Saint Patrick : Apostle of Ireland….

Up until the age of 16 Patrick had led a reasonably ordinary life…. Yes, he was the son of a Roman-British army officer/deacon and the grandson of a Catholic priest – but despite this he was not particularly religious…. Not an awful lot is known about his early life….just that he was born in the latter part of the 4th Century, in Roman occupied Britain; nobody is sure exactly where, possibly Scotland but most likely Wales…. It is thought he was raised in the village of Banna Venta Burniae…. Even his real name is uncertain but there are indications it could have been Maewyn Succat….

Saint Patrick Lawrence OP via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

At 16 years old Patrick (along with many others) was kidnapped by Irish pirates….he was taken to Ireland and sold into slavery. The young Patrick found himself on Mount Slemish in Co. Antrim, where for six years he herded sheep and pigs for his master. Long periods of time alone meant he began to question whether this was his punishment for his earlier lack of faith…. He turned to religion….

It was during a dream that a vision came to him….telling him he would soon go home and that his ship was waiting. Believing this was a message from God, Patrick managed to escape from his master and travelled some 200 miles to a faraway port – where with some difficulty he managed to persuade a reluctant captain to allow him aboard his ship…. Patrick returned home to Britain and his family….

By all rights this should perhaps have been the end of an ordeal that had dominated so much of his life as a young man – but it appears this was just the beginning….

Patrick had another dream – this time he was being called back to Ireland….the people wanted him to tell them about God….

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day National Library of Ireland on The Commons via / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

Patrick was to return to Ireland but not straight away. First he went to France, where he studied for the priesthood at a monastery – possibly under Saint German, the then Bishop of Auxerre…. It was 12 years later, as a Bishop himself and with the blessing of the Pope he landed back on Irish soil, at Strangford Loch, Co. Down….

For the next 20 years Patrick travelled around Ireland, establishing churches and monasteries, baptising people and founding schools. As Ireland was a Pagan stronghold very often he would anger local Chieftains and Druids with his teachings, many a time he found himself imprisoned…. He was not above using a little bribery – presenting his captors with gifts in order to regain his freedom….

Saint Patrick baptising. Lawrence OP via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

As is so often the case with saints of long ago, many myths and legends surround Patrick…. One such story is the tale of St. Patrick’s Breastplate: Patrick and a companion were travelling to the Hill of Tara in the Boyne Valley to preach to the people; a place sacred to the Druids, once the ancient Capital of Ireland it was where the gods lived…. The Druid priests were keeping a watch out for Patrick, waiting to ambush him…. But all was quiet in the fields surrounding the Hill – just a deer and her fawn meandering along…. Unbeknownst to them Patrick had used his special powers (feth fiada) to turn himself and his companion into deer – and so using this disguise they were able to reach the Hill unstopped….inspiring the hymn written by Patrick – ‘The Deer’s Cry’ – which begins….

“I arise today, Through the strength of heaven, Light of the sun, Swiftness of the wind, Depth of the sea, Stability of the earth, Firmness of the rock”….

Hill of Tara – St. Patrick’s Statue & Pillar Stone. Diego Sideburns via / CC BY-NC-ND. Original image URL:

One of the main Celtic Druid celebrations is Beltane….a fire festival, marking the beginning of Summer. A fire would be lit at the top of the Hill of Tara by the Druid High King – from which fires all across the land would be lit…. Legend says Patrick defied this tradition by a lighting a fire of his own before the main event…. The Druid King sent his men to investigate – and they reported back that Patrick’s fire had magical powers and it could not be extinguished….they warned the King this fire could burn for all eternity…. Realising he was unable to put out Patrick’s fire – the King had to concede that the powers Patrick possessed were greater than his own…. Although he refused to convert to Christianity himself he allowed the Irish people to follow the Christian faith….

Patrick was not unsympathetic to the Druid beliefs…. It was whilst preaching one day next to a Pagan standing stone that he created the Irish Celtic Cross…. The stone was carved with a circle – a sacred Pagan symbol for the sun and moon gods. Patrick drew a Christian Cross through the circle, blessing the stone as he did so – thus uniting Pagan beliefs with Christianity….

Celtic Cross .and+ via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

Being aware that the number 3 held special significance in Celtic tradition, Patrick utilised this as a method of teaching Christianity to the people…. By using shamrock, the three leaved clover plant, he showed how each segment represented God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – three elements of one entity…. The humble shamrock was to become the symbol of Ireland….


For any missionary there must have been times of despair – struggling to deliver a message that must have often appeared to be falling of deaf ears…. One such time of despair for Patrick may have been the time he spent in County Mayo, upon a mountain…. He had gone there for the 40 day period of Lent – perhaps to reflect and meditate – but instead was besieged by demons…. Demons in the form of black birds, so many of them the sky turned dark…. But still he continued to pray, refusing to be defeated…. Suddenly an angel appeared – a messenger from God…. The angel told him his work was being recognised – the Irish people were listening to him and they would remain Christian until Judgement Day…. The mountain is known as Croagh Patrick….

