THE life of an enigmatic figure from Ilkley's past is to be remembered in a public lecture at Bradford University.

Like many well-to-do Ilkley women, Helen Rabagliati was deeply involved in grass roots Conservative politics, but her background was radically different.

Her family, the McLarens were ardent progressives who fought to achieve votes for women and her mother, Priscilla Bright McLaren, could be considered an early Scottish Emmeline Pankhurst.

In contrast Helen, who was born in 1851, went on to become President of Ben Rhydding Women's Unionist Association for 28 years until her death, and of the Ilkley-based Wharfedale Conservative Women's Club for several years after rgw First World War.

She was also active in the Mother's Union in Ben Rhydding. During the First World War, she chaired the Ladies' Belgian Hospitality Committee at Ilkley and even put up refugees in her home. In 1918 the King of the Belgians awarded her the Medaille de la Reine Elizabeth.

Visiting lecturer Doctor Jo Stanley will deliver the talk on Friday, April 27, from 10.30am to noon at the University's new conference centre, Richmond Building, Great Horton Road, Bradford.

Dr Stanley, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, will explore the mystery of why Helen came to increasingly take the opposite road politically. The lecturer said: "I became fascinated by Helen when I found that this suffragist-who-wasn't-quite lived at the bottom of my road in Manningham.

"Many civic-minded women in history are unsung and forgotten. So it's good news that someone most people have never heard of - one of Ilkley's women activists - is being discussed at an open public lecture."

Dr Stanley became fascinated with Helen Rabagliati when she discovered that they had both lived in the same street in Bradford.

Helen lived there with her husband, the famous Bradford-based Scottish doctor, Andrea Rabagliati. This descendant of political refugees was a house surgeon at Bradford Royal Infirmary who became famous for his off-beat ideas about nutrition.

He was a convinced vegetarian who favoured only two meals a day, with eight hours in between them.

The couple started Saint Catherine's Home in Bradford in 1893 as pioneers of the hospice movement.

They were also interested in saving fallen women and promoting education for girls. After the couple had five children between them, Mrs Rabagiati left her husband to carry on his work in Bradford while she moved to Whinbrae, in Wheatley Lane, Ben Rhydding.

She lived here from 1892 until her death in 1934, and her funeral was at St John's Church. In writing about her funeral the Ilkley Gazette of January 1934 described her as having a fragile personal beauty, steady grey eyes, so honest and so piercing.energetic but fragile because of a distressing and malady of the heart. She was always in subtle and beautiful clothing. The most charming Quaker grey that was not the only sign of her origin'.

Originally from Liverpool, Dr Stanley is the editor of the book Bold in her Breeches, a study of women pirates and co-author of Hello Sailor a book about homosexuality at sea.