In petticoats, I was nobody. In breeches and a red coat, I was – I am - somebody
In 2014, the Huntington Library Quarterly published an essay that I had co-written with David Worrall, Emeritus Professor of English at Nottingham Trent, which explored the facts around Hannah Snell. My new show Hannah Snell, the Female Soldier 1750, is built on what David and I found out.
Born in Worcester,1723, to the second wife of a dyer and hosier, Hannah was the eighth child of nine .In 1740, her parents died. She moved to her sister's in Wapping and married James Summs, who left her and their baby. When her baby died, she joined the army in Coventry, expecting to fight the Jacobites who had marched from Scotland to Derby. Before she could, the Jacobites returned to Scotland. So, Hannah joined the marines, sailed to India in Admiral Boscawen's fleet and, in 1749, fought the French at Pondicherry, Wounded, she returned to Wapping, wore her uniform to Hyde Park, accosted the Duke of Cumberland and claimed her pension.
During July and August of 1750, Hannah performed in her redcoat every evening at The New Wells Spa Theatre, near St Pancras. War was constant in the eighteenth century and actresses in uniform a staple of eighteenth-century ensemble plays. Hannah sang - in treble as a cabin boy and in baritone as a mate- new ballads to old tunes, notably the nationalistic "Britannia's Goldmine, or the Herring Fisherie Forever". She also performed, and led a chorus line of women performing, the Manual Exercise. This set of movements with a flintlock musket was practiced daily by soldiers on the parade ground at St James Park. Perhaps it was possible to learn it from Benjamin Cole's "The Soldier's Pocket Companion, Or the Manual of the British Foot" (1746). Hannah, illiterate, would have had to rely on the pictures. I have tried to learn it from pictures and it isn't easy.
Hannah dictated "The Surprising Adventures of Hannah Snell..." to journalist, Richard Walker. It sold in the bookshops of her day and was republished by Suffragette editors. Other merchandise included a "print of her true likeness price one shilling."
Hannah Snell, Female Soldier 1750 premiered at the army Museum, York on 5th October 2023. On 19th January it was at Gainsborough's House, Sudbury. On 17th March it is at Sanpe Church in Suffolk at 3pm. This will be a fundraiser for the church roof!