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Not all heroes wear capes: New exhibition exploring ‘local wonder women’ opens in Redbridge

PUBLISHED: 09:59 20 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:49 20 September 2018

Women working in the Kelvin Hughes factory, 1964. Picture: Redbridge Heritage Centre

Women working in the Kelvin Hughes factory, 1964. Picture: Redbridge Heritage Centre

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Not all superheroes wear capes and not all wonder women prance about in blue hotpants and gold encrusted headdresses (though they can if they want to of course).

Dee Ramlal came from Trinidad and Tobago in 1971 to train as a nurse and later worked at King George Hospital. Picture: Dee RamlalDee Ramlal came from Trinidad and Tobago in 1971 to train as a nurse and later worked at King George Hospital. Picture: Dee Ramlal

But in honour of all the brilliant women in the borough, who perform “everyday” and often overlooked acts of greatness, Redbridge Museum is opening a major new exhibition which explores the lives of those with an xx chromosome over the last 100 years.

Gerard Greene, Redbridge Museum and Heritage Centre manager said the new Wonder Women exhibition celebrating local ladies was made possible after a £28,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“While many heritage projects about women have looked at political change, this exhibition tries to portray a rounded view of women’s lives where ‘ordinary’, everyday life is celebrated by local women in their own words,” he said.

“Beginning with exploring the local area at the turn of the 20th century when social class determined women’s roles, the first display looks at the world of the domestic servants and those women who employed them.

Auxiliary Fire Service in the Second World War. Picture: Redbridge Heritage CentreAuxiliary Fire Service in the Second World War. Picture: Redbridge Heritage Centre

“There were, for example, around 3000 servants working in Ilford homes in 1911.

“The exhibition then moves onto the campaign to gain the vote in the years before the First World War by focusing on Ethel Haslam, the secretary of the Women’s Social and Political Union as well as Sylvia Pankhurst, who later lived in Woodford from 1924 to 1956.”

The display takes participants on a journey through time and both world wars had a huge impact on the lives of women in the East End changing patterns of work, community culture, education and family life.

The museum collected first-hand accounts from an air raid precautions warden and a Women’s Land Army worker to ensure that their memories were preserved for future generations to compare and contrast with their own lives.

Ethel Haslam, Secretary of Ilford Womens Social & Political Union. Picture:  Museum of LondonEthel Haslam, Secretary of Ilford Womens Social & Political Union. Picture: Museum of London

Redbridge Museum staff also included interviews with a 1980s anti-nuclear peace group, nurses who arrived from the Caribbean in the 1970s and modern day South Asian community groups.

Schools can make the most of the exhibition by taking part in a workshop about local history in connection with the display. This includes sessions on Suffragettes and links between local women and geography, history and citizenship.

“The exhibition has been in the planning for nearly two years and as well as using new research with local organisations and individuals, we have relied upon the oral history collection and archives of Redbridge Museum and Heritage Centre,” he added.

“The project is presented in partnership with Woodford County High School and pupils have been researching the Suffragette movement, and what the area was like during those years.

Grove Social Club, Chadwell Heath, circa 1955. Picture: Redbridge Heritage CentreGrove Social Club, Chadwell Heath, circa 1955. Picture: Redbridge Heritage Centre

“They also found out about pupils who went on to university in the 1920s at a time when this was rare.”

Gerard hopes the exhibition will appeal to a wide range of people and said it is interesting to find out just how much the local area has changed during the past 100 years as seen through the eyes of women.

“The exhibition shows that the opportunity for women to make their mark has ebbed and flowed over the last 100 years and while there is not one, clear narrative, many local women remain optimistic about what they can achieve despite the many pressures on their lives today,” he said.

As part of the collection, the museum is keen to talk to women who worked in Redbridge factories or offices from the 1960s – 1980s.

Secretarial trainees at Redbridge College, early 1970s. Picture: Redbridge Heritage CentreSecretarial trainees at Redbridge College, early 1970s. Picture: Redbridge Heritage Centre

Ideally, it would like to interview three generations of women from one family to get insight into how life has changed and is inviting women that fit the bill to get in touch.

The Wonder Women exhibition takes place between November 13 and April 27, 2019, at Redbridge Museum, Redbridge Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford.

Admission is free and the display can be seen on Tuesdays to Fridays 10am-5pm and on Saturday 10am-4pm.

Call 020 8708 2317 for more information.

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