Nottingham Her-story: Our Top Women From Notts

Words: Shopie Gargett
Illustrations: Tanya Chulkova
Friday 08 March 2024
reading time: min, words

Our fair city has been home to some spectacular women in its time, from comedians and performers to activists and artists. To celebrate International Women's Day we thought we’d round up some of the fabulous ladies who have made us proud and continue to inspire…

IMG 6976

Helen Watts

A key figure in establishing the Nottingham branch of the Suffragette movement, Helen Watts was born in 1881 and moved to Nottingham at age twelve. Despite being from a comfortable middle class family, Watts was inspired to join the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) after hearing Christabel Pankhurst speak. Following her involvement with a demonstration outside the House of Commons, she was imprisoned for a time, but was not deterred from the cause of women’s suffrage. "Votes for women will not be won by drawing-room chatter,” Watts said. “It has got to be fought for in the market-places, and if we don't fight for it, no one else will."


Rebecca Adlington OBE 

Born in Mansfield, Rebecca Adlington started swimming with Sherwood Colliery Swimming Club. She was selected for the Nottinghamshire County Elite Squad and swam in local swimming leagues for Nottingham Leander Swimming Club, before representing Great Britain in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she was the first woman to win swimming gold for Great Britain since 1960 and the first British swimmer to win more than one gold medal at a single Olympic Games since 1908. Adlington's great-uncle was Terry Adlington, former goalkeeper with Derby County and she is a keen Derby supporter, but nobody’s perfect…

Dame Laura Knight

From growing up in a struggling home to becoming a Dame at age 52, Laura Knight’s career contained much of the classic trials and tribulations of an artist. After developing her skills as a painter at the Nottingham School of Art, Knight went on to paint ballet dancers, poor communities, Romani people, circus performers and other outsiders, whom she often befriended too. She was later appointed as an artist at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. She died at age 92, just days before a retrospective exhibition of her work at Nottingham Castle Art Gallery and Museum.

Maid Marian

Most people have grown up knowing the name of Robin Hood’s beloved, but the story of Maid Marian goes much deeper than damsel in distress. Rooted in mythology and folklore, Marian’s character has been developed and dismantled to suit the times, moving from symbol of fertility and strength to dainty lady in peril. Check out a deep dive into this curious figure on page 36!

Veronica Pickering 

With such a lengthy list of accolades to her name, Kenyan born Notts resident Veronica Pickering has crafted a mighty fruitful life so far. Working in the public sector for over 25 years in social work and child protection, she is currently an Executive Coach who champions diverse communities, whilst also acting as Nottinghamshire’s first Black female High Sheriff. A trustee of the RSPB and Nottinghamshire YMCA, and ambassador for The Woodland Trust and UK RAF Museums, to top it off this year she has been appointed Lord-Lieutenant for Nottinghamshire.

Vicky McClure MBE 

Best known for her roles as DI Kate Fleming in the BBC series Line of Duty (2012–2021) and Lol Jenkins in Shane Meadows' film This Is England (2006), Vicky McClure is one of many successful actors to come through Nottingham’s renowned Television Workshop, mentored by another fellow woman on this list, Samantha Morton. Most recently, you may have caught her on ITV’s Trigger Point, or if you’re an avid festival-goer, on the stage of Splendour in 2023 with Our Dementia Choir.

Img 6977

Florence Boot

The name Jesse Boot is of course eponymous with Nottingham, but throughout his career his wife Florence was also instrumental in expanding the popularity of the now worldwide brand. Along with designing the interior of Boots store on Pelham Street, she introduced stationery, books, artists' materials, gifts and in store cafes at Boots stores, along with considering employee welfare with clubs and schools to promote learning.

Paris Lees 

One of the UKs leading voices in the LGBTQI+ community, Paris Lees is an author, journalist, presenter and campaigner. Originally from Hucknall, she experienced intense bullying growing up due to being gender nonconforming. Lees began transitioning when she moved to university to study English, before going on to pursue journalism. She became the first transgender Vogue columnist and cover star in 2018. Her memoir What It Feels Like For A Girl (2022) is now set to become a BBC TV drama.

Emily Campbell 

Bulwell native Emily Campbell made sporting history at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics (held in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic) when she won the first ever British Olympic medal for female weightlifting, winning a Silver medal while competing in the +87 kg category - all while being vocal about the injustices and racial barriers that Black athletes face, as well as getting involved in a lot of important conversations about body positivity and inclusivity in the fitness world. More recently, in 2023, she confirmed a hat-trick of three successive European titles.

Ada Lovelace

Overshadowed by her debauched poet father Lord Byron for well over a century, Ada Lovelace’s work has only begun to be appreciated in recent years. As a mathematician, she worked alongside Charles Babbage on The Analytical Engine, which provided the first examples of a computer memory and processor during the 1830s, and she is now recognised as an integral figure in computer programming and women in STEM. She was buried, at her request, next to her father at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall.

Charity Shop Sue 

The Nottingham-based charity shop manager who navigates the peculiarities and challenges of retail culture with wit, humour and panache. We've all met a Sue, and love her or hate her, this is why the character has been such a hit with audiences over the last few years. Filmed in Bulwell in 2019, Sue's videos received praise from The Guardian for being ‘bleak, relatable and so funny’. Since then, she has become an internet legend and DJ.

