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Suffrage Stories: Helen Watts And The Mystery Of The Unclaimed Trunk

In May I attended a very interesting seminar – ‘”I am a part of all who I have met”: Why Social Networks Mattered for Suffragette Militancy‘ – given at the Institute of Historical Research by Dr Gemma Edwards of Manchester University. In the course of this Gemma demonstrated how social network theory could be used to re-construct the networks that formed around individual suffragettes and how these networks could then be analysed to demonstrate the subject’s primary relationships and the influences likely to have been exerted on and by them. For an illuminating article by Gemma on the subject see here.

For her paper at the IHR Gemma concentrated on two known suffragettes – Mary Blathwayt and Helen Watts – and related that she had a particular connection with the latter because it was thanks to her own father that papers relating to Helen Watts’ suffragette activities are now held in Nottinghamshire Archives. I little realised when I sat there reading through the Watts’ papers in the late 1990s that they had such a romantic past (or at least romantic to an historical detective).

For, Gemma explained, in the 1980s her father, a Bristol history teacher, had set project work for his class and that one pupil had chosen as her subject the local women’s suffrage movement. She had then been sufficiently enterprising as to place an advertisement in a local paper asking for any new information. Rather amazingly a reply was received from a worker at Avonmouth Docks to say that a quantity of suffrage-related papers were held in a trunk that lay, apparently unclaimed, in a warehouse. The papers related to the suffrage activity of Nottingham-based Helen Kirkpatrick Watts. Gemma’s father was permitted to borrow and photocopy them, subsequently depositing the copies in the Nottinghamshire Archives.

Helen Watts photographed by Col Blathwayt (photo courtesy of Bath In Time website)

Helen Watts photographed by Col Blathwayt (photo courtesy of Bath In Time website)

Knowing nothing of this rather bizarre provenance I duly wrote an entry on Helen Watts for The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide, recounting her suffragette life. I discovered, from an issue of Calling All Women, the newsletter published by the Suffragette Fellowship, that Helen had emigrated to Canada – to Vancouver – in 1965, the wording suggesting that this was a permanent move. I did like to anchor my subjects’ earthly existence with firm birth and death dates but in those pre-internet days I assumed that was as far as I could follow her – having no way then of discovering dates of death in Canada.

However, after Gemma’s seminar I pondered on the mystery of how the trunk could have lain apparently abandoned at Avonmouth. Even though she had flown to Canada and organised for her belonging to have followed her by sea Helen Watts would surely have been on tenterhooks to ensure their safe arrival. Thus it seemed doubtful that the trunk could have failed to leave Avonmouth in 1965.

In the days of my Reference Guide research all tracking of births, marriages and deaths had to be done by working through the hefty volumes held in the Family Record Office and its predecessors. Now, however, I can sit at my computer and at a click find dates in a second. So it was that, after Gemma’s talk, I entered details for Helen Watts and discovered that she had not died in Canada but in England – in Chilcompton, Somerset, aged 91 – on 18 August 1972 . Her permanent address at the time was 36 York Avenue, Hove. Her ’emigration’ had clearly not been permanent. However, one of her sisters, Ethelinda, a teacher, does seem to have taken up permanent residence in Canada, and in 1965 it was presumably Helen’s intention to live with her. Ethelinda Watts died in Vancouver three months after Helen – in November 1972.

Helen Watts' suffragette memorabilia (courtesy of Christie's website)

Helen Watts’ suffragette memorabilia (courtesy of Christie’s website)

My suggestion is, therefore, that the trunk had actually completed its return journey from Canada when it lay forgotten at Avonmouth. Possibly by then Helen Watts was too infirm to keep track of her possessions – however treasured. It is not known what has happened to the trunk and the originals of the papers – perhaps Helen Watts’ wider family (Nevile Watts has numerous descendants) were eventually made aware of them. What must have been her most valuable suffragette mementoes – her hunger-strike medal and Holloway brooch – did resurface – for they were sold at auction in London in 1999. However it is more than likely that Helen Watts carried such an iconic item with her on her journey home rather than consigning it to the trunk.

A little more investigation revealed something more of Helen Watts’ life after her brief and dramatic involvement with the Women’s Social and Political Union than was available when I wrote her Reference Guide biography. By 1911 she had left Nottingham and was living with her brother, Nevile, in Chilcompton in Somerset. He had rebelled in his own way against his family’s Anglican tradition (Helen and Nevile’s father was vicar of Lenton, on the outskirts of Nottingham), was now a classics teacher at Downside College, a renowned Roman Catholic school, and later converted to Roman Catholicism.  You can read a short autobiographical article by Nevile Watts here.