The holy mountain Croagh Patrick, County Mayo. EamonnPKeane English Wikipedia Public domain

Perhaps one of the legends we associate the most with St. Patrick is the banishing of all snakes from the land, by driving them into the sea…. It is doubtful there ever were any actual snakes in Ireland. The snake is a sacred creature to the Druids….this legend most likely gives the message that Patrick had succeeded in driving Paganism from Ireland….


Although Patrick can be attributed to converting Ireland to Christianity others had preached there before him – Palladius being one such – and becoming the first Bishop of Ireland. Patrick succeeded him as Bishop some time soon after 431AD and made Armagh, in Northern Ireland his base…. It was towards the end of his life that he wrote his memoirs, called his ‘Confession’….

“My name is Patrick, I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers”….

In his writings Patrick makes no reference to details such as the Hill of Tara, driving snakes into the sea, shamrock or indeed any of the myths and legends that surround him…. He talks of his spiritualism, his relationship with God, his time in slavery…. It is a direct insight into the man…. It has to be deemed incredible that these documents have survived all this time….

Patrick died on March the 17th – the year is a little hazy…. He is buried either in Armagh or Downpatrick…. We do know he was made a saint soon after his death and St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated on March the 17th ever since….

Saint Patrick. DonkeyHotey via / CC BY Original image URL:

There was a wobble in the late 17th Century…. in 1695 Parliament replaced many Catholic feast days with Protestant holidays – after William (of Orange) and Mary were placed on the throne….effectively St. Patrick’s Day became outlawed – but nobody took much notice. Eventually the Patron Saint’s Day was reinstated….

Nowadays modern celebrations usually include a procession to a holy place, a chapel or perhaps a holy well…. Mass and prayers are said…. Then there are the festivities; food, music, dancing and of course a good drink. Falling during Lent a very welcome interlude….

A party going on right here Sniggie via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

St. Patrick’s Day parades did not actually originate in Ireland. It was in 1762 that Irish soldiers serving with the British Army marched through New York to music on March the 17th – an idea that caught on and became tradition, especially in communities in England with a large Irish population – such as Liverpool…. During the mid 19th Century, at the time of the Great Famine, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were obviously low-key; but – one thing that came from this was the globalisation of St. Patrick’s Day…. Mass emigration – Irish people looking for new lives across the World taking the celebration with them….


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day…. Have a Guinness for me….


Agnes Waterhouse ~ the first British hanging for Witchcraft….

Agnes Waterhouse was born around 1503 and lived in the village of Hatfield Peverel, near to Chelmsford, Essex – and she was the first woman in Britain to be hanged for witchcraft….



Agnes was known locally as ‘Mother Waterhouse’, which would suggest she may have been a wise woman and healer. It appears she was rather an argumentative woman, repeatedly falling out with her neighbours…. In July 1566 Agnes was accused of witchcraft – along with Elizabeth Francis (believed to be her sister) and Joan Waterhouse, her 18-year-old daughter….



Elizabeth had a cat; a white spotted one called ‘Sathan’ – or Satan – given to her by her grandmother, ‘Eve of Hatfield Peverel’ – who taught her grand-daughter the secrets of witchcraft when she was 12 years old…. Sathan was able to talk; he taught Elizabeth how to make magical potions – and promised her a lifetime of riches – a promise that indeed appeared to have been kept, as she always had sheep in her pasture….

Sathan would do anything for his mistress – all he asked for in return was bread, milk and a drop of blood – her blood – which she provided by pricking herself and allowing him to suck from it….leaving spots on her skin never to disappear….

As a young woman Elizabeth took a fancy to an Andrew Byles – a man of wealth – to be her husband…. Sathan promised to get him for her….but in order for it to be possible she must allow Byles to ‘abuse’ her – which she did. Only things did not quite go to plan – for afterwards Byles refused to marry her. Enraged Elizabeth ordered Sathan to ‘waste his goods’ (destroy his property)…. Still not content she demanded the cat ‘touch his body’ (cause illness) – and so he did…. Byles subsequently died from his illness….img_0353

Soon after Elizabeth discovered she was carrying Byles’s child – so Sathan advised her which herbs to take to cause a termination of the pregnancy….

Elizabeth set her heart upon another man, Francis….although not as rich as Byles she decided she must have him and so set her trap…. After sleeping with him, once again she fell pregnant – they married and a daughter was born to them some three months later….

It was not a happy union, the pair fought constantly – family life was not as Elizabeth had expected; so when the child was just 18 months old she got Sathan to kill her….and inflict a lameness of the leg on to Francis – from which he never recovered….

By now Elizabeth had somewhat tired of it all – and this included Sathan who she’d had for some 15 years…. It so happened that she encountered Agnes one day, who was on her way to the ovens to bake some cakes…. Elizabeth decided to bestow the cat upon her as a gift – telling her that all she needed to do was feed him bread, milk and a drop of blood and he would do anything she wanted….in return Agnes gave Elizabeth a cake….


