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Downplayed. Overlooked. Or non-existent?

Few would argue that the roles played by history’s female artists, authors, academics and scientists have, over time, been minimised. But it is possible to find evidence of some of them. It’s much harder to find out about female industrialists and business leaders of the past.

Crisp Malt | Historical image of a combine harvester being pulled by horses in a barley field in NorfolkTry searching ‘Female industrialists, 19th century, UK’ and don’t be surprised to get a lot of stories about male industrialists or American entrepreneurs.

You might hit luck and come across a story about Lady Charlotte Guest, who controlled one of Britain’s largest ironworks in the 1850s. But considering her exceptionalism, there’s not that much about her.

And there must be others. Surely…?

Well, there’s one on whom we’re shining the spotlight for this International Women’s Day. It’s a certain Anne Smith.

And actually, even though she’s a crucial part of our company’s history, we don’t have that many records and it’s hard to find out much about her.

From the book ‘The Smiths of Ryburgh’ by Betty Wharton, and published in 1990, this much we do know…

In August 1861, Anne married Frederick Smith, one of two brothers (Frederick and George) who traded grain, coal and farming equipment. Their business, F & G Smith Ltd, had a grain mill in Little Ryburgh, and later, in 1870, they built the maltings – our maltings – just a stone’s throw away.

Frederick died in 1881 and the year after that, so did George. This left Anne in charge of the business. She had eight children under the age of eighteen at the time.

It must have been some undertaking. Across the company, they were dealing in corn; coal cake; seed; manure; oil cake and artificial food (artificial food?? the mind boggles!). They were farmers; dairymen; millers; maltsters; and flour merchants. They had maltings in Gt Ryburgh, Dereham and Wells-next-the-Sea. All this is revealed through the articles of incorporation for Anglia Maltings (Holdings) Ltd – our parent company – in June 1890.

Crisp Malt | Anne Smith owner in 19th Century on her second wedding dayActually, earlier that year, Anne had taken what must have been a pretty unusual step at the time. That’s over and above the unusual step of running a large, complex business that she has taken some eight years previously…

In March 1890, she married someone 20 years her junior.

Even more unconventionally, days prior to the wedding, George Jacobs had changed his surname by deed poll to incorporate the surname of his future wife.

So, Anne Smith wed George Jacobs-Smith at St Andrews Church in Gt Ryburgh, and set off for a honeymoon on the Italian Riviera.

It seems there was a lot of razzmatazz around their return home, but then the records of Anne’s involvement in the business seem to fade away.

All attention turns to her sons.

It would be good to have more information about Anne’s achievements during her tenure at the helm of the business. It would be fascinating to know more about her management style; the challenges she faced and how she overcame them.

That’s particularly given the fact that she really did seem to be exceptional.

Or perhaps she wasn’t.

Perhaps all the other female industrialists just weren’t acknowledged or documented at the time, and have since been overlooked…

Thank you Betty Wharton for tantalising us with what little information there is about Anne.

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