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A BEACON OF LIGHT
Newcastle Cathedral celebrates Remarkable Women
How good is your knowledge of extraordinary women from throughout Christian history?
Throughout March 2021, Helen Wright (Cathedral Reader) and Thomas Sharp (Cathedral Curate) shed light on a different ‘Woman of the Week’ as part of #WomensHistoryMonth. Each week, a member of the Cathedral staff or clergy also introduced a less well-known figure from the Cathedral’s past…
These fun, informative videos will remain available to watch below.
During the period 1600-1900, women of all social classes had relatively few rights in law over their property or daily affairs. Wealthy girls usually had private tuition in a variety of subjects leading to their inclusion in high society. For most women of all social groups, their goal was marriage to seemingly provide security and a legal foundation for having children.
However, the Cathedral’s monuments reveal some women who were able to use their skills and/or money to contribute to society in other ways. Their achievements were extraordinary for their time in history.
Here are some of their stories…
Week One: Agnes Thornton
Agnes is memorialised in the Cathedral’s remarkable 15th-century Thornton Brass, alongside her husband Roger, the three-times-Mayor of Newcastle and Member of Parliament.
The pair are shown surrounded by various saints, while beneath them are their seven sons and seven daughters. Four of Agnes’ sons sadly died – her perseverance a testament in itself to her strength as a woman and as a mother.
The Thorntons gave generously to charitable causes, including St Catherine’s Hospital (aka the Maison Dieu): a hospital for the poor on the Quayside, which finally opened in 1412, the year after Agnes’ death.
Week Two: Lady Jane Clavering
Jane (1669-1735) was a well-known businesswoman, taking over the family business after her husband died.
More than one hundred years before George Stephenson built the Stockton and Darlington Railway, Jane and Lady Elizabeth Bowes opened a wagonway in the valley to transport their coal to market.
All the other members of the Clavering family were buried in Lanchester; however, Jane elected to be buried here at the Cathedral (then St Nicholas’ Parish Church).
Jane shares a ledger stone with an ancestor who died in 1600. The inscription to Jane says: “She was a lady of most excellent life” and describes her “excellent charity and affability”.
Week Three: Caroline Townshend
Born in London in 1878, Caroline Townshend was a suffragette, staunch labour supporter and celebrated stained glass artist.
Having trained at Slade School of Fine Art under celebrated stained-glass artist Christopher Whall, she soon became recognised in her own right and produced works across the country.
The window in Newcastle Cathedral was created in 1907 and depicts Christ in the last days of his life.
In 1920, Caroline set up business with Joan Howson. ‘Townshend and Howson’ were extremely successful and produced work for customers nationally and internationally.
Week Four: Women of the Past and Future
In the final ‘Woman of the Week’ video, Learning & Activities Officer Alina Trewhitt provided a celebratory round-up of various women associated with the Cathedral over the years.
These include Rachel Parsons (1885-1956), engineer and advocate for women’s employment rights, and Jane Hancock (1769-1812), who fostered in her children a love of the natural world that led to the development of what is now known as the Great North Museum: Hancock.
Finally, we celebrate all of the women who contribute to life in the Cathedral today: from congregation and clergy, to staff, volunteers, friends, and partners in the community.
Photo of Rachel Parsons courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives.
We hope you enjoyed watching Helen and Thomas’s videos and finding out about some of the remarkable women from the Cathedral’s history.