Staff Picks – Favourite Women of Leeds

For International Women’s Day 2021 our staff have chosen some of their favourite women with Leeds connections. We hope you enjoy reading about Catherine, Beryl and Sue.

Food and Home Cookery 1890

Catherine Buckton (1826-1904) was a writer and campaigner who was passionate about women’s education, child welfare, suffrage and social reform. She was in fact the first woman to be elected into a public office in Leeds when she was successful in her bid to be elected on to the School Board in 1873, paving the way for other women. She was a founder member of the Yorkshire School of Cookery and the Ladies Council of the Yorkshire Board of Education.

Catherine Buckton was aware of the terrible living conditions in industrial cities like Leeds and recognised the urgent need for public health reform. She believed the education of girls was vital in improving the lives of working class communities.

She taught evening classes to working women in Holbeck and Wortley on health, food and hygiene. She also campaigned for girls to be taught cookery and gained a national reputation as a leader in health education. The cookery lessons took place every two weeks and printed recipes were provided to the girls, which could then be taken home and repeated. Buckton’s books such as ‘Health and House’ and ‘Food and Home Cookery’ were extremely popular and read across the country. Her concern for the children in Leeds with no access to gardens led her to start an annual competition for children to create their own window boxes with hundreds of families taking part.

This work of Catherine Buckton resonated with me as there have been lots of discussions recently around food poverty but Buckton recognised that there were many factors that influenced whether people could actually eat healthily, such as lack of garden space in cities to grow fresh food, knowledge and also very limited space. The girls would most likely be living in one room with a large family and the need to teach neatness and order was a practical necessity. Buckton clearly saw the link between nutrition, education and public health and her lessons became the template not just for Leeds but for most Board Schools.

Beryl Burton Memorial Gardens mural , Morley –

Beryl Burton OBE (1937-1996) was arguably Britain’s greatest female cyclist. Her achievements were outstanding, including seven world titles in time trialling and speed riding, and she set many records, including one that stood for 50 years. Beryl stands out for many reasons, not just for her achievements, but for the fact that she did all this independently, with immense determination, overcoming many obstacles, and surpassing all expectations.

She was born Beryl Charnock, in Morley, and suffered rheumatic fever as a child. Doctors advised her afterwards that she should not exert herself physically. Her introduction to cycling came by chance when she met her husband Charlie, who she married at age 17, in her first job at a tailoring firm. They rode with Morley Cycling Club, and as Beryl’s career took off, Charlie became helper, mechanic, and childminder to their daughter Denise. Beryl supervised her own training, rode the races she wanted to, and remained an amateur throughout her career. To financially support her riding, she continued her hard manual labour at the nearby rhubarb farm.

The most famous story about Beryl concerns the 1967 UK National Time Trial, where she rode 277.25 miles in 12 hours. In her later autobiography she recalls approaching the leading rider, Mike McNamara, up ahead. Unsure what the protocol was when about to overtake the leading male rider, she offered him a Liquorice Allsort. He replied “ta, love”, and she went on to set a world record that was not bettered by a male rider until 2 years later. The women’s record stood for 50 years until it was finally broken in 2017.

Beryl lived in the saddle, and sadly but somewhat fittingly, died of a heart attack in 1996, whilst out on her bike delivering invites for her 59th birthday party. Her daughter Denise suggested that she had simply worn her body out with her competitive spirit and drive.

She was awarded an MBE in 1964, and an OBE in 1968. After her death, the Beryl Burton Memorial Gardens were set up on Queen Street, Morley, and the Beryl Burton Cycle Way established between Harrogate and Knaresborough. Actor Maxine Peake wrote a radio play about Beryl in 2012, later developed as a stage show, and shown in Leeds to coincide with the Tour de France Grand Depart from Leeds in 2014. It was a huge success and was performed for another run in Leeds before going on tour around the country, a fitting testament to Beryl and her achievements.

Chosen by Karen – Local & Family History

Wheatfield Lodge, Headingly – Became a Sue Ryder Foundation Hospice in 1977 –

In 2011 a Civic Trust Blue Plaque was placed on Margaret Sue Ryders (1924-2000) childhood home at Scarcroft Grange in Leeds. As quoted by Lynda Kitching, chair of Leeds Civic Trust at the time, ‘This was to honour her as one of Leeds most tireless Charity Campaigners’. [1]

Her initial inspiration came from touring the ‘slums’ of 1930’s Leeds where she witnessed the suffering of those living in poverty. Her work started in WWII, helping people displaced from their homes as a result of war. After the war she widened the scope of her work, supporting people in need of palliative and neurological care across the UK an internationally.

Closer to home though in Leeds her biggest legacy is Wheatfield’s Hospice Headingley which provides care and support for people living with terminal illnesses and neurological conditions, as well as individuals who are bereaving the loss of a loved one.

In conclusion, again quoting Lynda Kitching ‘Sue Ryder was a remarkable woman who devoted her life to the relief of suffering.[1]

Chosen by Debbie- Local & Family History


[1] BBC News

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