Brighton Fringe 2018
Travel through time and the streets of town to discover the hidden stories of Brighton’s most famous and infamous women.
Notorious: Famous or well known, typically for some bad quality or deed. Synonyms: Infamous, scandalous.
Meet Louise Peskett, Royal Pavilion and Museums Guide and women’s history blogger, the driving force behind the rediscovery of some of Brighton’s most intriguing, fascinating, innovative, and provocative women. Louise’s at first quiet, understated, and slightly shy demeanor belies the font of knowledge and firebrand of passionate storytelling which follows. Her introduction, “I was working at the Royal Pavilion, telling the stories of famous and powerful men and I thought, ‘Where are all the women?’” had me hooked from the outset.
Not every story embodies the definition of notorious, but that is in essence, the point because these women, were it not for the efforts of enthusiastic historians such as Ms. Peskett, whose material is not only immensely well-sourced, but passionately retold would be lost to the ages. Part storytelling, part history lesson, this 90 minute walking tour from the sainted to the salacious femmes of Brighton is peppered with tasty tales, some such as Christiana Edmunds, the cavalier chocolatier, or suffragette Minnie Turner and her ‘masculine logic,’ well-known to the local community, but many entirely foreign even to the proudest Brightonian.
In my time as a tourist I have taken many walking tours, some delightful, many tedious, some downright brutal in their relentlessness, but this is a standout due in large part to the talents of its teller. Louise Peskett is more a historian than storyteller, frequently referring to her notes for absolute accuracy, contained in a tidy binder of handwritten details and photocopied images which she shares often apologetically for the graininess of the picture or lack of resources because “This is the only image I could find.” No apology necessary Ms. Peskett, every image is detailed as though it was a page straight from the private diaries of these extraordinary women with a lovely conspiratorial intimacy of old friends sharing a secret despite a full tour of twenty.
It is not the most polished performance which only adds to the genuineness of her enthusiasm which is absolutely infectious. Told with heart and humanity, Louise shares with us the stories of over 20 women from the sordid to the innovative as she sets a steady but gentle pace which thoughtfully begins at the highest point at St. Nicholas Church and ends at the Theatre Royal. It is a kindness not a metaphor and any leery traveler scarred from the hills of Edinburgh need not fear this gentle sloping, moderately paced tour.
This would be a recommended engagement on any list but what elevates this tour is that Ms. Peskett gives us a context for how extraordinary these women and their actions, achievements, escapades, and acts of revelry and devilry would have been in their own time, much less against a modern backdrop. She reminds us not only that the future is female but also the past as well, if we just take a moment to scratch the surface and look below, that history wasn’t written by those who were making it but by those who were in power to catalogue it and craft the narrative. When we change the voice of the narrator, we change our understanding of history, we are reminded not only how far we have come but upon whose shoulders we stand and how far we have yet to go. Men need not fear enjoying this tour, as Louise does a rather marvelous job of sharing stories of women without vilifying men for the inequity and even after the tour my husband and I were joyously recalling stories and still on speaking terms.
I spoke with Louise following the tour and she mentioned that she has been doing these tours for about 6 years always with some amount of success and interest but this year her tours are for the first time full. As an American female in the time of Trump, a context which frames my world view, it is a point worth mentioning. Clearly the world would benefit not just with more women in equal power but with the knowledge that we have been here before. Not every woman on her tour is well-known, not every woman notorious, but every woman is a part of the historic tapestry of Brighton, and worth a closer look at the cloth, and if Ms. Peskett has her way, they soon will be. I look forward to that day.
Don’t miss your chance to find out about the Notorious Women of Hove and the Notorious Women of Kemp Town which are also guided by Louise – check fringe and local listings for details. Worth note from the website, tours are also offered in French and can be adapted for EFL students.