Nevile Watts married, fathered five sons, published several books and continued to live in Chilcompton. Helen probably remained in the area for some years – possibly joined by her other sister, Alice. Certainly in the 1950s the ‘Misses Watts’ are listed in the phone book as living at Crosslands, Wells Road, Chilcompton.

The moral of this tale is that papers related to the suffrage movement can turn up in the most unexpected places. If you come across any do let me know…


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Kate Frye’s Suffrage Diary: London’s First Zepp Raid 1915

Kate Frye cover


Kate is living in Pimlico and still working at the office of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage in Knightsbridge. The society is now devoting itself to supporting the war effort.

‘Tuesday 1 June 1915

To office and a very busy day. News of a raid on London last night – Zepps – and bombs have been dropped – some deaths. No places mentioned but I know they went to the East End. So it’s come at last. It is a horrible feeling.

I had a quick lunch with Constance [Constance Gilbey, her cousin] at Tudor. had to go back before 2 o’clock though everything was ready for the meeting and it was a packed one. We had it in our Hall – and the speakers were Miss Damer Dawson – on the Women Police Service and Alexandra [Wright] on the Canteen [set up by the New Constitutional Society at the Enfield Lock Small Arms Factory]. I thought the latter did very well for her, but of course she could not be other than herself and a sort of unpleasingness creeps in and after Miss Dawson who was just delightful – well there it was. But the meeting was a great success – though as I told Mrs Hartley it was a Women’s Police audience and not ours.

Cleared up as much as I could – then as Alexandra and Mrs Fausset waited we ended by walking across the park together. We saw A. to her turning and then went on and had some dinner at Arthur’s Stores. Mrs Faussett’s husband is down with scarlet fever and she is very lonely. We walked together to Royal Oak where she got a bus and I continued my ramble to Marble Arch. Stopped on my way to send Post Cards to Mother, and John to let them know I was safe. Of course all our talk was of Zepps – everyone feverish with the subject and none of us too comfortable about the matter. 

Two buses back. A little writing then bed. I couldn’t sleep at first – so read. It been much warmer but a very heavy day.’

zepp raid

For more information on the first London Zeppelin raid see here

 Margaret Damer Dawson was one of the founders, in 1915, of the Women’s Police Service.

You can read about Kate Frye’s work as an organiser with the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s suffrage diary. – for full details see here.

cover e-book

 For much more about Kate’s life – as told in her biography, based entirely on her own diary, – see here.


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Caroline Crommelin and Florence Goring Thomas: 19thc Interior Decorators: Who Were They?

Caroline Anna de Cherois Crommelin (c 1854-1910) was born in Co Down, Ireland, one of the many children of Samuel  de la Cherois Crommelin of  Carrowdore Castle.

Carrowdore Castle

Carrowdore Castle

Although of gentle birth, the family had little money. Political unrest in Ulster forced a move to England and after their father’s death in 1885 Caroline Crommelin and her sisters found it necessary to work to support themselves.

May Crommelin

May Crommelin

Caroline’s elder sister, May, became a novelist and enjoyed a measure of popular success. In 1903 another sister, Constance, married John Masefield (who was very much her junior).

In 1886 another of the sisters, Florence, married a solicitor, Rhys Goring Thomas, and in the late 1880s with Caroline, who seems to have been the driving force, embarked on a career as a ‘lady decorator’. The pair were able to travel easily along the path blazed for them a decade earlier by Rhoda and Agnes Garrett.

Unlike the Garretts, Caroline and Florence do not appear to have had any specific training, although years later Caroline wrote that an apprenticeship was essential. Rather, they relied on what was assumed to be a natural taste absorbed from their early surroundings. In a later interview Caroline described how their father had given the two of them a room in Carrowdore Castle to do with as they wished and from painting and papering this room they had learned their trade. Whereas Rhoda and Agnes Garrett were happy to deal with drains and internal structures, I doubt that such practicalities fell within the Crommelin sisters’ remit.

It was ‘beautifying’ that was the word most often used to describe Caroline Crommelin’s work. An article by Mary Frances Billington in The Woman’s World, 1890, describes how in 1888 Caroline Crommelin  set up a depot at 12 Buckingham Palace Road for the ‘sale of distressed Irish ladies’ work’ and then ‘saw a wider market as a house-decorator, so she wrote ‘Art at Home’ on her door-plate, took into partnership her sister, Mrs Goring Thomas..and boldly set forth to hunt for old oak, rare Chippendale, beautiful Sheraton and Louis Seize furniture’. She attended auctions in all parts of the country and, in case there was any doubt as to the propriety of this involvement with trade, reported that she had no difficulty doing business with dealers, meeting only with civility.

