Escape to the Past

Lilly continues with her Escape series…

I’ve always loved history and the history of science. I like the motto; ‘how do you know where you are going, when you don’t know where you’ve been?’.

These days, I have another important history question; how do I get my hands on the keys to Lucy Worsley’s dressing up box?

Gosh which history though, the brief history of humanity or the history of the universe, all 14 odd billion years? Humans, a rather annoying pin prick in time; just ask the planet right now.

These days we are well served with history on the TV, and it’s not all about Queens and Kings. There are plenty of stories of normal folk. I recommend the work of Ruth Goodman, who through her programmes such as ‘Tudor Farm’. In a very ‘hands on’ way, these shows really illustrate how common people (like me) lived. Ruth likes a bit of dressing up too; in fact I rather think that modern clothes don’t quite suit Ruth.

Another great source of knowledge is the wonderful BBC Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’, which covers a bewildering spectrum of history, philosophical and science subjects. The programme is always interesting, and well worth investing a hour to listen each week. I’ve even grown to love Melvin Bragg!

‘In Our Time’ features many women and uses many female experts in the discussions.

Here are a few of the women who’s stories have captured my imagination.

Ada Lovelace, was an English mathematician and the daughter of the mad, bad and dangerous (no, not me silly!) Lord Byron. Unusually for a woman, Ada was encouraged to study the sciences by her mum. Possibly in an effort to ensure she kept her distance from her dear papa! Through Ada’s friendship with Charles Babbage and knowledge of his amazing mechanical calculating machines, Ada is credited with writing the first ever computer program or algorithm. When I studied engineering, there wasn’t a girl in sight (I certainly wasn’t in sight). I hope the world is changing and we can all be who, and what we want to be. Ada is an inspiration to young women engineers and programmers; she had such amazing insight.

Julian of Norwich (b1343) was a nun in the Middle Ages, who wrote the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman, ‘Revelations of Divine Love’. A ‘local girl’, she lived most of her life Norwich, then the second city in England. During her lifetime, the city suffered the devastating effects of the Black Death (pandemics are not new!) and the Peasants’ Revolt. When aged thirty and so seriously ill she thought she was on her deathbed, Julian received a series of visions of the Passion of Christ. Julian’s statue can be seen on the western front of Norwich Cathedral; why not pop round and say hello?

Vera Brittain (b1893), author, socialist and pacifist. I read Vera’s famous, sad and wonderful book ‘Testament of Youth’ in my teens and along with ‘All Quiet on the West Front’ and ‘Catch 22’, heavily influenced my own political views on war.

Vera served in France as a nurse in the First World War and lost both of her brothers in the fighting. These experiences directed her future career as a writer and political activist. She might not have written, ‘War what is good for, absolutely nothing!’ but I think Vera would agree and so do I.

Dorothy Hodgkin (b1910) was the first and only British woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in any of the three sciences. Whilst born in Egypt, Dorothy spend much of her early life in Beccles.

At Dorothy’s school, girls were not allowed to take science subjects but Dorothy fought this decision and won, later going on the study Chemistry at Oxford. During her research career Dorothy advanced the technique of X-ray crystallography.

Dorothy’s influential discoveries include the confirmation of the structure of penicillin, insulin and vitamin B12, for which she was awarded her Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

On Dorothy’s award, one of the newspaper headlines was ‘Grandmother and housewife, wins Nobel Prize’. What rot, like so many women Dorothy simply raised a family and built a brilliant career!

Caroline Herschel (b1750) was the younger sister of the far better known astronomer William Herschel. Caroline’s contribution like so many other women, has been forgotten but are just as important as those of her older brother.

Born in Hanover Caroline and William eventually settled in Berkshire in 1782 after William was appointed ‘The King’s Astronomer’

Caroline discovered eight comets, and catalogued 560 previously unrecorded stars, and was the first women to be paid for her scientific work. King George III gave her an annual salary of £50. She was the first woman to be awarded the Gold Medal of the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society in 1838. Not bad for a girl!

History continues to be written and I wonder in years time, how will we view 2020? Covid, #BlackLivesMatter, the politics of statues and (our) Trans rights, all momentous events. Generally history is written by the winners, so we shall see who gets to hold the pen.

If you like recent history, why not try the new show on BBC called ‘Mrs America’, a drama based on the feminist struggle in the USA, in the early 70’s. It is great fun and really interesting piece of social history.

See you all soon. Now where did I put my mask?

Love Lilly x


One thought on “Escape to the Past

  1. Hi Lilly,
    Loved this piece about important, but often unknown, women who have made great contributions to world knowledge.
    As to Lucy Worsely’s outfits, try your charm on the BBC Wardrobe Mistress! You will never know if you do not ask 😉
    Take care,
    Love Jenny xx

Comments are closed.