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Lockdown Research: Switching the Lens:Beyond Elizabeth Purves

In my previous post, ‘Discovering Elizabeth Purves’, I described something of the life of the Anglo-Indian daughter of Richardson Purves, who, c. 1806, having made his fortune in India, had brought her with him when he returned to England. While undertaking this research I was intrigued to discover that he had left behind at his indigo plantation in Tirhoot a man named John Purves, who had been listed in the New East India Kalendars for 1801 and 1804 as being in his employ. I thought it might be interesting to see what I could find about this branch of the Purves family, for it really would be too extraordinary if John Purves, who records show had arrived in India in 1797 specifically to assist Richardson Purves at Tirhoot, were not related to him in some way.

What I do know is that John Purves did remain in Tirhoot as an indigo planter, dying there in 1820. In the accounts drawn up after his death there is note of a payment to be made to ‘Bebee Razoo’, ‘bebee’ or ‘bibi’ being the term for an indigenous female companion/mistress. This is the only entry for a payment to an Indian woman. As I noted in my previous post, the name of Elizabeth Purves’ mother was rendered on the entry in the St Giles Cripplegate baptismal register as ‘Rajoo’. I did just wonder if that could have been a mis-transcription and perhaps the name should have been ‘Razoo’ (the name in John Purves’ accounts is written with a long tail to the ‘z’). That is, could the woman who appears as a payee in the 1820 accounts of John Purves be the mother of Elizabeth, the payment an indication of long-term maintenance ? Or, after Richardson’s departure, could she have then become the ‘bebee’ of John Purves? Or was she, perhaps, ‘bebee’ to John Purves, but an entirely different woman? Well, as usual with these attempts to peer behind the curtain that separates us from a different time and a different culture, who knows?

However, digging into the digitized India Office records I did find further evidence of the continuing existence of members of the Purves family in Bengal. For there is an entry for the baptism in 1825 of Mary, ‘daughter of John Purves, indigo planter, and a native mother’. There is no other mention at this time in the records of any John Purves other than the indigo planter at Tirhoot and I think it is safe to assume that the father of Mary is the man who was in the employ of Richardson Purves twenty years earlier.

John Purves died intestate so an inventory of his goods, as compiled for auction after his death, is the only surviving record of his life, providing a fascinating insight into the goods with which an indigo planter was surrounded. His extensive library, in particular, interested me. How did one amuse oneself in Tirhoot in the first decades of the 19th c? Why, by reading the Spectator, Edinburgh Review, Blackstone’s Commentaries, Smollett’s Works, Godwin’s Political Justice, Sporting Magazine, Debrett’s Peerage, Poems of Ossian, Smith’s Wealth of the Nations, Swift’s works, Farley’s Cookery etc etc – and numerous Voyages, Gazetteers and atlases. The household inventory does not, however, make any reference to Mary or any other child.

Seven years later the accounts drawn up, in a similar fashion, after the death of another Tirhoot indigo planter, Edward Egerton, do reveal something further about members of the Purves Indian diaspora. The first thing to note is that an 1829 announcement in the London Gazette discloses that one of the two men nominated as Egerton’s next-of-kin was his uncle ‘in England’, Richardson Purves. And, secondly, Edward Egerton’s accounts mention sums paid for the board and tuition of Miss Mary Purves, Mr William Purves, Mr James Egerton, and Miss Fanny Egerton. Extrapolation leads me to surmise that Edward Egerton was a relation of the late John Purves and, since his death, had been charged with care of his children.

I have explained that I’m pretty certain of the parentage of Mary Purves, who must have been born sometime before the death of John Purves in 1820, but what of William Purves? I can find no record of his birth or baptism but from the record of his death at Allahabad in 1870 I think we was born c 1812/1813 and, because he is recorded in Egerton’s accounts alongside Mary Purves, I cannot help thinking he must be her brother, another child of John Purves and ‘a native mother’. There is no record of John Purves having been married to a European woman.

Edward Egerton’s accounts reveal that in the early months of 1828 Mary Purves and Fanny Egerton received board and tuition from a Mrs M. Moore, but that, after November 1828, their care was transferred to Theophilus Reichardt. A little research showed that he was the Rev Reichardt, who had been born in Wurttemberg, trained in Basle, and had arrived in Calcutta in 1822 as a missionary under the aegis of the Church Missionary Society for India and the East. This was the society to which Richardson Purves and his family were generous donors. However, just at the time when he undertook the tuition of Mary and Fanny, Reichardt had left the Mission after a disagreement. He and his wife had then, as his obituary in the Calcutta Christian Observer (1836) reported, ‘entered upon the conduct of a seminary for young ladies in the city [Calcutta] where ‘he spared no toil, no pains, no watchfulness, to promote the improvement and comfort of his young charges’. I was pleased to note that the obituarist particularly mentions that ‘his was no stinted board at which his pupils fed sparingly’. Reichardt clearly remained close to Fanny Egerton for in the records of her marriage in Calcutta Cathedral in 1835 he stood as her ‘Next Friend’.

In 1840 Mary Purves married Richard Thaddeus Rutter and had two daughters – Mary, 1844, and Ellen, 1848. James Egerton was born in 1821, the son of James Egerton, an indigo planter. This information comes from his baptismal record, a ceremony he undertook late in life, in 1862. For this record he chose to give his father’s name, but not his mother’s. I think this indicates that he was certainly illegitimate and I am assuming that, therefore, his mother was Indian. I can find no trace of Fanny Egerton’s birth or baptism, but suspect she was sister to James. Her husband, Edmund Watterton Johnson, died in 1839. She had one son, born in 1837 and named for his father. She never remarried and died in 1872.

Edward Egerton’s accounts show that c.1828 young William Purves and James Egerton were receiving board and tuition from ‘Messrs Drummond and Wilson’. David Drummond was a Scotsman whose Calcutta school, Dhurmotollah Academy, offered the best English education, open to both European and mixed-race boys. Equipped with this excellent education William Purves entered government service, rising to become Registrar of the Board of Revenue in Allahabad. He married Harriette Ereth and had a numerous family, among whom the names ‘Richardson’ and ‘Egerton’ are threaded. One son, Robert Egerton Purves (1859-1943) became a renowned hydraulic engineer in the Punjab. I suspect that an effort was made to eliminate knowledge of an Indian ancestor; in his ‘Who’s Who’ entry Robert Egerton Purves merely described his parentage as ‘European’. He retired to England in the mid-1920s, bringing his family ‘home’ and ending an involvement with India that had lasted c 120 years. Although accompanied by children, unlike Richardson Purves he had made no fortune.

I daresay this post seems a little pointless, a good deal being, if not guesswork, then informed conjecture. But I have found the research instructive; on the way I’ve read something about the place of indigo in the 18th and 19thc Indian economy, the way in which the indigo factories were managed, and gleaned something of the position of those then known as ‘Eurasians’ and now as ‘Anglo-Indians’. Although I have absolute proof of the mixed parentage of Mary Purves, I cannot be sure of that of William Purves, or of Fanny and James Egerton. But it has been interesting attempting to unravel the truth. I wonder if Elizabeth Purves, an illegitimate Anglo-Indian living in England, knew anything of relations in India? There is a fascination about lives lived on the cusp of two civilisations.

Copyright All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and 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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Lockdown Research: Who Unfurled The Manchester ‘First In The Fight’ WSPU Banner?

Manchester WSPU Banner,, c. 1908

A reader of this blog has asked me to confirm who was the ‘Mrs Rachel Scott’ who unfurled the ‘First in the Fight’ Manchester WSPU banner in 1908.

You will remember that I wrote here about the discovery of the banner and the subsequent appeal that resulted in it being acquired by the People’s History Museum in Manchester. In that piece I wrote that I suspected that the woman given the honour of unfurling the banner was the Mrs Rachel Scott who had been the WSPU’s first honorary secretary, rather than Rachel Scott, wife of C.P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian. And, of course, the merest further investigation showed that it was indeed Mrs ‘Secretary’ Scott who had unfurled the banner – not least because Mrs C.P. Scott had died three years earlier, in 1905.

But my enquirer was still interested in finding out something of Mrs Rachel Scott, the ‘unfurler’….so I have done a little delving. For, although her name has often been mentioned in studies of the early days of the WSPU, she has not, as far as I can see, hitherto been credited with a real life.

I can report that she was born Rachel Lovett in Chorlton, Lancashire, in 1863, one of the many (at least 9) children of Thomas Lovett and his wife, Elizabeth. Her father was a labourer in the oilcloth industry and in 1871 the family was living next to the Marsden oilcloth factory at Canal Side, Newton Heath. Rachel’s older sisters became weavers or winders as soon as, aged 14, they left school. However, the 1881 census shows that Rachel had escaped this fate and, aged 17, was working as a pupil teacher. She presumably continued teaching until her marriage in 1890 to Henry (Harry) Charles David Scott, the son of a schoolmaster. Harry was at this time described as a ‘cashier’ but by 1901, when the family, now with four children, was living at 5 Duncan Street, Broughton, he was ‘managing director of an engineering firm’. In fact, he worked for the Manchester firm of Royles for most of his life, becoming chairman of the board of directors. At the turn of the 20th century he was a strong supporter of The Clarion, the socialist newspaper, and was a member of the Independent Labour party, paying the rent of the Party’s Manchester meeting room.

For we know it was through the Manchester ILP that Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst encountered Rachel Scott, who was one of the women she invited to the meeting at her house in Nelson Street, Manchester, on 10 October 1903, at which the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded. Mrs Scott was appointed the WSPU’s first secretary and had a letter published in the 30 October 1903 issue of The Clarion alerting fellow Socialists to the existence of this new organisation and appealing ‘to all women Socialists to join in this movement to press upon party and community the urgent need of giving to women the vote, that they may take their share of the vote for social emancipation’.

Rachel Scott maintained her involvement with the Manchester WSPU for some years, noted as present at various meetings and demonstrations, for instance appearing on Platform 12 at the WSPU Hyde Park demonstration of Sunday 21 June 1908 (described in Votes for Women, 18 June 1908, as ‘well-known as a capable speaker and hard worker in the Manchester district’) and, of course, was singled out to present the banner to the Manchester WSPU on 20 June 1908, the day before the Hyde Park meeting. The banner hadn’t been ready in time to be unfurled with others in the Queen’s Hall in London.

Rachel Scott was on the platform at a meeting in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on 19 January 1909 when Christabel Pankhurst received a rapturous welcome but I get the impression that after this she rather fades from view, perhaps less interested as it became clear that the WSPU was no longer a supporter of the socialist movement with which, in 1909, she was still actively involved. Certainly, she did not boycott the 1911 census and was at home (‘Arrandale’, Crofts Bank Road, Urmston) on census night with her husband and by now five children. Her eldest son was a ‘student of chemistry’, another was an ‘engineering apprentice’, and a third was a clerk. The other two children were still at school.

One of Rachel’s sisters was living with the family in 1911, as she appears to have done all their married life. Another of Rachel’s sisters died that year but had previously worked as a superintendent in the ‘Imbecile Wards’ of the Crumpsall (Manchester) Workhouse. Yet another sister had for a time been employed as a nurse in the same workhouse. Presumably both positions had been an improvement on the sisters’ earliest employment in the cotton industry. Doubtless both from her own experience and that of her sisters Rachel Scott was well apprised of the state of the poor and afflicted and had hoped that the WSPU would be a means of improving their lot. She may have become disillusioned.

Rachel Scott died in 1925. Of her sons, one was killed during the First World War, one became an analytical chemist, another an engineer designer, and the fourth emigrated to Australia. Her daughter married, but died in 1935. Harry, still a director of Royles, was appointed a magistrate in 1931 and died in 1937.

Copyright All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and 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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First World War: My Family’s First World War Story

My mother, Christmas 1914. On the reverse of this postcard is written 'With Best Wishes for a Merry Xmas From Meg, Tom and the 'Wee Un'.
My mother, Christmas 1914. On the reverse of this postcard is written ‘With Best Wishes for a Merry Xmas From Meg, Tom and the ‘Wee Un’.

On 4 August 1914 my mother, Margaret Wallace, was living with her parents in Edinburgh where her father, Thomas Wallace, was a cashier in a brewery. On 2 December 1915 he joined up, aged 27.  He qualified as a signaller and telephonist (First class signalling certificate )with the Royal Garrison Artillery, was mobilized on 17 August 1916, setting sail from Plymouth for France.

Thomas Livingston Wallace
Thomas Livingston Wallace

He served in France  until November 1917 when the 289th Siege Battery was redeployed  to northern Italy. I have read 289 Siege Battery’s War Diary (held in the National Archives -WO 95/4205 289) which covers the period from Dec 1917 to May 1918 and gives a very interesting picture of army life up in the mountains above Vicenza. The officers seem to have enjoyed reasonably regular short breaks, allowing them visits to Rome.

