A NEW novel is set to lift the lid on the remarkable life of a stage performer from Monmouthshire dubbed the strongest woman in the world.
Kate Williams, who achieved widespread fame as Vulcana between the 1890s and 1930s, ran away from her Abergavenny home and preacher father to join a travelling troupe, aged 16.
And she never looked back, making headlines with feats of strength in the UK – including on Monmouth’s Savoy Theatre stage – Europe and Australia for the next 40 years.
Incredibly, she also had a hand in one of the world’s biggest ever murder hunts, being the first to tip off police that her friend Belle Elmore, wife of Dr Crippen, had gone missing in 1910.
After the discovery of her body buried in their basement, Crippen was later arrested on board ship arriving in Canada, having sailed there with his lover dressed as a boy, in the first case cracked by the use wireless telegraphy.
The strongwoman’s story has largely been lost in the mists of time following her death aged 72 in 1946.
But now Welsh author Rebecca F John has thrown new light on her life in ’Vulcana’, released last week.
And she will be talking about the novel and Vulcana’s incredible story at a book signing at the Savoy, where the star appeared 109 years ago, next month.
As a teenager, Kate worked at a tannery in Abergavenny before meeting William Roberts at the local women’s gymnasium he ran in 1890, when she was 15. They fell in love, in spite of Roberts already having a wife and family, and they ran away to perform as Atlas and Vulcana, and were never parted again.
Kate wasn’t just super strong, at a time when women were seen as the ‘weaker sex’, she was also fearless, performing acts of heroism.
In 1888, at the age of 13, she stopped a runaway horse in Bristol, before saving two children from drowning in the River Usk in 1901, for which she received an award.
And 20 years later, when the Garrick Theatre in Edinburgh caught fire during a Society Athletes’ performance, Vulcana risked her life to save another act’s horses, and came away with serious burns on her head, again receiving commendations.
Novelist Rebecca, who comes from West Wales, told the Portobello Book Blog (portobellobookblog.com): “Vulcana is the lightly fictionalised story of the life of Kate Williams, stage name Vulcana, who was a world-famous Welsh Victorian strongwoman…
“Kate was a vocal advocate for women casting off their corsets, taking physical exercise, and becoming physically strong. Her personal life was equally bold and interesting. I found her inspirational and, as soon as I discovered her story, I knew I had to write about her.”
You can hear about the book and Vulcana’s life at the Savoy on Friday, June 9, at 7pm. See monmouth-savoy.co.uk information.