top of page

A Feminist Walk in Newcastle

Artist Map by Petra Szemán.

This Feminist Walk of the City in Newcastle was devised by Holly Argent, Women Artists of the North East Library (WANE) and Maggie O’Neill for the conference ‘Undisciplining: Conversations from the Edges’ hosted by The Sociological Review, Tuesday 19th June – Thursday 21st June 2018, Gateshead, UK.

The Sociological Review aims to foster collaborations and dialogue across disciplines and beyond academia in order to shape the nature and scope of the sociological. Our manifesto argues that,

“to renew the critical and creative appeal of sociology, we need to be responsive to what can be opened up, conceptually as much as practically … about what could be thought differently, and how that creates more possibilities for what could and should be done next, both in the academy and outside of it”.

We had been introduced to each other when Maggie had supported (as librarian) Dee Heddon’s Walking Women’s Library Walk in Newcastle for Holly and WANE. Maggie had been invited by TSR to develop and lead a feminist walk for the conference and wanted to do this with walking women artists. Subsequently, Holly and Maggie were commissioned to develop and lead the walk. We are both committed to participatory, collaborative and inter-disciplinary research and arts practice and walking as arts practice, as research and critical pedagogy.

A Few Words About Walking

Inspired by walking artists, walking is something we do everyday, an arts practice and a research method. In the social sciences there is an increasing emphasis upon methodologies at the boundaries of the arts and social sciences including explorations of space, movement, the digital and the senses. Using walking as an arts based research practice within life history, ethnographic and biographical research to explore and understand our social worlds (the relationship between private troubles and public issues) our walk is also about doing sociological research on the move, across time and space.

About the Women Artists of the North East Library

The Women Artists of the North East Library was initiated by artists Holly Argent and Rene McBrearty in October 2017 with the help of The Northern Charter Graduate Bursary 2017-18. Starting life as a 6-month research residency, the library now exists as a collection of donated material and a rolling programme of events generated through the material and through collaborations, to date this includes: The Walking Library for Walking Women with Dee Heddon and Misha Myers, Open Library Days, The Archive of Carole Luby: What She Left Us, with Dawn Felicia Knox and Reading List a one day residency at BALTIC Library. The library is currently lead by Holly Argent.

A Feminist Walk in Newcastle

In the context of a now long history of feminisms and feminist practice we asked ‘What does feminism mean to you?’ In thinking through this question and the idea that feminism is about challenging and changing sexual and social inequalities, we designed the walk as an arts based feminist walk, that is historical, political and sociological. The walk enables participants to engage with city spaces and places, and feminists from the early 1600s to the current day, who were born and lived in Newcastle. Indeed, the walk is also a feminist biography of Newcastle and can be added to.

We were fortunate, due to a stroke of serendipity, to have Dr Elaine Drainville accompany us and we celebrated Elaine’s 40 year history as a feminist film maker, a member of Amber Collective from the early days, with interventions from Elaine at Amber Collective and the Side Gallery.

We started our walk at the Women Artists of the North East Library, tracing stories of women artists, scholars, suffragettes, writers, politicians, and citizens of the city; the things that are remembered and things that are gone. At the start of the walk we invited participants to choose a book from the women’s library collection to take as a companion along the way (and with reference to the Walking Women’s Library). Outside the Literature and Philosophical Society we invited the participants to read a small section or line or two from their chosen book-providing a feminist intervention in this space.

Poet, writer and feminist Clare Lavery participated in the walk and read a poem she had written about Josephine Butler, that links Clare’s own biography with that of Josephine’s, and the importance of the ‘Lit and Phil’ in Clare’s life.

A letter to Josephine Butler

Poem on finding we live in the old Post office (1836) that Josephine Butler, feminist & campaigner, lived her early formative years in our village. Her work & correspondence took her to Europe, particularly France, Belgium & Italy to work for social justice for women in vulnerable circumstances, including the home.