Thomas Wallace’s army record seems uneventful. On 22 March 1918 he was admonished by the C.O. for turning up 85 minutes late to 9pm Roll Call, so I hope he had been having some fun. I doubt he ever got to Rome. On 19 April he was awarded First Class Proficiency Pay of ‘6d per diem’ and on 17 May was sent on a ‘Pigeon Course’ at General Headquarters, rejoining his Battery a week later. Three weeks later,  on 15 June, during the first day of the battle of Asiago he was killed. Army records show that his effects – comprising photos, 21shillings, metal wrist watch (broken) and signaller’s certificate – were returned to his widow, my grandmother.

The story handed down in the family ran something along the lines that, as a signaller, Thomas Wallace had been alerted to the fact that the Austrians were about to make a surprise attack, that communications had been disrupted and that he was relaying this information by travelling down the Line in person when he was killed. One is naturally very wary of ‘family’ stories, knowing full well how they get corrupted in the telling  but in records held in the National Archives, I did read, in a report of the battle of 15 June,

“289 Siege battery detached and section from them to engage suitable targets among the enemy’s advancing infantry

10.15 Runner and motor cyclists used because lines cut to brigade headquarters

Casualties in Brigade: 1 officer and 4 other ranks killed.’

The report of course doesn’t name the ‘other ranks’ but I wondered if Gunner Thomas Wallace was not one of those men.

He is buried at Magnaboschi Cemetery, a lovely tranquil spot, which when we visited some years ago we approached on foot through meadows. A fair proportion of the men buried in this small cemetery were also killed on 15 June 1918. The War Graves Commission information for Thomas Wallace is correct, whereas that created by the War Office is careless enough to have him killed in France. It just shows that one should never trust even the most official of records without corroborating evidence. Some years ago I did manage to get his entry corrected in the Roll of Honour of the Royal Garrison Artillery, contained in Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle. Wasn’t it just typical, I thought, when you know something about anything ‘They’ would get it wrong.

Thomas Wallace

That cemetery was a world away from the life my grandmother knew – the villages and small towns of Fife. I doubt she ever saw a photograph of his grave. She never seemed to recover from his death. Life on a war widow’s pension was a struggle. She kept all the letters he sent from the War – and when I was about 12 years old I was allowed to read one or two. I particularly remember one that described his crossing of the Lombardy Plain on the way to Italy. Alas, those letters disappeared around the time of her death in a nursing home in the early 1960s.

My widowed grandmother, with my mother and her brother, in the doorway of their Falkland cottage
My widowed grandmother, with my mother and her brother, in the doorway of their Falkland cottage

Like so many other children of their generation my mother and her brother, who was born in December 1917, grew up without a father. That was all they had ever known.

My mother in her University of St Andrews graduation gown
My mother in her University of St Andrews graduation gown

What were that young couple, my grandparents, saying to each other as they discussed the news of War on 4 August 1914 in their Edinburgh tenement? Did they sense the cataclysm awaiting them? Probably not.

Copyright. 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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Collecting Suffrage: Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, The Need Of The Hour

Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy (1833-1918) is one of my heroes of the women’s suffrage movement. She began campaigning in the north of England in the mid-1860s and proved to be one of the movement’s most ‘earnest workers’, to use her terminology.

In 1904, putting aside a lifetime’s aversion to party politics, she joined the Manchester ILP. and it was the ILP that published this pamphlet. The content was originally published as an article in the Westminster Review, and in it she analyses in her concise style the events of the previous 40 years and demands that Liberal MPs who profess to support women’s suffrage honour their pledges.

The pamphlet was published by the Independent Labour Party, and on the back lists pamphlets, books, postcards, badges and leaflets issued by the Women’s Social and Political Union.

Very good – 2nd edition – no date, but, from the evidence of the publications listed on the back cover, this edition c 1908. With markings from the Women’s Library from which it has been withdrawn (duplicate) £35

I can also offer a real photographic postcard Mrs Elmy, taken in May 1907 when the WSPU-nominated photographer called at her Congleton home for that very purpose.

In fine condition – unposted – £100 +VAT in the UK and EU.

If you are interested in buying either – or both – of them items, email me                                                                                                        

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Collecting Suffrage: The WSPU Holloway Prison Brooch

The Holloway Prison brooch was designed by Sylvia Pankhurst and awarded to members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) who had been imprisoned. It was first mentioned in the WSPU paper, ‘Votes for Women’, on 16 April 1909 and was described as ‘the Victoria Cross of the Union’. [It pre-dated the Hunger-Strike medal]. The design of the brooch is of the portcullis symbol of the House of Commons, the gate and hanging chains are in silver, and the superimposed broad arrow (the convict symbol) is in purple, white and green enamel. The piece is marked ‘silver’ and carries the maker’s name – Toye & Co, London, who were also responsible for the hunger strike medals. This brooch is for sale. Such treasures of the suffrage movement are now very scarce. It is in fine condition.


Email me if you are interesting in buying.

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Collecting Suffrage: Women’s Social And Political Union Brooch

A silver and enamel Women’s Social and Political Union brooch. It was Sold to raise funds for the WSPU and was made by Toye and Co of Clerkenwell Road, London, the firm that made the WSPU’s hunger-strike medal. There is so much spurious material sold as ‘suffragette jewellery’; this is the Real Thing.

The brooch dates from between 1908 and 1914 and is in fine condition. It’s very scarce – and ready to wear.

For sale: £900 + VAT (in Uk and EU).

Email me if interested:

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Kate Frye’s Diary: The Influenza Pandemic, 1919


Part of Kate’s diary entry for 9 January 1915, in which she describes her wedding day. It was she who attached the photographs of herself and John.

Kate Frye’s diary, which she kept from the late 1890s until 1958 is very much the diary of a middle-class, albeit impoverished, ‘Everywoman’ of that period. Her experiences, although so particular to her, were shared by millions of others. Thus it was that, in 1919, she had a first-hand encounter with the Influenza – ‘Spanish ‘Flu’ – Pandemic, which, because it could prove quickly lethal, was rightly feared.

John Collins, husband of Kate (nee Frye) had come through the First World War, collecting a Military Cross on the way, and they were about to settle back into civilian life in a small rented flat in Notting Hill when, in February 1919, disaster struck.

On 12 February, to Kate’s horror, John was rushed to hospital – ‘The Prince of Wales Hospital in Marylebone. The old Great Central Hotel where our brief honeymoon was spent.’ The hotel (now the Landmark Hotel,  had been taken over in 1916 by the War Office and turned into a military hospital for officers. ‘I had heard the doctor -“Influenza and pneumonia – both lungs”. ‘He is very ill, it is a toss-up if he pulls through.’

The Winter Garden, Great Central Hotel, Marylebone – a postcard kept by Kate all her life as a memento of her one-day honeymoon

So, rather than home-making, Kate’s first days back in London revolved around visits to the hospital.

Thursday 13 February 1919 [London: Notting Hill]

To Hospital 1.45 up to day sister’s room as she had promised the doctor’s report. But she was frightfully cross and rude to me. Sat with John 2 till 4 then was turned out. He looks very bad and is lying propped up by a back rest and in a pneumonia jacket. He is quite sensible but I would not let him talk much. They are frightfully rushed and not enough sisters – 800 patients and many dying of pneumonia.

A ‘pneumonia jacket’ was used to warm the patient’s chest, then one of the few treatments available.

Friday 14 February 1919 [London: Notting Hill]

No one can ever know but those who go through it what these hours of waiting are like and then the Hospital with its inhospitable airs and snubbing attendants. They are bound to answer enquiries concerning the ‘serious’ cases but that is as much as they will do. I stayed until I was driven away. He hates me to go and to leave him like that was so distressing.

Anecdotally, the hospital was not a happy place and, following the ‘flu outbreak, complaints were made in Parliament that patients with flu were being nursed in the same rooms as those recovering from wounds, thus causing a serious possibility of the infection spreading.

John remained in this Marylebone hospital for a month and then, having more or less recovered, was sent to a military convalescent home in Bournemouth. It was housed in the former Mont Dore Hotel (now Bournemouth Town Hall). Kate followed him, staying in digs.

Saturday 12 April 1919 [Bournemouth]

John had been before a Board and been granted 3 weeks sick leave, so that is alright – he is due to leave the Mont Dore today but can arrange to stay until Monday.

Monday 14 April 1919 [London: 12a Colville Terrace]

[Back to London flat] It is very wonderful to be home in our dear little flat and with John practically well again.

Kate’s diary is now housed in the Archives of Royal Holloway College, University of London. I only transcribed a few of the Influenza entries when writing her biography – Kate Frye: the long life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette – published as an ebook by ITV – see More useful information can be found in the diary if anyone is writing a study of the Post World War One influenza pandemic.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and 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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Suffrage Stories: Jennifer Godfrey: Suffragettes of Kent

I have long advocated the necessity for researching local histories of the women’s suffrage movement and, over the years, a number have appeared, varying in scope and depth of research.

Jennifer Godfrey’s Suffragettes of Kent (for details see takes us through Kent’s involvement in the suffrage movement in a series of chapters that pick out elements of the campaign – such as a caravan tour, forcible feeding, the census boycott, arson attacks, and the 1913 NUWSS Pilgrimage – and relate them to the county and its inhabitants. I enjoyed this approach rather more than a conventional chronological narrative as it gave the author the flexibility to research particular ‘stories’ more effectively. She has assiduously mined local papers and introduces us to suffragettes/suffragists who have not previously received much attention.

I mention both ‘suffragettes’ and ‘suffragists’ because the title of the book is something of a misnomer – it is not only ‘Suffragettes of Kent’ that are the subject, but suffragists also. As ever, I imagine, it was thought a mention of ‘Suffragettes’ was better for sales. It is, however, only the suffragists of the NUWSS that are included and mention is only made in passing (p 151) of the activities in Kent of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. What a pity that all the hard work of Kate Frye in her efforts to convert Kent to suffrage are overlooked. My edition of Kate Frye’s suffrage diary, Campaigning for the Vote, is now out of print but you can read something of her work here

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Suffragettes of Kent, which is lavishly illustrated, and imagine that it will win readers and stimulate yet further suffrage research in that county

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Family Photography

If you live in the Swindon area do check out a new exhibition at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. Your ancestors may be represented in:

Auto Memento: Stickyback Photography in Swindon, 1900-1919

Date: 23rd October 2019 – 4th January 2020

Every day

Location: Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, Bath Road

Time: 11:00 – 16:00

In the early 20th century, a photographic studio in Regent Street, Swindon, offered a unique way of having your picture taken. Stickyback photos were quick, casual, fun and cheap.

Stickyback photoThe Family Museum acquired its collection of 72 ‘Stickyback’ photographs in September 2016. This exhibition shows the entire set of images and explores this little-documented style of Edwardian popular photography. It offers a unique glimpse of everyday life and ordinary people in Swindon in the last century.

The exhibition also explores the advent and rise of amateur photography during the 20th century through The Family Museum’s extensive archive of family photographs and albums, cameras and photographic ephemera.

This exhibition is a collaboration between The Family Museum and Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

Cost: Free

And, if interested in the history of family photography, do read The Family Museum’s first issue of its Famzine

Famzine Issue 1 Winter 2019


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Ephemera: Mrs Sarah Burgess, Printer

Souvenir tissue napkin for Emily Wilding Davison’s funeral: Mrs Sarah Burgess, printer SOLD

Over the years several tissue paper napkins, souvenirs of suffrage events in London, have passed through my hands and I’ve wondered what manner of woman was Mrs Sarah Burgess, whose name appears as their printer at, until 1911, 14 Artillery Lane, Bishopsgate, and then at 4 York Place, off the Strand. A 1908 Street Directory tells me that, trading from the Artillery Lane address, between a horsemeat salesman and a greengrocer,  she is ‘Mrs Sarah Burgess, manufacturer of paper switches, cut tissues, lace paper and shelf trimmings & confetti, and stationer, wholesale and export’.

An item in a newspaper titled Good Morning, 5 June 1945, tells a little more about Sarah Burgess. ‘The men who stand on the kerb in some of London’s principal streets and sell anything from a hairpin to a clock-work toy, all know “Auntie”. They have known her for a good many years, but none of them remembers the day she set up business.

She is Mrs Sarah Burgess, who in her shop behind the Strand (the street used to be called Of Alley, but is now York Place), supplies them with the novelties they sell to the passers-by. And she is eighty years old.

It is over 50 years since “Auntie” opened her ”swag” shop, and sold her first balloon to a street vendor. Since then she has been the friend of thousands of kerb-sellers and costers who havecome to her for toys, song-books, street guides, joke books, confetti….

