Hitting the right notes

February 01 2018

As part of the charity Bristol Women’s Voice’s year long Deeds Not Words celebration, Jane Duffus has written a new book commemorating 250 wonderful women from Bristol’s past. Here, she looks at two with a musical twist.

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As part of the charity Bristol Women’s Voice’s year long Deeds Not Words celebration, Jane Duffus has written a new book commemorating 250 wonderful women from Bristol’s past. Here, she looks at two with a musical twist.

 

IN Bristol, you can’t move for references to the men who helped to shape our city… but what about the women? When all but one of the statues in the city feature men (and the solitary female statue is of a goddess, not even a human woman!) and there are some history books about Bristol that barely even mention women, you would be forgiven for thinking there were no notable females in Bristol’s past. But you’d be wrong!

Which is why in ‘The Women Who Built Bristol’ (published by Tangent Books on February 26), I have compiled a compendium of 250 wonderful women who helped to shape the city we know and love today. From the better known names such as reformer Mary Carpenter and suffragette Annie Kenney, to the more obscure such as fruit seller Jane Martin and haematologist Janet Vaughan…I’ve tried to leave no stone unturned in my quest to represent women from all walks of life who contributed something - no matter how small - to the Bristol we live in today. And here are just two examples...

Despite her humble beginnings in Easton, thanks to her powerful tenor voice Ruby Helder went on to become a renowned international opera singer. Born as Emma Jane Holder in 1890, her father was the landlord of the Glasshouse pub on Brooklyn Terrace in Lawrence Hill and his talented daughter would regularly sing to entertain the customers. After being encouraged to take formal singing lessons, Emma changed her name to Ruby Helder and a superstar was born. Known as ‘The Girl Tenor’, owing to how extraordinary it was for a woman to have the range she did, by 1911 Ruby had a recording contract with HMV and her reputation had gained an international following. American audiences adored her and she regularly sang in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. One American millionaire is even said to have paid Ruby £10,000 (approximately £190,000 in contemporary money) to travel across the Atlantic and sing at a private party in 1913. Not bad for a girl from a pub in Easton.

Another musical Bristol gal was Blanche Long, born 1927. She suffered polio as a child so was encouraged to study music, which led her to train at Trinity College of Music, London, where she honed her piano skills. After marriage, Blanche moved to Redland where her interests expanded to see her become director of an engineering company, fundraiser for a disability charity and continue with the piano. In 1976, it was announced that St George’s off Park Street was closing as a church, so Blanche, and two others, approached the BBC with the idea of using the building for chamber music: the first concert was broadcast on 15 December 1976. A ‘Friends of St George’s Brandon Hill’ newsletter from the 1980s stated: “[Blanche’s] enthusiasm and optimism provides St George’s Music Trust with a pillar of strength which is so essential to the future survival and prosperity of the Trust.”

For the full story on Ruby and Blanche, and all 250 women profiled in the book, please order your copy of ‘The Women Who Built Bristol’ from bristolwomensvoice.bigcartel.com. All profits go straight to the charity Bristol Women’s Voice and to better benefit the charity please buy direct.