E ... is Easy ... Exeter!
A - Z of Devon Places & Women Writers
E is Easy
Well, at first glance, Exeter 'for E' seems an easy choice of places for this A-Z of Devon women writers, in the sense that many writers linked with Devon were also connected with the city. But, when I sat down to begin writing this piece I realised that actually Exeter may be one of the hardest of this A-Z of Devon places. In other words, perhaps too many of the writers on my lists were closely associated with Exeter! It would be possible to have a whole blog devoted just to them. I've found information that shows us women writing in one way or other from the earliest historical records right up to the mid C20. In the book I'm completing, Exeter is threaded like a gem throughout the text as a central county hub, which connects individuals to one another and through the centuries. This is no surprise of course, as Exeter represents a historical slice of time for Devon.
I can't mention or include all the writers here, but will have a go at selecting a cluster of them. It gives me a chance to include a handful of authors who don't appear in my book, as well as others who are. A few of them are already well known, but others may be new to you ...
I'll begin just after the Norman Conquest, during the Siege of Exeter, in 1068, when Gytha, mother of King Harold and widow of Earl Godwin of Wessex, managed to escape from Exeter through the Water Gate, and was rowed away, with her group of 'travelling noblewomen', down the river Exe to eventual freedom, at Steep Holm. Gytha had been staying in a town house in Exeter.
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We are told about Gytha in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles:
7 her ferde Gyða ut, Haroldes modor, 7 manegra godra manna wif mid hyre, into Bradan Reolice, 7 þær wunode sume hwile, 7 swa for þanon ofer sæ to Sancte Audomare.[and in this year Gytha, Harold’s mother, went out and many wives of good men with her, to Flat Holme, and remained there for a while and thus from there over sea to St Omer (France)]
|St Olave's Church|
Why am I including Gytha here, as a writer? You might well ask. No, as far as I am aware, there are no documents which present this early noblewoman as an active author of texts. But, during the times of Saxon and Norman England, women who were closely related to royal circles all had a participatory interest in literature. Many royal women during these years were closely connected with Devon and in particular with Exeter. I discuss these royal women and their engagement with literary activity in more detail in Women Write in the Devon Landscape
Anne Lock moved to the southwest of England circa 1585, when she married Richard Prowse, mayor of Exeter in 1590, then apparently spent the rest of her life in Devon. It was whilst she was living in the county that her translation of John Taffin’s devotional Of the Marks of the Children of God was first published, in 1590. Little seems to be known of her time in Devon, but Anne Prowse’s earlier life is quite well documented. Her father, a court functionary, was a diplomat for Henry VII, her mother, a silk woman. Anne moved to Geneva with her friend John Knox in 1557 to join the community of Protestant exiles there. She seems to have been an important figure in Protestant circles of that time.
With Anne Prowse’s mercantile background, her new home in Exeter probably provided a familiar and safe haven within a welcoming community. Possibly she was a member of the congregation at St Mary Arches; in that church are monuments commemorating several mayors of the city and one, to Thomas Andrew, in 1504, has the arms of the Merchant Adventurers.
|St Mary Arches|
Archival tit-bits mentioning Prowse hint at possible lost narrative threads and these seem to be located somewhere in the interface between the various trading exploratory activities of Exeter based merchants and the pursuits and networks of local Puritanical circles.
Some of Prowse’s female acquaintances may have had their own links with the south west. She was possibly distantly related to poet Anne Dowriche through marriage and there were other local women such as the female relations of Francis Russell, second Earl of Bedford, whose Devon base was then Bedford House in Exeter; his three daughters, Margaret, Anne Russell Herbert and Elizabeth were of the same generation as Anne Locke and Anne Dowriche and they were related to other women also known for their writing. Anne Prowse does not feature in Women Write in the Devon Landscape, but I have included her in the information section of the website SouthWestWomenWriters as well as in its Chronology.
