Five inspiring Paddington women
Physicist and women’s rights campaigner
Pioneering physicist Hertha Ayrton lived on Norfolk Square from 1903 to 1923. While in residence here she invented the Ayrton fan, a device used in trench warfare to disperse poisonous gases. She was the first woman to be proposed for membership of the Royal Academy, but the application was rejected because of her gender. In 1904, she did become the first woman to read a paper to the society and was awarded its Hughes Medal in 1906 for her work on the electric arc. Ayrton supported the suffragettes and cared for hunger strikers, including Emmeline Pankhurst, at her Paddington home in 1913.
One of Britain’s first female MPs, Susan Lawrence was born into a Conservative household in Paddington’s Westbourne Terrace in 1871. But by the early 1900s her politics had shifted to the left, under the influence of suffragist and trade unionist Mary Macarthur. She became a member of the Labour Party and was soon elected a councillor. In 1919, Lawrence was sent to Holloway Prison when she made a stand against wealthier boroughs paying less than their fair share of council rates. This spurred other councillors to act and the government was forced to back down. During her time as an MP, from 1926 to 1930, she was respected for her lawyer-like observations, unwavering principles and trademark monocle.
A determined and pioneering nurse, who saved countless lives and provided vital care during the Crimean War, Mary Seacole started life in Kingston, Jamaica. As a woman from an ethnic-minority family, she overcame the dual prejudice of race and gender, first becoming a famed nurse in Kingston, then funding her own passage to England, where she approached the War Office for an opportunity to help soldiers in Crimea. She was refused permission to become an army nurse, but travelled to Crimea anyway, where she set up the British Hotel for sick officers and nursed wounded men on the battlefield. Seacole returned to England after the war and made Paddington her home. She died here in 1881.
Lady Violet Bonham Carter
Politician and writer
Born in 1887 at Gloucester Square, Paddington, as Violet Asquith, Lady Bonham Carter was a prominent figure in the British Liberal Party. She was a celebrated orator and famously compared the Labour Party to a worm in a stinging 1952 speech. She held various positions in public life, including President of the Women’s Liberal Federation, governor at the BBC and the first female President of the Liberal Party Organisation. She was also friends with Winston Churchill and wrote a book about his life entitled Churchill As I Knew Him.
Dame Lucie Rie
Born in Vienna in 1902, Lucie Rie came to Britain in 1938 to escape the rise of Nazi Germany. From 1939 until her death in 1995 she lived and worked in Paddington’s Albion Mews. She was a potter and, inspired by modernist architecture and design, created minimal bowls and vases. These won gold medals in international exhibitions across Europe. She had to fight to have her progressive style recognised in the UK, but by 1951, her black and white glazed pots were shown and applauded at the Festival of Britain. In 1991 she was made a Dame, and a Crafts Council Gallery retrospective in 1992 introduced her work to a new generation. Young potters would visit her in Paddington, where she always welcomed them with strong tea and coffee.