Augustus John was one of the great painters of the last century. He knew and painted many of the most famous people of his time, including prominent figures of the Irish Literary Revival such as Yeats, Seán O’Casey, and George Bernard Shaw.
Facebook. I can’t really understand it. A picture appeared “asking me to be a friend” of a very dear friend of mine named Rose. Much illness and an “outside the box” kind of life, I have lost track of good friends, and I do feel ashamed for this. I have photos in prominent places in my home but as I do not use the phone, I have lost track. I then Googled Rose Taylor. It was her obituary from the newspaper where she was a journalist. I have been weeks now hiding the extreme sadness I feel and the regrets too. This piece is my contribution to Rose and as Rose knew my mum very well, I include this piece poetry written by Johnnie Neylon in 1977 about my mum. The poem can be found if you search my blog under Poetry.
But if I’m laid where beauty grows, My dust may sprout a lip-red Rose, For in this life some earthly power, Deprived me of that sweetest flower, I feel my soul would find repose If God would let me have that Rose.
Charity: Rose Taylor (third from right) interviewing leprosy-affected people in Mozambique
Zoë Bunter writes:
ROSE TAYLOR, who died on 3 October, aged 62, after a short illness, spent her last years working with the Leprosy Mission England and Wales in Peterborough.
She was born in Mumbai and came to the UK in 1972. Her first job in journalism was on the Saffron Walden Reporter. From there, she went on to hold senior posts in Royston, on the Cambridge News, and the Gloucester Echo, before joining the Peterborough Evening Telegraph in 2005, where she was a very successful news editor.
After a stint at the Aberdeen Press and Journal, Rose returned to Peterborough, working as a reporter for various local newspapers, before taking a post at the University of Bedfordshire. She was a committed journalist, who was also a great supporter of local community groups and charitable causes.
Most recently, Rose’s considerable talents were put to great use at the Leprosy Mission. Her last work assignment was a trip to the Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique, one of the most leprosy-affected parts of the country.
Rose spent eight days in Mozambique, meeting people affected by leprosy, and visiting projects which had been funded through the charity’s “Feet First” campaign in 2015. On her trip, Rose met some of the people who had been provided with protective sandals through Feet First.
Rose’s trip to Mozambique touched her deeply. Before she died, she said: “I am so pleased to have had the chance to see the work of the Mission for myself. It made all the work I have been doing back in Peterborough much more real. I am so pleased I had the chance to meet the people we are helping. It has been a real blessing.”
Michelle adds….I needed a place to stay, after my marriage ended; it was Rose who said come to Saffron Walden and sleep on my couch, which I did for many weeks, if not months. Many times over the years Rose came to Ireland and she would always prepare an Indian meal, lots of preparation time but absolutely superb.
Tributes to former PT news editor Rose
Tributes have been paid to former Peterborough Telegraph News Editor Rose Taylor who died this week.
By The NewsroomMonday, 10th October 2016, 4:20 pmUpdated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 5:53 pm
Rose with colleagues Kerry Coupe and Rachel Pishhorn during her time at the Mercury.
Rose was known throughout the city after joining the then Peterborough Evening Telegraph in 2005 and fast building a reputation as a committed journalist who was also a great supporter of local community groups and charitable causes.
“She was absolutely passionate about the paper, local journalism and, in particular, supporting campaigns and good causes.
“She was so well known in many communities and organisations across the city and would frequently give many hours of her own time to support events. She was liked and respected in equal measure by many. many people.
“Her great strength was developing young reporters and there are many careers that got of to a great start thanks to her support and advice.”
Rose was born in Mumbai and came to the UK in 1972. Her first job in journalism was on the Saffron Walden Reporter and from there she went on to hold senior roles in Royston, on the Cambridge News and the Gloucester Echo before she came to Peterborough in 2005.
After a successful stint as news editor she took up a content management role on the Aberdeen Press and Journal before returning to Peterborough. She edited the Cambridge First weekly newspaper before becoming a communicationes executive at Bedford University and latterly taking on a role at the Leprosy Mission based in Orton Goldhay. Rose also worked at the Stamford Mercury, Rutland Times and Bourne Local.
