Celebrating the female pioneers of the Cheshire railways

'Elizabeth Gaskell' consults the Discover Amazing Women by Rail booklet at Manchester Piccadilly Sta

'Elizabeth Gaskell' consults the Discover Amazing Women by Rail booklet at Manchester Piccadilly Station (credit: Andrew Pratt) - Credit: Archant

A new project is celebrating some of the county’s amazing women via its railways

Artist Nicky Thompson with artwork of Slyvia Plath

Artist Nicky Thompson with artwork of Slyvia Plath - Credit: Archant

Following the success of last year’s 1930s-style posters of each station on the Mid-Cheshire Line, an inspiring new project has been launched celebrating the pioneering women who have lived in some of the 32 towns, villages or cities with stations on the Mid-Cheshire and Calder Valley Railway Line.

Marking the special significance of 2018 for women, the imaginative booklet ‘Discover Amazing Women by Rail’, traces the extraordinary lives of outstanding female pioneers in Cheshire and its surrounding counties. The list includes authors, politicians, singers, reformers, political activists and business women, and marries the stations up with interesting attractions to see nearby.

Jointly produced by the Mid-Cheshire Community Rail Partnership, Friends of Littleborough Station and Community Rail Lancashire with support from the Association of Community Rail Partnerships, the booklet includes famous women like novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, who lived in Knutsford, and Manchester’s pioneering suffragette and political activist, Emmeline Pankhurst.

Of course it also shines a light on lesser-known but equally fantastic women in the area, such as Chester-based Mary Fildes, a political activist who spoke at the Peterloo Massacre and Elizabeth Raffald, a Northwich businesswoman and writer.

The Discover Amazing Women by Rail booklet

The Discover Amazing Women by Rail booklet - Credit: Archant

‘When you are sitting on a train, it is not easy to appreciate what lies just beyond the station,’ said Sally Buttifant, Mid-Cheshire Community Rail Partnership officer. ‘Following the success of last summer’s 1930s-style posters along the Chester to Piccadilly line, we wanted to find another way of encouraging people to step off the train and explore hidden histories, whether it’s people’s lives or places.’

Each of the women included in the booklet have been beautifully sketched into illustrations by Chester-based artist, Nicky Thompson of Lemondrop Creative, and researched by historian, Richard Lysons, who gives information on how to do further research and follow-up reading.

‘This mix of women, who embody courage, intelligence, femininity and passion, was too good not to explore but so was the chance to highlight fantastic attractions along the rail line,’ continued Sally.

Alongside the write-ups and illustrations about the women, the free booklet has information about nearby attractions, some of which, like the women, are hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The booklet aims be a starting point to explore the North’s history and attractions by rail and can be downloaded online.

June Williams (nee Mottershead) (1926-2015) Zoo Keeper at Chester Zoo

June Williams (nee Mottershead) (1926-2015) Zoo Keeper at Chester Zoo - Credit: Archant

‘There are so many amazing places to explore such as Manchester’s fascinating Victoria Baths, Elizabeth Gaskell’s house in Knutsford, Northwich’s Anderton Boat Lift, the Lion Salt Works and Chester Zoo.’

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The booklet also has a foreword penned by broadcaster, journalist and author, Dame Jenni Murray DBE, who lives in Cheshire. The BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour presenter talks about her favourite women, and how in the buzz of the Northern Powerhouse rarely do we hear about the amazing women who were born with the grit of Cheshire, Derbyshire, Yorkshire and the great cities of Manchester and Leeds in their bones.

‘As a Yorkshire woman by birth, I have to mention the Brontë sisters who wrote such wonderful novels at the vicarage in Haworth and then, as an adopted Cheshire woman, I go on to the woman who called herself Mrs Gaskell, but we now, of course, stick with Elizabeth Gaskell - marital status irrelevant,’ writes Jenni. ‘As she wrote Cranford, inspired by her home of Knutsford, the railway was beginning to cut through the countryside and connect these places So, meet these extraordinary women in the northern homes that gave us the cultural powerhouse they became.’

The Discover Amazing Women by Rail booklet can be downloaded at www.amazingwomenbyrail.org.uk

Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) a novelist from Knutsford

Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) a novelist from Knutsford - Credit: Archant

Meet some of Cheshire’s amazing women


Penelope, Countess of Stamford (1865 – 1959)

Commandant of Stamford Hospital and Red Cross volunteer

Penelope Theobald married the Earl of Stamford, whose seat was Dunham Massey Hall. Her husband died in 1910, leaving Penelope to run the estate. In 1917, she opened the hall as a military hospital, taking overall responsibility herself. The hospital, with its unusually plush surroundings, was much appreciated by the wounded soldiers. Lady Stamford’s daughter, Lady Jane Grey, got involved and volunteered as a nurse. The hospital was recreated in 2014 by the National Trust to mark the centenary of the start of World War One.


Elizabeth Raffald (1733-1781)

Businesswoman and writer

Elizabeth grew up and started her working life in the kitchens and as a housekeeper at Arley Hall, near Northwich, working alongside her future husband, John Raffald, the head gardener. As employees were not allowed to work at Arley Hall after they were married, the newlyweds moved to Manchester in 1763 where she opened a confectionery shop, alongside running a cookery school and outside catering business. Later, Elizabeth set up a servant’s employment agency and produced the first Manchester and Salford trade directory. Her book, The Experienced English Housekeeper, was a best seller. Elizabeth is buried at Stockport Parish Church in an unmarked grave.


Alison Uttley (1884 – 1976)


Alison was born and educated in Derbyshire before gaining a physics scholarship to Manchester University – graduating with honours, the second woman to do so at the time. After training as a teacher, she lived at The Old Vicarage on King Street/Drury Lane in Knutsford before moving on to Altrincham. After the death of her husband in 1930, she decided to take up writing to help pay her bills. Focusing on mainly children’s stories, Alison’s first books included ‘Little Grey Rabbit’ and ‘Sam Pig’. Later in life Alison began to write stories for older children and adults.

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