Noting the popularity of old, carved oak, the sisters’ bought old plain oak pieces and then had them carved by their own craftsmen. There was always a stock of such pieces in their showroom.

The ‘Arts at Home Premises’ were opened in Victoria Street, London, in early 1891. I think their house was at 167a Victoria Street – certainly by 1898 this was Caroline Crommelin’s work premises, but it’s possible that in the late 1880s she was working from 143 Victoria Street. Of the ‘Arts at Home’ premises The Sheffield Telegraph (9 March 1891) described how’charmingly arranged rooms, stored with delightful old oak, Sheraton, and Chippendale furniture, quaint brass ornaments, old silver, beautiful tapestries, and old china were crowded all afternoon with the many friends of the clever hostesses.’..The oak room featured a delightful ‘cosy corner’ in dark oak with blue china arranged on the top ledge against the pink walls. May Billington’s article includes a line-drawing of a corner of the ‘Arts at Home’ showroom.

In its 23 November 1895 issue the York Herald commented of Caroline Crommelin that  ‘Her house in Victoria St is conspicuous to the passer by for the pretty arrangement of its curtains, and inside the artistic element is even more apparent. Miss Crommelin has been very successful as a house beautifier and her opinion has been much sought after and esteemed by those who like the home to be dainty and harmonious.’

In 1891 the sisters also displayed their wares at the Women’s Handicrafts Exhibition at Westminster Town Hall. The Manchester Times singled them (‘two of our cleverest art decorators’) out for praise.  ‘These ladies have shown that… old oak furniture need not be gloomy and dusty and that new furniture may be made to look as good as old, even if the old be Chippendale or Sheraton, Queen Anne or Dutch marqueterie.’

One of Caroline Crommelin’s first ‘beautifying’ commissions was carried out for Lord and Lady Dufferin on the British Embassy in Rome in 1890/1891. The Manchester Guardian (8 Oct 1889) reported that she redecorated the entire embassy. Doubtless this plum commission was not unconnected to the fact that the Dufferin estate in Co Down was a mere 10 miles from Carrowdore Castle; the families were presumably known to each other. Rather more surprising is the claim made in an interview with her in the Women’s Penny Paper, 23 Nov 1889,  that she had ‘supplied nearly all the furniture to Lord Cholmondeley’s old place at Houton [sic].  Houghton Hall was let to tenants during the 19th century so, perhaps, there is a kernel of truth buried in this statement – but I don’t think we need go looking at Houghton as it is today for evidence of Caroline Crommelin’s involvement in its decoration.

In interviews Caroline Crommelin also made clear that she  ‘undertakes, when required, to furnish  a whole or any part of a house, either going with the customer to different firms or selecting for them’ and ‘does not confine herself to decorative work alone, and will put up blinds or attend to the whitewashing of a ceiling with the most professional alacrity’.

Both Caroline and Florence were supporters of the campaign to give the vote to women householders and were keen to see women’s advancements in the professions – particularly as architects.

In 1895 Caroline Crommelin married Robert Barton Shaw, nephew of a former Recorder of Dublin, who in the 1901 census return is described as an estate agent. I wonder if his wife helped in ‘beautifying’ houses he had for sale? In 1901 they were living at 50 Morpeth Mansions, Morpeth Terrace. Caroline in this census return is described as an ’employer’. Florence lived close by -in 1891 at 3 Morpeth Terrace. However hers was to be a short-lived career – she died in 1895, aged only 37, a few months before her sister’s marriage. In the 1889 Penny Paper interview Florence was quoted as saying ‘I believe everybody is happier for working. It carries  one into a new life, and one does not have time to think of being ill’. In the light of her early death this has a certain poignancy, suggesting she may have had a chronic illness to overcome.