Coronations, royal weddings and Peace Days are the high-spots of “Auntie’s” life.’


Tissue souvenir napkin for King George V’s Coronation £30

For, of course it was not just suffrage events that were commemorated by “Auntie” in her tissue napkins, but coronations, visits from foreign statesmen, the opening of Parliament etc etc. It is clear that, to mark a new event, the souvenir tissues could be issued very quickly.  I will have several of these (non-suffrage) tissues for sale in my forthcoming catalogue.

It has, however, been well nigh impossible to find out details of the life of Sarah Burgess. I believe, but cannot prove, that she was born c.1864 in the parish of St Luke’s, just of Old Street, and married a Charles Burgess, who had probably died by the time she set up shop. Charles and Sarah Burgess appear in the 1891 census living at 8 Ironmonger Row; she has no given occupation and his is indecipherable. At the turn of the century, when her sister- in-law was convicted of the manslaughter of her infant son, the Old Bailey record tells us that Sarah’s brother-in-law was a lithographic printer – and there were many other printers living nearby. . The Ironmonger Row area was home to at least one ‘novelty’ manufacturer,   Sparagapane, maker of Christmas crackers, the family business of Maud Arncliffe Sennett, a notable suffrage activist. I don’t know whether the proximity of this type of commercial activity had any bearing on Sarah Burgess’s chosen trade.

Tissue napkin commemorating the inspection by the King Emperor of Dominion troops, August 1919 £30


Souvenir tissue commemorating the march of Dominion troops through London, May 1919 £20

Tissue commemorating a  Royal Pageant on the Thames, 1919 £30

If you are interested in buying any of the tissues illustrated, or would like to be added to the mailing list for my forthcoming catalogue which will contain others, email me


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and 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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Suffrage Stories: The First Women General Election Candidates, 1918: Emily Phipps

21 November 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Parliament(Qualification of Women) Act, by which women were for the first time able to stand for election as members of Parliament.

It was only earlier in the year, on 6 February, that some women (over 30 and fulfilling a small property qualification) had at long last been granted the parliamentary vote and now, as the Great War had come to an end, women actually had the prospect of sitting in the House of Commons.

The short bill, passing rapidly through all stages of the parliamentary process with little opposition, granted the right to stand for election to all women over the age of 21, although any woman of that age would have been unable to vote. A curious situation.

With a general election called for 14 December, there was little time for women to organize election campaigns, but in the event 17 women took to the hustings. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll tell you something about each one of these pioneers, taking them alphabetically.

This is the fifteenth:

Miss Emily Phipps, who stood as an Independent in Chelsea.

Emily Phipps’ Election Address (courtesy of University of Bristol Special Collections)

Emily Phipps (1865-1943), headmistress of Swansea Girls’ Secondary School, was the founder of the Swansea branch of the Women’s Freedom League, and president of the Swansea branch of the National Union of Teachers. She was an active member of the National Union of Women Teachers (which lobbied for women’s suffrage and equal pay) and was the Union’s president from 1915 to 1917.

She stood as an Independent candidate, backed by the National Federation of Women Teachers, in Chelsea at the 1918 general election. In her election address she stated:

Although standing as a non-party candidate, I heartily support the policy of utterly defeating German militarism, believing that our glorious victory must be confirmed by such peace as will forr generations prevent a resumption of war.

  1. In Trade, on account of the special circumstances arising out of the war, I support a measure of Protection for our national industries, and Preference for our Colonies, but no Food Taxes.
  2. Other necessary reforms are Equal Pay for Equal Work, irrespective of sex
  3. the establishment of a Ministry of Health, with an adequate proportion of women representatives
  4. the presence of women on all Local bodies and all Reconstruction Committees, on Trade Boards, Education and Health committees, and on Watch Committees of Local Councils
  5. the opening of all Trades and Professions to Women on equal terms with men
  6. the appointment of Women Judges and Magistrates

I also advocate better housing, the provision of a pure milk supply, and adequate wages for all workers, since it is better to prevent disease than to spend millions in trying to cure it.

Illegitimate children should be better protected and should be legitimised on the subsequent marriage of their parents

Divorce laws should be equalised as between men and women and there should be an equal moral standard for the sexes.

Greater attention should be paid to Education, every child should have the opportunity of revealing aptitude for languages, science etc. It is only by utilising all available talents that we can develop the resources of our country. We want more teachers, and they should be well qualified.

Emily Phipps’ only opponent at the election was the sitting Conservative MP, who had the Coalition’s ‘coupon’. Although defeated, she did well to retain her deposit, polling 2419 votes against Sir Samuel Hoare’s 9159..

Emily Phipps qualified as a barrister in 1925, resigned her headship and went to London to act as standing counsel for the National Union of Women Teachers.


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Suffrage Stories: The First Women General Election Candidates, 1918: Constance Markevicz

21 November 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Parliament(Qualification of Women) Act, by which women were for the first time able to stand for election as members of Parliament.

It was only earlier in the year, on 6 February, that some women (over 30 and fulfilling a small property qualification) had at long last been granted the parliamentary vote and now, as the Great War had come to an end, women actually had the prospect of sitting in the House of Commons.

The short bill, passing rapidly through all stages of the parliamentary process with little opposition, granted the right to stand for election to all women over the age of 21, although any woman of that age would have been unable to vote. A curious situation.

With a general election called for 14 December, there was little time for women to organize election campaigns, but in the event 17 women took to the hustings. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll tell you something about each one of these pioneers, taking them alphabetically.

This is the eleventh:

Constance Markevicz (courtesy of Glasnevin Trust)

Mme Constance Markevicz, standing as a Sinn Féin candidate in the St Patrick’s constituency in Dublin, the only woman – of the 17 that stood – to win her seat.

Constance Markevicz (née Gore-Booth) was a member of a landed Anglo-Irish family, with an estate at Lissadell House in Co Sligo. She studied art at the Académie Julien in Paris, where she shared a studio with Australian artist Dora Meeson (later Meeson Coates), who later, once she had settled in London,  became a founder member of the Artists’ Suffrage League. In Paris Constance met and married a Polish count, Casimir Markevicz, before returning to Ireland in 1903 and eventually joining the nationalist organisation, the Daughters of Erin.

Constance’s sister, Eva, moved to Manchester, where she worked with radical suffragists to campaign for the vote and improve the lot of working women, while Constance continued to campaign for Irish independence, took part in the Easter Rising in 1916 and, as a member of the Citizen Army, was condemned to death.  However, because she was a woman, the sentence was immediately commuted to one of life imprisonment and, under a general amnesty, she was released in 1917.

In 1918 she was once again in prison, this time in Holloway, sentenced for taking part in anti-conscription activity, and it was while there that she stood for parliament in December 1918. As the Sinn Féin candidate she took 7835 votes, beating the Irish Parliamentary party candidate (3752 votes), however, like all Sinn Féin elected MPs, then as now, she refused to take her seat in the British House of Commons.

She was still in prison when the first Dail met, but, once released, served as minister of Labour from 1919 to January 1922., becoming the first Irish woman to be a member of the cabinet.

Constance Markievicz took part in the Irish Civil War, opposing the Anglo-Irish treaty. She was re-elected to the Dail in 1923, but, like other Republican members, did not take her seat. In 1926 she joined the new party, Fianna Fáil, and was re-elected as a Fianna Fáil candidate in 1927, but died a few weeks later, before she could take her seat.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and 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.


Suffrage Stories: The First Women General Election Candidates, 1918: Margery Corbett Ashby

21 November 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, by which women were for the first time able to stand for election as members of Parliament.

It was only earlier in the year, on 6 February, that some women (over 30 and fulfilling a small property qualification) had at long last been granted the parliamentary vote and now, as the Great War had come to an end, women actually had the prospect of sitting in the House of Commons.

The short bill, passing rapidly through all stages of the parliamentary process with little opposition, granted the right to stand for election to all women over the age of 21, although any woman of that age would have been unable to vote. A curious situation.

With a general election called for 14 December, there was little time for women to organize election campaigns, but in the event 17 women took to the hustings. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll tell you something about each one of these pioneers, taking them alphabetically.

This is the second:

Margery Corbett Ashby, photographed in 1923

Mrs M.C. Ashby who was standing in Birmingham’s Ladywood constituency as a Liberal candidate, with support from the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

Margery Corbett Ashby (1882-1981) was the daughter of a Liberal MP, Charles Corbett, and both her parents were strong supporters of women’s suffrage. She had a university education, trained as a teacher in Cambridge and from 1907 to 1909 was secretary of the NUWSS and in 1910, the year she married, she was an organizer for the Liberal party. She resigned from the NUWSS executive committee in 1914, too committed a Liberal to support the Election Fighting Fund policy, by which the NUWSS was backing Labour party candidates at elections.

After the First World War she took Mrs Fawcett’s place at the Versailles Peace Conference (Mrs Fawcett did not wish to attend) and helped advise Germany on the founding of its women’s police force.

Margery Corbett Ashby’s candidature at the 1918 general election caused some difficulty for the Birmingham Society for Women’s Suffrage which was criticized for supporting her, rather than the Labour candidate, as the latter party had, unlike the Liberals, traditionally supported the suffrage movement. She was also supported by the Society for Discharged Soldiers – who obviously liked point 7 of her Election Address.

In her lengthy Election Address Margery Corbett Ashby made her (Liberal) views clear:

  1. A League of Nations. To make another War impossible, to abolish conscription, to lighten the burden of taxation for armaments, to substitute open treaties, ratified by Parliament for secret diplomacy, to pool raw materials and food for the hungry peoples of the world. I welcome the practical beginnings of the idea in the International Council which will be established at the Peace Table to ration the nations.
  2. Free Trade and No Food Taxes.
  3. Rights of Little Peoples: Home Rule is imperative to give Ireland the same free choice of government we have demanded for Poland, Alsace-Lorraine and Serbia.
  4. Health and Housing: I believe the urgency of housing admits of no delay, and that there must be immediate provision of a) Houses with at least 3 bedrooms, bath room, water laid on, within the average wage-earner’s means. b) A garden or allotment with each house, for those who want it. c) State assistance to encourage municipal enterprise; the adequate taxation of land values; and the right of compulsory purchase of land for all public requirements at the rate-book valuation.
  5. Equal Citizenship: Real equality between men and women before the law in a) all questions of marriage, morals and the home. b) Opportunities of general and technical training. c) Equal pay for work of equal value above a sound minimum for all. d) All trades, industries and professions.
  6. Labour and Leisure. a) A shorter working day and adequate minimum wage, enforced by law if necessary. b) Regularity of income through universal non-contributory unemployed insurance. c) More freedom and consultation in the workshop. d) Public recreations of a wholesome kind
  7. Soldiers, Sailors and Mothers: I believe in Justice without Charity to secure: a) Adequate pensions for widows with dependent children. b) A real right of maintenance for wives. c) Fullest possible help of all kinds to disabled or discharged soldiers and sailors. d) Fair treatment for women war workers. I welcome Mr Asquith’s desire to improve the Old Age Pensions secured by the Liberal Party, and should like to see the pension raised the age limit lowered.
  8. Civil and Industrial Liberty: I support the immediate restoration of a) All British liberties of citizenship; and b) All essential trade union rights for men and women to enjoy the full use of collective bargaining, surrendered or lost during the war.
  9. Trade and Transit: I favour a) The removal of irksome Government control from private industries. b) The encouragement of production by science, canals and railways. c) The continued municipal ownership of electrical supply. In general I should like to see more Municipal Administration and less Whitehall Bureaucracy.

At the December 1918 election Margery Corbett Ashby polled 1152 votes and lost her deposit. She then stood, again unsuccessfully, at every inter-war election except that of 1931. She succeeded Eleanor Rathbone as president of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship and in the late 1920s was the co-founder of the Townswomen’s Guild. She also was president of the Women’s Freedom League. At various times she was also president of the British Commonwealth League, member of the executive committee of the Family Endowment Society and chairman of the Association of Moral and Social Hygiene. Margery Corbett Ashby was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1967.



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Suffrage Stories: The Prison Diary of Annie Cobden-Sanderson

One of the many new books I have enjoyed in this suffrage centenary year is The Prison Diary of Annie Cobden-Sanderson, edited by Dr Marianne Tidcombe.

This postcard is for sale – item 153 in my Catalogue 198 Item 154 is another, unusual, photographic card of Annie Cobden Sanderson, published by the Women’s Freedom League.

Annie Cobden-Sanderson, daughter of the eminent Liberal politician, Richard Cobden, and wife of Arts and Crafts bookbinder and printer, T.J. Sanderson, was one of the first suffragettes to go to prison in London. The diary covers her imprisonment, 1-23 November 1906. The fact that Cobden’s daughter was serving time in Holloway made the headlines and sent a frisson through the Liberal establishment.