North West Cambs MP Shailesh Vara said: “It’s a great loss for all of us. Rose was a good soul in every sense of the word and a fine journalist who was passionate about Peterborough.”
Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson said: “ I was very sad to learn of death of Rose.
“She was warm, kind, an old school professional journalist.”
A funeral service will be held at St Peter & All Souls Church, Geneva Street, Peterborough on Thursday, October 13 at 10.30am, followed by a reception in the parish hall.
Exploring the link between mental disorder, traumatic brain injury
John Hricak recalled one morning when he looked in the mirror and noticed how much he had changed. “I remember thinking, ‘Gosh, John, you’ve lost weight,'” said Hricak of Grand Forks. It was the first memory he had in the months following the Feb… Written By: Pamela D. Knudson | 3:46 pm, Jan. 31, 2015
John Hricak recalled one morning when he looked in the mirror and noticed how much he had changed.
“I remember thinking, ‘Gosh, John, you’ve lost weight,'” said Hricak of Grand Forks.
It was the first memory he had in the months following the February 2005 traffic accident when his truck was hit by a semi on I-29 near the exit to Thompson, N.D. The accident put him in the hospital and on a long path to recovery.
“I weighed 147 pounds,” he said. “I weighed 193 the day before the accident.”
The brain injury he sustained in that accident erased part of his memory.
“I don’t remember the accident or rehab,” he said. “I don’t remember anything.”
He learned from others what had happened to him, including the fact that just after the accident a nurse told his daughter-in-law not to leave the hospital because he was not expected to live.
He was in a coma, tethered to breathing and feeding tubes. Doctors drained excess fluid from his brain to relieve pressure. He lost the use of his left eye and ear.
About 5,000 Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A total of 13,000 North Dakotans are dealing with the consequences of TBI, some of which, research shows, include the risk of developing mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Hricak returned to his job with the U.S. Border Patrol in Grand Forks in June 2005.
In the years following the accident, he’s had repeated memory lapses.
For example, he spent three days helping build a fence at his son’s home and took a trip to visit relatives out of state, but has no recollection of either event.
He keeps track of appointments in a calendar.
“Sometimes it is frustrating,” he said, but the challenges that other TBI survivors face put things into perspective.
Asked whether he has suffered any mental disorders, such as depression, in the years since the accident, Hricak said, “I’m sure I did. How could you not? If you lose an eye and an ear, it’s going to affect you.”
“I don’t know a person who doesn’t have a mental challenge, one way or another,” he said.
He takes a prescription medication to stabilize his moods.
Researchers say that trauma to the head can significantly increase one’s risk of developing certain mental disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder – in some cases by more than 400 percent.
Danish scientist Dr. Sonja Orlovska, of the Psychiatric Centre Copenhagen, said although she expected to see a correlation between head injury and the subsequent risk of mental illness, she was “quite surprised” by findings of a study she led.
The correlation “was stronger than I expected,” she said in a ScienceNordic.com article in January 2014.
In the largest study of its kind, researchers followed a pool of Danes who had been admitted to the hospital with a head injury.
Orlovska and her colleagues looked for diagnoses of depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and “organic mental disorders,” a form of decreased mental function due to a medical or physical disease, rather than a psychiatric illness.
Comparing the injured people’s risk of developing disorders with the rest of the population, they found that those with head injuries were:
• 65 percent more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.
• 59 percent more likely to develop a depression.
• 28 percent more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
• 439 percent more likely to suffer from organic mental disorders.
The greatest risk of developing a mental disorder is in the first year after suffering head trauma, they reported, but even after 15 years there was a significantly increased risk.
Head injury between the ages of 11 and 15 was the strongest predictor for subsequent development of schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder.
“There is a significant overlap between those who have mental health disorders and TBI, but we don’t know causality,” said Rebecca Quinn, who works with the North Dakota Brain Injury Network as program director with the Center for Rural Health at UND.