Caroline carried on the business on her own and in 1903 teamed up with her sister, May, to write a chapter on ‘Furniture and Decoration’ in Some Arts and Crafts (ed Ethel Mckenna), published in The Woman’s Library series by Chapman & Hall. In this they ran through the various periods of furniture and room design but did not bother to disguise their support for one style in particular. ‘Anyone of artistic feeling is sensible of a singular sense of well-being on entering a genuine Queen Anne sitting-room. If analysed, the sensation will be found to arise from an instantaneous inner perception that all is in just proportion. The height and size of the room obey accurate laws. Its ceiling is relieved by geometrical designs. The walls are half-wainscoted; the polished floor shows up the tapestry-like carpet in the centre. The ornaments of furniture and general decoration are neither profuse, grotesque, nor severe. In all, the fatal “too much” is avoided.’

Caroline Crommelin (or, rather, Mrs Barton Shaw)  died at 18 Albion Place, Ramsgate on 1 February 1910.


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Suffrage Stories: Two New Exhibitions

Last week I visited two small exhibitions – both centring on the theme of ‘Campaigning’.

The first was a temporary exhibition (alas, it ends tomorrow, Friday 22 May, so hurry to catch it) – Blackguards in Bonnets – at the impressive Jewish Museum in Camden Town. This tells the story of the involvement of Jewish women and men in the struggle for emancipation. It centres particularly on the 20th-century campaign for women’s suffrage in which many members of the Jewish community took leading roles.

Israel Zangwill with

Israel Zangwill at the WSPU’s June 1908 demonstration with, on the far left, Emmeline Pethick Lawrence and on his right Christabel Pankhurst

The writer, Israel Zangwill, a noted speaker on behalf of the movement, is represented by this image. In March 1912 Kate Frye attended a meeting addressed by him and wrote of it in her diary:

‘”I turned to Mrs Mansel, just before he finished, saying ‘Doesn’t he make one think of – and isn’t he like – Spring’” That word concluded his speech, and it was like the Spring in its freshness and gaiety, life and hope, and so deliciously witty. I have never heard a large audience laugh so quickly and as gladly as this audience, the response was almost before the spoken word, in fact there was not a dull flash of the eye all the evening.’

Also on display are a number of items that related to the involvement in the WSPU and Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage campaigns of the wealthy Lowy family. Henrietta Lowy and four of her daughters had joined the WSPU in 1908.

76 Holland Park - once the Lowys' home - and one from which they were all absent on Census Night, 1911

76 Holland Park – once the Lowys’ home – and one from which they were all absent on Census Night, 1911, following the WSPU boycott call

Here, too, you can see Gertrude Lowy’s hunger-strike medal. She was imprisoned after taking part in the March 1912 window-smashing raid.

Lowy hunger strikeBut it wasn’t only wealthy members of the established Jewish community whom suffrage campaigners were keen to convert to their cause. In the autumn of 1913 the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage took their message down to the sweatshops of Whitechapel.

Yiddish - query - leafletThis leaflet, printed in Yiddish, was saved by Kate Frye from the quantity she delivered and is on display, together with her diary open at the entry for 27 September 1913, in which she describes a tea party the NCS gave for the local woman and girls, writing:

‘I chatted and handed round. The girls were so nice – nearly all Jewesses. The pitiful tales they tell of the sweated work is awful – and they are so intelligent – and quite well dressed. The Jews are an example to the gentile in that way.’

Later in the week I went to the LSE Library to view their new exhibition space – and the first exhibition to be shown in it.

The theme is ‘Campaigning’ – covering the suffrage movement (a slight nod to male enfranchisement with the greater emphasis placed on the women’s campaign), Liberations – Gay and Female – and campaigns for Peace. One wall of the exhibition space allows for the display of images, moving on a loop – with space in front devoted to a static display of CND badges, a couple of 19th-century documents, an Artists’ Suffrage League poster and a ‘Votes for Women’ scarf. These advertise, as it were, the themes of the three types of campaign.

This poster - focussing on the plight of the unenfranchised woman graduate - should appeal to at least 50% of LSE students. For my post on the artist see here

This poster – focussing on the plight of the unenfranchised woman graduate – should appeal to at least 50% of LSE students. For my post on the artist see here

In the centre of the space is a single display case in which neatly chosen documents highlight the different ways in which the campaigns were organised – and, most importantly in my eyes, stresses the rifts and divisions that are a sine qua non, it would appear, of all pressure groups.

Although small, the exhibition makes its points very well. They stick in the mind. It’s presumably intended to catch the eye of LSE students as they pass in and out of the Library entrance and is not intended to deliver in-depth information. Small and simple is no bad thing.

