Reformers join ranks of heroes

Two reformers who shared Octavia Hill’s passions and enthusiasms have been remembered at the house in Wisbech where she was born.

Plaques have been unveiled at Heroes’ Arcade in the garden of Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House to an illustrator and artist, who promoted the cause of votes for women, and a philanthropist, who built a model village for his workforce, during a visit to the museum by nearly 50 members of the Braintree and Bocking Local History Society.

In the centenary of the year when the first wave of women in Britain won the vote, a plaque has been unveiled at the museum at 7 South Brink to Catherine Courtauld, the granddaughter of textile manufacturer George Courtauld and the sister of Samuel Courtauld, who founded the Courtauld Institute of Art.

 A prominent member of the Suffrage Atelier formed in 1907, she joined the propaganda war, working with other artists to promote votes for women, and numbered among her designs ‘The Anti-Suffrage Ostrich’, showing an ostrich with its head in the sand, which attacked the stupidity and ignorance of the anti-suffrage brigade.

Her passion for art and social justice was shared by Octavia Hill, who trained with John Ruskin for a decade as an art copyist and went on to dedicate herself to social reform as well as becoming a co-founder of the National Trust.

A second plaque recalls Francis Crittall, who pioneered the manufacture of steel-framed windows in 1884 and whose business went on to become the world’s leading manufacturer of the product.

By the 1920s the town of Braintree in Essex, which numbered 18,000 inhabitants, could not support the needs of the 10,000 employees of the burgeoning  business and their families, and Crittall funded the development of the Silver End model Village, near Witham, to provide a good standard of living accommodation and civic amenities in the tradition of Robert Owen and company towns such as the Victorian model village of Saltaire at Shipley in Bradford.

The Heroes’ Arcade at the Birthplace House is based on a memorial at Postman’s Park, near St Paul’s Cathedral in London, dedicated to ordinary people who have performed acts of extraordinary heroism.

Mr Andrew Beschizza, secretary of the Braintree and Bocking Local History Society, which was founded in 1957, said:  “Our visit was the start of a project by Braintree Museum to find out more about the involvement of the Courtauld ladies, and, in particular, Catherine, in the Suffragist movement.   We must now go back to Wisbech to learn more.”

Mr Peter Clayton, chairman of the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust, said:  “Once again we have chosen our additions for their empathy with disadvantaged people, which reflects the preoccupation of Octavia and her family.”