Sarah overcame her physical disabilities to set up a Soldiers’ Institute in Portsmouth in 1874. You might have expected this to earn her some appreciation from the town folk but in fact she was often harangued because she spoke out about the appalling state of the town, especially when soldiers and sailors returned home with fat wage packets and squandered the money on beer & brothels rather than sending it home to their families. And, of course, the publicans of the town didn’t appreciate her efforts. But many soldiers did. They enjoyed the warm, cheerful surrounds of the Institute. Even if they weren’t particularly religious, they were prepared to listen to the occasional talk or hymn to take advantage of the facilities the Institute afforded when they were on shore.
Sarah had a great sense of humour and a real knack of sending herself up. She wrote 3 autobiographical books – the final one My Book in 1914 in her 80th year. In the preface to the book she said that “after writing one book to suit the publishers, I would write a second to please myself … In this one, the size, the type, the cover, and the many pictures, should be as I liked!” That’s quite a good advert for self-publishing, yet it was written some 100 years ago.
I’ll share some of Sarah’s stories with you over the coming weeks.