IT IS 150 years since the birth of the Britain’s Queen of the Desert Gertrude Bell - an extraordinary writer, photographer, mountaineer, archaeologist and linguist who helped found modern Iraq. Now the village where she grew up has organised a celebration of the pioneer’s life.

The village of East Rounton, near Northallerton, has organised a weekend festival devoted to their most famous daughter, whose knowledge and love of the Middle East resulted in her being called to help establish the modern state of Iraq.

The exhibition, on Saturday, July 14 and Sunday, July 15, will feature exhibitions, talks, films and refreshments and the launch of a new book on the explorer's life, BEZIQUE: The Private Life of Gertrude Bell, former Teesside University lecturer Graham Best.

Gertrude’s niece, Lady Susanna Richmond, still lives in East Rounton and also hopes to attend.

One of the organisers, Jan Long, said Lady Richmond can still remember sitting on her aunt’s knee as a child.

She added: “Gertrude Bell was an extraordinary woman, born into a family of great wealth; keenly intelligent, she studied history and philosophy at Oxford University, embarked on world tours, travelled alone through Arabia and the near east, and befriended tribes. She climbed mountains, landscaped gardens, became an archaeologist and was a gifted photographer.”

Gertrude Bell was born in Washington Hall in County Durham and grew up in Redcar and the now demolished Rounton Grange near Stokesley in North Yorkshire, where she continued to return throughout her adult life.

Her grandfather, industrialist Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell and her father both encouraged her curiosity for the world and she became the first woman to obtain a First Class degree at Oxford in history and philosophy.

Gertrude climbed mountains – scaling Mount Blanc at the turn of the 1900s - and travelled extensively through the deserts of the Middle East. Her mastery of eight languages, including Arabic, Persian and Turkish, enabled her to move freely in the Middle East, where she was trusted and respected and able to befriend tribes.

The knowledge she gained was put to use when she was instrumental in drumming up support from tribes in the region during the campaign against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. After the war, she assisted the Government in drawing up the borders for modern-day Iraq and Jordan.

After the British invasion of Mesopotamia in November 1914, with the military rank of major, she became Oriental Secretary in the British Legation in Baghdad.

Credited with establishing the modern-day boundaries of Iraq, she played a central role in securing the Emir Faisal of Mecca as the country’s king in 1921. She had an important relationship with T E Lawrence (of Arabia).

The only woman attending the 1921 Cairo Conference, she was at it a prominent adviser to Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill.

An object of fascination on account of her private life, her ill-fated engagement to a young diplomat and her love affair with a married man which ended in tragedy, she was a legend in her own lifetime until the light that had burned so brightly faded after her mysterious death in 1926, two days before her 58th birthday.

She was accorded an Iraqi state funeral. King George V said, ‘The nation shall mourn her passing’ and wrote to Sir Hugh and Lady Bell, her parents, expressing his sympathy for the loss of their 'gifted daughter'.

The exhibition and book launch are free and runs from 10.30am until 4pm on Saturday, July 14 and from 10am until 2pm on Sunday, July 15.

At 7pm on Saturday there will be an evening illustrated lecture, The Fascinating Gertrude Bell by author Graham Best and Jan Long.