Play to reveal how Britain's first female 'petticoat council' transformed life in a Warwickshire village - The Leamington Observer

Play to reveal how Britain's first female 'petticoat council' transformed life in a Warwickshire village

A WRITER from Warwickshire has set out to tell the story of Britain’s first female majority council and how it transformed life in a county village.

Frankie Meredith’s play ‘Petticoat Council’ – so named after a facetious newspaper headline at the time – will begin its tour at Warwick Arts Centre on June 15.

The Leamington playwright has been inspired to tell the story ever since she discovered her great aunt, Ivy Payne, was chair of the parish council, formed in Bishop’s Itchington in 1949.

She said: “I vividly remember my dad showing me the newspaper articles of the Petticoat Council when I was a child and telling me about my great aunt being one of the women. I recognised the importance even then. When I became a writer, it felt totally natural that I’d tell this story.”

The story unfolds in the wake of the Second World War, when Edith Chapple-Hyam, chair of the village’s branch of the Women’s Institute, was said to be frustrated with ongoing issues such as sewage works, policing and public spaces. Edith and five of her committee members ran for council – which at the time was all-male.

Expecting to be re-elected by default, only half of the existing councillors bothered to re-apply, and one of them was too late in doing so. One headline asserted: ‘The Ladies Will Govern Bishop’s Itchington’, followed by the sub-heading: ‘They’re welcome to try say the men.’

Despite the naysayers, all six women and a sole male candidate were duly elected.

With Britain and its people still struggling with austerity, Frankie believes the women brought hope and change on a local level while inspiring a nation.

She explained: “Bishop’s Itchington was a very small rural village, quite different from how it is today. These women totally transformed the area. I even got to look at the minutes from the council meetings to see what they were dealing with before, and how much of an impact these women had. They saw areas like Coventry being built up after the war, and didn’t want to be left behind. Running water, electricity, speed restrictions, a playground, and a say in social housing all came from these women.”

And, in the wake of the devastating coronavirus, Frankie believes the play’s timing could not be more significant.

She added: “It’s hugely relevant and really timely. They proved that after the devastation that war brought to the country they could rebuild their community. it is something that we could definitely take from them.”

The play – which is produced by female-led company Steph Hartland Productions – is performed through a variety of dance, folk music and puppetry to emphasise how women have told and passed on stories through generations, as they are doing with Petticoat Council.

The play will begin touring around the county on June 15 from Warwick Arts Centre.

Visit for arts centre tickets, costing £9, and for all other venues.


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