New book salutes Norwich’s female Lord Mayors

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A century ago some women were given the right to vote and five years later Norwich was the first city in the country to appoint a female Lord Mayor. Derek James urges you to get a copy of a fascinating new book on our lady lord mayors.

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We've seen them over the years walking about in their robes, shaking hands with people, smiling for the photographer and carrying out the duties of the first citizen of Norwich.

They are the Lord Mayors and over the years there are been 17 quite extraordinary women who have been invited to take up the honour.

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But the majority of people don't know that much about them.

So just who are these extraordinary women? Why were they asked to hold this ancient and important office?

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What was it really like? What makes them tick? And what did they discover during their term

of office about the city and county?

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Well, those questions and many more are answered in one of the most interesting, informative and important local history books to have been published in recent times.

What makes this offering so special is that author Phyllida Scrivens has spent a considerable time talking and listening to nine out of the 17 women who are still with us (and has done an enormous amount of research on those who have died) to find out about the people in the robes.

As a result we get to learn a lot more about the women, who came from all walks of life, and it couldn't have been published at a more appropriate time when we remember and honour the those who fought so hard for the right to vote a century ago.

Phyllida, who wrote the marvellous book telling the story of Joe Stirling, the Kindertransport boy, who escaped from Nazi Germany to become one of our best-loved and highly regarded citizens and well known across the whole of Norfolk, has certainly done her homework in her new book out this week called The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich 1923-2017.

The foreword has been written by a woman who worked closely with several lady lord mayors and was the voice of the city council during the 1980s, Patricia Hollis, now Baroness Hollis of Heigham.

She points out that Norwich's first woman councillor, Mabel Clarkson, elected in 1913, insisted that 'the best wealth of a city is in the health of its citizens,' demanding free school meals for needy children, a living wage and decent pensions.

So what has changed you may think?

The wealthy Ethel Colman, was, in 1923, the first woman Lord Mayor in the entire country and since then a collection of quite extraordinary women have become the first citizen.

Over the year in office they attend hundreds of events and let's not forget that they have raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity and good causes over the decades.

And Baroness Hollis gets down to basics. 'Always determined never to let the city down, they spent money, which some could ill-afford, on suitable clothes for themselves and their escorts (working-class husbands might need new suits, a dinner jacket) although the city helped out with a modest allowance.

'Women in paid work lost wages. Joyce Morgan acquired twenty evening dresses in her year, courtesy of her employer whereas Ruth Hardy said she relied on one good black suit. They all struggled with the heavy robes and the heavy (and beautiful) 17th-century gold chain that weighed them down,' she said.

Author Phyllida introduces us to, and tells the story, behind all the lady lord mayors and what tales they have to tell. We are introduced to a 'Ten Pound Pom', the manageress of C&A, the hairdresser, the refugee, and the first known official consort with Down's syndrome and many more.

What happy, uplifting, often funny, sometimes tragic and sad stories, they have to tell and they have opened their photograph albums to illustrate their time in office along with many Archant pictures.

The Eastern Daily Press who, when Ethel Colman stood down as Lord Mayor all those years ago, said: 'If the election of a lady as Lord Mayor were considered an experiment, it has been an unqualified success, and as opportunity occurs will undoubtedly be repeated.'

It was....

Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich:

Ethel Mary Colman (1923-4).

Mabel Maria Clarkson (1930-31)

Ruth Elsie Hardy (1950-51).

Jessie Ruby Griffiths (1969-70).

Joyce Lilian Morgan (1975-76).

Valerie Guttsman (1979-80).

Barbara Ellen Edith Stevenson (1985-86).

Jill Betty Miller (1986-87).

Brenda Ferris-Rampley (1994-95).

Lila Divi Cooper (1995-96).

Joyce Anthea Climie Divers (2004-2005).

Felicity Hartley (2006-2007).

Evelyn Jean Collishaw


Jennifer Susan Lay (2011-12).

Judith Elizabeth Lubbock (2014-15).

Brenda Arthur (2015-16).

Marion Frances Maxwell (2016-17).

We have a lot to thank them for. They have represented Norwich well.

The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich 1923-2017 by Phyllida Scrivens is published by Pen & Sword and is

in the shops now priced at £12.99.