WELL, one of the heritage themes nationally this year is Extraordinary Women.

So as this is St Helens 150th year, I was thinking that our Heritage Network could put several small exhibitions together on that theme.

We can get extra mileage out of the Cultural Hubs Friends of Cannington Shaw events later this month at Rainford, Garswood, and Thatto Heath libraries, by taking loads of photos of the performances.

We can also remember the nuns, nurses, and matrons who helped establish our local hospitals.

In ladies football, the spotlight has fallen on Lily Parr and Alice Woods of the Dick Kerr ladies, but I am intrigued by their games against the St Helens Ladies teams they used to play against.

After all, on Boxing Day 1920, 53,000 spectators packed into Goodison Park, Everton to see Dick Kerr Ladies take on St Helens Ladies and there were between 10,000-14,000 locked out unable to gain admission. Our Ladies lost 4-0 but helped raise £3115 (1920 prices) for charity.

There was the legendary Pit Brow Lasses in our local collieries. And were there any Suffragette activity in St Helens? I must check out the local papers of the time.

Local historian Margaret Gibbons added: “I have the relevant information about Margaret Mconie, the land army girl. Also, are we going to divide the land army women into the First World War and the Second World War.”

I had forgotten the land army girls.

I had also overlooked famous modern young women such as Lyn Andrews (author), Julia Armstrong, Shelley Parker (author), Emma Rigby (actress) and Carley Stenson (actress).

There is also Pauline Yates, the actress.

Elizabeth Prout, a nun, was born in Shrewsbury in 1820. In her early twenties she converted to Catholicism under the influence of the Passionist Missionary to England, Blessed Dominic Barberi.

Elizabeth began to feel a strong attraction to the religious life, but her health was poor and her fellow sisters did not think her strong enough for their work.

Elizabeth Prout received her new religious name, by which she would ever be known hereafter, Mother Mary Joseph of Jesus. In 1855 Elizabeth and another Sister moved to Sutton.

She opened a school at St Mary’s, Blackbrook, and took charge of St Anne’s School, Sutton.

The sisters earned their living as best they could; they knew, like the people around them, what poverty was, and at times Elizabeth was forced to beg.

Encouragement was ever present however, in the form of many benefactors and friends, not least amongst them Father Ignatius Spencer, the son of Earl Spencer and convert to the Catholic faith, who took the place of the spiritual guide of Mother Mary Joseph and her institute.

People were accusing the sisters of irregularity and so an ecclesiastical investigation began.

The result of the investigation was extremely positive and revealed the deep poverty of the sisters and the sacrifices they had made in their hard work.

In all she taught at or set up nine schools across the country. Elizabeth Proust died on January 11, 1864 at the convent in Sutton. She was 43 years of age. 

Her body together with that of Blessed Dominic Barberi C.P. and Fr. Ignatius C.P lies in the shrine of St Anne’s Church Sutton.

Regarding coal, Sarah Clayton (1712-1779), the daughter of a famous Liverpool merchant, became known as the ‘Queen of Parr.’ This was because she owned all the Parr collieries. 

In June 1778, she was forced to offer Parr Hall estate for sale and, a month later, was declared bankrupt.

It’s more than 300 years since the death of education pioneer Sarah Cowley.

She believed everyone should be able to read and made sure when she died there would be money in her will for poor persons children to be educated.

Within months of her death children were attending lessons at the Parish Church paid for by the Cowley Trust Fund. 

The Trust still exists. The Sarah Cowley Educational Foundation is a trust fund available to students attending either further and higher education courses; or to assist in the entry into a profession, trade or calling.

Forms can be obtained from the Council’s Finance Section.

Of course I have been lucky to be influenced by the works and knowledge of Mary Presland, of the St Helens Historical Society and the ”Thursday Group”, who, under her guidance, have published quite a few books on aspects of our local history.

It’s currently out of print, but if you see her “St Helens, A Pictorial History” on Google or ebay, buy it.

She and her late husband came to St Helens in 1955, and lectured at St Helens College. She joined the St Helens Historical Society at its birth in 1959, and was its secretary for a long time.

She was also a founder member of the Sankey Canal Restoration Society (SCARS) and what is now The Merseyside Industrial Heritage Society.

  • Anyone I have overlooked? Please get in touch. Contact chrispcoffey@gmail.com or 01744 817130.