On a sweltering hot September day, four bronzes glinted in the sun at RSPB Leighton Moss. Emily Williamson has become something of a local hero here, with a crowdfunded plaque now destined for Lancaster, where she was born on 17 April 1855. There are currently no plaques to women in Lancaster.
Statue campaigners Andrew Simcock and Tessa Boase were delighted to field questions from the children's council at St Johns CE Primary of Silverdale, visiting on foot with headmistress Katie Walsh.
Tessa showed them her archive images of 'murderous millinery', prompting gasps of outrage. 'Why didn't they just pick the feathers up off the ground?' asked a seven-year-old boy. Good question. The Edwardian plumage trade claimed that this is how egret plumes were gathered, exposed as an outrageous lie by Emily and her cohorts. No egret could shed enough plumes to furnish those massive hats. Today, dozens of great and little egrets browse the wetlands at Leighton Moss, happily unaware of their historic fate as millinery adornments.
'Why didn't they use pampas grass instead of feathers?' asked a five-year-old girl, holding up a big, floppy pampas head not unlike an ostrich feather. Well... they did. The American social activist and conservationist, Harriet Williams Russell Strong (below), cultivated pampas grass in California as a substitute for hat feathers. The RSPB's female founders were delighted – but it wasn't enough to save the birds.
When the children climbed the Sky Tower viewing platform at Leighton Moss, they had a whole new perspective on birdlife. 'Thank you Emily,' said one pupil solemnly, saying goodbye to each of the four maquettes.
Thank you to the RSPB's Annette and Alasdair, below, for hosting us!
Next: onwards to Anglesey and RSPB South Stacks.