Crowdfunding page launched for plaque to remember Lancaster woman who saved a million birds

There are many green plaques in Lancaster commemorating famous men, local companies and notable buildings.

By Michelle Blade
Monday, 9th August 2021, 9:26 am

But there are no plaques to remember the women who are part of the history of the city.

Local campaigners have decided it's time to change that.

In March, Lancaster Civic Society, jointly with Lancaster City Museum, launched a survey to ask the people of Lancaster and Morecambe to give their opinion on which women they thought deserved to be commemorated.

Lancaster born RSPB founder Emily Williamson.

There were a lot of candidates suggested and it is hoped that as many of them as possible will receive the recognition they deserve, but the campaign will start by commemorating a remarkable woman who saved millions of birds and transformed the lives of countless women.

Emily Williamson, nee Bateson, was born at Highfield in Lancaster on April 17 1855 and baptised in the Priory Church. Her mother’s family were from Lancaster and her father’s family came from Cockerham.

In 1889, she became horrified by the mass slaughter of birds to provide feathers for fashionable ladies' hats.

Millions of birds died each year, sometimes having their wings cut off while they were alive.

One of the kind of hats that were decorated with bits of dead birds that triggered Emily Williamson's campaign.

To stop this cruelty she formed the Society for the Protection of Birds. All of its members were women.

By doing this she took on an industry that was worth, at its peak, some £20 million a year. She was fighting fashion and finance in a society in which women couldn’t even vote.

That took incredible courage.

The society she founded grew to become the RSPB, the largest conservation organisation in Europe.

In 1921, after over 30 years of campaigning, the Plumage Act was passed, ending the trade in exotic bird skins. Over 60 species were saved from extinction.

To mark that centenary, the first plaque to a woman in Lancaster will commemorate Emily's conservation achievements and her equally important work supporting education and training for women.

She founded the Gentlewomen's Employment Association in Manchester, which helped women to pursue careers of their own.

She created the Princess Christian Training College for Nurses, the first place in Britain where nurses were trained by working with children.

She also introduced the Loan Training Fund, which helped to subsidise the costs of further education for young women, the first such scheme in the country.

The plan is to commemorate Emily with a plaque in the city of her birth, and also arrange a celebratory event and exhibition in the Priory Church, where she was baptised.

This will include schools and community events to spread the word about her life, her work and the way her legacy of saving nature continues here in Lancashire - and the world.

The campaign is seeking community support for the plaque and hopes that the people of the city will help to remember a remarkable daughter of Lancaster who stood up for what she believed in the face of huge social and commercial opposition.

The project has created a crowdfunding page here