Wales' most senior volunteer celebrates 100th birthday

Published : 19 Jan 2018 Last update : 04 Apr 2018

Today, Friday 19 January, Erddig’s longstanding volunteer, Joan Capel turns 100. Joan is just one example of the inspirational women contributing to the Trust today and her story launches a themed programme of events and exhibitions throughout 2018 exploring the previously untold stories of the women that have shaped and safeguarded our special places in Wales.

After moving around the UK doing various secretarial jobs, Erddig’s reputation for a good lunch drew Joan to the Wrexham hall in her retirement, where she has been volunteering for more than 25 years – first as a house steward and now in the bookshop. 

To mark her special birthday, Joan has recorded accounts of growing up in the ‘20s and the limited career options available to her, along with her advice for young women today. The Trust in Wales is inviting people to share their hopes for women over the next 100 years.

" In 1987 I volunteered at Erddig to keep me active in retirement and have been repaid a hundred fold. My philosophy for life is that the woman who works and is not bored is never old and I intend to repay Erddig by spending my centenary in January 2018 still serving it."
- Joan Capel, Bookshop Volunteer

Originally from Essex, secretarial work brought Joan to North Wales where she has lived for over thirty years. 

Discovering Erddig

She discovered Erddig in her retirement as it 'had the best lunch of all the National Trust places' and she started volunteering, first as a house steward and now in the bookshop.

Joan attributes volunteering to keeping her mind active, saying: 'I volunteered at Erddig to keep me active in retirement and have been repaid a hundred fold. My philosophy for life is that the woman who works and is not bored, is never old and I intend to repay Erddig by spending my centenary in January 2018 still serving it.' 

From events to fundraising, Joan Capel celebrates 100th birthday and 26 years of volunteering at Erddig
Two women in an Erddig alcove dressed in Victorian costumes
From events to fundraising, Joan Capel celebrates 100th birthday and 26 years of volunteering at Erddig
" Joan helps to raise thousands each year in the bookshop. She’s fantastic and a real joy to work with and she inspires everyone she meets. From dressing up as a Victorian for special events and handing out chocolate prizes at our Easter trails to selling raffle tickets at our outdoor theatre and being Mother Christmas in our grotto, her devotion to Erddig over the years has made such a difference."
- Shane Lloyd, Visitor Welcome Supervisor

Born in 1918, the year some women first gained the right to vote, Joan is just one of the women who has inspired and safeguarded the National Trust in Wales. 

Women and power

Throughout 2018, to celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, we'll redress the balance of how we tell the stories of our special places with a Women and Power themed programme of events and exhibitions.

Agnes Pochin, Laura McLaren and Priscilla Bright-McLaren
Agnes Pochin, Laura McLaren and Priscilla Bright-McLaren
Agnes Pochin, Laura McLaren and Priscilla Bright-McLaren

The programming includes garden trails with a history exhibition and art installation at Bodnant Garden celebrating the legacy of Laura McLaren – daughter of estate owner, Henry Pochin - who served with the London National Society of Women's Suffrage, was awarded the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour and described in the Times as one of the greatest horticulturalists in Europe.

At Llanerchaeron, visitors will be immersed in the stories of ‘Petticoats of Power’, the women who built, protected and essentially saved the Georgian estate, kicking off with a Ladies Day in May. Plus, much more to be announced as the year progresses.

Mary Ashby Lewis managed the Llanerchaeron estate from 1855 until her death in 1917
Mary Ashby Lewis managed the Llanerchaeron estate for 56 years after the death of her husband
Mary Ashby Lewis managed the Llanerchaeron estate from 1855 until her death in 1917

Erddig’s history is remarkably well recorded through the women of the estate; in the letters, diaries and descriptions by wives and mothers of the squires Yorke; in the artwork commissioned from ladies maid Betty Ratcliffe and displayed so prominently in the family home; to the balanced representation in poetry and portraiture of the female servants toiling below stairs. 

Group photo of servants at Erddig taken in 1912
Group photo of servants at Erddig taken in 1912
Group photo of servants at Erddig taken in 1912

Women and Power will offer the chance to focus a spotlight on these women and how they shaped the special places we have all inherited.  

Outstanding contribution

Justin Albert, our Director for Wales, said: 'We want to wish a very special Happy Birthday to Joan and a huge thank you from everyone at National Trust for her long and outstanding contribution to Erddig.'

'Over the next year, we want visitors to learn more about the women who have been instrumental in developing and influencing the course of our special places across Wales, from the ladies of the house, maids and stable hands to our staff and volunteers, like Joan. 

'As the nation celebrates the 100th anniversary of female suffrage and conversations about the role of women are as prevalent as ever, we hope the Women and Power events and exhibitions will provoke visitors to share their hopes for how the role of women will change over the next hundred years.'

Share your hopes for women in the next 100 years with @NTWales using #BeLikeJoan

How to #BeLikeJoan in 2018

Be confident
'Have confidence in yourself. I had opportunities I didn’t take because I hadn’t the confidence.'

Be committed
'Make up your own mind what you want and if it’s really important try and stick to it.'

Be hardworking
'Just because a job is easy don’t think you don’t have to work hard at it.'