PEOPLE – BELL, Gertrude

Accreditation Cleveland Standard 02/09/1935

Miss Gertrude Bell’s Memory Honoured

   Redcar Literary Institute is to honour the memory of Miss Gertrude Bell, who delivered some of the first lectures within its walls. A portrait is to be unveiled today (21/09/1935) Saturday, which is a copy of a portrait exhibited by Mr. Frank Sargent, R.A., in the Royal Academy some years ago, by her brother, Colonel Sir Maurice Bell, of Mount Grace Priory.

“Travels East of Jordan” was the subject of her first lecture delivered at Redcar, and could almost be said to be the beginning of her distinguished literary career.
Her life and influence are not yet fully appreciated by this generation but in years to come history will prove that she has left and influence for good on the Arab peoples, and that King Feisul was correct when he said that her death England had lost an Ambassador and Iraq a friend.
Miss Bell and her family took a very active and practical interest in her work of the Institute. Sir Hugh Bell was for many years an esteemed president; Lady Bell, D.B.E., was always ready to assist in the promotion of its welfare; and Miss Bell, by her lectures in the early days of its existence, gave it a high standard which has not been lost.
Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born on July 14, 1868, at Washington Hall, County Durham, the former residence of
her grandfather, Issac Lowthian Bell. Bart., F.R.S., an iron-master and colliery owner, and a distinguished man of science.


   Miss Bell spent a great part of her life in Redcar at red Barns, Coatham. In “Letters to Gertrude Bell” we are informed that Gertrude was writing letters from Red Barns when she was little more than six. Her playmate at the time was her little brother, Maurice, led into perilous childish scrapes by his sister, always in search of experience.
At this early stage Gertrude’s adventures led to nothing more daring than jumps from high garden wall at Red Barns and explorations on the top of the greenhouse. Later her courage and bravery in wider spheres earned her the title of the “Peacemaker of the East and Friend of the Arabs.”
Happily for her family and friends, she was one of those people whose lives can be reconstructed through their correspondence. Through all her wanderings whether far or near, she kept in the closest touch with her friends and relations at home, always anxious to share her adventures with her family. She was a born master of the pen, and her letters have delighted thousands.
She was educated at Oxford, and after leaving the University with brilliant first class degrees became well known in English social circles. She threw herself with the greatest zest into all the amusements of her age, dancing, skating fencing, going to London parties, making ardent girl friendships, and her life, of which twenty-six years were spent at Red Barns, was always happy and strenuous.
Gertrude Bell showed herself expert as a scholar, poet, historian, archaeologist, art critic, mountaineer, explorer, gardener, naturalist, and distinguished servant of the State, and, curiously enough, all through her travels Gertrude welcomed letters containing news of her home – Redcar.


   At Redcar, Gertrude and Maurice received their early education from a German governess. Both these Redcar children were passionately fond of pets, and all kinds of dumb creatures were harboured in Red Barns. A special cemetery was tended in the garden where all these pets were eventually buried.
We gather from one of her letter, dated Red Barns, 1889, that Gertrude kept house in Redcar. She refers to paying the butcher’s bull and she also mentions making arrangements for a lecture on nursing. We also find references to some of her brother’s and sister’s children having measles at red Barns. Another letter written at Redcar mentions the Mothers Union and a nice old lady who lived in the New Cottages, while yet another Redcar letter states that she had just spent “a racketing fortnight dancing and acting.”
As we read her letters we can observe that throughout all her travels and adventures Red Barns and Redcar were seldom, if ever, out of her thoughts, and a visit home is always welcomed by Gertrude. She is still remembered by the older generation of Redcar folk.
Hard work out in the East hurried Miss Bell to an early death. Her strenuous work, in the terrible heat of one Baghdad summer proved to much for her and she died quite peacefully in her sleep in the early morning hours of a Monday, July 12, 1926.


   The tidings of her death brought an overwhelming manifestation of sorrow and sympathy from all corners of the earth. Her name, it was then discovered, was known in every Continent; her story had crossed every sea.  There had clustered round her in her lifetime so many fantastic tales of adventure, based on fact and embroidered by fiction – tales of the Mystery Woman of the East, the Uncrowned Queen of the Desert – that a kind of legendary personality had emerged which represented Gertrude in the imagination of the public of the world, to the day of her death. The King and Queen sent a message of sympathy to her parents.
Miss Bell was buried in the afternoon of July 12, in a cemetery outside Baghdad, with the honours of a military funeral. A huge concourse of Iraqis and British were present, with the High Commissioner and the British Staff, civil military and Air Force, the Prime Minister of Iraq, members of the Cabinet, and Arab Sheiks from the desert.
The High Commissioner issued a notification of her death, an extract of which states, “She had for the last ten years of her life consecrated all the indomitable fervour of her spirit and all the astounding gifts of her mind to the service of the Arab cause, and especially to Iraq. At last her body always frail, was broken by the energy of her soul.”
Gertrude bell was one of Redcar’s most distinguished citizens, and it is fitting that the Institute should honour her memory.


dean March 30, 2010 People & Characters