The lady lord mayors of Norwich through time
PUBLISHED: 14:40 08 March 2018
One was the first female lord mayor in the country, another was a refugee, another the first in Britain to choose a consort with Down’s Syndrome. The stories of Norwich’s female lord mayors are told in a new book
When Ethel Colman became Norwich’s first female lord mayor, she also became the first woman in Britain to be a lord mayor. She was followed by women with back stories including extremes of wealth and of poverty, and of war, escape, loss, triumph and decades of public service. Seventeen remarkable women, who have each been Lord Mayor of Norwich, are celebrated in a new book, launched this month.
The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich, by Phyllida Scrivens, traces the fascinating stories of all the women who been Lord Mayor of the city, from Ethel Colman in 1923 to Marion Maxwell in 2016.
In the year in which the nation celebrates the centenary of women winning the vote Phyllida tells the stories of Norwich’s female first citizens. The second lady Lord Mayor, in 1930, was Mabel Clarkson, elected as Norwich’s first female councillor in 1913, championing free school meals for needy children, a living wage and decent pensions.
Phyllida introduces the war refugee from Eastern Europe, the amateur actress lord mayor, the Scot from the Glasgow shipyards, the hairdresser lord mayor, the prison governor’s wife and Felicity Hartley, lord mayor in 2006, who chose her son Christopher, who has Down’s Syndrome, to be her consort. Felicity told Phyllida how meeting so many different people during that year helped build Christopher’s confidence.
As she researched the lives of Norwich’s female lord mayors Phyllida even managed to track down a baby boy, fostered more than 60 years ago by 1983 Lord Mayor, Barbara Stevenson. “The family had grown fond of the baby and Barbara was heart-broken when his mother claimed him back,” said Phyllida. “They had had no contact or information on the baby ever since and often wondered what had become of him.” She traced him to Australia where he remembered his mum telling him about the kindly family who fostered him while she was ill.
Czech-born Valerie Guttsman, Lord Mayor in 1979, had escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe and Phyllida found her detailed first-hand accounts in the Norfolk Record Office. They echoed themes from Phyllida’s previous book, which told the story of former Sheriff of Norwich Joe Stirling and his remarkable childhood escape from Nazi Germany.
“Throughout my research I became increasingly aware of the common threads shared by each Lord Mayor,” said Phyllida. “These include the civic coach (now sadly mothballed in Strangers’ Hall), the colourful and energetic Whifflers along with Snap The Dragon, the priceless regalia, fur robes and, of course, the 17th century mayoral chain, now replaced by a modern version, a controversial but undoubtedly more practical option.
“It quickly became apparent that with local government cuts and reducing public interest in civic life, the more extravagant trappings of holding high office are now on the way out. Gone are the coach, the limousines, the chauffeurs, the sit-down banquet on Mayor-Making Day and the formal ‘At Home’ event at Norwich Castle.
“My fear is that civic roles will soon be a thing of the past, considered irrelevant in a modern world.”
The foreword for Phyllida’s latest book is written by Patricia Hollis, former leader of Norwich City Council and now Baroness Hollis of Heigham, who said: “Norwich has long been a radical city, celebrating the French Revolution (with a maypole), offering safe space to chartists, nonconformists, and refugees from the county and the continent; and proud of its eminent women, drawn from leading liberal Norwich families and prominent in 19th century progressive causes – anti-slavery and women’s suffrage.”
“Some women lobbied to be Lord Mayor, this being the height of their ambition; others were surprised and delighted to be offered it. All were profoundly aware that as the city’s First Citizen, they inherited centuries of ceremony and dignity, their names joining mayors dating back to 1403 on City Hall’s marble wall.”
Phyllida will be talking about her book, and the research which went into it, at the Norfolk Record Office on Thursday, March 8, and at Yamouth’s Time and Tide Museum on Friday, March 9. “I am looking forward to sharing the stories of these 17 remarkable ladies during 2018, the centenary year of women first being given the vote,” said Phyllida.
The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich 1923-2017, by Phyllida Scrivens, is published by Pen and Sword books for £12.99