Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Isabella guesting in Beyond the Trenches Blog

The mystery of Dr Isabella Stenhouse and her beads is gradually being unravelled, and, slowly, the story is being penned - well, typed.

In the meantime, Alex Pryce at the AHRC kindly invited me to write a post for their blog, so for a taster, head to Beyond the Trenches.

And if you want to find out more about WW1 and the people who nursed tens of thousands of sick and wounded men in WW1 Malta, head to Walter Bonnici's incredibly useful website

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Isabella gets her mention this centenary weekend

I'm really glad that this weekend the Telegraph has decided to feature Isabella on the Flashback page of their Saturday magazine.

It feels as if she has been given her small place in the battery of commemorations taking place this weekend, a century after WW1 began.

She also features in Paul Atterbury's BBC Antiques Roadshow book, World War One in 100 Family Treasures, that will be published on 7th August.

Of course, there's much more of the story to tell, so here's hoping for a way to get the full story out soon…….

Monday, 30 June 2014

Isabella at the Blaenavon Front

On Saturday, courtesy of Breaking Barriers Community Arts, Isabella was invited to give the people of Blaenavon a chance to contribute a strand of 'DNA' to the commemorative work that began at Made in Spring last year.

She stood in the shelter of a fake WW1 dug-out at Blaenavon Heritage Day, beads beside her and a table nearby where the townsfolk could decorate beads and add them to the growing strand of 'DNA'. 

All went well until the rain leaked through the awning……but, with the help of 44 bead decorators, the strand was completed.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Isabella in the news

It's been a busy week for Isabella. Her Antiques Roadshow appearance caught the imagination of some of the press.

Wales on Sunday published an article which had some truth in it - but only some!

The Daily Express managed to be more accurate, and ITV Wales came to film her medical equipment and string of beads ready for their centenary commemorations in August.

After that, this photograph of Isabella working with the British Army in Malta was favourited and retweeted on Twitter.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Isabella is in the Radio Times

Imagine my shock. A quick browse of next week's Radio Times to see if there are any treats in store, and there is Isabella's name in the Choice Section!

BBC 1, Antiques Roadshow, Sunday 6th April, 8pm.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Isabella on Antiques Roadshow, 6th April

I was annoyed, so I typed a quick email:

'WW1 was not just about France and the trenches, and it was not just about men. I own the medical instruments of a woman who served as a doctor in France, Malta and Egypt during the war.'

It was Spring 2013, and the Antiques Roadshow had just asked for ideas for their WW1 centenary episodes, a letter from the trenches or a medal, they suggested.

A phone call later, and I was being interviewed by the producer. They wanted photos. They put Isabella on the shortlist and, asked, "Nothing definite, but would you be free to take the instruments to France in late July?"

Would I be free? Of course I would.

So we went, and Isabella's instruments will be discussed in the 6th April episode of Antiques Roadshow.

Monday, 3 February 2014


Lack of posts on the blog doesn't mean I've stopped working on Isabella - Oh No. I've been working on her story harder than ever since the Arts Council Funding ended in June.

First of all I went travelling. I drank coffee on the site of the hospital in France where Isabella worked.

Over the last few years, I've spent days in the Imperial War Museum, painfully decoding the diary of the hospital. The dip-penned, candle-light scrawled words have been hard to untangle. In their antique Edwardian script, they haven't always made sense. I've kept wondering if I've understood them aright. Visiting the place cleared that all up, made sense of both the writing and Isabella's tale.

I found old photos which showed me what the building used to look like, and I scoured the town for spots Isabella would have known.

I flew to Malta and was overwhelmed by the friendly interest shown by people in Isabella's story, a part of their island's story they knew little about. I was able to walk in the rooms where she had tended patients, and to stand on the steps where she had paused from her work to gaze down at the sea. I wondered what she had been in her mind as she sat in the very same spot.

It's been a satisfying adventure, but I haven't visited Egypt yet. I'm a bit scared of Egypt. Any suggestions?

On my return, I began to write up three years (on and off) of research. I'm halfway through. Halfway through my attempt to tell Isabella's tale in a way that's interesting and fun yet historically accurate.

But I'm wondering when I should tell people what I am doing; I'm busy panicking that I've missed the centenary of WW1 because all the commemorations have begun so early, and I'm wondering if all my work will prove to have been in vain.

But even if I am too late, I am still convinced that the story of a woman who served as a doctor during WW1 is worth telling. She was not a famous woman, she was just a junior doctor, but without juniors, how would people become seniors? Without people to test the waters of working in a male dominated environment, to begin to let men see what they could do, how could men begin to realise what women could do, and how could anyone else follow?

PS: Why have I paused working towards an installation? Because to get the funding to make an installation, I knew I would need to work out exactly what I wanted and what it would cost. But to do that, I had to collate everything I'd discovered about Isabella and her beads. And once I began doing that, I quickly found there was far too much to limit her story to an installation. An installation or something else can follow later. Let's hope!