Courage in Adversity

Recently we launched The Gertrude Mitchell Story, an exhibition researched and curated by Dr Paul Fretwell with contributions by Gertude’s granddaughter Sally Trepte. Volunteer Simon Berry attended the launch and shares his thoughts on what he has learnt;

Gertrude Mitchell.jpg

Gertrude Mitchell may not be a well known name to current Malvern residents.
However, she was a very important person in middle 20th Century Malvern and hers is a fascinating story. 

Gertrude Barriball was born in Oswestry in 1881. In 1912 she married Harold Hastings Mitchell, but just two years later her husband became seriously ill and was bed-ridden.  Consequently the couple lost their house.   Undeterred Gertrude Mitchell then started up her own business in Worcester. Prior to marriage she was made a Buyer in a High Class Millinery shop in Cheltenham aged 21.  This experience enabled her set up her own shop in Worcester High Street after her husband was taken ill. This grew and became a great success.  She opened a branch in Malvern on Belle Vue Terrace in the early 1930’s.

In 1943 Gertrude Mitchell Ltd amalgamated with Cox & Painters at Warwick House where she took over as Managing Director. The Worcester business was sold in 1953 meaning she was focused totally on Malvern from that point. In 1959 she took over as Manager at the Mount Pleasant Hotel in Great Malvern.  Gertrude Mitchell’s life was not without tragedy.  As well as her husband’s ill health, she herself lost two children after pregnancies. 

Gertrude Mitchell was a business woman at a time when there were fewer female entrepreneurs than today and she was successful despite facing so many personal setbacks.  She was often said to have “courage in adversity” and some referred to her in more earthy terms as a “woman of grit”.  Drive and determination were needed for her to achieve success and she was a very strong character.  However, she was very supportive of her staff and treated them almost like her family.   It is understood that her staff loved her.

As part of the Route to the Hills project, Paul Fretwell spent over two years meticulously researching Gertrude Mitchell’s life and he has produced a fascinating exhibition about her.   He was delighted to make contact with Gertrude Mitchell’s granddaughter, Sally Trepte.  Sally generously allowed access to the family archive and gave permission for family photos - never previously seen by the public - to be used as part of the exhibition. 

I spoke to both Paul and Sally at the recent launch of the exhibition, which appropriately took place at the Mount Pleasant Hotel.  Gertrude Mitchell took over running the hotel at the age of 79!

Paul told me that he had originally been researching the history of the shops at Belle Vue Terrace and came across Gertrude Mitchell’s name in relation to a planning application in the archives.  He quickly realised that her life story was an interesting one, but lacked photographs.  However, after a plea for further information about her life story, Gertrude Mitchell’s granddaughter Sally contacted him and was able to help.

Gertrude Mitchell’s life story was a fascinating one.  She had a working life of over 60 years and lived to the impressive age of 100.  Paul said that her life story had made a big impact on him from an academic point of view.  However, he realised that for Sally and her family visiting the exhibition was a much more personal experience, providing detailed information about of a historical figure who had a major impact on their lives.

Sally Trepte, granddaughter of Gertrude Mitchell attended the exhibition’s launch with her husband Paul and daughter Sara.   Sally explained how she had googled “Gertrude Mitchell” and discovered to her surprise that Paul Fretwell was doing research into her life story.  Sally contacted Paul and was able to assist with his research and help him to acquire relevant photographs which she had in the family archive. 

Sally personally found Gertrude Mitchell to be a strong person and slightly overpowering.  Gertrude Mitchell was said to like everything “on her terms”.  However, she could also have insight and compassion and her staff found her to be marvellous.   Sally was grateful to Paul for the work he had done in researching the life story of Gertrude Mitchell and was clearly delighted to attend the launch event with her family for this exhibition. 

There is much more to say about this highly impressive lady and her fascinating tale.  If you want to see the exhibition for yourself (which includes some high quality archive photographs) it is due to be on tour in the Malvern area.