Agnes was eager to try out the cat’s skills…. She asked him to kill one of her pigs – more than willing to prove himself Sathan obliged. Having fallen out with a couple of her neighbours Agnes then got him to kill three hogs belonging to Father Kersey and drown a cow owned by Widow Gooday…. Each time Agnes rewarded Sathan with a chicken and a drop of her own blood. Realising the power at her fingertips Agnes began causing no end of mischief for her neighbours….ruining their brewing and butter making amongst other things…. Sathan taught her the art of witchcraft, how to terminate pregnancies and helped her to kill people…. As she wasn’t getting along with her own husband Agnes arranged his demise too – she spent 9 years as a widow before things finally caught up with her….

Eventually, for whatever reason, Agnes too had had enough of Sathan, he was beginning to cause her problems; so, she turned him into a toad – he was far easier to keep under control this way….


It was while she was away one day that her daughter, Joan, decided to amuse herself by playing with him…. Feeling hungry and as her mother had left no food, Joan went to the house of a neighbour to ask for some bread and cheese…. On arriving she encountered the neighbour’s daughter, 12-year-old Agnes Brown – who refused to give her any food. On returning home, Sathan offered her his help….providing she gave him her soul – Joan agreed to this…. Sathan went to visit the young Agnes and found her churning butter. The toad manifested himself into a demon – a black dog with horns – and asked the child for some butter….when she declined he then set about terrorising her….

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Image from page 10 of “The days of long ago, and Immortality (Antithesis of “The Rubaiyat”)”(1909) Internet Archive Books via / No known copyright restrictions Original image source:

By now people were becoming suspicious of the tragic events and goings-on that seemed to surround Agnes and her cat…. It was after the death of yet another of her neighbours, William Fynne, who died on the 1st of November 1565 having suffered from an illness said to have been caused by her, that the accusations were finally officially made….

Agnes, Elizabeth and Joan were brought to trial in Chelmsford in July 1566, accused of witchcraft…. Agnes was cited as having caused illness that resulted in the deaths of William Fynne and her husband and also the deaths of her neighbours’ livestock…. But the evidence that actually convicted her was when the 12-year-old Agnes Brown testified against her…. Agnes’s first examination was on the 26th July, followed by a second one the following day….at which she confessed and pleaded guilty….

King Henry VIII had made witchcraft a felony punishable by death in 1542; some say he did this as he thought Anne Boleyn was a witch trying to harm him with her craft….img_0354

Agnes was hanged on the 27th July 1566. At her execution she asked God for forgiveness; when asked she said she prayed often but always in Latin to hide her doing so from Sathan, as he would not allow her prayers…. Along with her repentance she also added to the list of accused crimes…. She told of how she had sent Sathan to damage the goods of a tailor named Wardol and to do him harm….but the cat returned to her and said he was unable to do as he had been bade as Wardol’s faith in God was too strong. Agnes also confessed she had been practising witchcraft for 25 years….

Elizabeth was given a lighter sentence – but 13 years later she herself was hanged for a further conviction…. Joan was cleared during the trial; she had testified against her mother and Elizabeth helping to convict them – and so saving her own skin….

Agnes has been an inspiration for many writers and artists since – people remain fascinated by the story…. When we stop to consider what life was like back then it is hard to visualise how it must have truly been. In this modern scientific World that we live in, we know cats can’t talk to us, no matter how it sometimes seems like they can…. They certainly don’t go around killing pigs, cows and people and they definitely can’t turn themselves into demon dogs anymore than we can turn them into toads….

We also now have an understanding of that terrible illness dementia…. Many of us know only too well the heartbreak of having a loved one who suffers from this dreadful disease – the confusion, forgetfulness and sometimes argumentative, aggressive behaviour….

One can’t help wondering if the case of Agnes and Elizabeth centred on mass hysteria, the mischief of a 12-year-old girl, a couple of old ladies suffering from dementia and their obsession with a cat…. How many ‘witches’ hanged were actually people suffering from diseases of the mind? Not having any other means to explain odd, erratic, confused or aggressive behaviour it would not be surprising if people had considered those affected to be under the influence of the Devil himself….

Mad March Hares….

If you follow the meteorological seasons Spring is already with us; however, if it is the astronomical method you use, you will have to wait until March the 20th…. Either way Spring will finally be with us this month – and you might be lucky enough to spot a mad March hare….

Brown Hare (Leveret) Smudge9000 via / CC BY-SA Original image URL:

Some believe the European hare (Lepus Europaeus) was brought to the UK by the Romans; whilst they most likely did introduce them to the rest of Europe (probably from Asia) there is evidence hares did not actually arrive in the UK until just after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Nowadays the European hare can be found widespread throughout Central and Western Europe and most of the UK – preferring flat countryside with open grassland. As they are more active at night they will rest during the day in woodland and hedgerows….

