Where is Josephine Butler?

Josphine Butler 1869
Josphine Butler 1869

I haven’t discovered yet whether Josephine Butler was in any way connected to one of my old schools (Blackburn House, where I was unhappily a pupil between the ages of 12-15) but I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that she had a hand in it. Odd to think that that hand might still in some sense be at work in the world, more than a hundred years after her death. Makes me think of this poem:

We Live In Deeds, Not Years

We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.
And he whose heart beats quickest lives the longest:
Lives in one hour more than in years do some
Whose fat blood sleeps as it slips along their veins.
Life’s but a means unto an end; that end,
Beginning, mean, and end to all things—God.
The dead have all the glory of the world.

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902)

There is a strong Liverpool tradition of powerful women doing extraordinary good in educational and social work (just say for now: Eleanor Rathbone, Bessie Braddock, Kitty Wilkinson) and on the not-infrequent occasions when I waited outside the Headmistress’ study at Blackburn House, I think I might have gazed at pictures of those women and the quiet-looking pinafored Victorian girls they helped or educated. At the Everyman Theatre, as a stage-struck 15-year-old, a play about Bessie Braddock  – with the wonderful Gillian Hanna in the title role – moved me profoundly. As a student at the University of Liverpool I attended lectures in the Eleanor Rathbone building. And as a concert-goer at the Philharmonic or drinker in the Phil I walked past Josephine Butler House – scandalously demolished to make way for a car park.  The names of these women seemed in the air I breathed as I grew up in this broken, creative, poor, angry, rich, dying, living city.

So when, as a nominee in the Addidi Inspiration Awards, I was asked to choose a female historical figure to represent, Josephine Butler seemed the obvious choice. I thought I knew who she was: involved in women’s education, wasn’t she? Did she help to set up Girton College ? Wasn’t she a mate of George Eliot (my own real C19 heroine but let’s leave that for another time)? Didn’t she have a house that used to be by the Phil – or was it a Nurses Home?

It’s odd how a space can be held, like mist in a valley, in one’s mind by someone who isn’t really there. Is that a kind of ghost of Josephine Butler I have in my mind, a thin always more faded presence? I try to find out: Did she found Blackburn House?  I do not know. I thought I knew who she was but actually I know nothing.

To bolster my ignorance a little I turn first to Wikipedia – thinking, I’ll get some references for some books.  And there she nearly is – in that historical account of a girl born in the North Country to an anti-slavery family and marrying an Oxford cleric, and moving to Liverpool when he became the Headmaster of Liverpool College. And there is Brownlow Hill workhouse, which I know became the site of the Metropolitan Cathedral. I know the Brownlow Hill  workhouse! And so I read;

The Butlers had strong radical sympathies, including support for the Union in the American Civil War.

Their only daughter, Evangeline died in 1863.[7] This led Josephine to seek solace by ministering to people with greater pain than her own. Against her friends’ and family’s advice, she began visiting Liverpool‘s Brownlow Hill workhouse which led to her first involvement with prostitutes.

But this all feels like (forgive me, you historians) mere history. I want story. I want her story. I don’t want facts, I want feelings.

And here Wiki’s open-source begins to help me. Under the wiki-sub-heading Further Reading, I see someone has added;

Josephine Butler’s daughter Ava died from a accident with the stairs as when her parents came home she ran down the stairs and died this is why Josephine is the person who started acts. Josephine was making a statement to the parliament and they ignored all her letters and pamflets about women saying they can get an education and a better job and situations in life.

Now this is the beginning of a story. This is (I’m guessing, I’m fictionalising) a Liverpool women (look at the Scouse grammar of ‘a accident’ and note the emotional reality of the detail of running downstairs when her parents came home) moved by the Josephine Butler life in some profound way. Perhaps this is a woman whose life has not been an easy one. Yet she is moved to add to the Josephine Butler page in Wikipedia. That means something.

And now this open-source addition to the wiki page has given me the clue I needed to begin to feel Josephine Butler’s presence in the Universe. This feeling is where I start my thinking about her.

This is a novel I’d like to write. I imagine a sex-worker getting some basic education in a street education project. I imagine a live-wire-link between her and the grieving mother whose child died before her eyes.

Later I follow a link to the Josephine Butler Trust and see this charitable body, based here in Liverpool, discussing how to use money now: what would she want now? To speak about the unspeakable, about human trafficking, the child sex trade. I see that some of her works are still in print and I’m sending for them right now.

I want to hear her own voice. I want to find her. In a fragment in the University of Liverpool Special Collection I hear a stronger echo of her presence… ‘Hundreds of other little girls were being cruelly murdered by neglect or by orphanages throwing them into the hands of the destroyers of the innocent…’ Update the language slightly and you have the Rochdale abuse scandal, here, now.

Click to access h1006JosephineButlerinLiverpool1866-1882.pdf

Green Philosophy – How To Think Seriously About The Planet – by Roger Scruton

Part One – In which New Victorian ReaderJane cautiously opens the book

I am a little afraid of Roger Scruton. He seems a class enemy on two fronts – a Tory of the hunting persuasion, and an intellectual I’ve not read before.

