Unbind the Wing: Our women of Bodnant Garden

Agnes Pochin, Laura McLaren and Priscilla Bright-McLaren

Beneath the manicured lawns and flower-filled terraces of Bodnant Garden is a history of powerful, politically driven women. In 2018 we’re marking the centenary of Votes for Women by shining a light on their story.

At the forefront of the long struggle was Laura McLaren, who inherited the garden and estate in 1895. Laura was a force of nature; not just an acclaimed gardener but formidable businesswoman, political campaigner and pivotal character in the fight for Women’s Suffrage.

From an early age Laura was helping her father with the management of Bodnant Estate and shaping the garden; she created the Far End in 1899, and worked alongside her son Henry McLaren developing plans for the Italianate Terraces in the Edwardian period. In later years she went on to be awarded the prestigious RHS Victoria Medal of Honour.

Political campaigning

From her London home she also pursued political campaigning, serving with the National Society of Women's Suffrage lecturing, writing pamphlets and rallying government support. In 1909 she produced The Women's Charter of Rights and Liberties for the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, playing a key role in the passage of the Representation of the People Act 1918.

She was following in formidable footsteps; Laura’s mother Agnes Heap was a pioneer of Women’s Suffrage, publishing the ground-breaking Right of Women to Exercise the Elective Franchise in 1855; her mother-in-law Priscilla Bright-McLaren was also leading early campaigner against slavery and for women’s rights. The baton was passed to Laura's daughters Florence and Elsie who took an active part in the movement, as did the menfolk of the family, influential businessmen and political figures of their day. 

A century later, at the family home at Bodnant Garden, we’ll be celebrating the remarkable legacy of Laura, Agnes and Priscilla, to horticulture and to the cause of women, with 'Unbind the Wing', an autumn programme of theatre, art, music and a new garden trail. 

Find out more about the inspiring women behind the National Trust's special places, and our 2018 celebration of #WomenAndPower here:  https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/news/celebrating-the-anniversary-of-female-suffrage