Mad March Hares oldbilluk via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

Hares are members of the Lagomorpha family and so are related to the rabbit, but unlike their bunny cousins they have never been domesticated. Although similar in appearance, hares are larger in size than rabbits; they also have longer black tipped ears, longer tails and longer more powerful limbs, enabling them to reach speeds of potentially 45mph – making them Britain’s fastest land animal….

Brown Hare Wimog via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

Their breeding season is between January and August – and is accompanied by high jinx leaps, bounds and ‘boxing’ – (hares can jump backwards and sideways as well as forwards)…. We associate this mad behaviour with March but this is only because it is more visible to us in March and April. We also often assume the boxing is two males fighting – but more often it is the female throwing the punches….trying to ward off an over-amorous male – she may also be seeing how strong he is and deciding whether he is a worthy mate….

Brown Hares naturelengland via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

A male hare is called a ‘jack’, whereas the female is known as a ‘jill’…. She will produce up to 3 litters a year of up to 4 leverets at a time…. Unlike rabbits, hares do not live underground in burrows but have simple nests; the young are born with fur and open eyes….

Generally hares are solitary or live in pairs; the collective name is a ‘drove’…. Hares are herbivores, eating herbs, bark and twigs but mainly grass in the Winter months….they do not hibernate….

Winter hare Tomi Tapio via / CC BY-SA Original image URL:

The hare population in the UK is under serious threat; since the late 1800s the numbers have declined by some 80%. Predators include foxes, weasels, stoats, polecats, buzzards and golden eagles – but the biggest predator of all has to be man. Traditionally the hare is a game animal – it is also sometimes considered a pest as it can cause damage to crops and cereal. Around 300,000 a year are shot in Britain; unlike much other game the hare is not protected by a closed hunting season, so even during the breeding season they can be shot. This in itself is a double whammy for the hare population as it means by killing the adults their young are left to starve….

Brown Hares in the stubble Ian-S via / CC BY-NC Original image URL:

Disease takes its toll; particularly European Brown Hare Syndrome (EBHS) which is highly contagious – (hares are not affected by Myxomatosis)…. Other causes of death include being killed on roads and by farm machinery – especially during grass cutting time…. Another major contributor to their decline is modern-day farming methods….in the last 50 years 150,000 miles of hedgerow have been destroyed in the UK – depriving the brown hare of shelter and food….

These wonderful creatures have been around since the time of the dinosaurs (proven by fossil evidence)…. It would be unthinkable to allow the European brown hare to disappear from Britain altogether – the least we can do is to stop shooting them!

European Hare Sergei Yeliseev via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:


Is feminism obsolete…?

At risk of putting myself in the direct firing line – I am going to ask a question…. Has feminism in Western society become obsolete? I ask this purely as a lay person – I am certainly no expert on the subject – but it is something that has had me pondering recently….

Before even beginning to try to make sense of what is going on in the Western world of feminism at this present time….it would perhaps be useful to remind ourselves why the feminist movement was even necessary in the first place…. Would the Suffragettes and Suffragists – those brave women of the late 1800s and early 1900s – be raising an eyebrow at what feminism has become? Would they be horrified that women are still struggling to achieve equality in so many areas of life – or would they shake their heads in disbelief that we appear never to be satisfied…?

Waterloo Place. Leonard Bentley via / CC BY-SA Original image URL:

Perhaps the earliest feminist in Britain was the woman now referred to as ‘the grandmother of feminism’, Mary Wollstonecraft – with her book The vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792…. A publication that was actually very well received in its time – but it was another century before women really began to fight for the Cause. After centuries of oppression and the ownership of women….it was the dawning of a new era….

Wikimedia commons Mary Wollstonecraft – oil on canvas

Right up to the 20th Century there were three little words that sealed a woman’s fate – (or at least if she was married in the Church of England) – the moment she uttered ‘love, honour, obey’…. It is interesting to note the Catholic Church has never had ‘obey’ in its marriage service….

To ‘obey’ probably originated in Roman times, when daughters were the property of their fathers and then later the ownership passing to her husband – a practice to remain right up to the time of Women’s Suffrage…. For the lower Roman classes is was a case of ‘free marriages’ – the father giving his daughter to the groom…. Whereas, wealthy Romans would have had a contract, outlining property etc to be part of the dowry; this was the beginnings of legalised marriage….

The word ‘obey’ was introduced to the Church of England wedding service in 1549, when the first Book of Common Prayer was authorised by King Henry VIII. In biblical origins the wife should submit to the husband – just as the Church should submit to Christ…. Obey was taken literally within marriage – the wife and any children being the property of the man – his word was law…. Everything she owned belonged to her husband, everything she earned if she was working and any inheritance she was due….

Smithsonian Institution via / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

If she were to disobey she could expect to be punished – a good beating was often meted out….and was perfectly legal and accepted within a marriage…. Only when a woman’s life was endangered could a case be brought before the Courts – even then the sentences were often lenient. As only the most brutal cases made it as far as Court, so recorded trials of the time were just the very tip of the iceberg….