But, oh dear, I did wish that some acknowledgement of Millicent Fawcett and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies had been included in the display. ‘Suffrage’ yet again was only represented by Mrs Pankhurst and the WSPU, whereas the Women’s Library@LSE contains a wealth of material inherited from the NUWSS. As I viewed ‘Campaigning’ it occurred to me that it would be rather a good idea if a future exhibition could, in the same simple manner, by making reference to the NUWSS and the Women’s Freedom League (and, perhaps, some of the smaller societies), demonstrate that the women’s suffrage campaign was more complicated and multifaceted than it is popularly presented.


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Suffrage Stories: The 1866 Petition: The Aldeburgh Connection

In a previous post I recorded something of how the 1866 women’s suffrage petition came into being. Comprising 1499 names, it was presented to John Stuart Mill, MP for Westminster, by Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett.

Names on the printed form of the petition are listed in alphabetical order, usually accompanied by some form of geographical address. Reading through it one notes that, while some towns have mustered only one or two signatures, others have attracted many more.

That a clutch of signatories to the petition lived in Aldeburgh, a small coastal town (1991 inhabitants in 1871) in Suffolk, had everything to do with the fact that Elizabeth Garrett LSA was one of the principal organizers of the petition. Aldeburgh was home to her family, her father, Newson Garrett, a driving force in its development. 

Elizabeth Garrett c 1866 (courtesy of Wellcome Images)

Elizabeth Garrett c 1866 (courtesy of Wellcome Images)

Just a few months earlier Elizabeth Garrett had qualified as a doctor, the first woman to do so in Britain, and signed from her London home, 20 Upper Berkeley Street, the premises of her nascent practice and the headquarters of the petition committee. She ensured that the women of Aldeburgh, her home town, were canvassed.  It is likely that it was her younger sisters, Agnes and Millicent, both too young to sign, who took petition forms round to their neighbours.

Aldeburgh Town StepsI have extracted the Aldeburgh names from the petition and below give such details as can now be gleaned of these women, none of whom, as far as I can tell, ever again took part in any political protest.


Anna Eliza Begbie (courtesy of Ancestry.co.uk website)

Anna Eliza Begbie (courtesy of Ancestry.co.uk website)

She was Anna Eliza Begbie, née Swiney (1839-1915). She married Mars Hamilton Begbie in Cheltenham in 1858; despite his warlike name he had been ordained. By 1866 they were living in Aldeburgh where, according to the Cambridge Alumni List he was headmaster from 1865 to 1869 of ‘Aldborough School’ – a grammar school. They lived at Crespigny House, a late-18th-century mansion.

Although Anna Eliza Begbie doesn’t appear to have taken any further part in the suffrage campaign, it was surely a subject of discussion among her extended family after her brother, John, married in 1871. His wife, [Rosa] Frances Swiney, who lived in Cheltenham, was an influential campaigner for suffrage – and for Theosophy – in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


She was born Hannah Jane Spencer (1837 -1896) in Wrotham, Kent. She married Theodore Grant Cresy, a surgeon, in 1859 and by the time she signed the petition was the mother of 4 sons; another was born four months later. The family lived in Aldeburgh from 1860 – 1868. During their time in Aldeburgh (1860-1868) the family lived at The Uplands, the house that had been the Garretts’ first home after they returned from London when Elizabeth was a young girl.

Uplands House, which carries two blue plaques - one for Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and the other for Millicent Fawcett. One plaque can just be glimpsed in the photo

Uplands House, which carries two blue plaques – one for Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and the other for Millicent Fawcett. One plaque can just be glimpsed in the photo

Hannah Cresy’s mother-in-law, Eliza Cresy [or Cressy], who lived at Riverhead in Kent, and her sister-in-law, Mary Cresy, who lived in Norwood, also signed the petition, suggesting that the organizers had asked for names of family members likely to be sympathetic to the petition.


Probably a misreading of ‘Mrs Henry Calver’. She was Mary Anne (1819-?). who lived with her husband, a plumber, painter and glazier master, in the High Street.


Something of a mystery – I can’t find any trace of a Margaret Dance, whether in Aldeburgh or elsewhere. However the signature may have been that of Mary E Dance, daughter of James Dance, Aldeburgh’s parish clerk. It is entirely possible that her signature was mis-transcribed as ‘Margaret’ and she would have been just old enough to sign.


There is, however, no doubt about this signatory. She was Frances Harriett Emma Dowler (1812-1899), wife of Henry Turner Dowler, who for 35 years was Aldeburgh’s vicar.  The couple had married in 1838. In her autobiography Millicent Fawcett describes how Newson Garrett  frequently engaged in very public quarrels with Dowler who besides being vicar was also the town bailiff and a capital burgess. On these occasions Garrett would insist that his family attended church services at the dissenting chapel rather than at Dowler’s church. Relations with Mrs Dowler were unaffected by these rows.

