Inspirational women whose bravery, intellect and compassion have made a positive difference in their communities and overseas have been recognised.
Over the last few months, Durham County Council has installed blue plaques commemorating individuals and groups in towns and villages across County Durham.
The latest to be honoured were put forward by County Durham’s Women’s Banner Group (WBG) – an organisation that was founded in 2017 to celebrate the achievements of the working-class women of the Durham coalfields. Since then, WBG has broadened its activities and now campaigns on topics including equal rights, universal credit, pensions and anti-racism.
Ensuring women’s past achievements are recognised is also a key focus and, in 2019, WBG held a hustings event to seek suggestions for inspirational women to nominate for a blue plaque. The nominees included: First World War nurse Kate Maxey, who was put forward by Lynn Gibson; the Aycliffe Angels, who were suggested by Tim Dredge; and Lady Bella Lawson and her husband, Jack, who were nominated by Dorothy Rand.
The plaques have now been unveiled, much to the delight of WBG and local people.
Born in Clyde Terrace in Spennymoor in 1876, Kate Maxey became one of the most highly decorated nurses of the First World War, receiving the Royal Red 1st Class, the Military Medal and the Florence Nightingale Medal in acknowledgement of her distinguished service.
The Aycliffe Angels were a group of courageous women who worked at a former Second World War munitions factory in Newton Aycliffe, now called ROF 59. These hard-working co-workers filled shells and bullets and assembled detonators and fuses as part of the war effort. The work was very dangerous, and many workers were killed or injured during the manufacturing process. But, due to the secrecy surrounding the factory, many of these incidents were not recorded and the women’s efforts also went unrecognised.
Lady Bella Jackson was a suffragist, Labour activist, community volunteer and pioneer of child welfare clinics. She was also a parish councillor, school manager and a supporter of many charities. Bella was honoured along with her husband Baron Jack Lawson, with the plaque installed on their former home in Woodside, Beamish. Jack was a miner, trade unionist, Lord Lieutenant, county councillor, MP and preacher.
Another County Durham woman, Janet Taylor, was honoured with a blue plaque at the Masonic Hall in Wolsingham. Nominated by Wolsingham Women’s Institute, Janet was born in the town in 1804 and was educated in languages, mathematics, science, astronomy and navigation by her schoolmaster father. She went on to set up a nautical academy and specialised in the design, production and repair of navigational instruments.
Others to be recognised since the scheme started include the ‘Fighting Bradfords’ – four brothers from Witton Park who served their country with valour in conflicts including the First World War; Thomas Wright, a renowned astronomer, mathematician, instrument maker, garden designer and architect, from Byers Green; and Spennymoor Settlement, which was set up in 1931 to enhance the lives of residents through education and the arts.
Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “Over the last few months, seven blue plaques have been installed across the county in honour of some truly remarkable groups and individuals.
“The most recent were all put forward by the WBG and celebrate the great contribution made by women – a contribution that has not always received the recognition it deserves.
“The scope of their actions and achievements demonstrates the bravery, ingenuity and determination of County Durham people. We want to channel this resilience and innovative spirit in everything we do, especially in County Durham’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2025. The blue plaque scheme is just one of the ways we are celebrating County Durham’s rich heritage and championing the talent that exists within our communities.”
Lynn Gibson, from the Women’s Banner Group, said: “It is incredibly important that women are recognised for their achievements and we are delighted to see these plaques installed at a number of locations across County Durham.
“Women are so often written out of history which is why this scheme is so important. It’s giving members of the public the opportunity to nominate women deserving of a blue plaque, which will in turn, get more people talking about these amazing women once again.”
The Blue Plaques Appraisal Panel meets twice a year, in January and June, to consider new nominations. To make a nomination, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request a form.
Durham County Council, with support from principal partner Durham University, submitted the initial bid for UK City of Culture on behalf of Culture Durham, a partnership of arts and culture organisations from across the county.
Durham’s bid is for both the county and the city. To find out more and to leave messages of support, visit www.durham2025.co.uk and follow @Durham2025 on Facebook, @Durham_2025 on Twitter and @Durham2025_ on Instagram.