Women's Writing in the Midlands, 1750-1850

This project uncovers networks of correspondence and creativity in the Midlands in the 18th and 19th centuries, with particular emphasis on women writers who were religious Dissenters.

Susanna Watts

About the project

From the ground breaking scientific experiments of the Lunar Men to Victorian industrial innovation and social reform, the Midlands have long been recognised as one of the great hubs of Enlightenment and 19th-century creativity.

Using the wealth of material in local archives, and the expertise of archivists, as a way into understanding the role of women in this male-dominated society, this research aims to restore their voices to our understanding of Midlands society, religion, and literature.

In doing so, it aims to trace the threads of connection which bound together provincial society at a key point in history, and to give an insight into its neglected culture.

Project Aims

The project aims to highlight the archives of two women writers and friends, Susanna Watts (c.1768 - 1842) and Elizabeth Heyrick (1769-1831) in the Record Office of Leicestershire, Leicester, and Rutland [ROLLR].

These women have contributed to many of the major debates concerning human (and indeed animal) rights in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a few examples of their work include;

  • organising a boycott of slave-grown sugar in Leicester in 1824
  • composing bold feminist poetry
  • campaigning against bull-baiting
  • writing the first guidebook to Leicester

Susanna Watts’ scrapbook, for example, is a wonderful resource, an embodiment of her creative interests and relationships, including pieces as diverse as her translation of Tasso, anagrams and rhymes of friendship, abolitionist material, family reminiscences and hymns.

Funding and Supervision

The main body of research is being carried out through an AHRC-funded CDA, held by Rebecca Shuttleworth, and supervised by Doctor Felicity James [School of English], with support from second supervisor Professor Roey Sweet [School of History], and Jess Jenkins, archivist at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.

The PhD aims to reconstruct and understand the larger social circle of Heyrick and Watts, through their friendships, correspondence, and religious affiliations, with a particular focus on their abolitionist activities.

Past Events

Deborah Tyler-Bennett


Rebecca can be contacted through her supervisor Felicity James for further discussion of the project.

Images on this site are reproduced courtesy of The Record Office for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, and we are grateful both to the Record Office for their help and support, and to the AHRC for the funding of the project.

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