Woman dressed as Lady Wortley speaking to an audience in the greenhouse
Woman dressed as Lady Wortley in a blue dress and hat reading a large old fashioned book

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is remembered as the woman who introduced inoculation into Britain. The National Trust and Barnsley Musuems have commisioned Lorna rees, Artistic director of Gobbledegook Theatre to deliver a residency exlporing Lady Mary's life in 2022: Encounters.

Created through research and consultation, Encounters uncovered elements of Lady Mary’s extraordinary life through short films, photography and theatrical performance onsite at Wentworth Castle Gardens.

Lady Mary was introduced to the smallpox inoculation in Turkey and brought it home to Britain, paving the way for modern vaccination and contributing to the eradication of smallpox from the world in 1980. The Sun Monument at Wentworth Castle Gardens is dedicated to her. It is the first monument in Britain dedicated to a woman for her intellectual achievements, rather than for her social standing. 

In December 2021, Gobbledegook Theatre co-created six short films with the people of Barnsley, locations included a nail salon, travel agents, Barnsley Markets and a Turkish restaurant. Whilst wearing a fabulous costume inspired by Lady Mary, Lorna chatted to local people about the life of this remarkable woman. The themes of the ‘Encounter’ interviews include women’s education, travel, medicine, and Turkish culture.  

In January, Encounters launched on social media. Each day between 10 & 15 January, new content, including a film, was released on the Wentworth Castle Gardens and Barnsley Museum platforms. The campaign reached 30,000 people with over 10,000 views of the films. To view the Encounters films please see below.

“We went to see the Lady Mary presentation and she was wonderful. We learned so much historical info.” Family visitors at Wentworth Castle Gardens 

In April, over five days, Lorna engaged 980 people at Wentworth Castle Gardens. Lorna told them all about Mary’s life, talking through her costume, but also having brilliant dialogue with visitors to the gardens, the vast majority of whom had never heard of Mary’s daring life and her part in medical history.  

“I spoke with lecturers, research scientists, a geneticist and many, many families about her life. I chatted with grandparents and children and artists and refugee families and a sewing group all about this amazing life. And through dialogue we found new things and ideas and learnt from each other…. 

"It’s my great belief that conversation and dialogue change the world – the best of these change both people at the end of them with shared shift in perspective or empathy. I had many, many profoundly moving conversations with people, about ambition, curiosity, loss and huge hope for the future.”  

Lorna Rees, Gobbledegook Theatre 

The above is an excerpt from Lorna’s blog which shares her experience of her nine month residency with Barnsley Museums. The blog was launched on 17 July as part of Barnsley Pride weekend. To read the blog visit Barnsley Museums art blog

“We went to the talk twice. Really informative and great use of colour. Great stories and wonderful presentation. What a day!” Family visitors at Wentworth Castle Gardens 

Onsite interpretation was installed in the Victorian Conservatory and at the Sun Monument which is dedicated to Lady Mary. The digital presence of Encounters is linked to this self-led engagement, enabling people to enjoy the informative films created with Barnsley communities. Encounters has become part of the Barnsley Archives digital collection, ensuring these important voices will continue to be heard. 


Artist: Lorna Rees 
Photography: Jayne Jackson & Janette Robinson
Costume Design: Sophie Fretwell 
Maker: Coat and Skirt Shelley Venables 
Maker: Bodice, Ruff by Kayla Bartlett
Millinery: Kelly Morgan 
Make Up: Molly Jacks 
Helga Brandt: Dramaturg
Joe Payne: Filmmaker
David Doust: Assistant Director

From ‘unnatural mother’ to ‘Mother of Inoculation’: Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)
‘Education transforms you’: following in the footsteps of Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)
Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) - Travel Writer
Women’s spaces then and now: following in the footsteps of Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)
Women’s spaces – learning from each other: following in the footsteps of Mary Wortley Montagu
Food for thought: in the footsteps of Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)