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Wednesday’s Wise Woman … Hannah Mitchell

May 22, 2013

Hannah Mitchell

Hannah Mitchell (born Hannah Webster 18721-1956) was an English suffragette and socialist. She lived with her family at Alport Castles Farm in the Peak District of Derbyshire; it still stands, a mile north of the A57 on the Snake Pass that links Manchester with Sheffield and crosses one of the wildest parts of the south Pennines.  In her autobiography The hard way up.the descriptions of her childhood  home are a rich source of rural memories and remained for her a much enjoyed place of refuge away from the anxieties of modern life.  Well into her 70s she continued to walk the moorland paths even those she would have taken when she ran away from home as a teenager.  

Life on the farm was poor and isolated; however, she was able to go Derwent, a village nearby for a little freedom and a limited education.Hannah’s main difficulty was her mother and her scolding tongue.  She only got a fortnight’s schooling in her whole life. Hannah, unlike her siblings was keen to learn.  After some persuasion Hannah’s mother allowed her to attend the local school with her sister. After two weeks the weather became so harsh the girls were not able to make the journey.  When the weather improved the sister returned to school but for Hannah the opportunity didn’t arise again.  

Her mother was vehemently aggressive; physically and mentally towards her daughter’s aspirations for improvement.   Education, even basic schooling was not for girls.  Hannah suffered terribly as she struggled against the social restraints of the time.

Her Uncle was sympathetic to the situation and came to the rescue; he bought her some exercise books and set her some lines to copy ‘Procrastination is the thief of time’ and ‘Never put off til tomorrow what you can do today’.      Although these moral lessons were not needed; the exercises did give Hannah the chance to improve her handwriting.   

Hannah didn’t have a dictionary so when she did come across a word she didn’t understand or couldn’t pronounce properly she copied it and listened carefully to the preacher at the chapel until she heard the use the ‘doubtful’ word.  Often they would mispronounce it ; after all they were only lay preachers, farmers or shepherds, with no more education than her father or uncle.  Hannah went on to say in her book that she took every opportunity to talk about books and reading to visitors and passers by.  This, the mother overhearing; saw as a slur on her character and would beat her.  Hannah, not wishing to waste a valuable lesson’ soon learned to be discreet.  

So with this continued cruelty, and non-existent education and the bleak isolation of the farm; Hannah had no alternative if she wanted to ‘better herself’ so she ran away from home. First to Glossop and then Bolton; described by her grandson; ‘she moved from Wuthering Heights’ to the ‘Coketown’ of Charles Dickens’s Hard times. She endured great poverty and strong friendships.. From here she married and had her only son.  It was early in her relationship with her would-be husband that she decided against a marriage as held by her brothers.  By now, in a strong mining community and surrounded by socialists there was much talk about marriage as comradeship.  There was the idea that limiting population as a means of reducing poverty.  She says that ‘I soon came to believe that although birth control was not the perfect solution to social problems it was one of the first and simplest ways at present for poor to help themselves and the surest way for women to obtain a measure of freedom’ … to be continued.   



6 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne Elvidge permalink
    May 22, 2013 8:09 am

    Amazing story. Alport Castles is about 15 miles north of where we live and it is pretty bleak up there, even now.

    • May 22, 2013 9:14 am

      It was not just the bleakness that drove Hannah to run away to an environment even more harsh. It was more her mother’s cruelty! The book is a good read especially if you are already familiar with the area; it is a good source of local social history. And not as expensive as Anne Kenney’s

  2. May 22, 2013 1:22 pm

    I enjoyed reading about Hannah Mitchell!

  3. January 5, 2022 3:19 am

    Hi there – we wondered where you sourced the Hannah Mitchell still from? I am from a production company who would like to feature this image as part of a history TV series. Please email me on – or if there’s a way I can contact you?

    • January 5, 2022 2:08 pm

      I am not sure where I got the image, but it is the one on the front of the book I mention The hard way up edited by Geoffrey Mitchell

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