I was introduced to this woman by Audrey Steeley the Creative Projects Manager at Heron Corn Mill. She sent me a copy of House of Letters (a collection of her correspondences) written by Ernest Betham in 1905. Of course you will see the link here – Betham (Beetham – where the mill is – it’s the family associated with the village) There are a few references to the colour yellow in this and so I pursued them and more about her. I learned that she held controversial views for the time in which she lived (1776-1852) and that she was committed to St Luke’s Mental Asylum in 1817, it seems for some kind of mental breakdown and I suspect her controversial views. Was she mad or was she just an eccentric political activist/artist? I found that Elaine Bailey has written about this in Insanity and the Lunatic Asylum in the Nineteenth Century by Thomas Knowles and Serena Trowbridge. Google has limited pages online so I have to get the great big book out of the great big library. You can read the potted nuggets about Matilda if you are interested here in good old wikipedia.
Now why pursue Matilda alongside Lioba, Walburga (correction Ethelburga) and Alexandra? I think it’s something to do with remnants from The House. Moving towards completion of that project (for now) I discovered Nana-in hospital’s association with St Audry’s Hospital in Suffolk (a former workhouse turned asylum) as well as her association with St Mary’s Hospital in Suffolk. Subsequently that research has deepened and requires some detailed trawling through archives locating various ancestors association with these places. One cannot escape the weave of work upon work upon work – like i said about Princess Alexandra visiting Dad’s place.
I have come to accept that the work always has some kind of personal reference in it and I think these four women have that in common with me. Another obvious link is the coincidental time of Matilda’s birth – the time when the mill became a paper mill as well as a corn mill, its present incarnation with the addition of it regenerative energy status.
Of course Matilda is not from Beetham her ancestors hail from Little Strickland, Burton within the area that was Westmorland and is now Cumbria. I am not a northerner so I am learning this stuff…..and guess what…Westmorland was re-baptised as Cumbria in 1974. This I think is very important because it is about political boundaries, fences, roadways, local identity and power.