Meet the great, good and bizarre ladies of Havering on International Women’s Day

13:54 08 March 2013

Alice Perrers at the king

Alice Perrers at the king's deathbed


Today marks International Women’s Day, and to commemorate we are taking a look at some inspirational and celebrated ladies with links to Havering.

Elizabeth Cooke, one of five extraordinary sistersElizabeth Cooke, one of five extraordinary sisters

The origins of the day goes back to the early 20th century, a time when women’s rights were being hotly debated.

Havering’s theme for this year’s event is “Women Mean Business”.

A free event will be held at Havering College of Further and Higher Education, in Ardleigh Green Road, Hornchurch, tomorrow, celebrating the role of women in business and providing advice to budding entrepreneurs.

Havering has had its share of famous, controversial and successful women past and present - here are some of them:

Edna Clarke HallEdna Clarke Hall

Alice Perrers (1348-1400):

In an age when men dominated history, one Upminster woman rose through the ranks of class to become a very powerful figure.

Born into a poor family with no social standing, Alice Perrers began her ascent to power when, aged 15, she met King Edward III and became his mistress.

Louise Sinclair. Picture: Queen's TheatreLouise Sinclair. Picture: Queen's Theatre

This scandal was kept secret until after his queen’s death.

At her peak, Alice had a collection of jewellery worth £6 million by today’s standards, most of which had belonged to Queen Philippa, and she controlled over 50 manors in England.

Perrers was described as a “shameless woman” by a monk, and was accused of witchcraft to obtain her wealth.

Most of her wealth was earned, however, and she was well-known for having a good mind for business.

Suzi Quattro. Picture: PA.Suzi Quattro. Picture: PA.

Chaucer also used her as inspiration for the “Wife of Bath” in his Canterbury Tales.

Daughters of Anthony Cooke (mid-16th century to early 17th):

Famed across Europe for their intelligence and occupying high positions in the royal court, five Havering women were the most educated of their time.

At a time when schooling was rare, even for boys, the daughters of Anthony Cooke, of Gidea Hall, Havering-atte-Bower, were given an education which rivalled that of even the most privileged young men.

Their father was a scholar and a tutor to Henry VIII’s only son, Edward, and he made sure that his daughters received just as good a level of teaching.

Mildred, Elizabeth, Anne, Catherine and Margaret were educated in Latin, Greek, French and Italian, and went on to influence politics, art and religion in their time.

The eldest, Mildred, was entrusted by Queen Elizabeth I with political matters involving Scotland. Her younger sister Elizabeth was also highly placed in the queen’s court and was well known for her poetry and musical talent.

Elizabeth Balls (c1761-1824):

Perhaps one of Havering’s more eccentric figures from history, Elizabeth Balls was very well-known for the company she kept.

Known as “The Goat Woman of Havering-atte-Bower”, Elizabeth shared her house with a herd of goats, a flock of sheep, a few cats and a dog – who she lovingly called her “dear children”.

People who visited Havering-atte-Bower would ensure that they called at her door. Despite her strange choice of houseguests, Elizabeth was very rational in conversation and quite religious, too.

She died towards the end of the 19th century, at the age of 63 – a long life considering her quite unsanitary surroundings.

Henria Williams (1867–1911):

The Suffragette movement at the beginning of the 20th century paved the way for equal voting rights for women. The Suffragettes embodied the power and spirit of the feminist movement.

Henria Williams, who lived in Upminster, was one such woman. Henria was instrumental in conducting the local suffragette scene, organising rallies and protests against the unequal treatment of women in society.

In 1910, Henria and her friends marched to the House of Commons to present a petition – a day that would prove fateful. After punching Prime Minister Asquith, she was roughly handled by police and, like so many of her fellow suffragettes, paid the ultimate price for the cause – she died two months later from her injuries.

Edna Clarke Hall (1879-1979):

Once described by The Times’ art critic as “the most imaginative artist in England”, Edna Clarke Hall was one of Upminster’s finest artists.

Having learned her trade at the prestigious Slade School of Art in London, she moved to Upminster at the turn of the 20th century. The house reminded Edna of Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, and from this she produced her most famed works, illustrations of scenes from the novel.

Edna had exhibits of her work in London and won praise for her “individual and instinctive” use of colour in her work. She also wrote and published poetry, merging her illustration and text into the same work.

Her London studio was destroyed during the Blitz, and Edna gradually painted less and less. She lived to 100.

Maxine Daniels (1930-2003):

Maxine Daniels was a popular jazz singer whose name was widely known across the country. Emerging from a background of unemployment and poor opportunities for black people, she became a celebrated singer in her time.

Born Gladys Lynch in 1930, she established her career in Romford in the early 1950s, performing with local bands and musicians. Her big break came in 1954, when she ranked highly in a national singing competition.

Maxine went on to perform at London’s leading theatres, including the Palladium, and toured with the country’s leading jazz musicians. After an eight-year hiatus from music, she returned to singing in 1966, and her name was well-known in the jazz world ever since.

Blessed with a warm and smooth voice, Maxine was a superb, natural talent, who, according to her daughter, “didn’t realise how good she was”.

Louise Sinclair:

Having devoted over 40 years of service to her local community, it is only fitting that former Mayor Louise Sinclair be mentioned alongside notable women of the borough.

Louise was first elected to represent Cranham in 1968, having been the first female Residents’ Association candidate. Since then, she has twice been Mayor, a Freeman of the Borough, Honorary Alderman and has served on a wide range of committees.

When elected, Sinclair stated that she was “very pleased to be joining her ratepayer colleagues”. From then, she served her community and borough tirelessly for over four decades.

Suzi Quatro:

Detroit-born rocker Suzi Quatro moved to Havering from the USA in 1980. Her success was a breakthrough for women in rock ‘n’ roll after she, by her own admission, “played the boys at their own game”.

Quatro hit the number one spot in the UK charts on two occasions, with Can the Can and Devil Gate Drive. Despite there being many women singers in US music at the end of the 60s, Suzi was the first to make it big as a singer, songwriter and bass player.

Her swagger on stage and tomboy attitude led the way for bands like The Pretenders and Talking Heads to make their success.


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