Edward Doyle murdered his wife…. He broke her ribs, beat her, scolded her with boiling water, thrust a red-hot poker into her abdomen – and then left her to die for two days; he got 15 years for man slaughter. Bearing in mind this was at a time when the sentence for stealing a sheep was 10 years transportation….and if he had killed a man he would have gone to the gallows….

Much domestic violence was fuelled by alcohol; lower classes tended to be more openly violent towards each other. Neighbours would seldom intervene, as it was seen as an everyday part of marriage. The middle classes had their share too, although in the face of respectability it more often happened behind closed doors. If a man was violent towards his wife, he was likely to be towards his children too….

A judge in the 19th Century actually deemed it was perfectly permissible for a man to beat his wife providing the stick he used was no thicker than his thumb…. Hence the saying ‘rule of thumb’….

So, a man could beat his wife senseless on a regular basis – but she was not at liberty to divorce him…. Marriage, being the ‘glue of society’ was to be preserved at all costs…. A wealthy woman, who could prove her spouse’s abuse or infidelity may have been able to obtain a legal separation (at a hefty cost, approx £1,500 – equate that to modern-day terms)….but neither would have been permitted to remarry. However, one little dalliance on her part and her husband could divorce her immediately – keeping any money, property or possessions she brought with her to the marriage – and stopping her from ever seeing her children again…. In any divorce case the children automatically stayed with the father….

In 1853 the Aggravated Assaults Act was passed in Parliament – after Mr Fitzroy, the MP for Lewes, pushed against inadequate penalties handed out to perpetrators…. Sentences and fines were increased but still after 1853 newspapers were full of reports of wife-beating….

In 1857 the Divorce and Matrimonial Clauses Act was passed – giving women the option of divorce on the grounds of cruelty…. In 1870 the Married Women’s Property Act gave women the right to the possession of their own earnings…. In 1882 married women were given the same rights as unmarried women with regards to property – meaning any possessions, money, land or property she owned before marriage did not automatically pass to her husband…. A further Act in 1893 gave married women control over any property acquired during the marriage; for example, an inheritance….

It was a start but there was still a long way to go…. It was no wonder women often regarded marriage as slavery…. By the late 1800s the situation was becoming a lot less tolerated and at the tail end of the Victorian era the Women’s Suffrage Movement began….

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Members of the Women’s Social and Political Union campaigning for women’s suffrage in Kingsway circa 1911 Public domain

Feminism is often divided into three ‘waves’…. The definition of feminism – ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes’ – is exactly what the Women’s Suffrage Movement was all about….equality. The Victorian idea of women, in the home bringing up the children – whilst the men got on with earning the money and running the Country….did not sit well with all…. Women were no longer content to remain silent and let the menfolk decide what was right for them, their lives and the rules and regulations they had to live by….they wanted their say….they wanted a part in the decision making….they wanted the Vote….

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British suffragette with a poster, giving out newspapers Ch. Chusseau-Flaviens

Finally, in 1918 women over the age of 30 and who were property owners were granted the Vote…. In 1928 women got the Vote at the age of 21 – the same age as men…. Equality, at least on this score, had been won…. Incidentally, it was also in 1928 that, prompted by the Suffrage Movement, the Church of England began to offer an alternative option in the marriage ceremony…. No longer was the bride required to promise to obey – both she and the groom could vow to love and cherish one another….

The 1930s was an era of progression for women – but it was the arrival of World War 2 that brought real employment opportunities for women….with so many men away fighting, jobs had to be filled.

Women’s Land Army WW2 Melinda Young Stuart via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

However, once the war years were over women were expected to beat a hasty retreat back to the kitchen to make way for their returning menfolk. Having had a taste of freedom and independence, understandably many were not willing to become submissive and reliant once again….

We Can Do It! The U.S. National Archives via / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: national archives/3678696585/

So, in the 1950s a second wave of feminism ensued – the battle for equal rights in the form of the Women’s Liberation Movement (Women’s Lib for short). This wave lasted through to the 1980s; its focus being on equality in marriage, sex and sexuality and the workplace…. Equal pay and control over their own bodies….

It was during the 1960s and 70s that the Movement splintered into two groups; the equal rights feminism wanting equality with men on a political/social front and then the radical feminist – who wanted even bigger changes. Radical feminism tended to be advocated by younger women who wanted change to attitudes surrounding gender, race, sexuality and class…. The 1960s saw the sexual revolution – starting with the arrival of the contraceptive pill in 1961 – (in the beginning only available to married women)….

1964 saw a revision to the Married Women’s Property Act; allowing women to keep half of any savings made as a couple should the marriage break up….

Abingdon Street Leonard Bentley via / CC BY-SA Original image URL:

In 1967 the Abortion Act legalised abortion for a pregnancy of up to 24 weeks. Available only to married women, two doctors had to consent that the pregnancy would be harmful to the mother’s physical or mental health – or that of her unborn child’s….