The following year she went on a US speaking tour and her prison credentials engendered handsome publicity for her friend Harriot  Stanton Blatch’s Equality League.

The book contains both a facsimile of the diary (the original is held at LSE) and a transcription, together with extensive notes by Dr Tidcombe on the characters and events mentioned and a biographical introduction giving a full description of Annie’s life.

Annie Cobden-Sanderson was arrested again in 1909 – on the occasion shown in the photograph above – but that time her fine was paid without her knowledge, depriving her of another short prison term.


E2.8. The Prison Diary, with a Facsimile: Cobden-Sanderson (Annie)

This beautifully produced and illustrated book, published by Libanus Press, is available from all bookshops and from  Amazon –

 ISBN 978-0-948021-11-4.


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Something A Little Different: Reviving Elizabeth Fair

Last autumn, under the title, Something A Little Different: Furrowed Middlebrow Books , I wrote about a commission I had been given to write forewords to several novels by Rachel Ferguson and Winifred Peck, reprinted by Dean Street Press.

It was a pleasure to be invited back by the publishers to write a foreword introducing six novels by Elizabeth Fair, an author who, after achieving a degree of popularity in the 1950s, had become all but unknown. I very much enjoyed uncovering something of the author and reading her novels, well-written, charming, and redolent of a world that has most certainly past.

I love the detective work involved and was very fortunate that, having read the author’s will, I was able to make contact with someone who had known her well. On a cold, wet day in January I went to Cambridge (fortuitously combining this research visit with taking possession of some items I had just bought at a Cambridge auction house) and had a most interesting conversation about Elizabeth Fair. Moreover, I was shown the author’s diary dating from around the time her first novel was first published which gave a brief glimpse into her life and, incidentally, revealed something of the way that tyro authors were treated by publishers in those days – rather well was my conclusion. The diary revealed that Hutchinson, her  publisher, had booked her a session with Angus McBean, a most highly regarded portrait photographer and it is his photograph that appears on the dustwrappers of the original editions of her books. My hostess had inherited furniture and pictures from Elizabeth Fair and these went some way to furnish in my mind the homes that she had lived in.

The novels have been given very stylish covers – five of them are based on Eric Ravilious illustrations, but one, The Native Heath, uses the artwork that appeared on the dustwrapper of the original edition – early work of a very young Shirley Hughes.

You can find details of all Elizabeth Fair’s novels, with my Introduction, here.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and 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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A Happy New Year: Introducing ‘Art and Suffrage: a biographical dictionary of suffrage artists’

A Very Happy New Year To All My Readerspearse-beatrice

This image (courtesy of The Women’s Library@LSE) will appear, among 100 or so others, in my new book, Art and Suffrage: a biographical dictionary of suffrage artists, to be published by Francis Boutle Publishers on 10 January 2018.

The artist of this lovely card was previously unknown, but I have managed to identify her, which pleases me immensely as I have loved this image for many years – ever since I once, and only once, found – and sold – it in the form of a calendar for 1913 issued by the Artists’ Suffrage League.

The typescript is all ready to go to the publisher when the world reawakens on Tuesday 3 January 2017. It’s not too early to let me know if you would be interested in buying a copy of the published work. I can start taking orders now!


Something A Little Different: Furrowed Middlebrow Books

rachel-ferguson-evenfieldBack in the summer I was delighted to receive a commission from a small reprint publisher, the Dean Street Press, to write an introduction to three novels by Rachel Ferguson that they were planning to reissue. I guessed why they had asked me… I had written the entry on her in the New Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. But I was especially pleased to have the opportunity to set out more about her life and to tease out links with the novels because she had spent her early years in Teddington, the suburb adjoining Twickenham, where I had spent my youth, and the road where she had lived was familiar to me. Two of the reissued novels, Evenfield and a

rachel-ferguson-a-harp-in-lowndes-squareHarp in Lowndes Square, in whole or in part conjure up life in late-Victorian Teddington as seen through her idiosyncratic eyes and, knowing from her autobiographies, that Rachel Ferguson was somewhat haunted by memories of her childhood, as I read the novels I could add another wraith, my teenaged self, to those wandering the path from the station or walking over the bridge to the more sophisticated Kingston shops. Needless to say this solipsistic reading is mine only.

The third of the reissued Ferguson novels is


A Footman for a Peacock, a fantastical tale set in the early years of the Second World War.

After I had delivered the Ferguson Introduction Dean Street then asked me to write one for another novel in this tranche of reissues, Winifred Peck’s Bewildering Cares.

winifred-peck-bewildering-caresI had read the author’s autobiographies some years ago and, as it happens, had very recently read a biography of her niece, Penelope Fitzgerald, which includes good background information on Winifred’s family – the Knoxes. Growing up, alongside her decidedly idiosyncratic brothers, in a clerical household, provided Winifred with plenty of material for her novels and, again, I was able to make links between her life and her fiction. Bewildering Cares covers a week in the life of a vicar’s wife in the early stages of the Second World War.

These novels are only three of nine that Dean Street Press have released this month (October 2016) under the ‘Furrowed Middlebrow’ imprint. Isn’t that a great name? It comes from the eponymous blog conducted by Scott, a Californian enthusiast for novels by British women writers (particularly those from the 20th-c inter-war years).  Do have a read of the blog – click here. His enthusiasm convinced Dean Street Press to reissue his chosen titles –  and more Furrowed Middlebrow reissues are planned.

I love the covers of all the new ‘Furrowed Middlebrow’ titles – and am delighted to be associated, even in this most distant way, with Eric Ravilious. They are all available in paperback – for details (and a view of all the other covers) – click here. They can be ordered direct from the publisher, or from Amazon, or the Book Depository, or from any bookshop. They are all also available as ebooks.


For some unfathomable reason this series of reprints has been the target of a rather ridiculously vindictive Amazon reviewer who has spent a good deal of time in constantly rewriting the ill-conceived ‘thoughts’ that accompany her award of ‘one-star’ to all the ‘Furrowed Middlebrow’ books, which she clearly hasn’t even bothered to read. One blogger, ‘Stuck in a Book’, has called (click here to read his call to arms) for the sensible and interested to do what they can by asking readers of the books to give their own Amazon review (of course most readers would probably normally never think of doing any such thing) so that, if they like the books, they can improve the star rating. Such is Amazon nonsense.

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The Fallen Woman: A Short Film Based On A Foundling Museum Exhibition

Just before Christmas last year I visited an excellent exhibition – ‘The Fallen Woman’ – at the Foundling Museum in Coram Fields in Bloomsbury. I have now been alerted to a short film based on the exhibition made by Lily Ford, a recent PhD graduate from Birkbeck, and thought my ‘followers’ might find it of interest.

This is the description that accompanies the film:

‘Little is known about the unmarried mothers who had their babies taken in by London’s Foundling Hospital in the nineteenth century. This short film explores the predicament of these ‘blank mothers’, drawing on documents and images from ‘The Fallen Woman’, a recent exhibition at the Foundling Museum curated by Birkbeck’s Professor Lynda Nead. Using views of the historic interiors of the museum, contemporary accounts and the words of the mothers that were recorded by the Hospital committee, it seeks to reimagine the experience of these women. The film was made by Lily Ford during an AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellowship at Birkbeck.’

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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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Women Artists: ‘Painting Days At School of Art Are Perfect Bliss’ (1892-1914)

I originally gave this paper at the Women’s History Network Conference, Southampton, September 2005

 ‘Painting Days at School of Art are perfect bliss: the manuscript diary (1892-1914) of Sarah Madeleine Martineau, art student and craft worker’.

This paper is based on the manuscript diary of Sarah Madeleine Martineau, the first entry in which is for 1 January 1892 and the last for 25 January 1914. I bought the diaries a few years ago, at the time giving them merely a cursory glance and registering only that the world they depicted was one that appealed. At odd intervals I have undertaken some research into the life and work of Sarah Madeleine Martineau and now think that what the diaries reveal is of some general interest.

the Martineaus' house at 122 King's Avenue would have been very similar to this, no 103. (Image courtesy of  Ideal Homes: A History of the South-East London Suburbs)

The Martineaus’ house at 122 King’s Avenue would have been very similar to this, no 104. (Image courtesy of Ideal Homes: A History of the South-East London Suburbs)

She was born in London at 4 South Road (later 122 King’s Avenue), Clapham Park, on 2 May 1872, the final child in the family of David Martineau, the senior partner in a firm of sugar refiners and a leading Clapham Liberal. David Martineau’s grandfather was a brother to the father of Harriet Martineau and Dr James Martineau. In 1856 David and his wife, Sarah, settled in South Road, in leafy Clapham Park. The Martineaus’ house and its immediate neighbours have been demolished, making way for tower blocks, but it was then quite new, was large, double-fronted and detached, set well back from the road, with stabling, and grounds ample enough to include a tennis court.

The Martineaus were Unitarians and with another South London family, the Nettlefolds of Streatham Grove, Norwood, were pillars of the Unitarian church in Effra Road, Brixton. The Martineau family comprised four sons and four daughters, the eldest child, Daisy, being 16 years older than Madeleine. Of the Martineaus’ sons, two married Nettlefold sisters; Unitarians tended to stick together. Although enjoying an active social life the younger Martineau daughters do not seem to have attended many formal parties or dances. Of the daughters only Daisy married; Lillie, Lucy and Lena (such were the diminutives by which they were known) probably lived together in the family home, certainly until the 1940s, and then either together, or near each other, in south London, for the rest of their long lives. At the 1891 census besides members of the immediate family there were also living in the house a cook, a parlour maid, two house maids and a 20-year old cousin, Charles Worthington. Lena possibly had a tenderesse for Charlie; she always mentions any little attention she received from him, but in 1895 he died suddenly – the relevant entry reads: ‘Charlie, the sweetest man that ever lived is dead. He died on Christmas day..’

David Martineau’s sister, Mary, who lived close by with their mother, can be spotted as a member of many of the women’s causes of the day, for instance signing the 1889 Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage. Lena Martineau and her sister Lucy, who was three years older, had been boarders at Roedean school in Sussex, which, recently founded, was much favoured by the daughters of the wealthy non-conformist middle class. When Lena begins her diary in an exercise book in January 1892 one of the first entries relates that Barbara Shore Smith, who had been a contemporary at Roedean, had come to stay and in May 1892 Lena and Lucy went to visit Barbara, then at Girton, staying in lodgings near the college. Lena must have been well aware of all the feminist causes of the day, but, although writing her diary through the years of the main suffrage activity, makes no comment whatsoever on any aspect of the woman question. It must also be mentioned that in the entire 22 years covered by the diary she only mentions one book. On 23 February 1893 she wrote, ‘Have been reading a book called ‘Mona Maclean, medical student’, & think it splendid.’

Perhaps Lena was uninterested in the written word but her free-thinking, prosperous, well-educated family set great store by art.  Lucy and Lena were clearly given every encouragement to practise any aspect of art in which they were interested. Thus apart from visiting friends, playing tennis, taking what seem exceptionally long walks and bicycle rides, and helping with bazaars and garden parties, Lena seems to have been fully occupied with attending art classes and visiting galleries. There were prominent role models very close to home. The two daughters of Dr James Martineau, Gertrude and Edith, together with their sister-in-law, Clara Martineau, were all working artists, exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy and at the Dudley Gallery. Their work now sells well – a watercolour by Edith Martineau sold for over £3,500 in 2005. The Martineaus were committed visitors to art galleries. For instance in the diary’s first year, on 22 April, Lena wrote, ‘Lucy and I met Papa at the private view of the Old Water Colours. It was very hot and full, but a good many very nice pictures.’ I am afraid that Lena’s criticism of the art that she took such care to see rarely rises above this level of comment.

In her new diary on Friday 8 January 1892 Lena Martineau wrote: ‘Art School began again on Monday, but we did not go till Tues. I have a side view of the girl so shall soon have done it..’  The Art School that she and Lucy attended was Clapham Art School, in Vernon Road, Clapham High Street, which had been founded in 1885 and was associated with the Government Schools at South Kensington – students were expected to take the Government examinations. In January 1892 Lena was taking drawing and painting classes, which she very much enjoyed, writing on 3 February ‘Joy! Mr Nightingale [the headmaster] told me that I am to begin painting my next head’ and on 21 February the entry that gave this paper its title ‘Painting days at School of Art are perfect bliss!’. In May she sat exams in the Life and Antique – ‘Given the choice of faun or the discobolus, we did the latter’. In July she heard that she had passed the exams, both 2nd class.

After a summer break, some of which was spent sketching in Wales, Lena returned in October to Clapham Art School. Her entry adds, ‘Found that Miss Pemberton is working there now’.

