Halton’s Most Extraordinary Woman
|Over the course of the first two weekends in September Halton Heritage Partnership held its Heritage Open Days events; many of Halton’s historic attractions opened their doors for free between 6th and 16th September to showcase the Borough’s heritage.
This year offered an additional opportunity to learn about some of the women who have been key to Halton’s past and to vote for the most Extraordinary! This was in line with the Heritage Open Days national theme of Extraordinary Women. The women featured in Halton were: Aethelfleda, Margaret and Mary Baker, Deborah Ellam, Edith Fildes, Sophia and Arabella Furnell, Chloe Gambia, Alice Liddell, Margaret McCann, and Frida Mond.
The woman with the most votes, collated from participating venues across both weekends, was Edith Fildes. Chloe Gambia, nominated by St Peter’s Church at Aston, came in second and Margaret MCCann, nominated by St Marie’s Heritage Group, was a close third.
Edith Fildes is an extraordinary woman who has been both of her time, and ahead of her time throughout her life. Like many children born during the First World War, Edith grew up without her father, who was killed before she was born. She lived with her mother and her uncles in a modest house down by the Mersey. Encouraged and inspired by a teacher at school, she persuaded her mother to let her take the scholarship and gained a place at Wade Deacon Grammar School. At 18 she had won a scholarship to study English at the nearby University of Liverpool, one of a tiny number of women of her generation to go to university. Staying on at school, let alone going on to university were unheard of in a family such as Edith’s, and she later talked about how her mother thought her “very strange” to insist on such a path. But Edith was not the sort of person to waste an opportunity, and she relished the challenges studying at Liverpool brought to her. It became clear that education had been life changing for Edith, and her life’s work as a teacher went on to change the lives of thousands of students locally throughout a distinguished career at Wade Deacon and the sixth form college.
Alongside her role as a teacher and a mother, Edith was a devoted daughter and daughter in law. She supported her blind mother throughout her life, provided “end of life” care for the best part of two decades to her uncles and nursed her mother in law for many years. She cared for them all with unwavering good grace and generosity of spirit.
Edith became a centenarian in May 2018, a huge achievement that was acknowledged her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in a Congratulatory Telegram. She was born into the mayhem of WWI, educated in Widnes and was one of the first intakes into The Wade Deacon Grammar School for Girls. It was there that Edith taught English and she continued in that role for many years until her retirement. Edith is a fondly remembered congregation member at St Luke’s Church in Farnworth and it was the PCC at the Church that nominated Edith. She was hugely involved in church life, along with her husband Dudley, including building and restoration projects, fundraising Garden Parties held in the garden of the home on Coroners Lane that she graciously hosted with her husband and their two children Judith and Michael when she was known locally as the ‘Mary Berry’ of her time.
Edith has never lost her interest in St Luke’s Church and although she is now in a local care home, she still maintains her contacts with St Luke’s, receiving Home Communion, still keeping up her annual subscription for the Parish Magazine and she is regularly visited by St Luke parishioners who keep her informed of all the news and update her on the latest building project to reorder the back of church.
Frank Lawless, Chair of Halton Heritage Partnership, said, ‘we were delighted to have the opportunity to tell the stories of all these extraordinary women, many of whose achievements were unknown until now.
Thanks to everyone who voted; Edith was a very worthy winner’