Women continued to make progress in politics; Barbara Castle became the first female Secretary of State in 1968 – meanwhile women were striking for equal pay…. 850 women machinists working for Ford in Dagenham walked out – disputing that their work was defined as ‘unskilled’ – they demanded the same pay as their ‘skilled’ male colleagues…. (Bearing in mind it was still perfectly legal when advertising a job to state whether the position was open to specifically male or female – women were often required to do ‘unskilled’ work)….

More radical feminists were turning their attention to events objectifying women – such as the Miss World Beauty Contest, which was first held in 1951. Stating that they found it ‘insulting and undermining that women were judged solely on looks’ – activists threw flour bombs at the 1970 contest being held at the Royal Albert Hall, London….

1975 was the United Nations International Year of Women – to raise global awareness of Women’s Rights. Since that year International Women’s Day has been celebrated every year on March the 8th by countries all around the World….

Pyjama Party Parade Toban B via / CC BY-NC Original image URL:

1975 also saw the formation of the National Abortion Campaign – defending women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies….and the Sex Discrimination Act was passed in Parliament – protecting women (and men) from discrimination on the grounds of their sex and marital status in areas such as education, training and employment….

Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first female Prime Minister in 1979 – to become known as the ‘Iron Lady’…. Eight years later Diane Abbott became the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons….

Although the Women’s Rights Cause was heading in the right direction alarmingly one very sensitive and emotive area was slow to change – the matter of domestic violence, particularly the definition of rape within marriage….

“But the husband cannot be guilty of Rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given herself up in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract” – A principle which was established in 1736 by Chief Justice Hale….

No challenge to this was made in Court until 1949…. A woman had obtained a Separation Order from the Magistrates – after which she was assaulted by her husband – it was decided he could be charged with rape as she had in fact revoked her consent…. However, in 1954 another woman had petitioned for divorce but shortly afterwards was attacked and raped by her estranged husband, causing her actual bodily harm…. The Court refused to charge her husband – saying that by petitioning for divorce she had not revoked her consent…. It took until 1991 for rape within marriage to become a crime….

The first women’s refuge opened in Chiswick, West London in 1971 – providing a safe place for women and children who had been abused by husbands….

In 1981 Princess Diana married Prince Charles, bucking the trend and breaking the Royal precedent by not agreeing to obey in their wedding vows; instead she promised to ‘love, comfort, honour and keep’….

The Wedding of Prince Charles & Princess Diana France 1978 via / CC BY-SA Original image URL:

In 2006 a Church of England report said traditional vows with obey were being used by some men to justify domestic violence…. The report urged Church ministers to emphasise to couples about to marry that men and women were equal in the eyes of God…. Part of the worry being that victims of domestic violence could blame themselves, thinking they were deserving of the abuse….

It could be said the 1980s were the turning point with regards to the attitude surrounding sexism in the workplace. No longer were women willing to tolerate being held back from advancing in their careers, any more than they were going to continue putting up with the stereotypical office ‘perv’, with his lecherous remarks and bottom pinching…. It was the dawning of political correctness as we know it now; women were becoming empowered in the workplace, more and more senior positions were being filled by females…. By venturing deeper into what had predominantly been a male World, women started to ‘play’ harder too…. The ‘ladette’ culture started to emerge – rowdy hen parties to rival the most raucous stag-dos…. Ladies Nights – screaming, laughing and heckling at the evening’s entertainment – often comprising of groups of oiled, well-toned young men, such as the Chippendales…. The role being reversed – women objectifying men…. After thousands of years of male dominance – the girls were letting their hair down and having fun….

Meathead Movers on / CC BY-SA Original URL:

Still the fight for women’s equality went on…. Challenging gender roles, highlighting freedom of choice over reproductive rights; birth control, abortion, and to choose when or even if to have a family…. Raising awareness of rape and violence towards women; seeking a way to stop oppression….stopping the sexual objectification of women….

When we look at our lives as we lead them today and compare them to those lives of women only 100 years ago – we realise what a long way we have come…. Of course, there are those who would argue it has taken too long and we still have a long way to go…. We are now in a third wave of feminism; one that is more radical….

Radical Women ctrouper via / CC BY Original image URL:

It seems every time the radio or TV is turned on, a newspaper opened or the internet logged on to, there is at least one story hitting the headlines…. Sexual harassment and bullying in Westminster – Harvey Weinstein – Oxfam…. Women groped at a men-only charity event at the Dorchester by senior figures from politics and business…. Formula 1 to drop grid girls as from this coming season, as the image no longer fits in with modern-day society….

F1 2012 Indian GP Grid Girls Yasunari Goto via / CC BY-NC-ND Original Image URL:

A previous example of this: The Sun had topless Page 3 girls in its newspaper for 44 years – this stopped in 2015…. No more pictures of bare boobs at the breakfast table (yet women shunned for breast-feeding in public)….this must have been viewed as a victory by radical feminists…. On the other hand though – could it be said this was actually removing choice for women? What about those who choose to make a career from glamour modelling or other related work….is it the aim that this option be denied to them….?

