Janet Murphy, who is chair of the Chesterfield and District Local History Society, took to researching the lives of Chesterfield’s remarkable women during lockdown after discovering that many had stories which were somewhat untold or unheard of.
Born in Chesterfield and having studied local history with the Open University, Janet said: “I was aware that when people talk about women in Chesterfield, they get stuck when they’ve got past Violet Markham, Blanche Eastwood and Mary Swanwick.
"From my own research, I found there were a lot of other people with interesting stories to tell. It was me that discovered that Winifred Jones – who grew up in Spital Lodge – was a suffragette which nobody had every realised before.”
Using The National Archives and the British Library, and with help from staff at Chesterfield Local Studies Library and Chesterfield Museum, Janet has been able to put together accounts on the lives of those with Chesterfield roots who impacted society and influenced change, primarily in the nineteenth and late-twentieth century.
In addition to business women who established careers in such male-dominated spheres as monumental masonry, there are also accounts of individuals, such as Florrie Green, daughter of a miner, who was a founder member of Chesterfield Ladies’ Football Club in 1917 and active in the sport until women’s clubs were banned in 1921.
Cecile Robinson, whose sister Florence Robinson was the mayor of Chesterfield between 1946 to 1947, is another individual who is mentioned for her achievements working as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse in a field hospital close to the front in France during World War One.
Giving an insight into the book, Janet said: “Between the wars, Cecile came back and qualified to be a nurse. She was a nurse in what was called Tanganyika for a while before going to Hong Kong.
"She was actually nursing in Hong Kong when it fell to the Japanese, so she became a Japanese prisoner of war. Nobody really knew this.”
She added: “When starting the book I knew about Violet Markham, Mary Swanwick, and Blanche Eastwood but then I found out abour Winifred Jones and I just kept going.”
Other individuals mentioned include Minnie Wheatcroft, a labourer’s daughter who was widowed when her husband died during active service in 1917, but who then enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and spent the rest of the war driving ambulances in France; and Helen Wilcoxson, who in 1939 became the first Chesterfield member of the Civil Air Guard to qualify for her pilot’s ‘A’ certificate, but whose initial cross-country flight was hampered by the loss of her compass, forcing her to rely on the name ‘Burton’ painted on the top of Burton on Trent’s gasometer to find her way home.
‘Chesterfield’s Remarkable Women’ by Janet Murphy is available to buy for £8.50 from Waterstones, Chesterfield Visitor Centre, at the Ashgate Hospice shop on South Street, and online through the Bannister Publications website.
All proceeds will be go to Ashgate Hospicecare, a charity chosen by Janet as the hospice helped care for her father before his death in August 2002.