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Housekeeper, Public Servant and Suffragist: The Productive Life of Mrs Isabella Raynbird (nee Webb) of Basingstoke 1837 -1925

Mr Raynbird

At the time of her death, Isabella Raynbird was praised as somebody who ‘took a keen interest in everything for the good of the parish in which she lived, and, always ready to help any in need, she was greatly beloved by all’.* Such compliments were undoubtedly justified since she had lived a very full and productive life of 87 years. Born in Mapledurwell, her father was a prosperous farmer and Isabella undoubtedly experienced a relatively privileged upbringing. During her childhood and adolescence, she also became familiar with a farming way of life. Thus, unsurprisingly, for many years she was ‘housekeeper’ to Samuel Sparshatt, who farmed in the parish of Weston Patrick. Following his death in 1884 Isabella inherited not only his farming responsibilities but also his public service role of churchwarden and parish overseer, which she retained until her death. In 1890, at the age of 52, Isabella married widower Hugh Edward Raynbird, who was steward to Lord Bolton of Hackwood Park and head of the auctioneering firm, Raynbird and Son. Following her marriage she moved to Old Basing and from 1898 to 1922 served as one of the parish’s two poor law guardians, at a time when most members of boards of guardians were male. As a guardian, Isabella’s particular interests included the welfare and education of Workhouse children and staffing matters. She also attended a number of poor law conferences in Winchester and London. Throughout, she demonstrated her competence in what was, in part at least, a political role, thereby strengthening the case for the increased involvement of women in the public realm. This was also reflected in her support for those campaigning for women’s suffrage. She identified, however, with the moderate suffragists as opposed to the militant suffragettes. After some initial reluctance, in 1910 Isabella accepted the chairmanship/presidency of the Basingstoke and District Women’s Suffrage Society. In promoting the cause, she spoke at, and chaired, meetings and was a member of a deputation which met with the local MP in 1912 to secure his support. Some of Isabella’s intellectual interests, which she shared with her husband, were pursued through membership of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society. Looked at in the round, her life exemplified the increasing self-confidence of women as the 19th century gave way to the twentieth.

Despite an extensive search, no photographs of Isabella have been found. Consequently it has been necessary to use an image of her husband to illustrate this item.

*For the source of the quotation, please see the PDF link below.

Roger Ottewill

September 2018

Content derived during research for the new VCH Hampshire volume, Basingstoke and its surroundings.

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Victorian (1837-1901)