Trauma to the brain “is so difficult to work with,” Quinn said. “We don’t have a complete understanding of how the brain works.”
Certain mental disorders are thought to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, so damage to brain structures that carry those chemicals could play a part in the development of mental disorders.
“We don’t have a grasp on that,” she said. “You can have trauma that’s psychological, physical, genetic or (related to toxin) exposure. We don’t know how they interconnect.”
In her work with people who’ve suffered TBI, she said, “I have brain-injured individuals who don’t go on to develop mental health disorders and those who do. We don’t have enough knowledge to ruleanything out.”
Although there is no definite explanation to the correlation between head injuries and the subsequent development of mental disorders, Orlovska and her colleagues point to possible explanations such as trauma-induced inflammation and disruption in the balance of chemicals the brain uses to communicate between various parts of the nervous system.
Head injuries that occur in connection with a traumatic accident may produce a psychological and emotional reaction that triggers the mental disorder, experts say. The loss of bodily functions or abilities after an accident with head trauma may also affect the psyche so that the person develops a mental disorder.
TBI affects thousands
“About 13,000 North Dakotans are living with consequences of TBI, including injuries resulting from sports, falls and motor vehicles crashes,” Quinn said.
“Falls are the most common injury that causes TBI across the board,” she said. “Vehicle crashes are the cause of more severe injury.”
Slips on ice, childhood falls on the playground, and falls among construction and oil industry workers are examples of accidents that can result in significant injury, she said. “You don’t realize how something little can lead to something worse,” she said.
Injury to the brain is much different from injury to other parts of the body, Quinn said.
An injury such as a broken limb or punctured lung limits the use of that specific part, but body structures heal and regain their previous function.
“The brain controls everything we do, so a brain injury can impact everything we do,” she said.
Consequences of a brain injury can affect all aspects of one’s life, including personality, according to TraumaticBrainInjury.com.
Quinn said she’s never experienced a time when presenting on brain injuries that someone doesn’t come up afterward to share their experience. She said so many people have been impacted and never really know if a past head trauma may have been a factor.
“Some will say (of their child’s behavior), ‘I thought it was a typical teenage issue, but now we’re wondering …,'” she said.
Brain injuries do not heal like other injuries, according to TraumaticBrainInjury.com. No two brain injuries are alike and the consequences of two similar injuries may be very different. Symptoms may appear right away or may not be present for days or weeks after the injury.
“Some symptoms – like dizziness, loss of concentration, confusion, slurred speech or vision disturbances – can resolve themselves,” she said. But later symptoms such as migraine headaches, memory problems and sleep disturbances can occur.
“The brain is so mysterious it’s difficult to predict how much they will recover over time,” she said. “Some are told they’d never walk again, and now they’re walking.”
North Dakota has taken steps to learn more about how brain injuries affect its citizens, Quinn said.
In 2011, the state human services department launched a screening program that found 30 percent of individuals who access substance abuse and mental health services have a history of TBI, she said. That’s pretty consistent with other studies conducted across the country, she added.
Studies of prison inmates in Minnesota and elsewhere “have put their history of TBI above about 60 or 70 percent,” she said, “which leads researchers to ask ‘why do so many people with TBI end up in prison?'”
Minnesota has a higher recidivism, or rate of repeat criminal behavior, among those affected by TBI, she said. It is considering possible ways to rehabilitate prisoners before they leave prison to reduce their chances of returning.
TBI affects skills such as decision-making ability, memory (to remember outcomes of prior actions), impulse control and the ability to weigh consequences.
TBI is “significantly higher” among the homeless and substance-abuse populations, she said. “The skill set required to stay out of these populations isn’t there,” she said.
Hricak, who took disability retirement in 2008 at age 57, is active in the local TBI support group that meets monthly at Sharon Lutheran Church in Grand Forks.
The group, which is affiliated with the North Dakota Brain Injury Network, draws people who range in age from 11 to 68.
