Crafting character, the art of ‘making’ a suffragist: Ada Nield Chew

I’ve been lucky to be asked to play the role of Ada Nield Chew for the Manchester Histories Festival SOAPBOX! speakers’ corner.

Ada was a suffragist who was born in Crewe, worked in Rochdale, and died in Burnley – her ashes were scattered in Rochdale. I’ve written elsewhere about writing World War 1 women in northern England and the tensions that this brings. Treading a fine line of how to offer an realistic representation while creating a persuasive piece of theatre. As well as learning my lines, I’m trying to create an authentic look. But how to create a convincing costume for the discerning working-class suffragist? Well, I’ve done a little bit of research on fabric types – linen, 100% cottons, flannel, silk, lace and wool – and on the shape of the clothes. Ada was working-class and would not have had the fancy, fitted silks of the upper-classes. Ada would have been familiar with the sartorial styles of the day as she worked in a clothing mill, as a tailoress, and later owned a drapery (textiles) company. I have been informed by Dr Kirsty Bunting, an expert on Ada and the suffragists, that there are a few photographs of her. Also, there are descriptions of her rolled up sleeves, of her slightly windswept chignon or ‘psyche knot’ with a small hat on top. There was the fashion for Edwardian women, particularly the middle and upper-classes, to have their bodies curved into an S-shape, however, I’ll probably use the 21st-Century equivalent of bra plus Spanx rather than trying to squeeze into a punishing corset!



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