Opening this Saturday, Fairfax Houses’ innovative exhibition If Walls Could Talk: The Forgotten Story of Ann Fairfax turns Ann Fairfax from a much-maligned spinster into one of the richest heiresses in Yorkshire of her time.
This true story of Ann Fairfax, based on the latest archival research from the curatorial team, is brought to life using audio-visual techniques that bring visitors face to face with Ann and her foes.
The exhibition raises important questions about the treatment of women in history and how their contributions have been overlooked. It is an exciting readjustment of the traditional narrative of Fairfax House and highlights the ways in which Ann Fairfax has been mistreated, manipulated and misunderstood both in her lifetime and by historians since.
Assistant curator Rachel Wallis, a researcher for the exhibition alongside Curator Sarah Burnage, explains the significance of telling Ann’s story correctly: “Too often throughout history have women been pushed aside in favour of their male relatives, and Ann Fairfax is a prime example. This was her house and yet the narrative over the years has mostly focused on her father the Viscount. She has almost been written off as a weak-minded spinster and yet when we delved further into her story we found quite the opposite. We really want to challenge and change those traditional perceptions of her character. She was a woman determined to succeed, and hers is a story that has been waiting to be told. I feel privileged that we are the ones getting tell it.”
Actor Edith Kirkwood, who plays the character of Ann for the exhibition’s video installation, found Ann was very relatable: “There’s something very compelling about Ann’s narrative as a woman in 2022. This exhibition has so many themes that are really current – themes of gender equality and of overcoming mental health difficulties. There are so many things that are relevant and exciting to see in a historical piece. These themes aren’t new. These are challenges that have been going on for centuries.”
If Walls Could Talk: The Forgotten Story of Ann Fairfax opens on Saturday 14th May and runs until Sunday 13th November 2022. Tickets cost £7.50 and last a whole year, and children under 16 go free. Fairfax House is open 11am-4pm (last entry 3:30pm) every day except Friday, when the house is open for guided tours only.