Dr Rose Thompson 

Rose’s journey to becoming a significant figure in BME cancer services began after she lost her mother and two sisters to cancer at a young age. Becoming a radiotherapist, then radiographer at superintendent grade, she later became director of B’Me Against Cancer Charity, bringing a wealth of both professional and personal experience to patients. Rose sadly passed away in June 2023, leaving a huge legacy in the community.


Rastarella is a world music event producer, an empowerment speaker and a host on Nottingham’s urban radio station, 97.5 Kemet FM. Launching her signature event Cultural Vibrations in 2009 at Hockley Hustle and founding the Nottingham Global Roots Festival in 2015, this year marks her fifteenth year in business, a massive milestone as a grassroots promoter who is consistently showcasing music from around the world at numerous venues, events and festivals. 

Jayne Torvill OBE

Born in Clifton, Jayne Torvill is most known for her free programme at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics with her skating partner Christopher Dean, performed to the music of Maurice Ravel's Boléro, for which they received twelve perfect 6.0 marks. Of course, this is the namesake of Lace Market’s Bolero Square, where you can find Nottingham’s National Ice Centre and Motorpoint Arena. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the legendary Olympic performance, so it is definitely worth a revisit on YouTube if you need a reminder of just how spectacular it was.

Img 6978

Su Pollard

Born in Hyson Green, actress and singer Su Pollard has been a household name in the UK for over forty years. Best known for her role in the classic eighties sitcom Hi-de-hi!, she’s also written books, starred in countless stage shows and pantomimes, had a number two single in 1986 with the song Starting Together and in 1995 became the face of the National Egg Awareness Campaign.

Samantha Morton 

Known for her work in independent cinema, she is the recipient of numerous accolades, including a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe Award, as well as nominations for two Academy Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. After spending her childhood in and out of foster care and children's homes, joining the Television Workshop when she was thirteen years old. Her early film roles include Emma (1996), Jane Eyre (1997), and Under the Skin (1997), with more recent appearances in Harlots (2017–2019), The Walking Dead (2019–2020) and The Serpent Queen (2022–present).

Mary Earps MBE 

Winner of the 2023 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, Mary Earps is best known for being the goalkeeper of England women’s national football team, where she was named England Women's Player of the Year for the 2022–23 season. During the World Cup that same year, she played every minute of all seven matches, conceding just four goals and keeping three clean sheets. This resulted in her being awarded the Golden Glove for the tournament. If you haven’t seen it already, go and check out the mural created by Art of Football near the canal and Nottingham Station. 

Ellie Downie MBE and Becky Downie

With a wealth of awards between them, these two sisters are Nottingham’s gymnast extraordinaires, competing in numerous world sporting events for the UK teams. Ellie was awarded BBC Young Sports Personality Of The Year in 2015, before going on to become the all-around European gymnastics champion in 2017. Meanwhile, older sister Becky competed in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and Rio in 2016. The pair were both appointed MBEs in the 2024 New Year Honours for services to the sport of gymnastics.

Margaret Humphreys

Our very own Margaret Humphreys is a social worker and author who spent time working for Nottinghamshire City Council, operating around Radford in child protection and adoption services. Empty Cradles, Humphreys’ account of the formation and struggles of the Child Migrants Trust helped to fund the Trust at a critical time when the government funding had been stopped. It was subsequently made into the feature film Oranges and Sunshine in 2011.

Alice Levine

Alice Levine is an esteemed radio and television presenter, who has won numerous awards and is one of the most sought after voices in broadcasting today. She has featured in Neighbours (2014) British Scandal (2021) and Kevin McCloud’s Rough Guide to the Future (2020). Her ability to balance wit and warmth with a sophisticated journalistic tone has made her the first choice for hosting duties at the likes of The Mercury Prize, The BRITs and the BAFTA awards.

Alice Zimmern

Writer, translator and suffrage activist Alice Zimmern wrote books such as Woman’s Suffrage in Many Lands and The Renaissance of Girls’ Education and made huge contributions to the debate on the education and rights of women at the time. She also translated important editions of books such as Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and Porphyry’s Letter to His Wife.

Stella Rimington

Dame Stella Rimmington, a British author, and former Director General of MI5, a position she held for four years. She was the first female DG of MI5, appointed back in 1992. Following her retirement in 1996, she became a non-executive director of Marks & Spencer and published her autobiography, Open Secret, along with other novels: At Risk, Secret Asset and Illegal Action.

Grace Keeling aka GK Barry

TikTok star, Grace Keeling (better known as GKBarry) is known for her unfiltered comedic content which helped her amass 3.4 million followers, making her one of the biggest internet influencers in social media. Many tune into her popular weekly podcast, Saving Grace, but she has also appeared on many BBC game shows like CelebAbility, The Wheel and The Weakest Link on BBC One.

We have a favour to ask

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion

Please note, we migrated all recently used accounts to the new site, but you will need to request a password reset

Sign in using

Or using your

Forgot password?

Register an account

Password must be at least 8 characters long, have 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number and 1 special character.

Forgotten your password?

Reset your password?

Password must be at least 8 characters long, have 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number and 1 special character.