Lives of Ipswich women (commissioned by Pen & Sword 2016)

I worked on a book about women's lives in Ipswich for about a year.  It was to cover the years 1850-1950 and due to be published in 2018 to mark the centenary of the extension of the female franchise.  Unfortunately, after a sudden illness in 2017, I was unable to complete this work but, now fully recovered, I have begun putting some of my material on this website.  

Two Ipswich women 

These two women, one born in the mid C19th and the other dying in the second half of C20th, could not be more different from each other - in class, education, social freedoms, political influence and personal finances.  However, both lived in worlds where 'there was a continued expectation that women would marry, stay at home, raise the children and be the moral and domestic lynchpin of the family' (Cathy Hunt, History of Women's Lives in Coventry).  These women confounded this expectation in their own ways: Charlotte Alderton by working throughout her married life and Mary Whitmore as an influential politician, always in the public eye.

Charlotte Alderton, nee Kettle, was born in Hadleigh in about 1843 but spent most of her life in St Clement's parish, a poor, dockside district of Ipswich. We know something about her life because her husband, a disabled former Thames bargeman, wrote a memoir of their lives together.  It is unlikely that Charlotte herself was able to read and write fluently, if at all, and without Joseph's narrative she would be truly 'hidden from history'. As a young woman, she was a silk binder and would have been paid poverty wages.  Her married life was spent entirely in the domestic sphere, running a household and caring for her family. She took on paid work (mangling, shop work, sewing) when it fitted in with these duties and to bring in money when her husband was too ill to work.  John Alderton, the actor, is one of her descendants and owns the family memoir which he is hoping to make into a film.

Charlotte Alderton (1843-1903)



Mary Whitmore, nee Fletcher, was an influential Labour councillor on the Borough Council, becoming the first female mayor of Ipswich in 1946.  Unlike Charlotte Alderton, she spent much of her life in the public sphere.  She was born in Sproughton, a farmer's daughter.  As a young suffragette, she was one of the first members of the Ipswich branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Mary Whitmore trained as a teacher at Whitelands College near London and had a lifelong interest in education. She was a founder member of the Ipswich Workers Education Association and taught at Nacton Road Mixed School for many years. She joined the Labour Party in 1924 and was elected to the Borough Council in 1930.  Through the Labour Party and the Borough Council, she worked to improve women’s health and education for all, received an MBE in 1951 for her services to public life.

  Mary Whitmore (1884-1974)


Sources include:  Joseph Alderton's Memoirs (unpublished - courtesy of John Alderton) and Women's Festival Group