“We have hard times remembering, we have hard times understanding,” he said. “We have emotional issues that are not under control – like ‘normal’ people.
“We have periods of depression like everyone else. It may be worse than others, but it’s not necessarily always that way.”
The goal of the support group is “to have a place where they can be themselves,” he said.
“Like everybody else, we have good days and bad days. (People with TBI) may not be able to do things that others think they should.”
Asked if he ever questioned why he was the victim of such a traumatic accident, he said, “Maybe at first. But it is what it is. I can’t change it, so I really don’t worry about it.”
Tomas Young joined the Army two days after September 11, 2001 and was shot and paralyzed after serving only five days in Iraq in 2004. He was the subject of the powerful 2007 documentary Body of War – with a soundtrack that included Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine and Bruce Springsteen – and since then, his health has worsened and he is currently under hospice care. On the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Young wrote a personal, heartbreaking letter to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. It was originally posted on Truthdig.com; Young has given us permission to reprint it here.
The Last Letter
To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From: Tomas Young
I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.
I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some one million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all – the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.
I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans – my fellow veterans – whose future you stole.
Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.
I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level – moral, strategic, military and economic – Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.
I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.
I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.
My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.
A coffin of a Covid-19 victim is disinfected in Piura, Peru. Picture: Sebastian Enriquez/AFPSource:AFP
Previously, a Covid death was only recorded with a positive test. But in a country with a large number of people living in poverty and with a stretched health system, this led to a lot of under-reporting.
Looking at the increase of deaths year on year, there were 150 per cent more deaths than expected, despite this figure not being reflected in coronavirus statistics.
So the government changed the criteria, counting a Covid-19 death as any which took place within 60 days of a positive test, or if coronavirus was suspected as the reason for death, thus raising the figures to what is probably a more realistic number.
Meanwhile, the country has just sworn in a new left-wing president, Pedro Castillo, after a nailbiting election with the slimmest of margins.
His campaign centred on distributing wealth more evenly, winning him votes from the rural regions which are typically very poor.
Early in the pandemic, Peru was quick to bring in restrictions to help curb the spread of the virus. But case numbers continued to rise.
Only 38 per cent of Peruvians have a bank account, so government assistance didn’t get to the poorest people, meaning they had to continue going out to work.
And more than 40 per cent of people don’t have a fridge. So they had to continue going to shops to buy their food as they had no way to stock up.
A Peruvian health worker takes a test on a man in his house at El Agustino district in Lima, as the country performs house-to-house Covid-19 testing. Picture: Ernesto Benavides/AFPSource:AFP
Lambda becomes dominant strain
In a country that was already in crisis, with a healthcare system not able to cope, Lambda has now taken hold.
It accounts for more than 80 per cent of all Covid-19 cases in Peru, according to its National Institute of Health.
Dr Pablo Tsukayama, a molecular microbiologist at Cayetano Heredia University, Lima, said indications are that Lambda is more transmissible.
“When we found it, it did not attract much attention,” he told Al Jazeera.
“But … by March, it was in 50 per cent of the samples in Lima. By April, it was in 80 per cent of the samples in Peru,” he said.
“That jump from one to 50 per cent is an early indicator of a more transmissible variant.”
In June, Lambda was added to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) list of variants of interest. WHO defines a variant of interest as one which has genetic changes that affect things such as transmissibility, disease severity and immune escape, and has been shown to be responsible for significant community transmission in multiple countries.
So far, Lambda has reached 29 countries around the world.
A batch of 300,000 doses of Chinese Sinopharm laboratory vaccines arrive in Lima, Peru. Picture: AFP/Peruvian Presidency/Luis IparraguireSource:AFP
In an article for The Conversation, Adam Taylor of the Menzies Health Institute at Queensland’s Griffith University wrote that the exact threat Lamda poses is still unknown.
“At this stage more research is required to say for certain how its mutations impact transmission, its ability to evade protection from vaccines, and the severity of disease,” he said.
