Women and power on the Isle of Wight

Ferguson's Gang in the 1930s

This year marks 100 years since the act that first allowed women the right to vote. Our places on the Isle of Wight might not have been home to the more prominent players in the flight for women’s rights, but we had some pioneering females none-the-less. To celebrate the work of these inspiring women, we’ve a series of events across our places.

Sometimes being a little bit different and pushing the boundaries can be a powerful act in itself. Our places on the Isle of Wight have been home to women who went beyond the ordinary for their time. Whether they took on dangerous roles usually reserved for men, or helped to save the nation's heritage, all of them left their mark, however subtle, and paved the way for women today.

Bembridge Windmill

Over at Bembridge Windmill this year you’ll find a display on a very brave Victorian lady. Milling was a dangerous task and involved a lot of heavy lifting, meaning that it was usually a male dominated profession. However, after her husband died, Frances Tull decided to take over running Bembridge Windmill and ran it with her journeyman and nephew. She risked explosions and fires as flour dust is flammable and work was carried out by lamp light. Many mills, particularly those made of wood, did burn down. But it wasn’t just at Bembridge that there were lady millers. Our display at the windmill tells the story of these women and of our very own female miller too (open daily 10 March – 28 October, 10.30am-5pm).

An old image of Jacquetta Hawkes beside a more recent photograph of the Long Stone

Mottistone Estate

On Mottistone Common stands the Longstone. This enigmatic stone protruding from the grassy downland has been interpreted in various ways through the centuries but it was Jacquetta Hawkes who first identified it as a Neolithic long barrow. This pioneering lady was the first female to gain a degree in archaeology and anthropology and lived with her husband J.B. Priestly, at near by Brook Hill House. This spring you can join our ranger on a walk across the Mottistone Estate and find out more about Jacquetta and her work, before finishing with lunch in Mottistone Gardens (25 Mar, 29 Apr, 10 May 11am-1pm, £7 per person, admission applies, booking essential)

Mottistone Gardens

Visit Mottistone Gardens today and you’ll find a tranquil haven filled with colourful flowers, an avenue of fruit trees and hidden pathways. But until the twentieth century, the gardens had been used as a farmyard and part buried by a landslide. In the 1960s, Lady Vivian Nicholson set about creating the current gardens, taking inspiration from her upbringing in Sicily. This June you can join tours with our gardeners to find out what she did and how we look after the gardens today without ever watering them (tours are each Monday in June (11, 18 & 25) at 2.30pm). 

Our Head Gardener gives a tour at Mottistone
A group of visitors standing amongst flowers on a tour of Mottistone Gardens
Our Head Gardener gives a tour at Mottistone

Newtown Old Town Hall

In 1933 Newtown Old Town Hall was saved by an eccentric all-female group who raised money in the most unusual ways. Known as Ferguson’s gang, they dressed in masks and gave themselves nicknames such as Red Biddy, Sister Agatha and Bill Stickers. Their exploits led to much publicity and this helped to raise funds for the National Trust.

In 1989 Sister Agatha returned to Newtown Old Town Hall. To mark this special year, and to celebrate the work of these incredible women, the gift that she left behind almost 30 years ago, forms the centrepiece of a new display about Ferguson’s Gang in the Old Town Hall she helped to save. And each Sunday from 27 May until 1 July (1&3pm) you can join a tour of the Old Town Hall to discover more about the Gang and their work here (open 10 March-25 October, closed Mondays and Fridays, excluding Bank Holiday Mondays,10.30am-5pm).

Needles Battery

The Needles Battery has been home to many courageous women since it was built. A display at the site tells the stories of these women, from 19th century Maria Lakeman, who had to rope her children together when walking to school along the windy cliff, to the women posted here as part the Second World War Royal Naval Service (open daily 10 March-28 Oct, 10.30am-5pm)