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Dresses

Who was Helena Thompson

Helena was born in 1855, the eldest of five children. Aged 14, Helena began to take music lessons and in 1871, when she was 16, she was sent to school in Cheltenham. Helena and other members of the family were frequent visitors to agricultural shows and they also attended Grasmere Sports. Helena enjoyed the garden of Park End, and she planted new flower beds and built rockeries.

Helena’s father died in February 1878 and her mother Mary died in 1908. More deaths were to follow, in 1919 her brother Ernest died of heart failure at the age of 63 and her sister Connie died a few years later in 1922.

Helena began working to alleviate the distress of the poor and by 1885 she was on the local committee and had begun to help to distribute soup to those who were in need. A report in the local newspaper of February 1885 recorded that ‘about 70 gallons of soup were distributed to the poor on Saturday and a similar quantity was given away on Tuesday, as well as a large quantity of bread.’

On 1st January 1920 Helena was awarded the M.B.E. Helena was a person with a wide range of interests – she was a member of the Archaeological Society, Vice President, later President, of the District Nursing Association and Vice President of the Seaton Silver Band. Helena was the first lady magistrate in Workington appointed to the Bench in 1925. She remained on the bench for thirteen years until she retired to make room for younger people.

In 1930 she made a donation of £5,000 towards the cost of building and equipping a new Maternity Wing at the Workington Infirmary. The new wing was opened the following year by Helena and was one of the finest maternity wards in the North of England.

In 1938 Helena made another generous gift which provided a shelter in Vulcans Park for the exclusive use of the old men of the town.

In later life Helena became very interested in the history of costume and began to collect many examples of women’s and children’s dresses in the late eighteenth to early twentieth century styles. Many examples of these can be seen in the Costume Gallery of the museum.

Helena Thompson died on 7th January 1940 aged 84. Her final was made two years prior to her death and was a very lengthy document. In spite of her wealth, she recorded in her will: ‘My protest against the unnecessary cost of funerals and although in my case, there is no need for economy, I ask my trustees to see that my funeral is carried out plainly and at the least possible cost. I wish the coffin to be made of an inexpensive and perishable wood with no ornaments of any kind.’

She is buried in the family grave in St. John’s Churchyard and the record of the family grave is in the Church Records.

Annuities were left to her chauffeurs, legacies to her servants, her eighteen cousins once removed, her nineteen cousins twice removed, as well as to many friends and acquaintances.

Helena’s life shows that she was a woman ahead of her time, intelligent and interested in the world around her, and with strong opinions of her own.

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