I'm a social historian and journalist who loves a good story. I'm addicted to digging deep in the archives, joining the dots, and bringing to life 'invisible' women from the late 19th and early 20th century in highly readable narrative non-fiction. Some of the tales I've uncovered are so gripping, and so surprising, that they demand to be told in person. So when I'm not writing, I'm out there campaigning, broadcasting and lecturing to readers.
I live on the Sussex coast, with a pair of binoculars by the back door. Birds or neighbours; I'm not fussy.
Television & Radio
Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4) / Hear all about Etta Lemon, the 'Margaret Thatcher' of the birding world. How did this remarkable character hone her campaigning skills, and why was she stabbed in the back by the men who took over the RSPB? Listen to the episode…
Tony Robinson's History of Britain: Edwardians (C5). Tony & Tessa go behind the scenes in an Edwardian country house to bring to life the story of Nelly Barber, ladies' maid. How did Nelly's day begin? With a chamber pot – and a corset. Watch the episode (3m clip)
Secrets of the National Trust (C5) / This 2018 series opens at beautiful Erddig in North Wales, where the Yorke family were famously kind to their servants. Or were they? I tell Alan Titchmarsh the story of ‘thief cook’ Ellen Penketh, jailed in 1907 for allegedly stealing £500 from her insecure mistress Louisa Yorke. Watch the episode (8m clip)…
A statue for Emily Williamson
Emily is the 'other' unsung heroine of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. If Etta was the RSPB's dynamo, Emily was its inspiration.
Emily Williamson loved birds, hated cruelty, and was appalled by the fashion for feathers. Determined to halt the cruel plumage trade, she invited her friends to tea at The Croft, Didsbury (today Fletcher Moss Park), and asked them to sign a pledge to 'Wear No Feathers'. And so the Society for the Protection of Birds was born, in 1889. All of its members were women.
Why a statue?
Today we're facing a climate emergency. Our skies are emptying of birds. A statue of Emily Williamson will provide a focus for a new generation of young people, helping them understand the value of nature and the power of activism. We need to fight for our birds and biodiversity. With the right educational engagement, a statue can be a powerful catalyst for change. Emily Williamson's story is an inspiring one. One voice can make a difference.
Hear me in action: 4m
Tessa has toured extensively as a speaker, sharing her passion for original research and storytelling – from Beverley Hills Women's Club, to London's V&A Museum; from New York's General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, to the servants' quarters of the National Trust's Erddig Hall in Wales. She's equally happy to talk in grand or more intimate settings, and is a popular Zoom lecturer.
'Very thorough research, lively presentation and amusing anecdotes' – The Arts Society Oxford
‘An exceptionally inspired, skilful and entertaining lecture’ – Marquis Nicholas de Piro, The Arts Society , Malta
‘We loved it, loved it, loved it. It was the best Zoom program so far. So many compliments are pouring in’ – The Ebell Women’s Club, Los Angeles
‘She is undoubtedly the best lecturer we have had in a long while, and I grant I am a tough judge. I will certainly attend anything I see with her name. Her presentation was excellent and very engaging’ – member, The Soroptomists
'I so enjoyed listening to Tessa tonight. I loved her enthusiasm and knowledge. I was totally gripped. Thank you for inviting me' – member, The National Women's Register (NWR)
‘Mesmerising and inspiring; a talk with depth and knowledge. More, please' – Doug and Gwen Lowe, RSPB High Peaks