I read somewhere that if Gertrude Bell had been born a man she would be as well known today as Lawrence of Arabia. Even so a film ‘Queen of the Desert’ has been made of her life played by Nicole Kidman.
Writer, traveller and mountaineer, Gertrude survived more than 50 hours on a rope on the then unclimbed north east face of the Finsteraarhorn. Political analyst, archaeologist and linguist, speaking eight languages including Persian, Arabic and Turkish. She was the first women to get a first class degree at Oxford in Modern History and in 1921 was instrumental in defining the outline of the modern state of Iraq as well as helping to create the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan.
So an amazing woman and she lived in this neglected house in Redcar where only a blue plaque records the fact. I know times are hard but it must be very short sighted of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council to let Gertrude’s family home fall into decay when on the seafront £1.6m have been spent on that wonderful public building the ‘vertical pier’.
The house itself, named as Red Barns, is architecturally very significant. It dates from 1870 and was designed in the Arts and Crafts Movement by architect Philip Webb for local industrialist Sir Thomas Hugh Bell. It is a Grade II* listed building. In the 1990s it was converted into a hotel and pub and acquired a reputation for having llamas and other animals in the garden. Several years ago there was a proposal to convert it back into residential properties but that seems to have stalled.
And more recently a campaign has been set up to save the building. Surely some public use can be found. To me it’s a no brainer.
Across the border meanwhile Middlesbrough have shortlisted Gertrude Bell to be the subject for the town’s first ever statue of a female. Although Gertrude was born in Redcar the claim is that she was “strongly associated with Middlesbrough”. If Redcar and Cleveland are not careful they are going to lose out.