kitty wilkinson stained glass window at cathedral

Cathedral launches Kitty Wilkinson Tours

Liverpool Cathedral is offering members of the public the opportunity to learn about the history of the building and the city – from one of Liverpool’s most famous women. Kitty Wilkinson – known as Saint of the Slums – will lead visitors around the Cathedral as part of a series of new tours set to take place throughout the year.

Kitty is featured in one of the Cathedral’s famous Noble Women stained glass windows in the Lady Chapel, where she is commemorated as ‘Helper of the Poor’. She is also buried in St James cemetery next to the Cathedral.

During the hour-long tours – which begin on January 31st – actress Lucy Fiori will interweave Kitty’s story with that of the building of the Cathedral – two stories of pioneering endeavour, reflecting the lives of people whose work still has impact today. As Kitty, Lucy will talk about her fearless life aiding victims of the cholera epidemic and the beginnings of public wash houses in the nineteenth century.

Kitty Wilkinson (Catherine Wilkinson) (1786–1860) was an Irish immigrant to Liverpool. In 1832, during a cholera epidemic, she had the only boiler in her neighbourhood and invited those with infected clothes or linens to use it for a penny a week, destroying the cholera bacteria and saving many lives. This became the first public washhouse in Liverpool. Kitty became a campaigner for more public wash houses and ten years later thanks to her work, Liverpool opened a combined washhouse and public baths, the first in the United Kingdom. She was even presented to Queen Victoria in recognition of her work.

Jenny Moran, Visitor Manager at Liverpool Cathedral said: “We hope that the Kitty Wilkinson tour will provide an ‘experience’ rather than the usual visitor information, and it is ideal for those who want to see the Cathedral and learn about the history of Liverpool from a different perspective. It is already proving to be popular with those interested in social history and heritage or those who want a different kind of group visit. Lucy really brings Kitty to life and has undertaken research into Kitty’s history to make sure that every detail is as close as it can be.”

Lucy Fiori is an experienced performer and deviser, has a BA in Theatre Studies and she was also part of the Hope Street Physical Theatre Programme. She is a founder member of ensemble Ullaloom Theatre Company who have toured locally and nationally and have co-produced Christmas shows in collaboration with The Unity Theatre and Hope Street Ltd including The Tinderbox, The Snow Queen and The Red Shoes. She also runs Petite Ullaloom, the sister company of Ullaloom which produces Children’s Theatre with a dark twist.

actress Lucy Fiori as kitty wilkinson
Actress Lucy Fiori who plays Kitty Wilkinson at Liverpool Cathedral

Lucy said: “I have always wanted to portray one of the inspirational women in the Lady Chapel because the chapel is such a hidden gem and because I love the way the Cathedral was so progressive in honouring women from all classes and backgrounds. I wanted to play Kitty in particular because her story is so fascinating; she lost her father and a sibling when she sailed from Ireland to Liverpool and then later lost her first husband at sea, and yet she became famous for saving many lives by stopping the spread of cholera by using clean water to kill the bacteria that was taking so many lives.

“As part of my research I read Michael Kelly’s book about her life, which really emphasised her open-mindedness. She took in orphans, nursed the sick, and all the time looked after her mentally ill mother who had never got over losing her baby at sea. Kitty was also fearless as she would nurse those suffering from cholera on their death beds. She came from very humble beginnings yet was a very determined woman and her impact on the public good can’t be overstated; she made a lasting change to public health and even set up her own school. I can’t wait to share her story with as many people as possible.”

The tour costs £5 and can be booked by individuals or groups. The Cathedral can also help groups design a Kitty Wilkinson tour package, combining it with other attractions or catering. Please contact Jenny Moran Tours take place on Thursday 31st January at 2pm, Wednesday 24th April 2013 (6.30pm), Wednesday 24th July 2013 (6.30pm) and Wednesday 23 October 2013 at 2.00pm.

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