The Lost Diaries of a Heroine; Documents Found in Attic Reveal Thoughts of the City's 18th Century Social Reformer

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), October 26, 2009 | Go to article overview

The Lost Diaries of a Heroine; Documents Found in Attic Reveal Thoughts of the City's 18th Century Social Reformer


Byline: LAURA SHARPE

TWO mottled diaries discovered in an attic have revealed the true story of one of Liverpool's forgotten 18th century heroines.

Hannah Lightbody married one of the country's most powerful cotton manufacturers and went on to become the driving force behind welfare and educational reform.

The discovery of her diaries dating back to 1786 has opened up the history books and given an insight into the young woman from Liverpool, who mingled with the likes of William Roscoe and William Rathbone.

David Sekers, a former director of Hannah's family estate at Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, Cheshire, who uncovered the diary, said: "I found Hannah''s diary whilst sifting through a wealth of archive material left at the mill by descendants of her family.

"The diary is of course in Hannah''s own words - so we read and understand it very much through her eyes. Even at this early stage in Hannah''s life, she comes across as a free-thinking young woman, ahead of her time, very much concerned with the role of, and enlightenment of, women in society."

The story starts in 1786, when Hannah was a young woman growing up in Liverpool with her two brothers.

The daughter of a rich linen merchant with land in Garston and Stanley Docks, she was orphaned at the age of 12.

She was sent to school in London where she studied maths, Latin, history, French, German and philosophy before returning to Liverpool at the age of 18.

It was then she started writing her diary, putting pen to paper when Liverpool was the fastest expanding city in the country.

In January 1787 Liverpool was rocked by campaigns to abolish the slave trade and Hannah''s friends were among the tiny minority who dared to voice their opposition to the trade.

Hannah at this time was on the verge of becoming a young woman of means, inheriting money and land from her father on her 21st birthday.

Although from a provincial background, Hannah was very much at home in the lively social and cultural life of Liverpool and Manchester in the late 18th century.

Intellectual activities, plays, dances, concerts, and lectures are all mentioned in the diary. …

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