In May 1867 the Rev Dowler performed the wedding service at marriage of Millicent Garrett and Henry Fawcett.


She was Mary Anne (née Knights) (1819-1870), wife of William Garrard, brewer, maltster and secretary to the Aldeburgh gas company – one of Newson Garrett’s pet projects. In the 1840s William Garrard had been known as ‘the Ipswich Chartist’ and was one of the founders of the Ipswich Working Men’s Association. In the 1860s the couple lived on Church Hill in Aldeburgh.


Louisa and Newson Garrett in old age

Louisa and Newson Garrett in old age

She was Louisa Garrett (nee Dunnell) ( 1814-1903), wife to Newson Garrett and mother to Louisa (later Smith), Elizabeth (later Garrett Anderson), Newson, Edmund, Alice (later Cowell), Agnes, Millicent (later Fawcett), Samuel, Josephine (later Salmon), and George (another son died in infancy). Although Louisa Garrett was of a far more conservative temperament than her husband she was always supportive of her daughters’ enterprises. She had initially opposed Elizabeth’s desire to become a doctor but, having come round to the idea, was the weekly recipient of letters telling of, at first, the difficulties encountered and later of the success in the medical world achieved as her daughter developed her practice and set up her hospital. Louisa would have signed the petition in the family home, Alde House.

 GARRETT, MRS E.  Snape Bridge

She was Gertrude Mary Littlewood (c1840-1924) who had married Elizabeth Garrett’s brother, Edmund, in 1862. Unlike his brother, Samuel, Edmund Garrett was not supportive of women’s advancement. In fact he opposed the suggestion that his sister Alice might work in the family business’s counting house. Edmund Garrett and his wife were then living in a house built by Newson Garret next to his maltings at Snape. At the moment (May 2015) it’s for sale – see here for details.

 GARRETT, MRS N.D. Calcutta

She was Kate Bruff, who in 1860 had married Elizabeth’s brother, Newson. He was the black sheep of the Garrett family – at this time he was serving with the army in India – a man whose enterprises (unlike those of his sisters) always went awry.  Kate’s father, Peter Bruff, was a civil engineer who was involved in several of Newson Garrett (senior)’s plans for improving Aldeburgh. Newson (junior’s) sisters were always rather sorry for Kate.

Despite being so close to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Millicent Fawcett, none of this  clutch of Aldeburgh-based Garrett women took any further part in the suffrage campaign.


She was probably Harriet Green (b 1824) a widow living at Beach Cottage.  She is listed in the 1869 Aldeburgh trade directory as being a lodging house keeper.


She was Florence, the daughter of the Rev Dowler, who in 1865 had married John Walter Hawkesworth.


She was Harriet Shute (1838-1907) who had married Nicholas Fenwick Hele in 1859. She gave birth to her third daughter, Ida, a couple of months after signing the petition. Her husband was a surgeon and the author of Notes and Jottings About Aldeburgh,  In 1866 the family lived in Aldeburgh’s High Street. Harriet continued to live in the town after her husband’s death in 1892 – but died in 1907 at St Johns, Newfoundland.


She could have been either Harriet Hunt (1806- 1884), wife of William Hunt, or Cecilia Hunt (1824- 1868), wife of Edward Hunt. Both men were boat builders. Perhaps the younger woman is the more likely candidate.


She was Caroline James, a widow by the time she signed the petition. She lived with several servants in a large late-18th-century house in Victoria Road – Wyndham House. She was the grandmother of M.R. James, the author of many Suffolk-based ghost stories.


Sarah Kersey (1811-1886) in 1865 had a lodging house in the High Street. Maria and Elizabeth were her younger sisters. All three were unmarried.


Sarah Mannall (1797-1869) was the wife of John Mannall. He had run the Crown and Castle Hotel in Orford for many years before eventually handing it over to his daughter and son-in-law


Crag Path, Aldeburgh. Brudenell Terrace, the row of tall houses on left, were built by Newson Garrett . Their red-brick gloom has now been transformed by pastel paints

Crag Path, Aldeburgh. Brudenell Terrace, the row of tall houses on left, were built by Newson Garrett . Their red-brick gloom has now been transformed by pastel paints

She was probably Mrs Mary Anne Martin, who in 1865 ran a ladies’ school in a house in Brudenell Terrace.