Sophie Pemberton

Sophie Pemberton

From the context it would appear that Lena already knew Sophie Pemberton, a Canadian artist, just three years older, who had already studied in Paris at the Academie Julien. Her father was the first surveyor general for Vancouver Island and Sophie was living in Alexandra House in Kensington, which had been built to house women music and art students and to where she often invited Lena for tea. It was – and remains, though much altered – a rather glamorous hostel, replete with terracotta panels and intricate Doulton tiles and picture panels.

In May Lena took Life and Still-life exams. Of the latter she wrote ‘the group was a top hat and two oranges on green baize!. Got home in time for some tennis’. On the 29th there was the recurrence of a problem that plagued the art school, ‘I went to the Art School but finding no model returned – & had my hair cut.’  I suspect that Clapham School of Art did not meet Sophie Pemberton’s standards because she instigated a move to Westminster School of Art in Tufton Street, Dean’s Yard, where, by October, she, Lucy and Lena were enrolled. As with the Clapham School, Westminster followed the South Kensington regime. It is worth noting that Lena chose to attend such a school, where the syllabus was geared to an examination system, rather than one of the many art schools established to cater for the ‘ladies’ market.

Of Mr Loudan, the principal instructor at Westminster and a portrait and genre painter, Lena remarked ‘Very squashing, makes me scrape out but does not say much’. On 7 December she wrote ‘Today Mr Loudan was very crushing to me’. However she persevered happily, the following March reporting that  ‘Our new model on Monday was a boy and on Thursday Mr Loudan praised me for better colouring and came twice to me’.  That May she again sat the Life and Antique exam. All this intermingled with much gallery visiting; Venetian pictures at the New Gallery, a visit to Herkomer’s studio to see the work of some of his Bushey students (‘Very good some of them’.), and to the Guildhall (‘splendid exhibition’). She returned to Westminster Art School in October and on the 4th recorded ‘Lucy and I went to town today for the summer sketch criticisms at school of art. Mr Loudan presented me with £3, as third prize for the year’s composition sketches. Delightful surprise..’

In the autumn of 1897 Lena and Lucy travelled over to Park Walk, Chelsea, to visit the complex of the Stanley Studios, where Sophie Pemberton was based. Sophie’s star was on the ascendant; that year she had exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy summer exhibition. Unfortunately there was no studio available there, and with Ethel Le Rossignol, a school friend with whom they proposed to share and who much later became a practitioner of spirit-channeled art, Lucy and Lena embarked on a search.  By the end of November they had found a studio, at a rent of £35 a year – and were very pleased with it. They had fun arranging to move in, buying things with which to decorate, including a new stove and oriental rugs. Lena hired models and also arranged for family and friends to sit for her. The studio gave the sisters an opportunity to invite round their friends, in a way they probably did not do at home. On 6 March ‘Barbara Nightingale came to tea at studio yesterday’. [Barbara Nightingale was the same person as Barbara Shore-Smith – there had been a change of family name.] In April Lucy had a picture accepted by the Royal Academy, Lena describes the subject as being 3 parrots; the exhibition catalogue gives it the title ‘Red, White and Blue’. The picture was sold to a Captain B for 7 guineas.

In 1899 and 1900 Lena continued working from the studio, concentrating on pictures to submit to the Royal Academy. However they were all rejected or crowded out. In the summers, with Lucy and Ethel Le Rossignol, she took sketching lessons from professional artists, the first year in Mayfield in Sussex and the next summer at Brockham Green in Surrey. In November 1900 she returned to the Westminster Art School, taking lessons in modelling from life.

She also began to learn metal repoussé, possibly at the Westminster School – her diary is not entirely clear on the point. Lena was following the spirit of the times. There had in the last five years been a definite upsurge of interest in craft work. Lena, however, quickly gave up this class in order to attend a modelling design class at St John’s School of Art and Science at New Cross, where a Mr Miller and a Miss Jean Milne, who had been fellow students at Westminster, were master and assistant mistress. Lena placed the receipt for the course (10/- for the term ending 12 April) between the pages of her diary and began modelling a door knocker.

However, for whatever reason, at the end of the term she did not continue at New Cross, but went over to Chelsea to investigate the modelling class at the South West Polytechnic in Manresa Road. She duly joined that class and ‘settled to join the handicraft studio for metal repousse on Tuesday afternoons’. In May she sat a Modelling Design exam, which she passed 1st class, and a Life exam and was awarded a book prize in the National Competition work at South Kensington for her ‘head of Papa’. The National Competition was run by the Science and Art Department of the Committee of the Council on Education and several thousand students from art schools around the country competed for the prizes.

In October Lena began classes again, taking a modelling life class at the Manresa Road Polytechnic and one in modelling design at St John’s. She was also doing metal work, perhaps at the polytechnic. I think she must have given up her studio some time before this and in November (1902) when she decided to make a commitment to metal work and bought a muffle furnace, she made her workshop at home in the harness room. In December she went over to Whitechapel to the Sir John Cass Institute ‘as I think of going there for metal work and design after Christmas’. The Sir John Cass Institute had only opened the previous June so Lena was obviously well aware of developments in the field of craft education. She then left the St John School of Art at New Cross and in January 1903 ‘started work at the Sir John Cass Technical Institute’. The head of the Arts and Crafts Department was Richard Llewellyn Rathbone, Harold Stabler was teacher of drawing and design, Gilbert Bayes was teacher of modelling, and there were also teachers of jewellery and enamelling.

Lena took the enamelling class on Tuesday evenings, jewellery on Wednesdays and design on Fridays. During the day on Tuesdays she still attended modelling classes at the Polytechnic.

'Walberswick Marshes' by Bertram Priestman (courtesy of BBC - Your Paintings)

‘Walberswick Marshes’ by Bertram Priestman (courtesy of BBC – Your Paintings)

She continued with these classes until the end of the summer term and then went to Walberswick with Lucy to take sketching lessons from Bertram Priestman. She returned to the Cass in October and found that Jean Milne was also now working there. Among her fellow students were Violet and Frances Ramsay and Thalia How. She attended the Cass for all three terms that year and returned to Walberswick in September for two more weeks of sketching with Bertram Priestman.

When she returned to the Cass in October 1904 she learned that she had received a book prize for a figure she had sent up to the National Competition. She once again rented a studio, this time in Tachbrook Street. Lena was now established in her jewellery making; a pendant she had made was given to Barbara Nightingale as a wedding present as she embarked for India to marry  ‘a Mr Stephens’. In her studio she began modelling a bust of her father and began another happy round of studio teas; Jean Milne and Thalia Howe were among the guests. She continued at the Cass throughout 1905, receiving a prize for metal work at the end of the year.

Catalogue of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, 1906

Catalogue of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, 1906

In January 1906 she had at least two pendants accepted for the Arts and Crafts Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries. One of her pieces was described in the Exhibition catalogue as a necklace and enamel pendant and was priced at £2 12s 6d. There was increasing organization in her area of the art world and in April she notes the first meeting of the Sir John Cass Arts and Crafts Society and in May that she had ‘applied to join a new club called the United Arts Club.’ The Studio reported that as ‘it is hoped the club will become a recognised medium for effecting sales, it was of importance to establish at the outset the standard of work which will entitle members to the privilege of having their work included in the quarterly exhibitions’. Lena was accepted as a member.

In June the Sir John Cass Arts and Crafts Society held its first exhibition and Lena noted in her diary ‘One of mine is to be photoed for the Art Journal’. In fact the December 1906 issue of the Art Journal includes both a silver necklace and a copper and enamel candlestick by Madeleine Martineau. Among the other pieces photographed were a copper tea caddy by Jean Milne, a pendant each by Thalia How and Violet Ramsay and a brooch and a necklace by Harold Stabler.

In November 1907 at the Cass annual show Lena exhibited two jewel cases and a metal fruit dish with a figure pedestal.  In December she received a prize from the Cass Institute, the book selected being a copy of Lewis Day’s Enamelling. In May 1908 she ‘took up a case of jewellery to agents for Liverpool exhibition’, in November she was exhibiting at the Sir John Cass society show and also sent a case of jewellery to a show in Cambridge. At the end of the month she ‘took a case of jewellery to the United Arts Club and another to the Lyceum Club’. From the Cambridge show she received a first class certificate.

She does not mention if any items were sold from these exhibitions. In February 1906 she had noted that a ‘pendant I sent to show at Alderley Edge has 2nd prize and is sold to Katherine Greg’ and that from the Cass show in November 1907  ‘one thing of mine was bought, a copper clasp’. In February 1909 came her first commission. The relevant entry reads ‘I have been to Club today to meet lady who wishes for a gold medal to be made for the poets club to award the best poem’. The lady was a Mrs Higginbotham and the Club was the United Arts. Lena began the medal on 11 April and delivered it two months later. She had not been working at it all this time; she had enjoyed a two-week holiday in Italy. However on 20 July she received ‘ a rude letter from Mrs Higginbothom this morning refusing to take the medal, and saying it is not worth more than 15/- to a guinea!. Tho all 18ct gold with pearls and enamel.’ Lena reported the matter to the Club who arranged for her to make an appointment to speak to Mrs Higginbotham in person.

Harold Stabler

Harold Stabler

However Harold Stabler advised her not to go but to write. The matter ended with Mrs Higginbotham returning the medal to her. There is no mention of her ever receiving another commission. She kept busy in the autumn, exhibiting jewellery at an exhibition in Dresden and at the Cass society’s annual show.

In January 1910 she took a case of jewellery and an epergne to the New Gallery for display at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition and two cases of jewellery to the Society of Women Artists. She is noted as an exhibitor in the catalogues of both exhibitions. Her work shown at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition included a gold pendant and chain, entitled ‘ St Cecilia’; a gold necklace, a gold enamelled pendant and a gold necklace with tourmalines. For what it is worth it so happens that in the copy of the catalogue held by the British Library Lena Martineau’s pieces have been annotated in the margin in pencil. There are very few other markings – Cobden Sanderson’s books are so marked – and the impression is that the holder of the catalogue walking around the exhibition had approved of her pieces. There is no indication, however, of whom this visitor was.

In February 1911 she won 1st prize in the competition organised by the Studio for the design for a necklace pendant . The prize was 3 guineas – and, of course, her name was published in the magazine. In June when the Studio reported on an exhibition organised by the Sir John Cass Arts and Crafts Society it mentioned that ‘the jewellery included a dainty gold necklace by Miss Martineau’. Then on 24 November her father died. For whatever reason after this she made very few diary entries and the diary ends, at the bottom of the final page of the book, on 19 March 1914. I do not know if she carried on with her diary beyond the final 1914 entry. Until November 1911 entries had been made quite regularly and contain far more detail than I have been able to include in this paper.

Moreover, in the few 1913 and 1914 entries she makes no mention of any artistic endeavour. However, a (February, I think) 1914 article in the Studio ,‘Some Examples of Modern English Jewellery’, is illustrated with what the magazine says is ‘a small selection of recent work by artists whose productions are familiar to exhibition visitors’. Among the artists so recognized was S. Madeleine Martineau, with an ‘enamelled gold pendant with four pears, wreath and bird repousse’.

Lena's pendant - second row far right - illustrated in 'The Studio', 1914

Lena’s pendant – second row far right – illustrated in ‘The Studio’, 1914

As the Studio describes the work illustrated in the article as ‘recent’ it is likely that this piece was less than three years old, – that it was in fact made in the period after the last mention in her diary of her jewellery work. However, when the next Arts and Crafts Exhibition was held in 1916 Lena Martineau was not an exhibitor, although Violet and Frances Ramsay, Jean Milne and Thalia How all were. This would seem to be reasonably definite proof that she was by then no longer part of the arts and crafts scene.

But life has odd quirks. It was because the bird piece had been photographed for the Studio that when it was bought c. 1973, as part of a collection, by a dealer specialising in art nouveau jewellery, he was able to identify its maker. As Lena Martineau only died in 1972 – aged over 100 – my surmise is that the piece, along with others in the same collection, had remained with her all her life and had formed part of her estate. Once the dealer was able to identify this piece, others in the same collection were attributed to her.

Lena's bird pendant as illustrated in V. Becker, 'Art Nouveau Jewelry', 1985

Lena’s bird pendant  – top left – as illustrated in V. Becker, ‘Art Nouveau Jewelry’, 1985

Around the same time, interest in arts and crafts and art nouveau jewellery was developing, and two books by Vivienne Becker, Art Nouveau Jewelry and Antique and Twentieth Jewellery: a guide for collectors, drew on this art nouveau dealer’s stock of photographs for illustrations. A few facts about Lena Martineau’s life were surmised, mostly incorrectly.

