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Discover Winchester’s Wonderful Women

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This week it’s International Women’s Day (8 March) and in recognition we wanted to celebrate some of Winchester’s most wonderful women, blazing paths in their field, changing laws and above all else supporting other women.

Jane Austen portrait

Perhaps the best known is author Jane Austen, who wrote Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility and Emma, to name a few. Jane was living in Chawton, 17 miles from Winchester, when she suffered ill health and moved to the city and a house in College Street, for treatment for Addison’s disease – a rare disorder of the adrenal glands, believed to be the cause of her death in 1871. Now she is buried in Winchester Cathedral, while her home in Chawton is now the Jane Austen’s House museum. Fans can also learn more about her life through the local landmarks and locations described in the Austen Trail. Including Chawton House – an Elizabethan manor once owned by her brother Edward and referred to in Jane’s letters.

Last month a statue of Licoricia of Winchester was unveiled on Jewry Street, where the 13th century businesswoman lived. Described as ‘the most important Jewish woman of medieval England’, Licoricia was a successful moneylender whose clients included Henry III. She was also mother to son Asher, who appears in the statue. Licoricia is shown holding a tallage as Jews were heavily taxed; and in clothes worn by a wealthy woman. Jews were required to wear distinctive dress, but Licoricia is not, as wealthier Jews paid for the privilege not to. Her story highlights how medieval society treated its Jewish community, while it is hoped her statue recognises the city’s Jewish past and promotes female achievement, tolerance and diversity. To read more about Licoricia click here; and follow the city’s Medieval Jewish Trail here.

Painting of College Street in 1816

Juliana de la Floude was a 13th century washerwoman who sought a writ from King Edward I to restore her water supply after the mayor and MP of Winchester, John de Tytyng, blocked it from reaching her Upper Brook Street launderette – preventing her scouring her clothes. The king commissioned a report and based on the findings he declared that ‘water has always been common’. He outlawed the contamination of the local water and the ruling became part of the United Nations Convention of Human Rights. It means that today billions of people around the world have free access to fresh, flowing water. Read more here.

In 1876 Mary Sumner invited mothers to a gathering at The Church of St. Mary The Virgin, in Old Alresford, to share parenting advice and encouragement – after recognising how little support women received while parenting. She named the group The Mothers’ Union – and it is now a global movement supporting families, with around four million members across 84 countries. A plaque in the church commemorates her life and work. She is buried outside Winchester Cathedral.

Winchester City View copyright Gilbert Yates Photography

Gilbert Yates Photography

Josephine Butler was a social reformer and pioneering feminist who lived in Winchester in the late 19th century. From 1869 she campaigned to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts, allowing police to examine women suspected of being prostitutes for venereal diseases, which Josephine considered an infringement of women’s civil rights. She also found a refuge for recovered prostitutes in the city and fought to eradicate child prostitution and sex trafficking across the world. Read more here.

Modern day fabulous females

Actress and TV presenter Amanda Holden spent her childhood in Bishop’s Waltham; Iranian-born comedian and author Shappi Khorsandi graduated from King Alfred’s College, now the University of Winchester, with a degree in Drama, Theatre and TV; the late actress Emma Chambers – best known for playing Alice Tucker in the BBC sitcom, The Vicar of Dibley – went to St. Swithun’s School on the edge of the city; while TV presenter and model Alexa Chung went to Peter Symonds College.