She was Henrietta Vernon-Wentworth who in 1859 had married Arthur Bethell Thellusson. She died in 1873 – on the same day as one of her young daughters. She had seven children and by the time she signed the petition she had already lost two infant daughters and was to lose another three months before her own death. The family lived at Thellusson Lodge. I seem to remember that Millicent Fawcett described the Thellussons as the ‘aristocracy of Aldeburgh'; for the local canvassers for the petition it must have been something of a coup to have Henrietta Thellusson’s signature on the petition.


Alas, I can find no clue at all  as to who this final Aldeburgh signatory to the petition could have been.

After having made this initial bid for emancipation it doesn’t appear that the women of Aldeburgh could be tempted to join the suffrage campaign that followed. During the remainder of the 19th century there is no record of a suffrage meeting being held in the town – described by one contemporary Suffolk author as lying in this ‘quiet, grave, sleepy, Conservative region’. 

You can read much more about Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Millicent Fawcett in Elizabeth Crawford, Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circlepublished by Francis Boutle.

Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a regional survey, published by Routledge, surveys the entire suffrage campaign in Suffolk – and in the rest of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.



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Suffrage Stories: The 1866 Petition: J.S. Mill And The South Hackney Connection

In a previous post that I wrote about the 1866 women’s suffrage petition I recorded something of how the petition came into being and investigated the connections that had led an erstwhile near neighbour of mine, Fanny Maughan of Goswell Road, to be a signatory. I deduced that Fanny – or I suppose more especially her husband – were members of a working-class circle supportive of John Stuart Mill who, as MP for Westminster, was to present the petition in Parliament.

Over the years I have researched many of the names on the petition – and thought I’d bring to your attention three other women who caught my eye simply because they lived in another place I know well – south Hackney.

For instance, why was Mrs John Plummer of 4 Homer Terrace, Hackney Wick a signatory to the petition? And who was she?

Mary Ann Jenkinson had been born in Kettering c 1839 and as a young woman earned her living as a milliner. In 1860 she married John Plummer, who worked in a staymaking factory in the town. He had been born in London, an illness in infancy rendering him deaf and lame. His family had been too poor to provide him with any education; he had educated himself. After moving with his family to Kettering he made a name locally as a labourr campaigner and versifier and in 1859 published his first book, Freedom of Labour.

By 1866 the Plummers had moved to London, to Homer Terrace in south Hackney, at the east end of Victoria Park, close to Hackney Wick. In the 1871 census John Plummer described himself as a ‘newspaper editor'; he worked on a wide range of magazines, almanacs, and trade journals and founded the London Figaro.

Political economy was John Plummer’s principal interest and for some years he had been in touch with John Stuart Mill, who in 1862 described him as one of the ‘most inspiring examples of mental cultivation and high principle in a self-instructed working man.’

Therefore it is not at all surprising that in June 1866 Mary Ann Plummer was approached by Mill’s step-daughter, Helen Taylor, and asked to add her signature to the petition – as well as any she could obtain from her friends. (See LSE Archive Mill/Taylor Papers/13 ff 242 for a letter from Mary Ann Plummer to Helen Taylor, 5 June 1866).

At this time – as well as involvement with the suffrage – John Plummer was leading a campaign, supported by Mill, to preserve and extend Victoria Park – in particular to prevent the erection of a large gas works at the Hackney Wick end.

Working alongside Plummer on the Victoria Park Preservation Committee was George Dornbusch, of 11 Grove Villas, South Hackney, whose wife and daughter also signed the suffrage petition.

George Dornbusch (photo courtesy of Ancestry website)

George Dornbusch (photo courtesy of Ancestry website)

George Dornbusch was a native of Trieste and had been described by George Holyoake as ‘a fugitive German communist’. He had arrived in England from Hamburg in 1845 and became a leading figure in the early vegetarian movement in London, naming his house in Malvern Road, Dalston – ‘Vegetarian Cottage’. He lived there with his first wife, Amalie, who was also involved with the vegetarian movement (see Gregory Of  Victorians and Vegetarians: The Victorian Movement in Victorian Britain).  Dornbusch, who was described by Richard Cobden as ‘a most unsafe and excitable person’ was also an activist in the anti-vaccination and the peace movements.

In 1863 Dornbusch was a member of the general committee of the Emancipation Society – along with John Stuart Mill, P.A. Taylor, Dr Richard Pankhurst and many others who were shortly to support the emancipation of women – as well as of slaves.