“Preliminary evidence suggests Lambda has an easier time infecting our cells and is a bit better at dodging our immune systems. But vaccines should still do a good job against it.”
It’s that last point that the world is on edge about.
Will vaccines work against Lambda?
Lambda has a few defining mutations to the spike protein, according to Dr Taylor. One mutation is associated with reduced susceptibility to virus-generated antibodies.
“This means antibodies generated from being infected with the original Wuhan strain of Covid aren’t quite as effective at neutralising Lambda,” he wrote in The Conversation.
Another mutation is similar to the Delta variant.
“This mutation in Delta not only increases the ability of the virus to infect cells, but also promotes immune escape meaning the antibodies vaccines generate are less likely to recognise it,” Dr Taylor wrote.
It is this mutation, according to virologist Ricardo Soto-Rifo of Chile’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences, which may be the reason for the strain’s high infection rate. In research not yet peer-reviewed, Dr Soto-Rifo assessed the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine on Lambda. It showed the variant could neutralise the antibodies created by the vaccine.
A doctor prepares a vaccination to give to a health worker in February, 2021 in Lima, Peru. Picture: Raul Sifuentes/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
“These results were expected,” Dr Soto-Rifo told Al Jazeera. “The virus has changed and that can make the vaccine not as efficient as it was with the original virus, but that doesn’t mean the vaccine doesn’t work any more.”
In another non-peer-reviewed study, Nathaniel Landau, a microbiologist at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, showed a lab-made Lambda-like virus was twice as infectious as the original coronavirus.
Despite the results, he still advised vaccines were imperative.
“The key is that [Delta and Lambda are] both highly transmissible viruses. But if you get the vaccine, you’re most likely going to be protected,” Dr Landau told National Geographic. “And the rate of infection with these viruses is going to go down in areas where people get the vaccine,” he said.
“We believe that, at least for the mRNA vaccines – Moderna and Pfizer – that those vaccines will protect very well against Lambda, in the same way that they protect against the Delta virus.
“Even though some of the antibody no longer works against the variants, it’s still enough that they will fight the virus and get rid of it pretty well.”
Highly recommend this link to WHO:
Live Q&A on COVID-19 with Dr Mike Ryan and Dr Maria Van Kerkhove – YouTube
In April 1349, as the Black Death swept through London, Mathilda de Myms drew up her will. Her husband, John, had died the previous month, leaving his tenements to his wife and entrusting to her the guardianship of their daughter, Isabella. But the plague continued to ravage the capital, and Mathilda – wisely, as it transpired – decided to get her affairs in order. Shortly afterwards she was herself struck down.
John and Mathilda had run a business making religious images and paintings. Mathilda’s will arranged for her apprentice, William, to continue his training with a monk in Bermondsey Priory, and bequeathed to him the tools he needed, together with one of her best chests in which to keep them. A brewery owned by Mathilda was to be sold to pay for prayers for her and John.
That will underlines the devastating impact of the Black Death on thousands of families across the country; indeed, the disease subsequently took Isabella’s guardian. But the document also offers other insights – specifically, into opportunities that resulted from the soaring death toll.
In this instance, Mathilda clearly had wealth of her own, and the freedom to write such a will. She was briefly an early beneficiary of a period of relative economic power for women created by the sudden dearth of skilled and trained men – an era that has been dubbed a ‘golden age’.
Even before the plague afflicted London, the capital’s customary law offered women freedoms that they rarely enjoyed elsewhere in England, except perhaps in York. For example, a woman might enter into obligations on her own behalf, take on apprentices, run her own business, rent property, and sue (or be sued) for debt in the London courts. A woman – especially if she was a widow – could even write a will, as Mathilda de Myms did.
But after the plague struck, sending London’s population plummeting to 40,000 from a peak of 80,000 in 1300, these opportunities multiplied. In fact, the mayor and aldermen, alarmed by a chronic shortage of manpower, began actively to encourage women to exercise their new economic rights.
Eventually, the rights went further: from 1465, a widow of a citizen of London, who was living there with him at the time of his death, would be made ‘free of the city’ (a citizen) as long as she continued to live in London and did not remarry.
