International Women's Day: The 'forgotten' female botanical artist from Wakefield's past who will receive blue plaque

A project working to unearth stories of influential women from Wakefield’s past has a series of events for International Women’s Day. Laura Reid reports.

When 19th century Wakefield botanical artist and author Eliza Gleadall is recognised with a blue plaque for International Women’s Day, she will be the 23rd woman to be honoured with the accolade as part of a grassroots project working tirelessly to unearth stories of the city’s influential women.

The Forgotten Women of Wakefield Project, led by social enterprise Dream Time Creative, has been researching and celebrating the achievements of women from Wakefield’s past since 2018, shedding light on their contributions to society whilst also working to achieve blue plaque parity between men and women in the district.

According to their research, Eliza produced a botanical account of ornamental foreign plants found in the orangeries of grand houses in Wakefield and beyond, whilst living at Heath Old Hall in the city in her late 20s and early 30s.

Sarah Cobham of the Forgotten Women of Wakefield project. Photo: John Clifton

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In her 1834 and 1837 portfolio of botanical paintings and poetry, entitled The Beauties of Flora, she followed classification systems of the Linnean Society, which is devoted to natural history - but the society did not have its first women fellows until after her time in 1904.

“She contributed to the scientific world of botany,” says Sarah Cobham, who heads up the Forgotten Women project. “So she is being recognised for this at the blue plaque unveiling.”

The event will include a short talk about Eliza’s work and will be held on Saturday, March 5 at 3pm at Westgate Unitarian Chapel, ahead of International Women’s Day on Tuesday, March 8.

Dream Time Creative has become involved with the chapel as a partner, after research revealed that many of the forgotten women had links to the site or Unitarianism.

Ann Hurst, for example, a newspaper proprietor, campaigned for the abolition of slavery, working alongside Unitarian preachers. The Forgotten Women project has been working with the British Library on a film about her story.

Clara Clarkson, to name another, was an early suffragist and Unitarian who rejected social conventions around class and gender. A film has also been created about her life and the group hope it will attract the eye of television producers.

“The political and social movements of change started in and around that chapel from 1752 onwards,” says Sarah, who is working as community engagement and heritage officer for the chapel. “And that’s where a lot of our forgotten women are.

“Our role is to bring people into the chapel, raising the profile of it. We want to develop the role of the chapel as a community space, as a creative space and fill it with lots and lots of events. And that’s what we’re doing with our International Women’s Day programme.”

As well as the blue plaque unveiling, the Forgotten Women group is hosting an exhibition at the chapel, exploring the stories of some its key Unitarian women.

It will be open for several hours from 2pm on Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday next week.

On Saturday at 7pm, there will also be a musical concert, featuring some of the soundtrack pieces from the Clara Clarkson film and from another production that the group have created about Lady Catherine Milnes Gaskell, who spent much of her life supporting the health, education and well being of Wakefield’s poorest communities.

The group will run vintage photoshoot sessions at the chapel to raise money for roof repairs and they are also hosting a series of creative workshops at Wakefield One Library throughout next week.

Visit forgottenwomenwake.com

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