It is not my contention that Lena was a feminist icon, a forgotten heroine. What is interesting about the life revealed in the diary is its very ordinariness. She had no struggle to receive her art education; her family backed her in her attendance at classes, in renting studios, and by sitting for her. Her diary reveals how much freedom a young woman – 20 when it opens – had in following her inclinations in this direction. There is nothing in her diary to suggest that she felt thwarted or discontented in any way. Moreover, whether or not she deserves the accolade, Sarah Madeleine Martineau has now entered the canon as an arts and crafts jeweller, the presumption being, merely because she is included, that her work was exceptional. However, in reality it is only because it has been possible to identify a little of her work – although that certainly is because she was considered by her contemporaries (except for Mrs Higginbotham) as being more than competent – that she has received this measure of recognition. Her diary gives a fascinating glimpse into the life behind the pendants.
Sarah Madeleine’s Manuscript Diary is now held in the collection of The Women’s Library@LSE.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and 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: The Lead-Up To War: 29 July 1914

On 7 August 2014 ITV will publish an e-book, Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette.  Based on her prodigious diary, this is my account of Kate Frye’s life and is a tie-in with the forthcoming ITV series ‘The Great War: The People’s Story’. 

To discover more about the entirety of Kate’s life – her upbringing, her involvement with the suffrage movement, her marriage, her London flats, her life in a Buckinghamshire hamlet, her love of the theatre, her times as an actress, her efforts as a writer, her life on the Home Front during two world wars, her involvement with politics – and her view of the world from the 1890s until October 1958  – download the e-book – £4.99 – from iTunes – or  £4.99 from Amazon.


KateAs a lead-up to publication I thought I’d share with you some entries from Kate’s diary from the month before the outbreak of war. Through her day-to-day experience we can see how the war stole up on one Everywoman. Kate was at this time 36 years old, living in a room at 49 Claverton Street in Pimlico and working in the Knightsbridge headquarters of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was now nine years since she had become engaged to (minor) actor John Collins. Her father died in March 1914 and her mother and sister, Agnes, now all but penniless, are living in rented rooms in Worthing. For the previous few weeks Kate’s fiancé, John Collins, had been renting  a room in another house in Claverton Street but he has now left for the West Country, to take up a position with a touring repertory company. Kate is feeling rather bereft.

Wednesday July 29th 1914

A busy morning of packing and cleaning and washing. I had ordered a chop so had my meal in – and [went]  out at 3. Took a coat and skirt to try and sell but no one would have it – so had to take it to the Office. Gladys was there – very important and bad tempered. How she snapped at me. Mrs Chapman came in and she was discussing the grave crisis of the War. The area is spreading. She is going to Austria – and Alexandra and Gladys too – to the Tyrol – but they will never get there if things develop.

Had tea and said good-bye to Miss Burnaby who is leaving the staff as she had a very good appointment elsewhere – and good-bye to Miss Simeon and Gladys. It seems so final somehow. I could wish I wasn’t going back. I have grown so sick of the work. In saying good-bye to Gladys she said to me ‘Please don’t make a speech’ in such a rude, aggressive manner. I tried to turn it off by saying if I were doing so it was because I had had so much practice lately, and she said ‘Oh, Yes. Mr McKillop has been in today singing your praises – saying how well you speak that you ought to be made to speak, and what a splendid organiser you are, and what a wonderful person altogether.’ So I suppose that was the trouble. I got my salary and holiday cheque and made off.

Bus to Whiteleys and shopped, tried to get rid of coat and skirt – bus to Oxford Street and strolled all round the British Museum as I remembered a shop buying off me once. No good – so I enjoyed the curio and picture shops. Walked down to the Strand – had a vile meal at Slaters there – walked to Trafalgar Square and got my 24 Pimlico bus back at 9 o’clock. I wonder when I shall stroll about London again. Finished my packing and then to bed.

How Kate must have disliked lugging an old coat and skirt around London all day – in the vain hope of selling them for a shilling or two. Especially having listened to others in the Office making plans for the kind of continental holiday she had once enjoyed – and never would again.

Kate had already had considerable experience of selling garments belonging to members of her family to a variety of ‘old clo” women – usually around Kensington – as well as jewellery – and even her parents’ old false teeth – so I imagine she had become rather inured to the associated humiliation. By ‘strolled around the British Museum’ she means, of course, the streets around the BM, rather than the Museum itself. Bloomsbury was then a centre for curio shops, second-hand bookshops and picture dealers and picture framers. It still is, to a certain extent, if one blanks out the tatty souvenir shops.

And the number 24 is still the bus that runs from Trafalgar Square to Pimlico.

See also Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and 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: The Lead-Up To War: 6 July 1914

On 7 August 2014 ITV will publish an e-book, Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette.  Based on her prodigious diary, this is my account of Kate Frye’s life and is a tie-in with the forthcoming ITV series ‘The Great War: The People’s Story’. For details of the TV series and its accompanying books see here.

KateAs a lead-up to publication I thought I’d share with you some entries from Kate’s diary from the month before the outbreak of war. Through her day-to-day experience we can see how the war stole up on one Everywoman.

Kate was at this time 36 years old, living in Claverton Street in Pimlico and working in the Knightsbridge headquarters of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was now nine years since she had become engaged to (minor) actor John Collins. Her father died in March 1914 and her mother and sister, Agnes, now all but penniless, are living in rented rooms in Worthing. John and Kate have joined them there this weekend.

  ‘Monday July 6th 1914

The  Marine Parade, Worthing, c 1914 (courtesy of excellent Sussex PhotoHistory website)

The Marine Parade, Worthing, c 1914 (courtesy of excellent Sussex PhotoHistory website)

Windy, rain early and then it cleared up. All 4 out to the shops and Parade and John photographed us on the Beach. Lunch at 1 o’clock, but no bus turned up for the train we had arranged – so we walked to the station and carried our things and caught the next train – 3.5 – had to change at Brighton – it was very crowded.

[Back in London] I came in and unpacked finding all serene at Claverton Street – then John came in and saw me in the Peckham train at 7 o’clock. He wanted to come but I couldn’t let him – he will get bored of suffrage.

We had rather a peculiar meeting – only myself, Miss Raynsford Jackson – not much good in the open air – and Mrs Fox from Hounslow who made the crowd shout and I had to get up in the end and smooth down. I had to speak again at some length.

Miss R.J and I came back in the train. I got out at the Embankment and walked from there. In at 10.30. Bread and cheese and ham with tomatoes which I had brought up from Worthing. then bed. felt very tired.’

As a paid employee of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage, Kate was kept busy organising ‘Votes for Women’ meetings in the London suburbs. This one at Peckham was, as Kate tells us, held in the early evening in the open-air.

Louisa Raynsford Jackson was c 56 years old – and a volunteer speaker for the NCS. Her sister, Mrs Barbara Kerr, who lived in the wealthy enclave of The Boltons in Kensington, was one of the NCS’ leading supporters.  Their father had been a prosperous Blackburn textile manufacturer, whose house, Clayton Grange, had been burned down by cotton workers in 1878, during riots protesting against a 10% cut in wages.

\one side of the mug  (shown on the left) commemorates the burning down of the Raynsford Jacksons' house in 1878 (courtesy of the BBC website and Blackburn Museum)

One side of the mug (shown on the left) commemorates the burning down of the Raynsford Jacksons’ house in 1878 (courtesy of the BBC website and Blackburn Museum)

Years later Mrs Barbara Kerr inquired in Blackburn if any one could find for her one of these mugs.

See also Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary

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Kate Frye’s Diary: The Lead-Up To War: 4 July 1914

On 7 August 2014 ITV will publish an e-book, Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette.  Based on her prodigious diary, this is my account of Kate Frye’s life and is a tie-in with the forthcoming ITV series ‘The Great War: The People’s Story’. For details of the TV series and its accompanying books see here.

KateAs a lead-up to publication I thought I’d share with you some entries from Kate’s diary from the month before the outbreak of war. Through her day-to-day experience we can see how the war stole up on one Everywoman.

Kate was at this time 36 years old, living in Claverton Street in Pimlico and working in the Knightsbridge headquarters of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was now nine years since she had become engaged to (minor) actor John Collins. Her father died in March 1914 and her mother and sister, Agnes, now all but penniless, are living in rented rooms in Worthing. John and Kate have joined them there this weekend.

Saturday July 4th 1914

We 3 had breakfast at 9 and John and I out at 10.30. We sat on the Beach all the morning. [In the evening] On the Pier and saw the performance by the Pierrot Troupe. It made Mother laugh so was a success.

We were not in till 10.15 when we had a large supper.’

Worthing Pier, 1914 (courtesy of  Worthing History website)

Worthing Pier, 1914 (courtesy of Worthing History website)

Worthing Pier had reopened barely a month before Kate’s visit- on 29 May 1914 – after it had been badly damaged during a storm at Easter 1913.

These pierrots were playing at Hastings - but, who knows, they may also have had an engagement on Worthing Pier. (Courtesy of

These pierrots were playing at Hastings – but, who knows, they may also have had an engagement on Worthing Pier. (Courtesy of


See also Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary



Suffrage Stories: Five Reasons To Love Sally Heathcote Suffragette

I knew only of Mary Talbot as the author of the Costa-winning Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes when, a year ago, she got in touch, sending me PDFs of the bulk of Sally Heathcote Suffragette and asking what I thought of it.

I had no hesitation in deciding that Sally Heathcote Suffragette was a winner.



1) Not only does the book tell the story of the militant suffrage movement with clarity and verve, but, most interestingly, approaches the narrative from an unfamiliar angle.  And I must say it is an angle that appeals to me. For Sally’s  story applauds the efforts of Frederick and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, whose work for the cause has been overshadowed by the antics of the more headline-grabbing suffragettes. By not offering any resistance to their ousting from the WSPU by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst they have, until now, been consigned to the shadows.

The Pethick Lawrences were militant up to a point – they both went to prison – but they drew the line at bombings and fire-raising. Apart from the danger involved, they could see that this level of violence would only further antagonise both government and public.

Sally Heathcote  brings to the fore the social philanthropy – and socialism – that lay at the heart of the Pethick-Lawrences’ involvement in the suffrage cause and their support for pacifism during the First World War. They  effected ‘deeds’ – running the Maison Esperance, the Esperance Club and the Green Lady Hostel- as well as publishing ‘words’ – in the shape of the paper Votes for Women. You can read more about the Pethick-Lawrences’ work after their expulsion from the WSPU here.

2) I love the accuracy of Sally Heathcote – not only of the history, but of the visuals. For instance I was very taken by Kate Charlesworth’s drawing of the interior of Lincoln’s Inn House – as in the picture in the bottom frames here.

Metcalfe Woman's Effort_0001

Below is the interior of Lincoln’s Inn House in reality – a (rather blurry) photo I took in what is now a Bill’s Restaurant last summer. I just love the fact that the detailing of the staircase railing is so right.

Lincolns Inn House interior 2


I asked if either Kate or Mary had visited the building   – but no. We worked out that Bryan’s source had been this page in Votes for Women.

3) All the well-known suffrage scenes are captured brilliantly. You can see from Kate’s drawing of Christabel speaking in Trafalgar Square how her fresh-faced spontaneity had the power to entrance her audience.  And I do like the comment in the bottom right of the picture -there’s no doubt Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence’s prose was on occasion over-purpled.



Metcalfe Woman's Effort_0002


4) I love Sally because one page alone refers to two constituents of the suffrage campaign that have long appealed to me. The first is dear Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, whose life-long efforts have until recently been sadly undervalued. I remember that when  the massively long text for my The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide was being copy-edited, the excellent editor did demur about the length of the entry on Mrs Elmy. However, I managed to convince him that she was really important and that back then, in 1999, very little had been written about her – so she was allowed her long entry. So I’m very pleased that Mary has taken notice of her. The postcard (and, of course, I’m very keen on real photographic postcards) shows her on Mrs Pankhurst’s platform during the 1908 Hyde Park rally. You can just see that Kate has drawn a hint of the bouquet that Mrs Elmy was carrying. Mrs E. mentioned in a letter that it was composed of ferns, purple lilies and lilies of the valley – the colours with which  Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence branded the WSPU for this grand occasion.

The second reference is to Maison Esperance – the dressmaking establishment set up by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to put her ideals into practice and provide her workers with good working conditions – such as an 8-hour day. I have always thought this a laudable and intriguing enterprise.  Alas, as Mary admits in another frame in the text, the experiment did not last long. Was the provision of good working conditions uneconomic? Or was it that the Maison’s garments did not flatter? Why did Emmeline, with her marketing skill, not get the Cara Delevingne or Alexa Chung of the day to be seen wearing them?   However, the associated girls’ club and the Green Lady Hostel at Littlehampton were successful.

Metcalfe Woman's Effort_0003


5) Finally, apart from everything else, I applaud the understated – but very pointed – message in the final frame.  Read the book – look at the pictures – and discover what this is.