City authorities were especially anxious to encourage the widows of London merchants and craftsmen to continue to run their husbands’ workshops or trading enterprises, to ensure that these businesses continued to contribute to civic prosperity and taxation. Thus it became compulsory for widows to train their late husbands’ apprentices, or to make proper provision for them.
In the years following the Black Death, girl apprentices became prominent in surviving records. Though this wasn’t a new phenomenon – as early as 1276, Marion de Lymeseye was apprenticed to Roger Oriel, a paternosterer (maker of rosaries) – but in the half-century after the Black Death, from 1350 to 1400, numbers of female apprentices soared.
Fathers sometimes specified in their wills that their daughters should be apprenticed to learn a trade. Robert de Ramseye, a fishmonger who died in 1373, left 20 shillings to his daughter, Elizabeth – for her marriage, and for “putting her to a trade”.
Records are sparse – only 30 apprenticeship indentures from medieval London survive – but about a third of them relate to girls, many training in the craft of silkwork or embroidery. Their indentures, like those of boys, had to be recorded in the apprentice rolls kept at the Guildhall, and the terms of the indentures were the same, usually for seven years.
Why the rise in female apprentices at this time? For boys, a completed apprenticeship opened the way to the citizenship of London, with all its attendant political and economic advantages and responsibilities. For girls, though, this was not the case – citizenship did not follow an apprenticeship, and most went on to marry.
A female apprentice lived in the household of her master or mistress (not always the case with servants), and was placed almost completely under their authority. The master or mistress had specific obligations to feed, clothe and nurture the apprentice and, above all, to train her in the secrets and skills of her craft. An apprenticeship provided girls with patrons and business contacts, and secured their status within the working community.
So parents from gentry families outside London knew that apprenticing daughters would provide them with the means to earn a living, and to run an independent household should that prove necessary. Unsurprisingly, then, most girls were bound by their father or brother, though one woman from Sussex bound herself as an apprentice to another woman in London.
Married women in London could choose to trade separately from their husbands as femmes soles. At the time when her husband, Thomas, was serving as an alderman, around 1380, Maud Ireland traded as a femme sole silkwoman. “According to the usage of the city [she was] bound to answer her own contracts,” and she was sued for a debt owed for white silk bought from an Italian merchant.
Women were expected to make a public declaration of their sole status. In October 1457, Agnes Gower stated to the mayor and aldermen that she practised the art of a silkwoman and no other, and asked to be allowed to “merchandise” without her husband John, and to answer sole for her own contracts according to city custom. This was granted and recorded.
Some of these independent London women were doing business on a large scale. Agnes Ramsey, daughter of the noted architect and mason William Ramsey, ran her father’s business after his death in 1349 (see sidebar, left). Mathilda Penne ran her husband’s business as a skinner for 12 years after his death; she trained her own apprentices and employed male servants and, possibly, a female scrivener to keep the accounts.
Twice during the 15th century, the substantial bell foundry outside Aldgate was run by widows. The household and workshop of the bell-founder Johanna Hill, who died in 1441, comprised four male apprentices, two female servants, 10 male servants, a specialised bell-maker, a clerk and the daughter of a fellow bell-founder.
Other widows continued to run the financial side of their husbands’ businesses, if not the trading or craft aspects; they pursued debtors, sorted out accounts and saw to the execution of their husbands’ wills. These women were active in maintaining their households, bolstering the welfare of their souls and managing the upbringing of their children, as well as other endeavours. Another Agnes, the widow of Stephen Forster (mayor of London 1454–55), saw to the rebuilding and reorganisation of the prison at Ludgate.
These were remarkable women who made their mark in the commercial world of London and won respect within their social milieus. The records of the craft guilds and companies acknowledge the presence of women, but their role was not a formal one – rather, they shared in the religious, charitable and social aspects of company life.
