Remembering Pauline Campbell – Hidden History Part I

May 19, 2009

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It is a year since Pauline Campbell died. I knew her as a strong, spirited and loving human being. She was also a woman who changed the course of history. For those who don’t yet know her story may I point you towards the feature ‘Dying on the Inside’ which I wrote shortly  after her death. Eric Allison, Prison Correspondent for the Guardian wrote an obituary.

 This week Joan Meredith – grandmother, campaigner and friend of Pauline’s placed an advert in the Morning Star in remembrance (see first photograph). Joan explains on her own  blog how Pauline first became known as a ‘suffragette of Penal Reform’.

Since Pauline’s death Joan Meredith and I had both been aware that huge swathes of this brave campaigner’s life and work had remained undocumented.  Joan decided to do something about it and has put together an impressive archive of the material which Pauline gave her. This contains Pauline’s handwritten notes and reports, Joan’s personal hand written accounts of travels and demonstrations as well as minutes of meetings up and down the country where Pauline made speeches and gave lectures.

I interviewed Joan today.  Technical issues meant that I couldn’t post an audio recording of the interview  –  I hope to slot that in at a later date. Here’s a transcript of what was said:

 Frances Laing: Joan, we’re meeting together today – it’s been a year since Pauline died. We’re going to talk about  her campaigning.  You’ve brought along a huge file of cuttings. Can you tell me something about that?

 Joan Meredith:  I decided after Pauline’s death that I must make an archive of Pauline’s campaigns. I have completed the file for the year 2003.  It was in January of that year that Sarah died in Styal prison and I first met Pauline in September 2003. The cuttings in this file we are now looking at are about Pauline’s work in the year 2004.  

Frances Laing : So how many files of archived material have you got altogether Joan and how did you get this material?

 Joan Meredith: I’ve got five files altogether. While Pauline was alive she insisted on giving me a copy of everything that appeared in the newspapers. I was given copies of leaflets for demonstrations. Copies of demonstration press releases and articles that she thought were relevant to her campaign. 

Over and over again she would say to me:

‘You will know what to do with these, Joan when the time comes.’

 Frances Laing: Do you know what she meant by that, Joan? 

Joan Meredith: Yes. She knew that when the time came she would end her life because the pain of what she was suffering had become too great to bear.  I feel that I have got a moral obligation to carry out her wishes.

Frances Laing: Why do you think it is important to archive the work that Pauline did?

Joan Meredith: So much of women’s history is never written down. And while I do not feel that this is a complete record of what Pauline did – I know that she would want as complete a record as possible to be left behind.

 Frances Laing: Why do you say ‘this is not a complete record?’

Joan Meredith: I believe that the carefully chronologically ordered collection of papers that she made was unfortunately thrown away. And I know for a fact that her computer was taken away by the police. This makes me really sad – that documented work critically important to the welfare of women has been lost.

 Frances Laing:  So what do you see is the  lasting impact of Pauline’s work?

 Joan Meredith: Hopefully, the huge impact that she made while alive will serve other people working on the welfare of people in prison (men, women and children). Her heroine was Elizabeth Fry and if Pauline’s memory can reinforce the public’s regard for Elizabeth Fry and raise public awareness then Pauline’s  work must have a lasting effect. Pauline believed that prison did not work and prisons should be abolished.

 Frances Laing: What was your involvement with Pauline?

 Joan Meredith: My involvement with Pauline came about through the peace movement. A friend of mine who had known Pauline for twenty years asked me did I think I might help this woman who lived in the village and whose daughter had recently died in prison. I wasn’t sure that I was the right person because I felt it would only reinforce the horror of the shortcomings of our prison system. because I had just served a prison sentence myself and was appalled about what is going on in our prisons today.

Frances Laing: Why did you go to prison?

Joan Meredith: I went to prison for not paying a fine after breaching the peace at Faslane nuclear submarine base.

 Frances Laing:  What do you think Pauline would  have thought about blogging?

 Joan Meredith: Pauline would have taken to blogging like a duck takes to water. Communication and getting out the real facts of what was going on in our society became her reason for living.

Frances Laing: Pauline worked as a lecturer at Newi in Wrexham, North Wales. You went to the  Women’s Archive of Wales Roadshow in Aberystwyth in 2008 . What did you do there?

 Joan Meredith: I took along a selection of papers about Pauline (newspaper cuttings e.t.c.) – and explained to them that I was afraid that when I died it was possible that these papers would be thrown away and I asked the archive staff if they would like to have them. They said yes and offered to help.

Interview: 19/05/09

Here are just a few examples of the materials contained in Joan’s files:

Manchester Evening News - Press Clip - 19 January, 2004. Sarah's first vigil

Manchester Evening News - Press Clip - 19 January, 2004. Sarah's first vigil

From left to right: Pauline Campbell, Yvonne Bailey (Scholes), (unknown), Jane Foreshaw, (unknown),Elaine Griffiths, (unknown), Joan Meredith.

Joan Meredith, Pauline Campbell and Joan Buckley at the United Friends and Family Demonstration. Chester Evening Leader 1.11.94

Joan Meredith, Pauline Campbell and Joan Buckley at the United Friends and Family Demonstration. Chester Evening Leader 1.11.94

Chester Evening Leader Press cutting of the United Friends and Family Demonstration held every year on the last Saturday in October. Picture taken at Trafalgar Square. The autograph was given to Joan Meredith by Benjamin Zaphaniah who was present at the demonstration.

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One Response to “Remembering Pauline Campbell – Hidden History Part I”


  1. […] Link to blog post interview written to commemorate the first anniversary of Pauline’s death. Includes photographs of the files Joan Meredith assembled which detail core aspects of Pauline Campbell’s life in particular with regard to direct action and her connections with other activists much of this information has now been passed on to the Welsh women’s archive. Pauline was a lecturer at Newi college in North Wales. […]

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