Isabella Lucy Bird moved to Tattenhall Rectory when she was only 3 years old. Her parents were Reverend Edward Bird and Dora (Dorothy) Bird (nee Lawson). She remained at the Rectory for the next 8 years of her life before her father resigned his post at St Alban’s Church because of his uncompromising views on Sabbath observance. Whilst Isabella received no formal schooling, it was recognised that she was intelligent and her cultured parents set about educating her in French, Literature, History, Drawing, the Scriptures, Latin and Botany. Her parents also encouraged charitable and Christian missionary work and in this respect Isabella had two strong minded role models to whom she could aspire, namely her aunts who were missionaries in India and Persia.
A glimpse of life at The Rectory between 1834-1842 has only been possible because of the publication of a book in 1906, entitled ‘The Life of Isabella Bird’. What would inspire someone to write a book about this young Victorian woman results from the fact that Isabella went on to become an established and intelligent explorer, traveller and writer who made a remarkable series of journeys at the end of the 19th century. It appears that she was anything but the conventional middle class woman in Victorian society.
In 1854 Isabella’s father gave her 100 pounds and told her that she was free to go wherever she wanted. She used it to travel to North America where she stayed for several months in eastern Canada and the United States. That said, she travelled extensively in Australia, Hawaii, India, Tibet, Persia, Kurdistan, Turkey, China, Korea, Morocco, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia – the list goes on. Isabella Lucy Bird became a modern day celebrity and for some decades featured in journals and magazines. In 1892, she became the first woman to be appointed in the Royal Geographical Society in London and the first woman ever to address a meeting of that Society. She was also elected to membership of the Royal Photographic Society in 1897 which was fitting since this date represents the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. She published at least ten books about her travels, numerous articles and two books of photographs. She was the first woman to travel up the Yangtze River and her written accounts of the assassination of the Korean Queen and Japan’s invasion of Korea were considered major news stories.
A selection of her published works is listed below:
- The Englishwoman in America (1856)
- Pen and Pencil Sketches Among The Outer Hebrides (published in The Leisure Hour) (1866)
- The Hawaiian Archipelago (1875)
- The Two Atlantics (published in The Leisure Hour) (1876)
- Australia Felix: Impressions of Victoria and Melbourne (published in The Leisure Hour) (1877)
- A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains (1879)
- Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880)
- Sketches In The Malay Peninsula (published in The Leisure Hour) (1883)
- The Golden Chersonese and the way Thither (1883)
- A Pilgrimage To Sinai (published in The Leisure Hour) (1886)
- Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan (1891)
- Among the Tibetans (1894)
- Korea and her Neighbours (1898)
- The Yangtze Valley and Beyond (1899)
- Chinese Pictures (1900)
- Notes on Morocco (published in the Monthly Review) (1901)
Her childhood at the Rectory in Tattenhall is recorded in the 1906 publication ‘The Life of Isabella Bird’ . . .
‘One Sunday morning she was left alone in the house and in bed. Her mother, thinking her scarcely well enough to go to church had wrapped her up and bidden her rest till she returned. Isabella was not more than five years old but a little scheme had been forming in her active mind for some days and she felt this solitude to be her opportunity. Out on the lawn was a round bed of ranunculuses, crimson and golden and glorious, which she longed to visit. It was forbidden, for the weather had been rainy and the grass was damp. But she stole out of her wrappings and pattered downstairs with shoeless feet to the drawing-room window, which opened down to the ground. Out she darted straight to the flower-bed and walking round and round, counting the bright blossoms, touching them and kissing them, she filled her whole being with the joy of them and flitted back to bed. She said no word about her escapade but cherished its memory awhile and then forgot it for a score of years’.
Another reference to Tattenhall (relating to robbery) is recorded as follows . . .
‘Near Tattenhall rises a hill known as Rawhead, a name of itself sufficient to fill a child’s imagination with strange terrors. This hill was full of caves, in which dwelt a gang of outcasts whose doings grew notorious. Robbery followed robbery in the neighbourhood. The caves were searched on suspicion but nothing was found to warrant arrest. The burglaries continued and the matter grew serious. At length one midnight someone passing the churchyard saw lights and heard voices and forthwith proclaimed that it was haunted. No-one would go near it until the magistrates decided to make a midnight raid with armed constables and to see what manner of ghosts disturbed its peace. They found the Rawhead gang busy hiding booty in a grave, the slab of which they had raised. An old woman whose cottage was close to the churchyard proved to be in collusion with the burglars and had assisted them to choose their storehouse. All were arrested and transported. But Isabella never forgot how her nurse took her to see the unearthing of silver-plate and jewellery from that grim hiding-place and how, trembling, rather with eagerness than fear, she and a little playfellow watched the whole process hand-in-hand from the lifting of the slab to the recovery of the last teaspoon’.
Interestingly, Isabella Lucy Bird was invited back to Tattenhall in October 1898. In developing the use of the Barbour Institute as a ‘bond of union and good fellowship; raising the community above the trivial and often malicious gossip of village life’ it was agreed that a series of ‘Lantern Lectures’ be offered at the Institute. Isabella Lucy Bird’s account of her travels was to be the first such Lantern Lecture (by this time Isabella had married Dr John Bishop and she was billed as ‘Mrs Bishop’). The Committee of the Barbour Institute was obviously ‘finding its feet’ in developing the use of the Barbour Institute. It was felt that inviting this much travelled Victorian celebrity to the Barbour Institute would be an ‘interesting beginning’ in the development of this new village ‘enterprise’. The advertisement relating to Mrs Bishop’s Lecture is reproduced below and appeared in the ‘Malpas Deanery Magazine’, a pamphlet which was published monthly and which included information relating to the Parish of Tattenhall.