This old Post Box in my study wall is

Carved Portal to your thoughts

Ink-smudged letters

Leave traces within its walls

You edited each consonant

With conventions of your age

Then posted them into the ether

Recording your Life events

On each detailed page

Annotations of the mundane

The comings of kith & kin

Merged into nobler stance

Your later voice whispers

Ever louder

Scratches with its urgency in my walls

In long missives of neat cursive font

You campaign in assured, confident tones

By raising your quill

In defence & indignation

For the fallen mothers

For the downtrodden workhouse wench

For the child-trafficked

For the girls of hidden-ill

Oh, portal in my study wall

Link me to your prescience

Remind us of your call

Build a conduit across space

Your post box echoes ever louder

A cavern of muffled protests

Hush full of Victorian mores

I scribble my sheets in this post room

While Your sharpened-nib imprints

Brave acts of epistolary defiance

Composing haunting reminders for this age

Let your words of nineteenth-century domesticity

Your shy courtship correspondence with George

Your marriage arrangements in Corbridge church

Comfort us in cause

Let them embolden

As we too are forced to attend to the every day

As you did first

Peacefully in early-wedded bliss

Before composing your later more urgent calls

Such protestations of female intent


Forever glistening-wet 

As letters of shining witness

Long forgot in archive-wells

Your voice is ink-fresh in outrage

Dust free

Ready again to fashion in your name

The full force of our current campaigns 

Josephine, pen-poised

Let us use your voice for today

Outside this village-haven

In the city hall or nations,

In foreign lands once visited

In spaces where women are still unsafe

All seems far easier for us now

As morality changes its intonation

The paths are clearing of male excuses

We are ready, as you were then, to begin

I hear the latch on the cottage gate

Let me sense the softness of your tread

Let me feel your sure-footed anticipation

As you post your first request to Parliament

I hear its wafer-thin paper rustle

Delicate as Northumbrian leaves



Inside these book-lined walls

Performed on Feminist walk of Newcastle City June 20th 2018

Undisciplining: Conversations from the edges (2018) The Sociological Review Annual conference at The Baltic, Gateshead 19th-21st June 2018

Outside the Theatre Royal participants were invited to read parts from a play written by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle in 1668.

The walk ends at the BALTIC Gallery. At the time the ‘Idea of the North’ exhibition, curated by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen (photographer and co-founding member of the Amber collective) was on, with works exploring representations of women and girls in the North East by women photographers and Turner Prize Winner Lubaina Himid’s beautiful exhibition ‘Our Kisses are Petals, solo show.

To prepare for the walk and to think about feminists walking in the city we invited conference participants to view the following feminist walk:

Mostly flat, downhill, the walk does not include stairs.


1. Women Artists of the North East Library

Here we open the walk, are introduced to WANE and Arts based Walking research.

2. Pilgrim Street

Here we discussed the work of Mary Astell (1666-1731) Mary Elstob (1683-1756) and Anglo-Saxon feminists.

3. Fenwicks Drawing Room Café

Here we discuss the suffragette activities and meetings in ‘The Drawing Room Cafe’ at Fenwick’s and especially suffragettes, Lisbeth Simm, Ethel Bentham, Ethel Williams, Mona Taylor, Florence Harrison Bell, Emily Wilding and Kathleen Brown.

4. Plaque to Suffragette Kathleen Brown

The Plaque commemorates Kathleen Brown at the Turks Head Hotel where she took a celebratory tea after being released from prison. She was met at the station and accompanied by a large crowd with banners and cars decked in suffragette colours. The North East has a long and strong tradition of political women and women in politics such as Mo Mowlam, Vera Baird, Chi Onwurah, Catherine McKinnell.

5. Theatre Royal

Here we stop by the benches in front of the theatre by Cate Watkinson, a glass artist with words by poet/writer Julia Darling. As we are outside the theatre Holly introduces a play by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle ‘The Convent of Pleasure’ (1668) in which Lady Happy, our protagonist builds a convent for the pleasure of women only. Participants are invited to read parts from a play that explores narrative of desire, cross dressing, women’s sexuality and same sex relations.

