Remarkable women from our places

From the political player who helped make Charles II king, to archaeologists, great gardeners - and many 'ordinary' workers. Our places are associated with inspiring women who refused to be defined by convention and helped shape the modern world.

Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart, later Duchess of Lauderdale (1626-1698) by Sir Peter Lely

Helping to restore the monarchy 

Ham House was largely the vision of the remarkable Duchess of Lauderdale, Elizabeth Murray. Unusually for a woman in the 17th century, she played an important role in the political machinations of the English Civil War and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy. She was also an important supporter of Charles II while he was in exile. As well as a member of the secret Royalist society, The Sealed Knot.

The statue of Winston and Clementine Churchill at Chartwell, a National Trust property in Kent

Supporting the war effort 

Lady Clementine Churchill lived with her husband, Sir Winston Churchill, at Chartwell. Many argue that Churchill wouldn't have had such a successful career without her by his side. Lady Clementine toured the world and chaired numerous large organisations during the Second World War. Despite these responsibilities, she maintained a happy home life for her children in their younger years, as well as a close, and affectionate relationship with Sir Winston in the face of public pressures.

Beatrix Potter at Keswick show

Beloved children's author and champion of the Lake District 

Beatrix Potter was a writer, illustrator and sheep farmer. She was a woman ahead of her time and a fierce campaigner with a lasting influence on children’s literature, nature conservation and Cumbrian farming. She worked closely with the National Trust, helping it to acquire land with a view to long-term preservation.

Photo of Alice Dryden with her parents in the garden at Canons Ashby

Photographer and champion of rural life  

Historian and photographer Alice Dryden – known affectionately as ‘Miss Alice’ – lived at Canons Ashby in the later 19th century. Her photographs of nearby villages and village life, are a fascinating glimpse at Northamptonshire in the 1880s and 90s. Alice also helped set up the Home Arts and Industries Association, which promoted the revival of country crafts, and campaigned to improve the lives of rural people.

Hand-crafted replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet

Uncovering our Anglo-Saxon past 

Edith May Pretty was an English landowner with a passion for archaeology. In 1938-39 she paid for the excavations on her land that led to the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial. This 7th-century Saxon vessel was most likely the last resting-place of King Raedwald of East Anglia. Edith also donated the fabulous burial goods found on the site to the British Museum. She was offered a CBE by Sir Winston Churchill in recognition of her generosity, although she chose to decline it.

Portrait of Charlotte Payne-Townshend

Champion of women's rights 

Charlotte Payne-Townshend was a committed political activist, member of the Fabian Society and suffragette. She married George Bernard Shaw and they lived together at Shaw’s Corner. It is believed that his play, A Village Wooing, is based on their early relationship.

The timber-beamed hall and staircase at Paycocke’s, Essex

An artistic polymath 

Imogen Clare Holst CBE was an English author, composer, arranger, conductor, teacher and festival administrator. Daughter of composer Gustav Holst, she was famous for her progressive educational work, and her role as joint artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival. She stayed with her father at Paycocke’s House in 1923 and wrote of it: 'This house is absolutely too wonderful for words...it is a dream. And it is great fun living in a dream...'

Portrait of Bess of Hardwick

A political power of the Tudor age 

Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire stands thanks to the drive and determination of one woman, Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, known to many simply as ‘Bess of Hardwick’. A shrewd figure, she rose to become a great power within Elizabethan society thanks to four well-placed marriages.

Catherine Cocks, Countess of Stamford

From the circus to high society 

Catherine, Countess of Stamford was a strong and ambitious woman. She was a former circus bareback rider who defied Victorian society by marrying the Earl of Stamford and Warrington. When he died, she took over the running of the household and racing stables. She is also remembered as a much loved hostess and for her work in the local community.

Edith Lady Londonderry in the gardens at Mount Stewart

A horticultural master 

Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Marchioness of Londonderry DBE, was an influential society hostess between the wars. Her passion for nature can still be seen today in the wonderful house and gardens at Mount Stewart. She was also the author of The Magic Inkpot, a book of children’s stories that drew on the myths and legends of Strangford Lough and the surrounding countryside.

Illustration of women working on a spinning machine at Quarry Bank

The lives of women 'below the stairs' 

Of course, not all of the women who have lived at, and shaped our places were wealthy and influential. Many thousands of 'ordinary' working lives have sadly gone unrecorded. But the new exhibition at Quarry Bank - A Woman’s Work Is Never Done, celebrates the lives of women at all levels. From the girls in the Apprentice House to the ladies of the Greg family. This exhibition uses art, humour and the Quarry Bank archive to shine a light on the experiences of those whose stories are rarely celebrated.

Dressing up at Sutton House, London

People in history 

Discover some of the social history behind our places and uncover fascinating facts about the people who have lived in them.