Then there is the issue of the gender pay gap…. For nearly 50 years it has been law that men and women doing the same job should be paid the same…. The gender pay gap and equal pay are not the same thing…. The gender gap looks at the average hourly earnings between men and women. Figures released in April 2017 by the Office of National Statistics revealed across the UK men earned 18.4% more than women (this is down from 27.5% in 1997). Of those earning less than the living wage, 62% are women…. UK companies with 250 or more employees have to publish their gender pay gap by April 2018…this will effect about 9,000 companies, who will have to publish this information on a government website….

Of course, two people doing the same job, regardless of gender, should be paid the same hourly rate – there is no question about that….but there are other factors that should be taken into consideration…. There are fewer women in senior roles, most top jobs are still taken by men. Taking time out to have children often means women are slower to advance in their careers. Women are more likely to do part-time jobs, which are often lower paid…. These facts are going to have an impact on the average figures….

Image via Pixabay

Tesco is at the moment facing a £4bn equal pay claim; a legal challenge by women working in Tesco stores, earning less than their male colleagues working in the warehouses. Their argument being the value of their work is comparable…. Also currently under the spotlight on equal pay is the BBC. A news correspondent having a salary some £10,000pa below that of her male colleagues doing the same job…. A National radio presenter paid one-third that of her male co-host…. Another BBC local radio station co-host breakfast presenter, paid half the salary her male counterpart receives….and the award-winning National radio presenter being told ‘the BBC doesn’t do equal pay’….

There is no denying that there are still many examples of women being discriminated against….and it’s only right each case is individually addressed. There is also no doubt feminism is doing a great job in raising awareness of rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment…. However, is there a danger of modern feminism becoming negative? Could it not be said we already have equality? What exactly is it we want….complete role reversal….supremacy in a unisex World? Are we becoming the gender of ball-breakers…? That’s a lot of questions, I know – but ones that will hopefully make us consider if what we are actually fighting for is actually now an outdated cause….

It would be a very under-educated view that feminists hate men; a real feminist cares just as much about men’s rights. Equality should be for all, regardless of gender, sexual preference or race…. What we should be focusing on is not just women’s rights – but human rights….

Image via Pixabay

We owe so much to the Suffragettes and Suffragists – but their work is now done. Of course there are still sexist men out there – (sexist women too) – but they are a minority….most men abhor sexism and thoroughly support equality – they have proved that time and time again. It’s now time to move on; there is no getting away from the fact men and women are not the same….women bear the responsibility of childbirth – nothing is going to change that – it is what Nature intended…. For nearly every woman who decides to have a family this is going to have an impact on her career – what is important though, is this is not set in stone – at least in this day and age we have choices….

Image via Pixabay

There is no doubt that men are, on the whole, physically stronger; there will always be jobs that are more suited to them….women just need to accept that – if she can demonstrate an ability to do the job just as well, then there is nothing stopping her…. The same goes for men choosing to do what in the past would have been viewed as a more feminine profession….there are fewer and fewer boundaries….. It’s about equality and getting on with doing what each and every one of us are individually best at….and as a united front….

Image via Pixabay

Women are generally now no more oppressed than anybody else in Western every day modern society; opportunities are open to all…. One issue that does still keep rearing its ugly head is the sexual exploitation we are hearing so much about currently….it is dominating our news headlines…. Whilst it would be insensitive to generalise, as this is such a serious matter, it does have to be filtered…. Many historic accusations have been made – some appear to be quite insignificant and almost petty….the workplace 30 years ago was a very different place to now; a sleazy remark, a pat on the knee was quite normal behaviour back then….not right by today’s standards – but that’s how it was…. Of course more serious incidents did happen and those need to be dealt with – that said though, we have to let go of the past and move forward, looking after each other and fighting for equal rights for everyone…. We need to look to the future…. I personally am heartened, as I think this really is beginning to happen….

Image via Pixabay

The Captivating Spell of Witch Hazel….

January and February can be dreary months, no place more so than in the garden; whilst a few bulbs are beginning to make their presence known, it takes a brave flower to face the cruel, harsh elements of Winter…. A few do rise to the challenge though – winter pansies and jasmin, hellibores and of course, witch hazel….


The one we have here in this garden, Hamamelis mollis (Chinese witch hazel) has done itself proud this year…. Planted soon after we moved in, some thirteen or fourteen years ago, it has taken its time to establish and get its roots down; this is the first year it has really flowered well….

Hamamelis mollis

‘Hamamelis’ literally means ‘together with fruit’ – flowers, fruit and next year’s leaf buds can all appear together on the plant…. It is a shrub with several tricks up its sleeve; its early flowers, the foliage that turns to pleasing Autumn colour before the leaves fall….and then it has its party-piece…. The Hamamelis produces a seed pod in the form of a two-part capsule that contains just one black, glossy seed – the pod explodes open and can catapult the seed up to 30ft away….


