WONERSH
© Wonersh History Society - www.wonershhistory.co.uk (WHS)
HISTORY SOCIETY

CLAUDIA PARSONS - ENGINEER, TRAVELLER, AUTHOR

(1900-1998) Born in the Indian hill station of Simla in 1900, Claudia Parsons lived with her mother, aunt and sister Betty in The Old House, The Street from 1924 to 1996. The Engineer Her first foray into technology was a course at Guildford Technical College on ‘the auto-cycle engine’. Then in 1919, when she was 18, she enrolled in a diploma course in automobile engineering at Loughborough and was one of just three girls studying engineering alongside three hundred boys. Today they have over 700 female engineering students. The Claudia Parsons Memorial Lecture is held annually at Loughborough University to honour her achievements. The Traveller She became a paid chauffeur-companion, driving clients through the most far-flung parts of Europe, America, India and the Far East, doing her own maintenance and repairs. In Delhi in 1938 she bought a second-hand Studebaker car and with the American anthropologist Kilton Stewart, travelled back to England via India, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, thus completing her journey round the world. When the Second World War broke out Claudia took a course in workshop practice for women munitions workers, devised by Verena Holmes, a friend she had met at Loughborough. She worked as a machinist in a munitions factory in London and later became a Munitions Factory Inspector. The Author Claudia wrote many stories and articles about her travels and had considerable success in 1936 with her novel Brighter Bondage and in 1941 with a travel book Vagabondage . Then in 1995, when she was in her nineties, her autobiography Century Story was published. Claudia never married, because she said men ‘very often threatened to stop me doing what I wanted to do’. She also said of her relationship with a ‘non-marrying’ diplomat that ‘as I was myself a bit of a loner and could understand his feelings, I decided to be a non-marrying wife, to meet and live with him whenever chance offered’. It would seem that Claudia’s love life was, in its day, as exceptional as her travels, which were at a time when women rarely travelled at all and certainly not alone as she did.
1992 Portrait by Margaret Palmer
Surrey Advertiser 14 September 1940