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Isabella Lucy Bird, Explorer, Writer and Traveller - 1831-1904

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Isabella Lucy Bird was anything but a conventional middle class Victorian woman.

She was the daughter of Edward Bird, Rector of St Alban's Church, Tattenhall. Lucy moved with her family into the Tattenhall Rectory when she was but 3 years of age. Reverend Bird, who fiercely resisted both Sunday labour and Sunday trading, was subsequently drummed out of Tattenhall because of his uncompromising views on the observance of the Sabbath, and thereafter from the Parish of St Thomas, Birmingham, where he was, in fact, pelted with stones, mud, and insults.

Isabella received no formal schooling, but it was recognised that she was intelligent and her cultured parents set about educating her in French, Literature, History, Drawing, the Scriptures, Latin and Botany. Her parents also encouraged charitable and Christian missionary work; two of her aunts being missionaries in India and Persia. She married John Bishop, an Edinburgh Doctor, in 1881 and was widowed just 5 years later.

Isabella became an established explorer, traveller and writer of a number of books. In 1892, she was the first woman to be appointed in the Royal Geographical Society in London and the first woman ever to address a meeting of that Society. She was also elected to membership of the Royal Photographic Society in 1897. She studied medicine and became committed to missionary work.

Whilst interesting ... some of you will be questioning the link with the Sandstone Ridge.

Well ... Isabella's first adventure took place locally. The story, told in 'The Life of Isabella Bird' (1906), by Anna Stoddart, refers to 'Bloody Bones Cave' beneath the Sandstone Ridge at Rawhead and where brigands are said to have roamed; stealing cheese and selling sand.

'Near Tattenhall rises a hill known as Rawhead ... This hill was full of caves, in which dwelt a gang of outcasts whose doings grew notorious. Robbery followed robbery in the neighbourhood. The caves were searched on suspicion, but nothing was found to warrant arrest ... one midnight someone passing the Tattenhall Churchyard saw lights and heard voices ... No one would go near it, until the magistrates decided to make a midnight raid with armed constables, and to see what manner of ghosts disturbed its peace. They found the Rawhead gang busy hiding booty in a grave, the slab of which they had raised. An old woman whose cottage was close to the churchyard proved to be in collusion with the burglars and had assisted them to choose their storehouse. All were arrested and transported. But Isabella never forgot how her nurse took her to see the unearthing of silver-plate and jewellery from that grim hiding-place, and how ... she watched the whole process ... from the lifting of the slab to the recovery of the last teaspoon.'

Further information is given in Frank Latham's 1977 book 'Tattenhall — The History of a Cheshire Village', where he claims that the brigands plundered graves, stole cheeses and gave Isabella a black silk dress as 'hush money'!

Our thanks to:

  • David Hayns and to My Village News, and
  • Tattenhall Local History who have researched both Isabella and her father. CLICK HERE for more on Isabella Bird and CLICK HERE for more on her father, the Reverend Edward Bird.
  • Our image is from the National Portrait Gallery and is dated July 1899.