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Celebrating our founder Melissa Hardie-Budden this International Women’s Day

With the advent of this year’s International Women’s Day, we want to celebrate the force of nature and visionary that was Melissa Hardie-Budden – a much-loved face in our hometown of Penzance and a person without whom The Gardeners’ House Penzance project would not exist.

Melissa passed away in the summer of 2022 with friends and family by her side – but her legacy lives on through her vision of bringing The Gardeners’ House back to life, as well as a wealth of publications written over many years.

Melissa’s motto was “Speak louder. Be brave. To be too quiet is evidence of disinterest” and the phrase could have been written to describe her.

Whilst attending an event at Morrab Library one evening in 2016, the derelict former gardeners’ house caught her eye – and so began her determination to bring the building back to life.

Her husband Phil Budden recalls: “We were – as usual – one of the last to leave the event as Melissa had been talking to so many people until the end of the evening. While we must have passed the gardeners’ house many times before, that evening it was as though Melissa was seeing it for the first time.

“She immediately said that we must do something to save the building, which was in a poor state of repair by that stage – and I knew that she would not leave the subject until she had a plan. Within days, she had mapped out her thoughts for a library archive, learning centre and place for the community – and it has all gone from there.”

Founder of the Hypatia Trust, Melissa Hardie Budden, MBE PhD, founded the charity in 1996 to support and promote women's achievements through research, documentation, exhibition, publication and training, in Cornwall and beyond. It was the Hypatia Trust’s initial support for the Gardeners’ House project that allowed a feasibility study – and we were then able to make the case to apply for major grant funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Town Deals Fund.

Since then, the Gardeners' House project has grown, and is now an established and separate Charitable Interest Organisation (CIO) in its own right.

Miki Ashton, a close friend of Melissa’s and the project co-ordinator for The Gardeners’ House project, said: “Melissa was a very close friend and mentor to me. We talked every day, debated ideas, bickered occasionally, and celebrated our differences and our similarities - but most of all, we laughed together. I still have her voice in my ear most days!"

She added: "She cared passionately in promoting the works and achievements of women and for those she loved and cared about. I feel honoured to have been one of those people."

Melissa Hardie-Budden and Miki Ashton

Melissa was a captivating and larger-than-life personality – someone who drew people into her circle and became an advocate for them. Having grown up in Texas and Oklahoma with a nomadic childhood due to her father’s work as an oil refinery engineer, she later obtained her BA at Boston University and subsequently worked at Harvard and Yale. She also met her first husband in Boston, and had her two daughters.

Moving to Britain, she enrolled in the graduate set of the Nightingale School in 1967, training as a nurse. Melissa worked for three years as a research assistant and librarian at the Nightingale School before moving to the Nursing Research Unit at Edinburgh.

She became lead researcher in the study of ‘auxiliaries in health care professions’ for the Scottish Home and Health Department, teaching at Edinburgh University and becoming the ninth person in the UK to obtain a PhD in nursing studies. She also married Miles Hardie, who was director of the International Hospital Federation.

Towards the end of the 1970s, Melissa moved to London and opened a bookshop in Richmond called Deborah Books. Its subtitle was ‘Books by and about Women’. She also commenced her next career as a writer and publisher.

Her publishing company, Patten Press, published mainly healthcare titles, biographies and poetry in the early years. Patten Press morphed into Hypatia Publications, the publishing arm of the Hypatia Trust. Together they have published over fifty titles.

Melissa moved to West Cornwall in the early 1980s when she met Phil Budden, and immediately fell in love with the county.

Throughout her life, she was an avid book collector, and she dedicated herself to academic studies and research of areas which interested her and sparked her passion – with her published works covering subjects from the Bronte sisters and their Cornish background to the artists of Penzance and Newlyn.

The Hypatia Trust has grown from its humble beginnings in Melissa and Phil’s home and now has women’s literature and non-fiction archives placed in the University of Exeter libraries at Exeter and Falmouth, the University of Bonn in Germany, the Autonoma University in Barcelona and a small collection in Leeds University.

Melissa’s Elizabeth Treffry collection of books relating to Cornish women is housed in Morrab Library in Penzance in a Hypatia Trust room, fitted out with the hardwood shelving from Melissa's original library project, The Jamieson Library in Newmill.

In March 2022, The Hypatia Trust opened a specialist ‘women-focused’ bookshop - Women in Word - at its premises in Penzance. It has the same objectives as Melissa’s original Deborah Books shop, which was on Richmond Hill in London in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It sells fiction and non-fiction by women authors, including Hypatia Publications' own releases, and titles by local and regional women authors, as well as also stocking a large range of pre-loved books, written by women and donated by the public.

With International Women’s Day bringing us an opportunity to celebrate and lift up important women, we want to shine a light on Melissa (20 April 1939- 5 July 2022), a woman who was an important figure to many of our team and a woman whose vision has driven our project forward.


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