So…you have a new book! Can you tell us a bit more about it?
It’s a group biography, exploring both the private and public lives of the seventeen remarkably diverse women who have each worn the chain of office as Lord Mayor of Norwich. I interviewed all nine surviving ladies, (all still live locally) who were generous and frank with their memories and photographs. I researched the lives of those who are no longer with us, spending much of my time in the bowels of the EDP office and at Norfolk Record Office. Much of my material came from candid conversations held with nephews, brothers, children and grandchildren, as well as those who worked with the ladies at City Hall.
Why did you want to write a book about the Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich?
When researching Joe’s biography Escaping Hitler (Phyllida’s first book), I met and spoke with former Lord Mayor Joyce Morgan, who shared 1975-6 with Joe when he was Sheriff of Norwich. She was delightful and very excited to be interviewed. As I left she asked whether I might write her biography. In a way I hope I have fulfilled her request. Joyce died of cancer just three months later. In addition I already knew three of the former lady Lord Mayors personally, so felt it would be a crime NOT to write this book! And apart from that, 2018 is a very special year for women with the 100th anniversary of some women first granted a vote. It seems fitting in 2018 to celebrate those who have been First Citizen of Norwich.
It’s a little different to your previous book Escaping Hitler – but is history a passion of yours regardless of what era?
History has certainly been an interest to me since school, partly why I love living in this historic city. But when you think about it, the decades covered in The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich exactly match Joe Stirling’s life span. Ethel Colman became Lord Mayor of Norwich in 1923, Joe was born in Germany in 1924. He has lived in Norwich since 1949 and remembers many of the ‘characters’ in my new book. I think the twentieth century was such a remarkable time, so many changes that came with rapid speed. This is certainly the era that fascinates me the most.
Your new book tells the stories of 17 women who have held the office of Lord Mayor of Norwich – what is your favourite/s story/ies from your book that you can share with us?
Many of the stories were from childhoods, relationships, travel and careers. But let me share some of the stories from their time as Lord Mayor:
Ruth Hardy (1950-1) was the daughter of a rabbit warrener on the Colman estate. When she became Lord Mayor she insisted on liberating the magnificent civic coach from Strangers’ Hall, where it had languished since the start of World War 2. Ruth really fancied herself riding in it behind the dapple grey horses from Steward & Patterson Brewery stables.
Joyce Morgan (1975-6) would take her nine year old granddaughter Selina to many of her official engagements. Selina was extremely embarrassed one day at the opening of the Four Schools’ Swimming Pool in Recreation Road, when in front of her schoolmates, she had to witness her grandmother climbing onto the roof in white shoes and film-star sunglasses, to join a gang of builders celebrating the topping out ceremony with glasses of beer! Joyce welcomed Margaret and Denis Thatcher to City Hall, a difficult encounter as the politics of the two women could not have been more opposed!
Barbara Stevenson (1985-6) found herself welcoming Her Majesty the Queen at Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in Anglia Square. This was quite against protocol but the Lord Lieutenant, Sir Timothy Colman had been delayed and the Queen arrived before him. Barbara also led a determined campaign to reduce litter and fly-posting in the City, often to be seen out after dark, tearing down fliers and depositing them in litter bins. Her husband Len, Lord Mayor before his wife, sometimes accompanied her, later remarking to friends, “I walk ahead and pretend not to be with her.”