Some say Settle has always been an isolated market town without anything spectacular going on. Definitely not, says, Sarah Lister who researches the lives of those buried in Settle graveyard for the Settle Graveyard Project. As we celebrate International Women’s day Sarah shares the incredible story of Charlotte Robinson and her family whose magnificent tomb is in Settle Graveyard.
The remarkable Charlotte Robinson was born in 1859, she was the youngest of nine children of Henry Robinson, a cooper’s son and his wife Epsey Dale, the daughter of a London piano manufacturer. Unfortunately, Epsey died at Charlotte’s birth. Henry was a successful solicitor in Settle and, as a result, the family have a huge family tomb in the graveyard. Three sons joined the firm, operating across Craven.
When Henry died in 1870, at their Bath residence, he left an estate worth the equivalent of millions of pounds in today’s money – so his children could easily have spent the rest of their lives mixing in high society and enjoying the finer things in life. However, Henry and Epsey were passionate about social and political reform and their children became equality activists. Outside work the sons were local Liberal politicians with ‘indefatigable exertions for the Radical Cause’ as well as excellent cricketers.
Henry and Epsey’s talented and ground-breaking daughters went to Queen’s College, London, an independent girls’ school aiming to ‘promote a non-competitive spirit to produce confident, open-minded young women’. It certainly achieved that.
Daughter Ann Elizabeth married Francis Atherton who immediately boarded a ship bound for the Australian gold mines and stayed there for many years. Ann became close friends with the artist, Kate Thornbury and they lived together in Hertfordshire. Kate was the sister-in-law of Elizabeth Garett Anderson who was the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and the first female mayor in Britain. Ann Elizabeth and Kate joined the early suffragette movement and founded the Society of Artists to promote the work of women.
Youngest daughter Charlotte and her sisters Ann Elizabeth and Epsey became business partners specialising in interior design, exceptionally unusual for women in those days. Regardless of the bugbear which terrifies weaker women — loss of social status, they determined on a career of honourable work rather than a life of dull inactivity or intermittent charitable causes’. Charlotte exhibited her decorative designs in Manchester and Glasgow and with Titus Salt at Saltaire. She opened a shop in King Street, Manchester and, as a result of her success, she was appointed to serve as ‘Home Art Decorator’ to Queen Victoria. ‘Her furniture designs are simple and unique; she has dainty and quaint arrangements for cosy nooks and odd corners, and has good reason to be proud of the work of the artists employed in the studio’
Charlotte had met Miss Emily Faithfull whilst at Queen’s College, and they worked and lived together in London and Manchester. Emily was a vicar’s daughter from Bloomsbury, well known as a ‘petticoat philanthropist’. She was a women’s rights activist promoting girls’ education, women’s employment and suffrage. She published material through her business ‘Victoria Press’, and was also appointed to serve Queen Victoria.
Soon after the divorce laws changed in 1857, Emily was involved in a high-profile case in which she was suspected of being ‘the other woman’ to the wife of naval officer Sir Henry Codrington. Emily was known to dress in ‘manly clothes’. Scandalous! This divorce was recently rated number 2 in ‘Marriage Scandals that Shocked the 19th Century’, and is portrayed in the book ‘The Sealed Letter’ by Emma Donoghue.
When Emily died, in 1895, she left her estate to Charlotte, “my final love, as some little indication of my gratitude for the affectionate tenderness and care which made the last years of my life the happiest I ever spent.”
When Charlotte died in 1901, aged 42, she left her substantial estate to her niece, Elspeth McClelland, who was one of the first female architects in the country, the only woman amidst 600 men on the training course. Elspeth worked in the style of the ‘Arts and Crafts Movement’ inspired by John Ruskin and William Morris promoting simple, romantic and traditional craftsmanship.
Unsurprisingly, Elspeth was swept into the Edwardian suffragette movement. In 1909 Elspeth became a ‘Human Letter’ along with Christabel Pankhurst. As a publicity stunt, they sent themselves a letter to 10 Downing Street, costing three pence. Downing Street would not sign the postman’s forms so they had to be returned as a ‘dead letter’.
Ironically, in the same year, Settle Conservative Club ran a debate on woman’s suffrage but ‘after a warm discussion’ voted against giving women the vote.
Tragically Elspeth died in 1920, aged 40, at the birth of her third child.
The Settle Graveyard Project
As part of the Settle Graveyard Project, Sarah Lister has been researching and celebrating the lives of those buried in Settle and other local graveyards. To preserve this heritage all the findings are recorded and posted on the Dales Community Archives website and new research is posted weekly on the website, Facebook and by email, Sarah also has written three books; ‘Curious Tales from the Ancient Graveyard’, ‘The Railway Navvies of Settle: the end of the line’ and ‘Meandering down the Ribble, born and bred in the Long Preston Floodplain.’ Sarah and Ken Lister share the stories through talks to local groups and through popular graveyard trails in the summer. All the proceeds of books, talks and graveyard trails are donated to local charities, with over £8000 raised so far.