Remarkable women who lived in Somerset have often remained obscure. When we look at a lot of traditional history books, actions by women from any background are often expressed using the passive voice, e.g. ‘The convent was founded’ rather than actually naming the woman who founded the religious house. Frequently, female protagonists are partially or entirely erased from the narrative when their stories make up the fabric of history, just as their male counterparts made history. Women’s stories simply deserve to be told.

I was keen to investigate our county’s ‘erased’ women and rescue them from anonymity with my latest book, Unsung Women in Somerset. Although a first-generation ‘Somersetian’ as my parents and grandparents are from elsewhere in Britain, I feel a deep connection with the county. I grew up in Chilcompton, went to the Royal High School in Bath and then attended the University of Bristol.

I wouldn’t have delved into this project 10 years ago because I used to view local history as boring but it definitely isn’t! If you look in the right places, there are many incredible events, people, legends and beliefs to uncover, sometimes even in the tiniest hamlet. I know I’ve been guilty of assuming that anything interesting must have taken place in a big city, that noteworthy events happened elsewhere, but I’ve certainly proven myself wrong with these projects!

I was also surprised to find women visiting or coming to live in Somerset from all over the world. The book mentions Jewish and Romani women as well as citizens from Barbados, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Sierra Leone, the USA and all corners of Britain. Alongside other forms of discrimination, including social standing, disability and religion, non-White and/or foreign women have generally been particularly overlooked.

Women's rights are not a linear journey in which things have steadily improved over the years. It’s an undulating line that has swept up and down; for instance, far more Anglo-Saxon women held land than their Norman counterparts. I’m in awe of how during each era, women found ways to assert whatever power they could obtain despite the risks and various limitations placed on them. Hopefully, readers will feel encouraged by the women’s tenacity and the creative methods they used to gain a bit of control over their own lives and make a difference in their communities.

One such tenacious woman was Beatrice Page (1882–1976), the first female tram driver in England. She was one of several women recruited to drive Weston-super-Mare’s trams during the First World War to replace the men who had gone away to fight. The tram companies were unenthusiastic about hiring women: Beatrice probably wasn’t even issued a uniform until she had proven her ability. Despite the discrimination, a January 1916 photograph of Motorwoman Page shows her driving a tram with a proud and determined expression. Beatrice had to give up this employment when the fighting men returned from mainland Europe in 1918, but she was invited back to drive the last tram before the tramlines were pulled up in 1942 as recognition of her previous work.

Beatrice is just one of the countless women who have pushed boundaries so that future women could lead better lives– entering male-dominated spheres, demanding their rights, breaking gender norms, taking on positions of power... The list goes on. Of course, they were human and therefore imperfect like the rest of us. I’ve endeavoured to outline their flaws and potential flaws whilst displaying my deep admiration for these unsung women. I think historical figures resonate more with us and become more real when we acknowledge their imperfections.

Humanity’s imperfect nature is one thing that hasn’t changed over time, just like certain aspects of Somerset’s geography have remained unaltered. It's exciting to think that we look at the same hills these women gazed at so many years ago, that we walk the same paths as them, even if a lot has changed over time. I hope to inspire others to discover or rediscover their local area after learning about the “hidden history” of women in Somerset. I hope people will feel touched when they encounter places in their day-to-day life that are connected to the women or will even to go out specifically to visit various locations.

My research has given me the opportunity to discover places and experience great days out with my family that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. For instance, we had a fantastic time visiting Athelney to see Alfred and Ealswitha’s secret hiding place and then on to Burrow Mump to see their lookout post during their battles against the Vikings. I’ve definitely infected the kids with an interest in history. Any time we drive through Burrington Combe, they join me in looking out for Aveline’s Hole, the oldest known cemetery in England. The same goes for Arthur’s Bridge whenever we drive between Shepton Mallet and Castle Cary. With my family in mind, I’m currently working on a Junior Edition of Unsung Women in Somerset, aimed at those aged 9 and up. This is part of my long-term plan to continue to bring the lives of women and other marginalised people to the forefront.

'Meet' the woman who had two funerals, the women who voted (before it was legal to do so!) and the queens, saints and witches from our very special county. Helen will be giving a talk at the Museum of Somerset on March 7th at 7.30pm. Please book your ticket (£10) via

Great British Life: Unsung Women in Somerset by Helen PughUnsung Women in Somerset by Helen Pugh (Image: Published by Helen Pugh)