Do have a look at Mary Talbot’s website to find out more about Sally Heathcote Suffragette  – about Mary and Bryan Talbot and Kate Charlesworth – and about associated conferences and book signings.

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Suffrage Stories: The Women’s Tax Resistance League And The Sad End Of Mrs Kineton Parkes

98 St Martin's Lane, home of the Women's Tax Resistance League

98 St Martin’s Lane, home of the Women’s Tax Resistance League

Flat 10, Talbot House, 98 St Martin’s Lane, on the borders of Covent Garden, was from 1910 the office of the Women’s Tax Resistance League and the home of Mrs Margaret Kineton Parkes (1865-1920), its indefatigable secretary. In 1889  she had married William Kineton Parkes, novelist, art historian and librarian to the Nicholson Institute in Leek, Staffordshire, built as a memorial to Richard Cobden. The couple had two sons, Gabriel and Maxwell, but by 1909, when Margaret Kineton Parkes moved to London, they appear to have separated.

TRL Talbot House 98 st Martin's Lane


Needless to say Mrs Kineton Parkes was not at home on the night of 2 April 1911 when the census was taken. The Women’s Tax Resistance League had been one of the societies that strongly supported the WFL/WSPU call to boycott the census and she doubtless spent the night at the Aldwych Skating Rink and the Gardenia Restaurant. Her son, Maxwell, was enumerated at the Letchworth home of Clara Lee of Norton Way, Letchworth, who was herself a census evader. Gabriel Parkes spent census night in Wandsworth at the home of a fellow agricultural student.

I suspect that Mrs Kineton Parkes was dependent on her work for the Women’s Tax Resistance League for her income. She certainly sent out frequent letters to other societies, advertising her services as a lecturer. For further information see my The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide (entries under ‘Parkes, Mrs Margaret Kineton’ and’Tax Resistance League’).

Women's Tax Resistance League badge

Women’s Tax Resistance League badge

In February 1914 Maxwell Parkes set sail for Wellington, New Zealand, his occupation described on the passenger list as ‘Farming’, although he was later, in various documents, described as ‘traveller’ (as in ‘commercial traveller’) and as ‘photographer’.

In August 1914, with suffrage campaigning put aside for the duration of the war, Mrs Kineton Parkes became financial secretary to the newly founded Women’s Emergency Corps. In March 1915 she was given a cheque as a testimonial for her work for the Women’s Tax Resistance League. This was presented at a ceremony held at the home of  Miss Gertrude Eaton, who had been an active tax resister and the chairman of the meeting was Mrs Cecil Chapman, president of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage.

On 2 November 1917 another meeting was held by member of the Tax Resistance League at Gertrude Eaton’s home, this time to wish Margaret Kineton Parkes ‘heartiest good wishes for health, happiness and prosperity’ prior to her departure on 16 November for New Zealand, travelling out to stay with her son Maxwell near Dunedin. She left with the society the text of a history of the Tax Resistance League, which was I think published as a pamphlet in 1919.

During 1918 and 1919 Margaret Kineton Parkes travelled the length and breadth of New Zealand, lecturing on women’s war work, on the struggle for the vote in Britain, and advocating a total prohibition on the sale of alcohol in NZ. See here for her views on the latter as reported in the Wairarapa Daily Times, 8 August 1919.  You can read here her comments on the passing of theUK  Representation People Bill, as expressed to the reporter from the Otago Times, 15 February 1918.

Mrs Kineton Parkes was still lecturing at the end of November 1919 and her death on 13 May 1920 was described as ‘sudden’.

Seacliff Mental Institution, Dunedin, New Zealand

Seacliff Mental Hospital, Dunedin, New Zealand

In fact she died in the Seacliff Mental Hospital, some miles outside Dunedin, the institution in which the writer Janet Frame was many years later to be a patient. Mrs Kineton Parkes was only 55 years old; an inquest was held and the coroner’s report gave the cause of her death as ‘exhaustion from acute delirious mania’. A sad end.






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A Poster Speaks: The Mystery of the Disappearing Doctor

This is the framed poster that for many years has hung above my desk. 


I first saw it – or, more probably, but not certainly, another copy of it – hanging on the stairs up to the attic of a marvellous second-hand bookshop run by a venerable and idiosyncratic bookseller, Peter Eaton, in a rambling Victorian house, Lilies, at Weedon in Buckinghamshire. [Here is an interview with Peter Eaton.] The house was packed with ephemera, such as this poster. None of it was for sale but it all added greatly to the atmosphere. Anyway, whenever I visited and made my way up the stairs to the silent attics I used to see this poster and wonder about the story behind it. But Peter Eaton died, Lilies closed and, while regretting the passing of this magical establishment, I particularly regretted no longer having contact with the ‘Missing Doctor’.

However, as luck would have it, not very long afterwards a dealer, knowing, of course, that I specialised in women’s history, offered me this copy of the poster. I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t the one from Lilies – it seemed too much of a coincidence – but, from what I was told, it had arrived along another route. 

Back in the 1990s, before the internet, I did  research for myself into the sad history behind the poster and have just come across the note book in which I made notes. Now, all these years later, I see that Sophia Frances Hickman has several Google entries – and even, alas, constitutes a thread on a Jack the Ripper website.  

But here is an unvarnished version of the story.

On Saturday 15 August 1903 Sophia Frances Hickman, a 29-year-old doctor, walked out of the gates of the Royal Free Hospital in Gray’s Inn Road, London, and disappeared.

Royal Free Hospital (now the Eastman Dental Hospital) Gray's Inn Road

Royal Free Hospital (now the Eastman Dental Hospital) Gray’s Inn Road

Her distraught father, with whom she lived at the family home, 57 Courtfield Gardens, South Kensington, wrote to The Times (pub 20 August) appealing for help. He told how his daughter had taken up her temporary  post on Friday 14 August, covering the fortnight’s absence of Dr Janet Campbell, who had been a fellow student with her a few years earlier at the London School of Medicine for Women.  Mr Hickman could offer no explanation for her disappearance other than ‘I believe the sight of so many great sufferers at the Royal Free Hospital and the anticipation of having to attend to so many dreadful cases that present themselves of a Saturday evening upset her nerves and caused her to seek rest elsewhere.’ He then suggests that ‘she may have lost her memory’, or, because ‘she is devoted to the poor and enters their dwellings freely, she may have been detained in some house against her will’.

He included in his letter a full description of his daughter- ‘who was usually called “Fanny”. The description  is repeated on the poster that was issued, offering a reward for information on her whereabouts. This reward came jointly from Mr Hickman and from the board of the Royal Free. Fanny Hickman is described as being of ‘5-ft 9-ins in height, of a powerful build’. Later comments from friends note that she was physically strong and apparently well-adjusted. During the previous winter she had worked for six months at the Battersea branch of the Clapham Maternity Hospital.

Speculation grew as to what had befallen Fanny Hickman. Newspaper articles dwelt on a suggestion that there had been friction between the staff at the Royal Free and that accounted for Miss Hickman’s disappearance.  This was firmly denied by the Royal Free.

On 8 October, with Miss Hickman still missing, her father published another letter in The Times in which he suggested that ‘It is quite possible that my daughter, overwhelmed with the responsibilities of a resident surgeon, which serious work she commenced on August 15 for the first time in her life, and feeling all alone and without the usual support of the very capable visiting surgeon and his locum tenens being also away for a holiday on Saturday, August 15 last, coupled with her horror of the work she was told she would have to do on the evening of that date at the gate of the hospital in attending to the awful cases resulting from quarrels between drunkards on pay day – may well have upset her balance of mind, caused loss of memory, and made her wander.’

Mr Hickman added that his daughter had lived at Roehampton for four years and added ominously that there ‘are two or more convents or nunneries at Roehampton’ – the veiled suggestion being that his daughter might have been incarcerated in one of these institutions against her will. Anti-Roman Catholic sentiment was not uncommon at the beginning of the 20th century and Mr Hickman was reported in The Times, 28 August 1903, as asserting that Roman Catholic priests, if they only exerted themselves, would be able to find his daughter because ‘Italian assassins and thieves are very fond of their Roman Catholic priests and confess everything to them.’ Journalists descended on Clerkenwell’s ‘Little Italy’ quarter, hunting for clues.

Needless to say the opportunity was not lost to impugn the ability of women doctors to cope with hospital work. In a letter to The Times, 15 October 1903, ‘A Hospital Physician’ wrote: ‘,,the tragical disappearance ..may serve to bring to the governors of hospitals and the public the important question of the fitness of women for such duties as she and others are now sometimes called upon to perform…Can it be regarded as seemly and becoming for a young woman to be brought in contact with the scenes which are of frequent occurrence in the casualty rooms of such hospitals, in large towns, where drunken men are brought in, more or less injured, and to be exposed to the conduct and brutality of such patients?’

There was a swift riposte from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (The Times, 17 October 1903) – ‘The suggestion made by ‘A Hospital Physician’ is about as wise as it would have been when Captain Speke disappeared if some old lady had urged that there should be ‘no more African exploration’. taking up up another of his points , she added ‘A Hospital Physician should rely less upon his imagination, and should look instead at facts patent to all the world. He professes to “know well that the majority of hospital patients of both sexes have a natural aversion” to being treated by medical women. The crowded out-patient rooms of the New Hospital for Women do not support his view. Many more poor women come each day than can be taken in. This does not indicate any “natural aversion”.’ A similar letter was sent to The Times by a (male) Royal Free Hospital surgeon.

On 19 October the mystery of Fanny Hickman’s whereabouts was solved by the discovery by a 10-year-old boy of her body deep in the undergrowth of the Sidmouth Plantation (now known as Sidmouth Wood) in Richmond Park.  Her father had mentioned in his appeals that his daughter was very fond of walking in Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common.

Sidmouth Wood, Richmond Park.   © Copyright Nigel Chadwick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Sidmouth Wood, Richmond Park. © Copyright Nigel Chadwick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The newspapers’ descriptions of Fanny Hickman’s badly decomposed body were more grisly than I think would now be acceptable.  It was clearly difficult to establish a cause of death and there was a lengthy inquest.  This was paralleled by news items to the effect that Miss Hickman was known to have a weak heart and, having climbed over a high iron fence, must have succumbed to a heart attack. Even Dr May Thorne, one of the New Hospital for Women’s surgeons, reported that she had examined Miss Hickman a couple of years previously and noted that she had an enlarged heart. All this was in an attempt to suggest – as her father would very much have liked – that Miss Hickman had died of natural causes.

However, an autopsy eventually revealed that Fanny Hickman had died of morphia poisoning.  It was revealed that a syringe containing traces of morphine sulphate had been found near her body. It was established that she had bought about 15 grains of morphine sulphate on 12 August. Sulphate of morphia was not used at the Royal Free and evidence was given that she would never have been required to give such an injection to a patient. For what it is worth, one of the Hickmans’ maids reported that she had found a syringe in the house, along ‘with several little glass tubes’. Dr Annie McCall, the founder of the Clapham Maternity Hospital, stated that these tubes contained sulphate of morphia.

The jury was given the option of returning an open verdict or one of suicide. They concluded that Fanny Hickman  death was suicide by poisoning with morphine, which she took while in a state of temporary insanity.  The reason for her action was really not established. She left no explanation and the only comment directly attributed to her that appeared in print throughout the entire episode was made not long before she took up her Royal Free Hospital temporary post and, paraphrased by the coroner, was to the effect that she wished ‘that she were a man, so that she could go and get drunk’  This  was made to appear as though it referred to her feelings about her new post and was taken as a joke at the time. But perhaps it referred to her feelings about life in general. Who knows?

The way in which Fanny Hickman’s disappearance was reported in the press reveals something of contemporary concerns  – the dangers of the white slave trade, of Roman Catholics, and of foreigners. On 3 September 1903 The Times editorial lambasted other papers’ ‘ display of some of the worst and meanest features of contemporary journalism. The distress of Miss Hickman’s family has been made the opportunity for a disgusting scramble for half-pennies  and pennies on the part of the least reputable newspapers of the metropolis…When absolutely no information has been obtained, placards and contents bills were so constructed as to lead passers-by to expect it; and no doubt a rich harvest has been reaped by stooping to these disgraceful practices.’ Doesn’t that all sound familiar?

Certainly the press coverage had its impact and Miss Hickman’s sad story was not forgotten, Sidmouth Wood becoming for a time a rather distressingly popular place in which to commit suicide. Virginia Woolf, by then a Richmond inhabitant, was well aware of Fanny’s fate.  In her May 1918 diary she described how

I wandered through Richmond Park in the moonlight with Desmond. We jumped a palisade into Miss Hickman’s funeral grove, & found the dark green mounds pointed with red rosettes. The rhododendron is a lovely flower for the moonlight’

Infinitely preferable to the journalists’ harrowing descriptions,  the thought of Fanny’s ‘funeral grove’ bathed in moonlight is  the one that I think of as I look up at the ‘Missing Lady Doctor’ poster.