By 1866 Dornbusch had moved from Dalston to Grove Villas, Hackney Wick and by 1870 he was a vestryman in Homerton Ward.

The Mrs George Dornbusch who signed the 1866 petition was not Amalie but Emma, 20 years Dornbusch’s junior, who in 1861 had been his housekeeper. I presume that Amalie had died although I haven’t found a record of her death – nor can I find any trace of his marriage to Emma. Ada, who also signed the petition, was Dornbusch’s  daughter by Amalie.

Although there is no evidence that Emma or Ada Dornbusch continued to be active in the suffrage movement after 1866, George Dornbusch did give his support – as a member of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1867 and 1868 and of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1871/72 shortly before his death in 1873.He is buried in Abney Park Cemetery.

In 1880 Emma Dornbusch remarried. Her new husband, George Tompsitt, was an Australian shipper ten years her junior and in 1881 they sailed to Australia, together with their young son, George, and Ernest and Conrad Dornbusch, the sons from Emma’s first marriage. Emma kept a delightful diary of the voyage which was published as a pamphlet in Melbourne on their arrival. She died in 1890, in Queanbeyan, New South Wales.

Ada Dornbusch married in 1878 and continued to live in south Hackney with her husband, William Beurle, a dealer in precious stones. She had three children and died in 1909.

There are two other women from Grove Villas whose names are on the petiton – Mrs C.A. Dawson and Mrs A. Young, who both give number 4 as their address. The latter was probably Mary, the wife of Alexander Young, a retired baker and confectioner, who the 1871 census shows living at number 7.

Mary Ann Plummer had taken Helen Taylor’s request seriously and had approached likely signatories amongst her friends in her immediate south Hackney neighbourhood. There were other Hackney women who also signed the petition – but the little group of working-class women, living at the east end of Victoria Park, are linked by their close association with John Stuart Mill.

In 1879 John and Mary Ann Plummer and their family emigrated to Australia, where he enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, continuing to support labour reform. He died in 1914, survived by Mary Ann.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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Kate Frye’s Diary: 20 April 1915: Condemnation Of The Prattlers For Peace

Kate Frye coverIn April 1915 Kate Frye was still working with the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage when it was announced that an International Congress of Women would convene at The Hague. Around 1200 delegates from 12 countries attended the Congress hoping that the women of the warring countries could be organized to exert a moral force for peace. The British government, however, prevented interested British women from attending by refusing them passports and suspending the ferry service across the Channel. The Peace Conference led to the founding of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom but, as Kate relates, the issue divided suffragists.

‘Tuesday April 20th 1915 

Some office work then to finish off the Hall – put things out for Sale etc. I arranged a stall of Workroom things – haberdashery etc. Meeting at 3 o’clock. Afterwards there was a great disturbance. Mrs Cecil Chapman from the Chair condemned the Peace Conference which is to take place at The Hague. I agree with her. How can English Women at the moment go and prattle with German Women of peace when there will and can be no peace until Germany has withdrawn her hosts from Belgium, France and Poland?

At the moment when thousands are laying down their lives for women to talk like that is to my mind showing a tremendous lack of nationalism. We didn’t want to fight – we were totally unprepared – the more credit in one way to us – and if German women want peace let them begin to preach it in Germany. I very much suspect this talk.

However to go back. Miss Wiskemann, who is half German, didn’t like it – and, instead of publicly protesting, she was heard saying things to people by several of our members who are most fiery the other way and told Mrs Hartley we had a traitor in our midst, and Mrs Hartley, never too cool in an emergency, went for Gladys, whose friend Miss W. is – and I’m not sure didn’t go for Miss W. herself. Anyhow Miss W. is not coming amongst us again but going over heart and soul to the United Suffragists who I think are utterly mad and will do our cause much harm by pressing the question of ‘Votes’ at this minute. How can they – in this life and death struggle? If the NCS took that line I should have to leave them. I couldn’t bear it – it’s wicked and selfish and small – nothing matters except we beat Germany – but people are leaving us because we do not press Votes. It is a mad world.’

‘Miss Wiskemann’ was Eugenie Wiskemann, elder sister of the future historian, Elizabeth Wiskemann; Mrs Beatrice Hartley was one of the founders of the NCS, as was Gladys Wright.

Click here to see a short documentary, ‘These Dangerous Women’, about the 1300 women who held a Peace Conference at The Hague in April 1915. These were the women whom Kate condemned as prattlers for peace.

You can read about Kate Frye’s work as an organiser with the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s suffrage diary. – for full details see here.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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