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Meet: Maria Beadell

Group of people stood outside talking
  • Written byEleanor Harvey
  • Published date07 March 2022
Group of people stood outside talking
Paul Phipps-Williams Photography

Maria Beadell runs Herstorical Tours, guided walking tours that focus on women's stories in London's history and bring them to life. Her current tour, Hex and the City looks into witch persecution in the capital.

And so, for Women's History Month, we thought who better to feature than someone who is actively researching and highlighting women's history!

Maria in a long black coat, looking into the camera. She's stood in front of two red phone boxes
Paul Phipps-Williams Photography

You did a Foundation course at Camberwell College of Arts, UAL. What was that experience like?  

Well, it was in 2000-2001 when I was 19 (aka a million years ago!) so I had no idea what I wanted to do really, so perhaps I didn’t get as much out of it as I would have done now. However, despite that, it was fun, and I remember making lots of friends and trying out so many new types of art. After only ever doing painting and sketching, I started trying my hand at graphic design and photography and my work was very experimental at the time, so it got the creative juices flowing without a doubt! I remember one of the guest lecturers being Grayson Perry which was pretty amazing, and the weekly film trips were always great.

Two people standing in the street at night. The one to the left is blurry, and the woman to the right is wearing a jesters hat
Paul Phipps-Williams Photography

What have you been up to since graduating from Camberwell? 

How much time have you got? Ha-ha I’ve been here, there and everywhere since Camberwell! I went on to study Philosophy and Film in Nottingham, then I spent a few years working in an office job (really not for me!) before travelling to Italy to teach English.

Over the next 11 years I taught English in Japan and two different schools in London, finally specialising in corporate skills such as public speaking, presentations and sales negotiating.

I continued to make art throughout these years though, I painted portraits and worked on public murals and set up my ‘side hustle’ of painting, exhibiting in small local galleries and selling my work when I could. I started to get interested in performance - dancing and acting particularly - around 2015. I worked on a few big-name immersive shows as a member of the cast in my free time, and I joined a Latin Dance group and started performing Brazilian samba with them. I always knew I wanted to make the move to the creative industries eventually.

When Covid hit, I was made redundant from my last school, and decided to focus on transitioning to a creative career. I started working with Celine Hispiche, a writer and performer who runs literary salons in Soho. Through her, and I was given the opportunity to write and try out new material in a safe, supportive environment. I discovered my love for comedy, so I began writing my own character pieces combining comedy, music and drama.

I started working as a freelance London tour guide at this time too, as I love history. Around last summer I decided to combine my love of history, comedy and drama and created my own company ‘Herstorical Tours’. My flagship tour - Hex and the City, was launched in October 2021.

A woman stood outside at night, clasping her hands together as though in prayer. She's got her eyes closed and her head tipped back
Paul Phipps-Williams Photography

Herstorical Tours provides walking tours that are created by and led by women/women-identifying. Can you tell us more? 

Herstorical Tours are guided walking tours with a difference, because the theme is about women, the team is all women and it’s delivered through theatrical vignettes.

I wanted to address what I thought was a gap in the market with the history and ghost tours that are currently out there - you get women-focussed tours, and you get theatrical tours, but so far, never the twain shall meet!

The whole point of our tours is that they focus on women's stories in London's history and bring those stories to life. Some of the subjects we cover - femicide, misogyny, prejudice - are dark, so the theatrical elements help to lighten the tours. We aim to get the right balance of respect and entertainment across, as these are very sensitive and emotional elements of history. So far, I think we’ve achieved that. We want people to go away feeling entertained, enlightened and inspired to learn more about women’s stories in London’s past.

A group of people standing in a circle. Some are wearing fancy dress, including one person who is wearing a white mask.
Paul Phipps-Williams Photography

The current tour you run is Hex and the City: the story of London’s witches. How do choose the theme? And how do you research your tours?   

I read a lot of history and love period dramas and history documentaries. I’ve always been fascinated with the dark underbelly of societies; the way the ‘forgotten’ classes lived- the poor, the insane, the outcasts. Through this interest, I’ve got a wealth of ideas to draw from. Women have always been secondary citizens!

In terms of research for any tour, it starts with reading as much as I can, watching documentaries, films, academic papers, anything on the subject I can get my hands on. For my forthcoming tour on the history of London’s sex workers, I am visiting art galleries, museums, watching TV series, and going to lectures on the subject.

Herstorical Tours evolved from Hex and the City - my first idea was a tour about witch history in London as although there are some that cover it, I felt that it wasn't a subject widely understood and certainly not as well-known about as say, the Salem trials in America or the Pendle witches in Lancashire. We don’t have any plaques or monuments in London commemorating executed witches, for example. I only intended on running this tour as a one off but realised after the success of it that there were so many more stories to be told!

A woman is stood with her arms stretched out wide. She's looking up at her right hand, which is holding a wand
Paul Phipps-Williams Photography

Why do you think it’s important to inform people of women’s history?  

At least half of the world is women!

And there is a reason ‘HIStory’ is named that! Things are much better now than they were, but women’s stories and women’s voices have traditionally been erased from the history books, and where they are included, their stories are often told by men, or through the male gaze which obviously skews the perspective and leaves a huge imbalance. I want to address this with my tours.

I also think we’re living through times of massive change and rebalance socially and politically. Women are starting to be heard and stand in their power. The ‘feminine’ is being respected more than it was. I think this is happening not just on a massive, collective level but also on a personal one for all of us individually. I personally went through a lot of personal trauma which helped spur me to find my power and stand up against the deeply imbedded misogyny in society, and I think that resonates with many of us today.

How can people book your tours?  

Go to our website herstoricaltours.co.uk where you will find all the information you need about our tours including booking links.

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