However, several crafts and trades recognised the contribution of women workers. In the early 15th century, for example, one-third of all brewers paying dues to the Brewers’ Company were women. Some of these were single, while others were widows or married women trading sole; one Agnes, whose husband Stephen was a draper, paid her dues independently throughout the 1420s.
Though women were seemingly marginalised within these organisations, limited to social and charitable roles, they were able to make contacts with other workers within their craft. They could also achieve recognition of their credit-worthiness and could share in, and contribute to, the material resources of their societies. To offset the imposed limitations of their role within guilds and companies, and to supplement the formal craft relationships, many created important informal networks of friends, servants, apprentices, dependants and patrons.
However enmeshed women may have been in the social and economic networks of London life, their professional advancement was still constrained. For example, there is scant evidence of a woman holding any public office in which she might have been placed in authority over a man – such appointments would be vigorously resisted.
In 1422, the men of Queenhythe ward complained that John of Ely, the local measurer of oysters, had subcontracted his office to women “who know not how to do it; nor is it worship to this city that women should have such things in governance”. No doubt most Londoners shared the view of the men of Queenhythe; certainly, women never served as ward officers, common councilmen or, of course, aldermen. The delegation of authority to women was extremely rare, but it did happen: for more than 20 years following the death of her husband, Nicholas, in 1433, Alice Holford held the office of bailiff of London Bridge (see sidebar).
The century and a half between 1350 and 1500 could reasonably be considered a ‘golden age’ for women in London – but it was short-lived. As the population swelled once more, an acute manpower shortage was replaced by a glut, and women were pushed out of the labour market. In 1570, the Drapers’ Company refused to allow a member to take on a girl apprentice “for that they had not seen the like before”.
Women continued to work after that period, of course, but in largely informal and dependent positions. London merchants were transforming themselves into country gentlemen, and it was no longer suitable for their wives to be seen trading sole. Moreover, Protestantism created a specific role for women – as godly domestic teachers within the household.
Throughout the 15th century, English society remained deeply patriarchal. The opportunities that had been available to women had been purely economic: women had no handles on power and no way of influencing political decisions. So the ‘golden age’ was golden only briefly, and was most apparent in the economic capital, London.
Nonetheless, when given the chance, these women demonstrated their ability to do men’s work. In doing so they set an important precedent, to be followed by women in the two world wars of the last century, which led directly to the greater economic and political emancipation of women today.
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Golden girls: four women who exploited the opportunities presented when the plague struck
Agnes Ramsey, Mason
Agnes, who never used her husband’s name, was the daughter of the famous architect and mason William Ramsey, who was killed by the Black Death in 1349. Though married to another mason, Robert Hubard, Agnes continued to run her father’s business, entering into a contract with the dowager Queen Isabella of France, widow of Edward II, to build her fine tomb at the enormous cost of £100. 2
Alice Holford, Bailiff
Alice took over the post of bailiff of London Bridge on the death of her husband, Nicholas, in 1433, and continued in office for over 20 years. The bailiff collected the tolls due from boats passing through the bridge, and from carts that crossed it into London. The task was a complicated one – charges varied according to the goods and the person transporting them – and Alice must have had some literacy skills. 3
Johanna Hill , Bell-founder
On the death of her husband in 1440, Johanna took full charge of their bell-founding business till her own death in 1441. Seven of her bells still exist as far away as Ipswich, Sussex and Devon. Johanna continued to use her husband’s mark – a cross and circle within a shield – but surmounted with a lozenge to indicate that the workshop was now under her authority. 4
Ellen Langwith, Silkwoman
Ellen, who died in 1481, was a London silkwoman. When her first husband, cutler Philip Waltham, died she was left to train their three female apprentices. She later married a tailor, John Langwith, but continued with her own craft. She was recorded as buying gold thread and raw silk direct from Venetian merchants, and in 1465 supplied saddle decorations and silk banners for the coronation of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV. She was courted by both the Cutlers’ and Taylors’ companies.
Caroline Barron is professor emerita at Royal Holloway, University of London, and a specialist in late medieval British history, particularly the history of women