In a year-long programme called ‘Women and Power’, the National Trust shines a light on women’s histories to celebrate the centenary of female suffrage.
At Belton this year, we’re telling the stories of four women whose lives are woven into the spirit of Belton. They are Sophia, Marian, Florence and Nina.
The history of women has often been overshadowed, lost even, because of a lack of independence and power. Until the latter half of the nineteenth century, when England’s first ladies college opened, and women were first admitted to university, formal education for most girls was minimal. Women were required to learn how to keep a home, raise a family and little else.
Aristocratic women were more fortunate because they were also expected to be accomplished in the arts in order to attract a good husband, and they had the privilege of a bespoke if limited, education.
A pre-ordained life as a mother and homemaker, therefore, meant that intelligent women often channelled their ambition into the home, family, art, music or other approved pastimes. And because the wives of wealthy men were not expected to work, their artistic or literary achievements, while respected and admired, would never have earned them the title of ‘professional’.
Each in their own remarkable way, these four women of Belton, Sophia, Marian, Florence and Nina, found a release for their talent and ambition. They created legacies worth sharing for the rich colour they have brought to the history of this place.
" Women and Power will explore the complexity of the histories of power and gender and will give voice to the, sometimes hidden, lives and legacies of women who lived and worked across the special places now in the care of the National Trust."
By focusing on their creative output, we’ll show how their talent and intellect made a mark on the history of Belton. Visitors can learn more about these women on self-led trails and see their work presented throughout the house and gardens.
Supporting our Creative Women programme will be a range of opportunities for visitors to express their artistic side with Paint the Garden.
Inspired by Marian
In 2017, members of the Grantham Embroiderers’ Guild visited Belton House to see the work of Lady Marian Alford, a founding member of the Royal School of Needlework, author of ‘Needlework as Art’ (1886), and mother to both the second and third Earls Brownlow.
Members of the Guild were inspired by Marian’s intricate work, and have created an exhibition demonstrating various embroidery techniques, both traditional and modern. The exhibition is located in the Cretonne Bedroom at Belton House until the end of October 2018.
While some of Lady Marian’s work is regularly on display in the house, such as her fire screen and upholstered chairs in the Yellow Bedroom, much of her silk and gold work is very fragile and held in the Belton House archives. Some of these beautiful pieces are on display for the first time this year and can be viewed by following the Creative Women trail, copies of which can be collected at visitor reception.