Doncaster’s Inspirational Women

8th March 20192:06 pmLeave a Comment

Doncaster has been home to many inspirational, courageous and strong women throughout its history. On International Women’s Day we explore the stories of just some of them.


Cartimandua was fierce and has been described as a strong and influential leader.  She was Queen of the Brigantes from 43 to 69 AD. The Brigantes were the biggest tribe in Celtic Britain dominating what is now Yorkshire.  She reigned at the same time as the more well-known Celtic woman- Boudica.

Caractacus, King of the Silures, deliver’d up to Ostorius, the Roman General, by Cartismandua, Queen of the Brigantes by Francesco Bartolozzi © The Trustees of the British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Cartimandua was queen at the time of the Roman conquest of Britain.  She was pro-Rome which helped her to retain her throne.  In 57 AD Cartimandua divorced her husband, Venutius, in favour of his armour-bearer Vellocatus. 

Venutius was anti-Roman and – spurred on by this divorce – he led a rebellion against Cartimandua.  The Romans helped Cartimandua to defend against him.

However, eventually Venutius was successful and Cartimandua fled to Chester.  It is not known what happened to her after this date.


Sarah Julia Warde was born in 1858 in Carlton. She was the daughter of the Reverend William Warde of Hooton Pagnell Hall.

Sarah Julia Warde-Aldam
Photograph by kind permission of Mark Warde-Norbury

She lived between Hooton Pagnell Hall and Frickley Hall after her marriage to William Wright Aldam in 1878. Julia and William had two children.

During the First World War, Julia ran her home, Hooton Pagnell Hall, as a hospital. She administered two war working parties and a Prisoner of War fund, and was also the President of Doncaster’s Women’s Institute.

She supported many other charitable organisations including the St Christopher’s Home for Waifs and Strays and Doncaster Deaf School. Julia dedicated her life to helping other people.

She received an MBE in recognition of her services as the Commandant of the Hospital during war time.

Julia died in 1931 and is buried at Hooton Pagnell Church.


During the 1984-85 Miner’s Strike many wives, daughters and sisters of coal miners in Doncaster joined Women Against Pit Closures. 

Pit Badges worn by strikers and supporters

The women manned soup kitchens and organised fundraisers but also got out on to the picket lines themselves and protested. For some women this was their first involvement with politics and their impact was undeniable.

5000 women from coalfields across the country attended a rally in May 1984 held in Barnsley. This was followed by a conference in June and a protest march in London on 11 August 1984. 23,000 women attended that event.

In 1984 wives of striking Hatfield Main miners explained: “We’re trying to get the women together from the community and involved in the strike. It’s so they don’t have to ask their husbands what’s going on. It’s so they know what’s going on for them… It’s the first time working class women have been organised like this since the fight for the vote.”


Lilian Lenton was born in Leicester in 1891. She was inspired by the women’s suffrage campaigns and by 1913 was an active militant Suffragette.  She was said to have a goal of setting fire to two houses a week.

In early 1913 she began a series of arson attacks in London and was arrested in the February for setting fire to the Tea House at Kew Gardens in London. She was sent to Holloway Prison where she went on hunger strike.  She would become one of the first Suffragettes to be forcibly fed.

After being force fed she became seriously ill and was diagnosed with pleurisy that was caused by food entering her lungs.  Her case resulted in public outrage that was made worse by Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna, denying that she had been force fed and claiming that her illness was actually caused by her hunger strike. The Times newspaper published evidence that disputed this.

Surveillance photograph of Lilian Lenton taken at Holloway Prison, Home Office.

The Government was keen to avoid more political embarrassment and rushed through its ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ in April 1913, which enabled hunger-striking Suffragettes to be released temporarily so they would get healthy again, before being re-arrested.

Lilian used safe houses, fake names, elaborate escapes and disguises to avoid capture by the police.  Whilst lying low from the police Lilian moved to Doncaster to live with other suffragettes at Violet Key-Jones’ safe house on Osborne Road. 

In June 1913 Lilian was arrested in Doncaster and charged as ‘May Dennis’ for setting fire to Westfield, a large house in Balby. She was released from Armley Prison in Leeds after several days. Her accomplice in the arson attack was a local journalist called Harry Johnson who was sentenced to 12 months with hard labour in Wakefield Prison. 

During the First World War Lilian served in Serbia with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals Unit and was awarded a French Red Cross medal. 

After the First World War, the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed giving the vote to women who owned property, or were the wives of householders, and were aged 30 and over. Lilian Lenton was unable to vote as she didn’t own property and wasn’t married to a homeowner. She could finally vote in 1928, aged 37, when women were given equal voting rights to men, lowering the voting age to 21. 

Lilian later worked in the British Embassy in Stockholm, and later as the financial secretary for the National Union of Teachers. She died in 1972.


Violet is affectionately known as Miss Mammy by Doncaster’s Caribbean community. Photograph © Alex Watson

In Jamaica Violet worked as a dressmaker, taking in work from in and around the town where she lived. Violet left Portland, Jamaica aged 33 and sailed to the UK with her 12 year old niece. Like many others from the Caribbean she wanted to come to the UK to pursue new opportunities and work. She arrived on 22 March 1956.

She travelled from Southampton to Doncaster by train where she lived with her sister.  Violet recalls that her taxi from the train station to her new home in Balby cost 75 shillings, or £3.75.

Within a month of arriving in England Violet found work at the Rockingham Arms Hotel on Bennetthorpe before moving on to work at T.B. Morley, a lighting company on Wheatley Hall Road.  Violet worked at T.B. Morley until it closed.


The Doncaster Belles are one of the most famous and successful English women’s football clubs. 

They were founded as the Belle Vue Belles in 1969 by a group of young women who were selling lottery draw tickets at Belle Vue, home of Doncaster Rovers Football Club.

They began by playing small local games but soon found themselves venturing out of Doncaster resulting in them changing their names to Doncaster Belles. 

In 1983 the Belles became Women’s FA Cup champions for the first time.  The club would go on to win the FA Women’s Cup five more times and reach the final on a further seven occasions.

In 1992 they were double winners as they won both the FAW Premier League without conceding a game and the Women’s FA Cup.

Today, the Belles have made the Keepmoat Stadium their home after formalising their partnership with Doncaster Rovers. 

Doncaster Rovers Belles LFC playing an FA WSL match against Birmingham City LFC at Keepmoat Stadium, 28 August 2011. Photo by Clavdia Chauchat

If you have stories or memories of inspirational women from Doncaster, get in touch to share them with us by emailing [email protected]

Written by Amanda

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