6. St John the Baptist Church

Here we learn about the Anchoress of Newcastle Christiana Umfred-who withdraws from society for religious reasons, around 1260, to live for the rest of her life in a section of the Church. Literature suggests she probably witnessed services from a cruciform, a cross shaped opening in the area where she lived – a liminal space, in the corner of the church.

7. The Literary and Philosophical Society

In search of Philosopher Mary Astell’s writings (b. Newcastle 1666) in The Literary and Philosophical Society, Holly came across the preface to ‘Letters of the Right Honorable Lady Vol 1’, a collection of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters written during her travels to Europe, Asia and Africa with a preface by M.A. attributed to Astell. After reading excerpts, we invited contributions from the books people had brought with them from WANE.

8. Side Galley

Here we connect with the work of Amber Films and the Side Gallery, the exhibition ‘Women on Women’ especially the work of Sirkka-Lisa Konttinen, (a founder of Amber film, photographer who has documented the lives of women, working class communities, marginalised lives and the landscapes of the North East, from 1968) and Elaine Drainville, fabulous feminist film maker, cultural worker and sound recordist, committed to participatory research and praxis. Elaine’s work documents working class women and children’s lives, and deals with issues such as refugees, the labour movement, Greenham, sea-coalers, and sexuality. Elaine set up the current affairs unit at Amber and describes how this brought together her filmmaking, politics and activism.

9. Quayside

Here we celebrate feminist theatre company Open Clasp and Live Theatre, their ‘home theatre’ (on the Quayside) for ‘changing the world one play at a time’. Although not based on the Quayside, here we also celebrate two important women’s centres in Newcastle. West End Women and Girls Centre, opened in 1981, led by charity pioneer Hufty, the centre dedicates its work to providing “the opportunity to meet, have fun, learn skills, look at issues relevant their lives and generally build confidence in a safe and supportive environment”. The Angelou Centre that opened in 1993 “to advance social inclusion and economic independence for black and minority ethnic women, children and young people”. Such important work on domestic and sexual violence and ensuring the voices of women and girls and BME women are represented and heard, supported by brilliant North East feminists such as Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah, Cullagh Warnock, Bea Campbell and Vera Baird.

10. BALTIC Gallery of Contemporary Art

Our walk ends here with reference to works by feminist artists and especially works in the Gallery as part of the Great Exhibition of the North: Lubaina Himid, Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, Tish Murtha and Karen Robinson exhibiting in Idea of North

A series of pavilions, constructions and projects displaying work exploring Northern imagination and identities, including a photography exhibition documenting women in the North, curated by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen”.

We also reflect along the route about contemporary sociologists/feminists and artists from or living in Newcastle or the North East such as: Prof. Sue Scott, President of the European Sociological Association, Dr Steph Lawler, Prof. Catherine Donovan, Prof. Vee Pollock, Dr Emma Coffield, Jane Arnfield, Dr Jenny Hinvers, Catrina McHugh, Hufty, Dr Elaine Drainville, Prof. Bev Skeggs, Prof. Diane Richardson, Prof. Janice Mclaughlin, Prof. Tracey Shildrick, Dr Sheila Quaid, Dr Alison Jobe, Dr Hannah King, Dr Katy Vigurs, Clare Lavery, Nelly Stavropoulou…and so many more..

Maggie was born in Consett, worked at Durham and is now at UCC in Cork. Holly graduated from Newcastle University, works at the University and lives and creates art in Newcastle. You can listen to the soundfile of the walk here:


Huge thanks to:

Nelly Stavropoulou (who came on the walk as participant and recorded the walk on Maggie’s iphone) and Elaine Drainville, who cleaned, prepared and produced the soundfile.

The wonderful Artist Map was designed by Petra Szemán. Commissioned by The Sociological Review and the Women Artists of the North East Library, June 2018.

The Sociological Review for commissioning our walk for the conference Undisciplining Sociology: Jenny Thatcher, Michaela Benson, Mark Carrigan, Attila Szanto and Chantelle Lewis.

All those who walked with us from Undisciplining!

TSR will release a podcast of an interview with Holly and Maggie, February 11th 2019.

TSR Blog

Catherine Price blogs about her experience of the walk here:


bottom of page