Witch hazel is a genus of flowering plants in the Hamamelidaceae family; there are four species native to North America, one in Japan and another in China….

The first to be called witch hazel – because of its resemblance to the European hazelnut tree – is the Native American species H.virginiana. It was discovered in 1687 and first grown in England by Henry Compton, the Bishop of London….

Witch Hazel along the Appalachian Trail – UGArdener via / CC BY-NC Original image URL:

The Japanese variety (H.japonica), which is similar to H.virginiana but with bigger flowers, was first introduced to Europe in 1863. In Japan the witch hazel is known as ‘mansaku’ – translating as ‘rich crop’. Folklore says when the flowers appear in great numbers a good crop is predicted for the coming harvest….

Hamamelis japonica – ashitaka-f studio k2 via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

The Chinese (H.mollis) was first marketed in the West by the Arnold Arboretum, Massachusetts, in 1914. Although similar to H.viginiana it has a much stronger scent and is sometimes considered to be the most attractive of the witch hazels, as its flowers have a less twisted appearance. Native to central and Eastern China, it matures into a large shrub or even small tree, but potentially reaches only up to 10ft in height in our gardens….

20120223_UBCBG_HamamelisMollis_Cutler_DSCO6514 via / CC BY Original image URL:

The Latin ‘mollis’ means ‘soft’ and refers to the leaves which turn a buttery yellow in the Autumn. The yellow flowers are usually tinged red at the base, with 4 long petals, 4 short stamens and grow in clusters. Flowering from mid to late Winter through to early Spring, it is an ideal plant to cut a few stems from to bring indoors, so that its lovely citrusy fragrance can be enjoyed….

Hamamelis mollis ‘Princeton Gold’ – Tie Guy II via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

Since the 1930s hybrids have been produced from the two Asian species, forming the Hamamelis Xintermedia hybrids: the first named ‘Arnold Promise’ arriving in 1963 has fragrant, yellow flowers. In 1969 ‘Diane’ was brought to us, with its lightly scented red flowers and long flowering season. Since the mid 80s a whole host of new varieties have been introduced to the market….

Hamamelis ‘Diane’ – LEMills via / CC BY=NC-SA Original image URL:

Witch hazel is a fabulous feature plant; the darker varieties produce spectacular Autumn colour, changing from green to yellow, to orange and finally to dark red…. It is perfect for the British climate, as the winter chill is needed for full flowering potential to be achieved; it is incredibly frost tolerant and is disease resistant…. Witch hazel is easy to grow but prefers non-chalky soil and is extremely low maintenance….with no need for pruning – just remove any dead wood….

Of course, witch hazel’s talents don’t stop there…. The bark, twigs and leaves contain tannins and polyphenols which can be extracted and added to water (sometimes with alcohol) to produce distilled witch hazel…. Thomas Newton Dickinson, a Baptist minister, was the first to distill witch hazel commercially. He built a distillery in 1866, after learning of its medicinal properties from Native American Indian tribes. He used 86% double distilled witch hazel with 14% alcohol – the brand is still available today….and little has changed to its formula….

Witch hazel is a natural astringent – removing excess oil from the skin and shrinking the pores. It helps prevent spots, blackheads and blemishes and is one of the best treatments for acne…. It is often added as an ingredient to beauty and health products….

Humphreys’ Witch Hazel Oil (front) – Boston Public Library via / CC BY Original image URL:

It is useful to help fight signs of aging and can reduce puffiness and brighten the eye area – (just take care not to get in the eye itself, as it will sting)…. It is also known to help fade bruises and speed up the healing process….

Applied to minor cuts and scrapes witch hazel will stem. Bleeding and is a good choice for the cleansing of wounds – (especially the shop bought variety as it usually contains isopropyl alcohol)…. Used after shaving it will stop any nicks from bleeding and will help prevent razor burn….(good to use after a wax treatment too, ladies)….


It will also relieve the itching caused by insect bites and stings – sooth a baby’s nappy rash and will cool down sun burn…. It is thought to help eczema….

A few drops inserted into the ear canal will help break down troublesome ear wax…. It can help varicose veins, by temporarily reducing the swelling and so relieving pain…. It is a common ingredient used in haemorrhoid treatments….

To sooth a sore throat, gargle with natural (no alcohol) witch hazel; it can ease the symptoms of tonsillitis, laryngitis and sinusitis….

Pure witch hazel will also help reduce the swelling and discomfort associated with gum disease and can relieve the pain of a troublesome wisdom tooth…. Mix together a teaspoonful of pure witch hazel with a drop of clove oil and myrrh oil to rub on the gums of a teething baby….

Humphreys’ Witch Hazel Oil – an ointment for the people (back) – Boston Public Library via / CC BY Original image URL:

As you can see witch hazel really is one of Mother Nature’s most precious natural remedies; can you really afford not to have a bottle to hand in your bathroom cabinet…?

There seems to be no end to the wonders of witch hazel…. If you missed the last blog post but would like to read more about this very special and versatile plant How divine….