Leaping up through several more centuries and we can look at one C19 Victorian woman who was associated with Exeter through her life and writings. Emma Marshall (1828-99) was author of Winifred's Journal of Her Life at Exeter in the Days of Bishop Hall and a prolific and popular author of her time - here is a list of her works. Perhaps you reading this have heard of Emma Marshall. I have to confess I had not, until by chance I stumbled upon her one day. At the time, I was seeking information not about women writers in Devon, but about another (often related) research preoccupation, family research. (slight diversion here. I was trying to find ancestors of a certain Rebecca Hall, a great grandmother x 5 or 6 from Broadwoodkelly and had reason to believe her family line might be related to that of Bishop Joseph Hall, of Exeter. And, with a google search, up popped Emma Marshall, this once famous female author). To be honest, it was not surprising that one of my research fields interconnected with another; it had already happened several times before. 'You can't have one without the other' had become a frequent underlying refrain of mine. And no -although I have not given up - I did not find (and have not yet found) Rebecca's Hall parentage connected with that of Joseph, the Bishop. But, I did pick up yet another name to add to my Devon women writers collection, which by the time I found the latest name was already chock-a-block with entries. Redressing the balance it's pleasing to include Emma Marshall here in this Exeter entry; unfortunately, because of space, other than a brief paragraph, her life and writings do not feature in the manuscript of the main book I've written. Emma lived in Exeter early in her marriage and at one time lived at 38 High Street, which I believe is now the site of Mountain Warehouse.
|38 High Street|
Emma's recreation of an imaginary journal penned from the perspective of Winifred, servant to Bishop Joseph Hall, in C16 Exeter held many detailed accounts about that woman's day to day life; an imagined world within a once real world, whose real author's vanished life linked up with several other such forgotten author's lives. When I returned to have another look at the text I'd been annoyed to find that Winifred's journal conjuring everyday life in the C16, once freely available in cyberspace, had suddenly disappeared into the nether-worlds of virtual reality, making the author's own lost real life vanishings more poignant.
As often happens with writers, Emma wasn't the only author in her family. Her youngest daughter, Christopher St John, or Christabel Marshall, born in Exeter in 1871 ought to be more acclaimed than she is. A playwright, novelist and campaigner for women's suffragist, Marshall was born 24 October 1871, at 38 High Street, Exeter. Unfortunately, like her mother, she is missing from my book.
Although she does not appear in Writing Women on the Devon Landscape, I have written a short piece on my other blog about Emily Shore and her Exeter Journal in Emily in Exeter . I'm not sure that you can read the whole journal text without payment, but there is a wonderfully detailed and illustrated account of this young journalist /writer by Barbara Timm Gates, in Self Writing as Legacy. This version, the best source of information about Emily Shore, digitises Emily's diaries so that the reader can see how the original version was changed both by herself and by her sisters.
Barbara Timm Gates explains and Wikipedia repeats that:
Extracts of her [Shore's] journal were published by her sisters Louisa and Arabella in 1891, more than fifty years after her death. A second edition was published in 1898. Today only some parts of her journal are extant, but in 1991 it was discovered that Arabella had left two of her sister's journals to the British Museum. These journals are now in America as they were not delivered at the time. These journals reveal that Emily's autobiography was, to a degree, converted into a biography by her then elderly sisters.
There is another link to a printout of Emily's journal.
Emily Shore, eldest of five children, was born on Christmas Day, in Suffolk, in 1819. She began her journal when she was eleven years old and kept it until her death, in Madeira, at the age of nineteen.
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Timm Gates notes that the young girl's journal's entries were written - 'From July 5, 1831, at the age of eleven, until June 24, 1839, two weeks before her death from consumption'.
Gates continues that
She wrote of political issues, natural history, her progress as a scholar and scientist, and the worlds of art and literature. In her brief life, this remarkable young woman also produced, but did not publish, three novels, three books of poetry, and histories of the Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans, and she published several essays on birds. Written in an authoritative voice more often associated with men of her time, her journal reveals her to be well versed in the life of an early Victorian woman. (see Journal of Emily Shore)
Emily's visit to Exeter took place between 1836-7, when she was about seventeen. She arrived with her mother on the Salisbury to Exeter coach, in October 1836. In Exeter they stayed with Emily's aunt, uncle and cousins, at 7 Baring Crescent, and after ten days, her mother left her with them. Her daughter recorded: 'Mama went away today leaving me here for seven months, a hundred and seventy one miles from home but I think I shall be [as] happy ... for Aunt Bell is exceedingly kind'. (Journal). Emily resolved to take up her studying again but must also have found time to explore her surroundings. The early pages of her Exeter Journal provide detailed descriptions of walking expeditions where, accompanied by her uncle she took in the city sights.
Other women writers have delighted in the panoramic view set before them from the vantage point of Northernhay and Rougemont Gardens. In particular, during the early years of World War One E.M. Delafield, drafted her first novel in the park. I have written about Delafield in detail, in the manuscript of Women Write in the Devon Landscape, so here I will just provide a couple of links - to a Scrapblog piece-Sad December, and Devon Celebrations.
|View from Northernhay Gardens|
There are other authors who ought to appear here, such as Priscilla Cotton and Susanna Parr, but they will need to wait until the next part 2 of this A-Z.
(See also From the Devon Ridge where a Book Began)