve, her family moved to Bradford. Influenced by her parents - her father was editor of the local Independent Labour Party journal and her mother was a local councillor – Barbara became passionate about politics. 

After attending grammar school and Oxford University, she became a journalist and then, in 1945, she was elected as Labour MP for Blackburn. 

During her career, Barbara made significant improvements, especially for women. As Minister for Transport, in the 1960s, she introduced ground breaking safety measures. As Secretary of State for Employment, she introduced the Equal Pay Act and later, in 1974, as Secretary of State for Social Services, she ensured Child Benefit was paid directly to mothers. 

Since her death in 2002, she’s been named as one of ‘Labour’s Greatest Heroes’ (by the Guardian newspaper) and listed as one of the most influential women of the last seventy years.

Last updated on 01/02/2024