Meet the ancestors

Shirley Conran ancestorsMy father’s ancestors were Cornish boat-builders, master mariners and smugglers – in the eighteenth century the whole town was at it. My grandfather was not allowed to go to sea, because he was delicate. My grandmother was head mistress of the Mevagissey school, a job she took because – a Birmingham girl from a bookish family – she longed to live by the sea. My grandfather built his bride a posh house on top of the hill above the town. (Besotted fool! It meant she had to push the pram up that vertical hill.)

My red-headed Great-Aunt Jane – supposedly the first woman in Cornwall to wear cycling bloomers – was superseded as our family’s claim to fame by my 25 year old niece, Captain Jessica Pearce, a certified Master Mariner.

My mother’s mum was a Cockney who worked in her father’s corner grocery shop. When she met my tall, handsome grandfather he was a footman – powdered hair and knee breeches – at a Victorian stately home called Panshanger, in Hertfordshire. His ancestor – originally called de Wauklyn – was an Earl who fought with William the Conqueror in 1066 from Bernay, a town in Northern France, so dull I can see why he left it.

Panshanger, in Hertfordshire

Slowly the family fortunes slumped. Then, for nearly a thousand years, my ancestors all worked devotedly as servants for the big house: laundry maids, cooks, butlers and coachman. I know this because an amateur genealogist drew up our family tree, which shows how fast we sank from being pugnacious aristocrats in 1066 to being the medieval equivalent of vacuum cleaners, washing machines and voice-mail.

My Own Back Story

I was born in 1932, was evacuated from London to Hereford during World War II, I went to St. Paul’s Girls School, London – which taught me how to maximise time. After that, I went to a finishing school in Switzerland, which taught me how to waste time.

I trained as a sculptor at Southern College of Art, Portsmouth (now part of Southampton University), and then as a painter at Chelsea Polytechnic (now part of University of the Arts, London).

In 1955 I married designer Sir Terence Conran and we have two sons, Sebastian Conran and Jasper Conran, who are both designers and authors.

Until I was thirty, I worked as a textile designer, the executive director of Conran Fabrics Ltd. – a firm that specialised in working with architects on special projects such as hospitals, cruise ships and aircraft. For eight years, I was a member of the Selection Committee of the Design Council, and for six years I was an advisor to the British Jewellery Industry.

I started to write, when I became Design Consultant to the Daily Mail, and subsequently the Home Editor. Eventually, I became Women’s Editor of the Daily Mail, and launched Femail. I was also Women’s Editor for the launch of the Observer Magazine.

After contracting M.E., I could no longer work full time. I started to write books, nearly all of which have been international bestsellers. They include Superwoman (1975); Down with Superwoman (1991, the revised and updated edition of Superwoman) and other self-help books for women. My first novel, Lace, was filmed (No. 1 mini-series movie, USA 1984). My other novels are Savages, Crimson, Tiger Eyes and The Revenge.

In 1998 I was the founder and President of Mothers in Management, which aimedto improve working conditions and flexible practices for parents.

In 2001 I was the founder and President of The Work-Life Balance Trust. By 2004, over 3 million people participated in Work-Life Balance Week. In 2004, I was awarded the O.B.E. for services to Equality.

In 2009 at the House of Lords, the charity, Working Families honoured 30 Pioneers 1979 – 2009 who helped change the British workplace. I was one of them, honoured for my “tenacious campaigning”.

From 2004 to 2014, I wrote, designed and self-published a maths course that does not need a teacher – MONEY STUFF, an interactive ebook, for women of all ages. I did this because I would like women to have a better understanding of the financial world, and how to make money in it.

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