Remarkable Women

By Sandrine

My recent work on the project consisted of creating a list of the women who had been identified in the research and had, one way or another, a connection with Holy Trinity Church (HTC). The research aimed to check what material we already had. The consensus was that, although we were not short of materials on men, we didn’t have much on women. I, therefore, checked the various folders that were given to me and summarised names, roles and period of activity. The latest covered people from the early 19th century and finished around the mid-twentieth century. First, I have to say that I really enjoyed going through the various summaries and materials that my volunteer peers had written: what a brilliant work that is! Then as I went along, I became engrossed in these real-life stories for, life is better than fiction and some of the lives depicted just seemed perfect for a new compelling drama series!

My views on women linked with HTC

Not many women had an important role in HTC or at least, not as many as men. Of course, this is due to the nature of the setting: women preachers did not exist at the time and it is not difficult to understand why it remained essentially a man-centred environment. Apart from the occasional servant or housemaid recorded during the 1800s census, it is not until the early 1900s that we start noticing more women in higher professional positions such as treasurers, secretaries or team leaders. Most women appear in the research because of their direct lineage with men preachers (mothers, daughters or grand-mothers) and, occasionally, because of the relationship they had with them; be friends, confidants or even mistresses.

Lineage is, therefore, the main reason why these women have come to our attention and, whilst it is well-known that women had many more children at the time than they have nowadays, I could not help reading the numbers of children in awe; particularly in the 19th century. For example, Annie Hall, mother of Edward Vine Hall, had no less than thirteen children, and Frances Kemp (nee Baring), Thomas Read Kemp’s first wife, died whilst giving birth to her tenth child (1825). Effectively, whilst giving birth is nowadays considered a stressful but nonetheless pretty safe and exciting experience, I could not help thinking that, given the high maternal mortality rates of the time, this unique and precious responsibility must have appeared so daunting to them.

Remarkable stories

Although we do not have much material on women, we still found some very interesting facts; enough to find out that some of them had unconventional or surprising lives. Thanks to what was written by my peers, I managed to get a good picture/profile on some of them. Part of the ones that caught my attention and interest are the following ones. I have taken the liberty to label them according to how I saw them however, these are just my opinion.

  • The free-spirited traveller

Marjorie Gordon Burell (1892 – 1980) became the wife of Rev. R.C. Wood in 1932. She was 40 years old when she married and only 10 years younger than his mother who was born in 1882. He was 28 and I can only imagine the amount of gossip that must have gone around at the time given that in our days, this still makes people talk!

She, to me, seemed like a real free-spirit. She certainly displayed a taste for travelling and crossed the Atlantic several times by passenger ship; which was lengthy and could be risky. She seemed to have a particular interest in Canada and New-York/USA. Her profession was described as a teacher. She met her husband in New-York and this is where they married. She died in Littlehampton, England, after being married to him for nearly 48 years disproving to all that age matters.

  • The politically engaged

Helen Kirkpatricks Watts (1881-1972), was Alan Hunter Watts’ first daughter (AH Watts was an HTC preacher). She was deaf and described as ‘very difficult to understand’ by a friend of hers. Yet, this did not stop her as she became engaged in socialism and feminism; regularly giving speeches in public places and advocating votes for women. She became a well-renowned suffragette; was arrested and sentenced twice for her beliefs. Her sister too was involved in the suffragette movement. She emigrating to Canada and eventually moved back to the U.K. in her later years.

I mean… what’s not to like about her?! It is difficult not to read her profile with utter admiration and reverence. Looking at her picture is just mesmerising. She looks so elegant and feminine, yet, so grave and determined!

Helen Watts photographed by Col Blathwayt (photo from Bath In Time website)
  • The artist

The Reverend Alexander Theodore Dowding had a second marriage and although very little is said about his first marriage, a little bit more can be found on his second wife. Constance de Clyver Seeger Dowding (1886-1975) was a professional American classical violinist. She was born and died in the United States but was raised between Tunisia and Paris. Her marriage with Dowding was the second one too as she divorced in 1927 from the well-renowned musicologist and composer Charles Seeger with whom she had three children. Interestingly, she was the mother of Pete Seeger (1919-2014), an American folk singer, environmental and social activist (notably during the Vietnam war). Not much is known about Constance but divorcing and remarrying in the 1920s to an already divorced reverend does not sound very conventional either. I just loved looking at her picture; playing the violin amongst her three children and then-husband Charles Seeger. There is something very bohemian about it…

  • The… fugitive

Perhaps one of the most surprising, not to say shocking (there, I said it!) woman’s profile that I read whilst going through the materials was the one on Elizabeth Grey Wyatt, nee Coxwell (1798-1886) and mother of Reverend Henry Herbert Wyatt. She certainly caused a lot of grief to her family and son and her life could surely be a good script for a dramatic romantic novel.

She married Thomas Wyatt when aged 19 and four years later, Henry Herbet Wyatt, their first son, was born in Bengal, India as the couple settled there. In 1825, Thomas Wyatt agreed to let her go back to England with their son so she would recover from ill-health. Whilst back in Europe, she eventually met with William Henry Rochfort; a women’s man described as ‘alluring, unfaithful, a player of masquerades’, who spent his life running away from debts and legal proceedings. Together, they moved to Calais (France) where they lived in adultery with the young HH Wyatt from 1833 to 1836. A son, Rajphoot Runjheet Rochfort was born out of this illegal relationship in 1835. Thomas Wyatt issued various proceedings so his son could be returned to him and so divorce could be granted. William H. Rochfort died in 1852, leaving Elizabeth in poverty. She never remarried and died in Canterbury in 1886.

What may have motivated this woman to live such a life? A dislike for the country her first husband lived in and seemed to be financially tied to? Or a naive yet self-destructing passion for a seducer and con artist? It is difficult to say for, there are two sides to every story but hers remains unknown…


Living a woman’s life was not all that easy at the time, particularly in the nineteenth century. I can only commend these women who took their destiny into their hands regardless of what society, status, or politics dictated them; for, little by little, they made us who we are now.

I shall finish with a speech from R.J Campbell, preacher at HTC and supporter of women’s suffrage:

But we shall have to accustom ourselves to it. The often repeated saying that women’s sphere is in the home does not necessarily hold good for every woman and it is not fair to assume . . . women have proved themselves capable of competing successfully with men in almost any sphere and the supposed psychological differences between them are more a matter of training than anything else’. (RJ Campbell, Some Economic Aspects of the Women’s Suffrage Movement 1909).

I am sure that, had the song existed at the time, Reverend Campbell would probably join me in chanting that ‘this is a man’s world, but it would be nothing, nothing, without a woman or a girl….


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