“FOR me,” said Frances Bevan, “the people are the history.

“Everybody laments the loss of the Baptist Tabernacle and the state of the Mechanics’ Institute and the Locarno, and of course these buildings are important, but it is the red brick terraces that interest me more and the people who lived in them, especially the women.

“It’s all these men and women who have worked so hard, and especially the women, because our contribution is just as important but probably not so noticeable.”

There are a number of reasons for that deficit, as Frances was reminded while researching Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon.

One is that women, and especially working class women, tended to leave fewer written accounts of their lives and work.

“They do not leave journals. They do not leave reams of letters.”

There are other factors: “As part of my research I study census returns. The data is so inconsistent as to how women’s work is recorded.

“For example, in 1851 the enumerators were told not to record women’s work if it was part time, seasonal or part of a family business.”

Among the women to fall foul of this rule, outrageous by modern standards but typical of the era, was Mary Jane Preater, a dynamic businesswoman and mother of nine who ran the New Inn in Cromwell Street with her husband. As far as the census of 1851 was concerned, her contribution to the business was non-existent.

“Newspapers are a wonderful resource - but I have come to the conclusion that working class women only get into the papers if they’re a victim of crime or if they’re a criminal!”

Frances is originally from London, and left school just before my 16th birthday with what she describes as a handful of CSEs. She went on to study for an Open University degree in her forties.

Always interested in history, she began researching Swindon’s after moving to West Swindon in 1990.

In 2013 she was one of the co-founders of Swindon Heritage magazine, which ran until 2017.

It was like-minded people getting together. We all had a love of history and heritage and we all had a love of writing.

“It was just organic in a way; it just flowered.”

There have been numerous other projects, and Frances is about to begin work with the Swindon Central Library local studies team on a book about the post-war development.

Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon came about after the author heard historical publisher Pen and Sword was preparing a series of volumes to mark the centenary of the first votes being given to women.

Subtitled Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality, it gathers the stories of women with local connections who came from a broad range of backgrounds -and who made a difference.

Among the most prominent is Edith New, a mainstay of the Suffragette movement whose birthplace in North Street bears a commemorative plaque.

“She was the first to chain herself to railings as a means of protest; first woman to break a window as a means of protest, and she was the first Suffragette campaigning in Scotland to go on hunger strike.”

There is Emma Noble, Swindon’s first woman councillor. A tireless campaigner for the poor and vulnerable, she was one of the first women to be given the prestigious title of Alderman.

Other stories told include those of teachers Mary Slade and Kate Handley, who sent parcels of food and other comforts to soldiers on the Western Front.

“They worked right through the First World War, through the interwar years and were still supporting families in the Second World War.”

Frances writes about Swindon’s first woman mayor, May George, who served in the 1930s - and corrects the misconception that she was married to Reuben George, a prominent councillor of the era.

“She was entirely on her own. She was not connected with him. She was May George.”

The book, priced at £14.99, is available from the Central Library, at www.pen-and-sword.co.uk and from Amazon.