Kitty Wilkinson: Telling the story of the pioneer and Liverpool hero

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A play celebrates the Liverpudlian and her unique effort to curb the outbreak of cholera in the city.

An Irish migrant to Liverpool, Kitty Wilkinson's public hygiene efforts helped curb the cholera outbreak of 1832 and eventually led to the opening of the first combined washhouse and public baths in the United Kingdom.

Her legacy began when the ‘Saint of the Slums’ invited residents with infected clothes or linen to use her boiler - the only one in the neighbourhood - to clean them, thus saving many lives.

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Samantha Alton in Kitty: Queen of the WashhouseSamantha Alton in Kitty: Queen of the Washhouse
Samantha Alton in Kitty: Queen of the Washhouse | Arts Groupie CIC

In 2012, a marble statue of Kitty was unveiled in St George’s Hall and it remains the only female sculpture in the famous building.

Now a play about her life, ‘Kitty: Queen of the Washhouse’ is coming to the hall. It celebrates the Liverpudlian pioneer who was a community champion.

John Maguire wrote the play after walking past Kitty’s grave in St James’ cemetery in the grounds of Liverpool Cathedral. After reading a biography of her, he became fascinated with her story.

‘She is famous for being an advocate for community spirit’

John Maguire wrote the play Kitty: Queen of the WashhouseJohn Maguire wrote the play Kitty: Queen of the Washhouse
John Maguire wrote the play Kitty: Queen of the Washhouse | LTV

John told LiverpoolWorld: "Kitty Wilkinson was an Irish lady born in Derry. She moved to Liverpool in the late 1700s. She is famous for being an advocate for community spirit. In Liverpool in 1832, there was a horrific cholera epidemic.

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“Catherine Wilkinson was the only woman in her street to have a boiler, so she decided to wash all of her neighbours' linen to help kill the germs. In 1842 she managed the first public wash house in Liverpool, the first in the UK. It revolutionised public health throughout Liverpool, the UK and beyond."

’She was just a real advocate for the people’

Local actress Samantha Alton plays Kitty Wilkinson.Local actress Samantha Alton plays Kitty Wilkinson.
Local actress Samantha Alton plays Kitty Wilkinson. | LTV

Local actress Samantha Alton plays the eponymous role of Kitty in the one-woman show.

Samantha said: "It's definitely a familiar name to everyone's ears, but they don't know over the course of five or six years, she actually took in 46 children into her own home. She clothed, fed and schooled them. She opened the school in her own attic. She was just a real advocate for the people, and she wouldn't see anyone going without."

The play was first staged in 2018, and though they have toured with the production, the last place it was performed in March 2020 was St George's Hall, just one week before the country went into lockdown for the covid 19 pandemic.

Kitty: Queen of the Washhouse will be performed at St George's Hall on Sunday, 9 October.

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