Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Further To Our Earlier Enquiries

Another trawl through my photos for things I meant to share but somehow didn't.

The Girton Pioneers

In the town of Hitchin, not far from the railway station but in a quiet residential street, stands the house in the picture above. It's called Benslow House and is now a nursing home though it once housed some very different residents.

Benslow House was purchased in 1869 by a lady called Emily Davies, that's her in the picture. She was much involved in the movement to gain the vote for women, but she did not support the more violent forms of protest; she was a Suffragist rather than a Suffragette.

She had worked tirelessly to gain young girls the right to sit the secondary school exams, which were then only open to boys. Having succeeded in this aim she then wanted to give young women the right to study at Cambridge, Oxford or London Universities which were then exclusively male domains. She could not have chosen more unbending adversaries!

Being unable to get much co-operation from the universities she set up her own establishment The College for Women at Benslow House, initially with just five students. Although the universities would not admit female students there were within these institutions a small number of men who supported their cause and so the railway between Cambridge, Hitchin and London became a vital link.

Three of Emily Davies's students were able to sit Cambridge University examinations on an unofficial basis. When they passed these exams it became difficult for the authorities to maintain their position that women could not be educated to this level. Emily Davies moved her college from Hitchin to the outskirts of Cambridge and founded Girton College there, which is now part of Cambridge University. The college has a song entitled The Girton Pioneers.....

But of all the Cambridge heroes
There’s none that can compare
With Woodhead, Cook and Lumsden,
The Girton Pioneers

Letter Box

Once you start looking at the humble post box you find that there are all sorts of variations. The type shown above is the "Ludlow Box" which was designed to be a cheap alternative to the big cast-iron pillar boxes. They are cheap because they are largely made out of wood with just a metal sheet on the front, consequently they are always built into walls or brick pillars. I particularly like the dated look of the lettering which goes to the trouble of telling you not to post letters containing coins, paper money or jewellery.

On The Street

This is the main street leading through my nearest town, Royston. It is part of the old Roman Road known as Ermine Street, later called the Old North Road. As you can see from the photo it's actually two parallel streets, a form it retains right through the old part of the town. Originally there would have been market stalls on the central portion, all trying to tempt the passing traveller. In time these traders did well enough to build permanent shops.

F H & W

High on a wall in Hitchin is this elaborate mosaic sign for Freeman, Hardy & Willis, once one of the best known chains of shoe shops in the land. 

Some years ago I fell into conversation with an old man who was a cobbler and he told me the following tale:
When shoes began to be made in factories, rather than in individual cobbler's shops, the work was split into three parts. New apprentices only were taught one part of the process. This was to prevent them, once they'd trained, from setting up their own business in competition. Unless of course three of them joined forces, and Freeman, Hardy & Willis were just such a three.

Unfortunately I'm unable to find any evidence that the tale is true and much to say it's not. Never mind it kept me entertained while I drank a pint with the old fellow!

Big Gun

Cambridge's Lensfield Road is an unlikely place to spot the device seen above. It's a harpoon cannon from a whaling ship. It's in the grounds of the Scott Polar Museum to remind us of the uncomfortable truth that whaling was an important economic factor in the exploration of both polar regions. 

Take care.


  1. We owe such a debt to brave and determined women like Emily Davies.

  2. Well done Emily Davies. A pioneer indeed! It is easy to forget the women who led the way. Thank you for sharing this story, John.

  3. Emily Davies had her own plans and she succeeded. Good for her and all the women she helped. Nice letter box, they sure are interesting to see. I like the view of the main street, seems like a view out of a novel.
    Thank you, John!

  4. In Canada, more women than men graduate from university. Women are a slight majority of newly graduated medical doctors. Still a hard pill for some people to swallow.
    When I drive to my mom's, I pass through a small town that has long been a market town for the surrounding area, and the main road is also divided. The market moved off the main street many years ago, and now in the spring they plant the median with a beautiful assortment of plants. It's always fun to see what new design they come up with as every year is different.

  5. Interesting, especially about Girton. You must have a year's worth of interesting material in your archives.

  6. Interesting snippets. Bravo to Emily Davies.

  7. I would like to think the tale told by the cobbler was true. ;-)
    A great post John!

  8. Nice story about the Benslow House.

  9. You always come through with such interesting pieces if information. Of course I've heard of Girton College but never knew the history behind it. And I remember the Freeman Hardy Willis shoe shops, are they still in business?

  10. wow that is so interesting. And I love the photo of Emily. All those tiny steps that women had to take and some took huge big jumps ....and here we are today! As always wonderful photos and very uplifting to come to see your blog. Thanks so much for being a friend to me and my blog and thanks for your comments on my blog. I try to do a few comments back each day but I am far behind!

  11. Emily Davies a great woman.
    I liked very much the mailbox and peaceful and beautiful main street.
    Greetings from Lisbon
    Maria de
    Divagar Sobre Tudo um Pouco

  12. Hooray for women like Emily Davies and her courage and foresight. And laws that have made whales illegal as well!

  13. Like the tale of Freeman Hardy & Willis.


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