Inspirational women whose bravery, intellect and compassion have made a positive
difference in their communities and overseas have been recognised.
Over the last few months, Durham County Council has installed blue plaques
commemorating individuals and groups in towns and villages across County Durham.
The latest to be honoured were put forward by County Durham’s Women’s Banner Group
(WBG) – an organisation that was founded in 2017 to celebrate the achievements of the
working-class women of the Durham coalfields. Since then, WBG has broadened its
activities and now campaigns on topics including equal rights, universal credit, pensions
Ensuring women’s past achievements are recognised is also a key focus and, in 2019,
WBG held a hustings event to seek suggestions for inspirational women to nominate for a
blue plaque. The nominees included: First World War nurse Kate Maxey, who was put
forward by Lynn Gibson; the Aycliffe Angels, who were suggested by Tim Dredge; and
Lady Bella Lawson and her husband, Jack, who were nominated by Dorothy Rand.
The plaques have now been unveiled, much to the delight of WBG and local people.
Born in Clyde Terrace in Spennymoor in 1876, Kate Maxey became one of the most highly
decorated nurses of the First World War, receiving the Royal Red 1 st Class, the Military
Medal and the Florence Nightingale Medal in acknowledgement of her distinguished
The Aycliffe Angels were a group of courageous women who worked at a former Second
World War munitions factory in Newton Aycliffe, now called ROF 59. These hard-working
co-workers filled shells and bullets and assembled detonators and fuses as part of the war
effort. The work was very dangerous, and many workers were killed or injured during the
manufacturing process. But, due to the secrecy surrounding the factory, many of these
incidents were not recorded and the women’s efforts also went unrecognised.
Lady Bella Jackson was a suffragist, Labour activist, community volunteer and pioneer of
child welfare clinics. She was also a parish councillor, school manager and a supporter of
many charities. Bella was honoured along with her husband Baron Jack Lawson, with the
plaque installed on their former home in Woodside, Beamish. Jack was a miner, trade
unionist, Lord Lieutenant, county councillor, MP and preacher.
Another County Durham woman, Janet Taylor, was honoured with a blue plaque at the
Masonic Hall in Wolsingham. Nominated by Wolsingham Women’s Institute, Janet was
born in the town in 1804 and was educated in languages, mathematics, science,
astronomy and navigation by her schoolmaster father. She went on to set up a nautical
academy and specialised in the design, production and repair of navigational instruments.
Others to be recognised since the scheme started include the ‘Fighting Bradfords’ – four
brothers from Witton Park who served their country with valour in conflicts including the
First World War; Thomas Wright, a renowned astronomer, mathematician, instrument
maker, garden designer and architect, from Byers Green; and Spennymoor Settlement,
which was set up in 1931 to enhance the lives of residents through education and the arts.
Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economy and
partnerships, said: “Over the last few months, seven blue plaques have been installed
across the county in honour of some truly remarkable groups and individuals.
“The most recent were all put forward by the WBG and celebrate the great contribution
made by women – a contribution that has not always received the recognition it deserves.
“The scope of their actions and achievements demonstrates the bravery, ingenuity and
determination of County Durham people. We want to channel this resilience and innovative
spirit in everything we do, especially in County Durham’s bid to be UK City of Culture
2025. The blue plaque scheme is just one of the ways we are celebrating County
Durham’s rich heritage and championing the talent that exists within our communities.”
Lynn Gibson, from the Women’s Banner Group, said: “It is incredibly important that women
are recognised for their achievements and we are delighted to see these plaques installed
at a number of locations across County Durham.
“Women are so often written out of history which is why this scheme is so important. It’s
giving members of the public the opportunity to nominate women deserving of a blue
plaque, which will in turn, get more people talking about these amazing women once
The Blue Plaques Appraisal Panel meets twice a year, in January and June, to consider
new nominations. To make a nomination, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request
Durham County Council, with support from principal partner Durham University, submitted
the initial bid for UK City of Culture on behalf of Culture Durham, a partnership of arts and
culture organisations from across the county.
Durham’s bid is for both the county and the city. To find out more and to leave messages
of support, visit www.durham2025.co.uk and follow @Durham2025 on Facebook,
@Durham_2025 on Twitter and @Durham2025_ on Instagram.