But there it is: I’m reading this book because politics as I have known it (gut-feeling, blood-lines, genetic predisposition) is changing. The old class-based political loyalties are dissolving, because the old classes are being reshaped: when my grandchildren look back at this time they’ll see a period of huge social and political change. I’m swimming in that fluxy sea now, quite uncertainly, and I think, I’m swimming alongside a lot of other uncertain people. It’s hard to know for sure about that because the people who speak most loudly about politics are the people who are most interested in politics – a small minority, way over there, on a little sandbank, mostly shouting the same stuff they seem to have been shouting for years.

And over here in the mist, the vast majority of us mutter disconnectedly, tossed about by the weather and our feelings, not knowing what to think.

Support entrepreneurs? I would

Social justice? Yes.

Save the polar bears? Naturally, who wouldn’t?

Scroungers off our backs? It’s only fair but…

Preserve the NHS? Of course I want to

Extra taxes? Not at the moment, thanks

National curriculum? No, it’s ruining us

Higher standards? You bet

Sustainable economy? Yes but …

The problem is that everything is so complicated: saving the polar bears may mean giving up on central heating or cars. I’d willing pay more tax for better schools but do I believe I’d get better schools – however much money was going in – without a revolution in education? I have no way of thinking through these complicated and increasingly interconnected matters.

So I thought I would read the occasional political book to see if it helped. About two years ago I read Big Society by Jesse Norman. I thought there were some useful ideas in it, cooperatives and friendly societies and Mutuals, memories of early and discarded socialist ideas, Big Society being made up of lots of interest groups e.g. The Guides and Alcoholics Anonymous. As opposed to Big State – enforced knot-learning for all through the National Curriculum, Anti-drinking campaigns run through the NHS.

But I can’t help thinking, how does all this fit with the freedom and tax-breaks which I assume are what the Tory party is really about. As I write that, though, I am thinking also of rich Labourites, Blue Mandelson. Or is that old class prejudice? How do I know?

I only know that we are both individuals and social creatures –and the ancient oppositions seem unhelpful. Also that when I went canvassing on Woodchurch Estate in Birkenhead, a woman in her pyjamas with a baby on her hip told me she didn’t know how to vote and would be scared to try. Her teenage daughter pleaded with her – ‘They’ve told us at school, Mum, it’s important, I’ll come with you.’ I found myself thinking like any good Victorian, the place to start is universal free education.

So I’m thinking to challenge myself by reading outside of my comfort zone. Politics. Recommendations please.

Roger Scruton’s book appeared and it seemed, like Jesse Norman’s, to be in a small way, blurring some boundaries. OK, so he appears in hunting regalia. I followed the hunt on bicycle and foot as a child in rural Cheshire so I have an anachronistic peasant-like fondness for the horses and the red jackets. Should we kill foxes by chasing them in this brutal way then letting dogs savage them to death? I don’t know. I put fox-hunting in a mental compartment called ‘ I don’t have to decide this one.’

And it’s not just hunting. A lot of things are in there. One of them is ‘the planet’. Yes, it’s a roomy compartment.

One of the problems I have reading this book is trust. As I read, I believe some things Scruton tells me, but others echo with the rebuffs I can imagine an opponent chucking back at him as untrue. So, for example in Chapter 3, The Search for Salvation, page 77 Scruton tells me,

‘Conservatives see politics as an agenda-free brokering of rival interests, whose goal is peace.’

If that were really the case, politics as a kind of consensus-building, I’d be quite interested in it. But is it true? The sentence seems to offer an understanding of conservatism radically different to anything I could have imagined. (I’d still be thinking in the language my dock-labouring Grandfather; that Tories support the interests of Toffs over those of the working man. The working man? Does that mean me, a woman with a Ph.D. and a bloody big house in the Wirral? Or is it that I believe that supporting the interests of the working man -whoever he is, and do I include working white fascists in Eltham, South London, say? – Are their interests in my interests? Do these categories work at all?)

Chapter 4, Radical Precaution, has some good stuff. First off – and I loved this – risk assessment is natural, an evolutionary tool – it is what humans do all the time. We balance one possibility against another. As Scruton says, ‘playing with dirt involves the risk of disease, but by forbidding children to play with dirt, we make them more vulnerable to disease’. The risk-sensible adult knows that you must let children get dirty. And you also must teach them to wash their hands.

But formalising risk may be risky. He’s strong on the dangers of the Precautionary Principle as it appears in bureaucratic life:

A European directive issued in response to the slight risk that meat from sick animals might enter the food chain insists that no abattoir can function without the presence of a qualified vet. Qualified vets are expensive in Britain; hence all small abattoirs had to close. When Foot and Mouth disease broke out in 2001 it was not, as in the past, confined to the local source of the outbreak, but carried around the country by animals travelling a hundred miles or ore to the nearest legal abattoir. Some 7 million animals were slaughtered in the attempt to confine the disease, and the cost to the economy was £8 billion. Such was the short-term cost of an edict that considered only one fairly insignificant risk among the many that cohabit in the management of livestock.

Time’s up – I must go to Morrisons for food. More hard labour on this next week.