For a more detailed analysis of the case it is  well worth reading Susan Collinson’s excellent article, The Case of the Disappearing Doctorpublished in The Psychiatric Bulletin, 1990.


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Suffrage Stories: ‘Laura Grey’: Suffragettes, Sex-Poison And Suicide

Lavendar Guthrie's Hunger Strike Medal and Votes for Women brooch, photo courtesy of Christie's
Lavendar Guthrie’s Hunger Strike Medal and Votes for Women brooch, photo courtesy of Christie’s.

On the morning of Monday 8 June 1914 – a year to the day after the death of Emily Wilding Davison – a young woman was found lying unconscious on the floor of her flat at 111 Jermyn Street, close to Piccadilly Circus. She was discovered by her charwoman, Mrs Spicer,who called the police. They in turn called a doctor, who spent some time attempting resuscitation. But the young woman could not be revived. She had taken an overdose of veronal, a barbiturate to which she had apparently become addicted. Around her were scattered seven empty veronal bottles and by the side of one of them were 23 loose tablets. She had left a suicide note, dated 5 June, addressed to her mother and signed with the initials ‘J.L.G.’, although the young woman was known to her landlord, charwoman and a circle of relatively recently acquired friends as ‘Laura Grey’.

The story revealed by the inquest was one that might be thought too contrived if one read it in a novel, or watched it unfold on stage or film. In it we find all the tropes that concerned British society at that most febrile of times in the summer of 1914.

Laura Grey’s death. caused a brief but spectacular newspaper sensation. In this case the ‘ruin’ of a well-brought-up young woman was associated not only with the familiar evils of drugs, the stage and night clubs but also with the exotic addition of the very topical phenomenon of window-smashing, imprisonment and hunger striking – all that denoted involvement in the militant suffragette movement. On the day that her death was first reported the newspapers were full of reports of police raids on suffragette hide-outs and of suffragette bombing, arson and a hatchet attack on a painting by Romney in the Birmingham Art Gallery.

‘Laura Grey”s real name was Joan Lavender Baillie Guthrie. She had been born in 1889 to a well-off young couple – her father doesn’t appear to have had employment as such, but was involved with the Volunteers, the territorial army of its day. He was Cambridge-educated but had been born in South Africa. During the Boer War he returned there as an officer in the Imperial Yeomanry, dying of enteric fever on 16 May 1900. His wife must have been alerted to his condition because she set sail for Cape Town on 5 May. I don’t know if she arrived before he died, but she returned to Southampton on 14 June having, presumably, seen him to this grave.

In December 1900 Mrs Baillie Guthrie with her two daughters (Lavender and Lilias, as they were known) set off for the Continent. I don’t know how long they spent abroad, but there is no trace of any of them in the 1901 UK census. Lavender apparently received a good education – she was reported to be a proficient student of Latin and Greek – but where and how this was acquired I don’t know.

Mrs Baillie Guthrie first appears on the London local electoral register in 1909 which may indicate that the family had only recently returned from living abroad. It was, anyway, about this time that Lavender Guthrie first joined the Women’s Social and Political Union. As her mother remarked at the inquest, ‘She was not quite a normal girl. She studied very hard, and had ideas of Socialism and of giving her life and her all to her more unfortunate sisters.’ A picture was being painted at the inquest of an unbalanced mind – that Lavender, when about 16 years old, had damaged her face with a chemical. Indeed, the doctor who tended to her when she was dying remarked on a scarring to her face. However, as set out in the inquest report, this episode is directly linked by her mother to Lavender’s desire to do good in the world.

Her mother also said that Lavender was an obedient daughter and, although a member of the WSPU from the age of 18, did not take part in any militant activity until 1911 when she was 21 and had reached the age of majority.

One other aspect of Lavender Guthrie’s character that was considered by her mother as not quite normal was that ‘she thought we were too luxurious in our life. All her life she had been a very good and spiritual-minded girl, and had not cared for any of the ordinary pleasures of life or enjoyments of life. All her ideal was to work, and work very hard.’ She said that Lavender had tried hard to find work to support herself but ‘she found that the wages of unskilled women labour would not support life.’ It was only when she was successful in getting employment on the stage that she was able to earn sufficient to enable her to leave home, apparently, at the end of 1912.

However, for some months in the early part of 1912 Lavender had had no need to seek work as she was  a prisoner in Holloway Gaol  She had taken part in the March 1912 WSPU-organised window-smashing campaign. and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for wilful damage. The window she had broken was that of Garrards, the famous jewellers, perhaps targeted it as a protest against the luxurious lifestyle that she abhorred.

In Holloway she went on hunger strike, was forcibly fed and was released after serving about four months. During this time Holloway was packed with suffragette prisoners – among them Emily Wilding Davison – and Lavender Guthrie would have known and been known to these most committed members of the WSPU.

While in Holloway Lavender Guthrie wrote the following poem that was subsequently published in Holloway Jingles, an anthology collected and published by the Glasgow branch of the WSPU. The dedicatee, ‘D.R.’ is thought to be Dorothea Rock. The poem has been singled out by literary critics as having more merit than most of the other ‘Jingles’. (Another poem in the anthology is by Emily Wilding Davison.)

To D.R.

Beyond the bars I see her move,

A mystery of blue and green,

As though across the prison yard

The spirit of the spring had been.

And as she lifts her hands to press

The happy sunshine of her hair,

From the grey ground the pigeons rise,

And rustle upwards in the air,

As though her two hands held a key

To set the imprisoned spirits free.

Listen here to an atmospheric setting by Eva Kendrick of this poem sung by the Northern Arizona University Women’s Choir. (I love it.)

To this suffragette’s autograph album Lavender Guthrie contributed a few lines from Robert Louis Stevenson – ‘The conditions of conquest are easy; we have only to hope a while, endure a while, believe always and never turn back’. Below her given name she added in brackets her stage and suffragette name – Laura Grey. It was the name she used when arrested. Like some other women – particularly of the middle class – she did not want her real name to appear in the papers in order not to embarrass her family. It is likely, therefore, that it was first as a suffragette soubriquet that Lavender adopted the name ‘Laura Grey’, which then gave her a ready-made stage name.

It seems that Lavender Guthrie suffered  from the after effects of forcible feeding and there is the suggestion that it was after her release that she discovered that veronal could ease the ‘neuralgia’ from which she now suffered. Her mother said that Lavender was ‘very ill’ after her release from prison.

Lyceum Theatre
Lyceum Theatre

Lavender’s first stage engagement was in the Lyceum Theatre’s Christmas 1912 pantomime – The Forty Thieves – doubtless an excellent vehicle for displaying the thinly-veiled flesh of the ‘pantomime girls’. At the time the Lyceum was renowned for staging the best pantomimes in London.

Now able to leave the comfort of her Kensington home,  ‘Laura Grey’ lived at first in rooms in Handel Mansions, Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury. Bloomsbury then had a rather louche reputation. However it was not long before she moved to the flat in Jermyn Street, close to the bright lights of Piccadilly. A couple of years earlier (when the 1911 census was taken) the tenant of the flat was a 24-year-old American ‘dancer (artistic) not in work’, who declared that she was married with one child. However neither husband or child was living with her and I feel that here, too, is a story of quiet desperation waiting to be uncovered.

There is no indication in the inquest report of the other shows in which Laura Grey was engaged (although there must have been at least one or two because the Lyceum was described as the first).  The coroner did not disguise the curl of his lip when he referred to her as a ‘pantomime girl’. As such she represented all that was meretricious and sleazy in the eyes of right-thinking people. Pantomime Girl, a novel by Annie Louise Daniells published in 1913 ,did not allow the central figure a happy ending – even if she was not actually forced, unlike poor Laura Grey, to suffer the ultimate wages of sin.

For not only did Laura Grey die, but she died pregnant. How much further could a young middle-class woman fall? The coroner had no trouble at all in revealing the cause  – her involvement with the suffragettes. He read in full the letter that accompanied the award of her hunger-strike medal, sent to Lavender Guthrie by Mrs Mabel Tuke of the WSPU,  and commented ‘Could anything be more calculated to upset the mind of a young girl than receiving this document and this travesty of a medal. The effect was quite clear. She leaves her home, her sister, her mother, for a garret in order to earn her own living and probably devote herself to this cause. She is next on the stage as a pantomime girl. Next we find her in the company of men frequenting night clubs and taking money from them. There is no more about the suffragist movement. The girl seems to have been absolutely degraded, and from then her whole history is one of drink, drugs, immorality, and death from her own hand.’

The jury duly returned a verdict of suicide during temporary insanity. However, this is just what Lavender Guthrie had anticipated. In the note she left for her mother she wrote ‘Of course the kindly Coroner will call it temporary insanity, but as a matter of fact I think this is about the sanest thing I have yet done. I am simply very, very tired of things in general.’ In fact her mother had been so worried about her that she had called in two women doctors – Dr Helen Boyle, who specialised in mental disorders, and Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson, who had actually been imprisoned in Holloway at the same time as Lavender – hoping that they would be able to certify her as insane. Their visit to Jermyn Street, accompanied by two nurses  -so certain were they, from what they had been told by Mrs Guthrie, that they would need to remove Lavender – had taken place on 26 May. The doctors, however, had not found Lavender suffering from any delusions that warranted restraint.

It is difficult to know exactly what Laura Grey’s  Jermyn Street life had been like. She left over £1000 in her will, although this money might not have been easily accessible. According to her mother, although she had initially refused to accept an allowance, by the time of her death she had agreed to receive an annual allowance of £100. Was she receiving money from men, as the Coroner suggested – or assumed? Who knows? Her mother noted at the inquest that she ‘lived in a very self-sacrificing manner, denying herself everything.’ However, it would appear that she must have spent at least some of her money on drink and drugs. When asked by the Coroner if she knew that her daughter ‘had taken to drink’, Mrs Guthrie gave the immortal reply, ‘I had heard of absinthe: I do not know whether that is drink’. Laura Grey’s regular consumption of veronal was evident from the bottles found in the flat. In the touching letter she left for her mother she wrote, ‘I have been taking veronal for the last six months practically every night. I only lied to you about it because I knew you would worry if I told you the truth’.

In this letter Laura Grey also writes, ‘During this last year I have met some very dear souls, both men and women. If you ever come across them and they speak to you of me give them a welcome for my sake, even though I may have met them in bad and immoral ways’. In July Mrs Guthrie wrote a short letter in the Daily Mail, in which she thanked those who had got in touch to sympathise at her loss – and there is a hint that among these may have been some of the ‘dear souls’ to whom Lavender refers. In which case it appears a rather generous letter.

The night clubs frequented by Laura Grey were named as the Astor Club (already defunct by 1914), the Mimosa, the Leicester and the Albert Rooms. They were all doubtless of a transient nature and have vanished leaving no discernible trace.  newspaper reported that ‘she generally wore evening dress at these resorts, but lately she appeared in costumes of the futurist fashion

Betty May (courtesy of Kirsty McKenzie Design Facebook Page)
Betty May (courtesy of Kirsty McKenzie Design Facebook Page)

Betty May, exotic dancer, good-time girl and another frequenter of Soho haunts, in her racy memoir – Tiger-Woman – published in 1929, places Laura Grey in the bohemian Cafe Royal, alongside many better known figures, such as the futurist painter C.R.W. Nevinson. ‘I knew her well’, Betty May writes, ‘and the night before she was found dead she came over to me in the Café and gave me a book she had promised to lend me. We had a long chat and she seemed quite cheerful. She was tall and slim, with a very fine forehead. At one time she had been a militant suffragette.’ Whether or not this charming scene actually did take place I don’t know. Betty May’s memoir doesn’t strike me as totally reliable, but the fact that she chooses to mention Laura Grey at all 15 years after her death is interesting. If Laura Grey was in the Cafe Royal the night before she died, that fact was not mentioned at the inquest. Indeed there was a suggestion in the press that she may have taken the veronal on the Friday night and lain undiscovered all weekend until Mrs Spicer arrived on Monday morning.

Cafe Royal, by Willian Orpen, 1912
Cafe Royal, by Willian Orpen, 1912

Betty May also mentions, as another of the bohemian haunters of the Cafe Royal, both William Orpen, the painter of the above picture, and the poet, Anna Wickham who’ always dressed very severely, and had a deep voice that used to frighten me a great deal’.

Anna Wickham
Anna Wickham

Whether or not Anna Wickham actually knew Laura Grey she was sufficiently moved by her fate to write a poem, Laura Grey, that was published in the Daily Herald (a left-wing newspaper) on 16 June 1914.

And Anna Wickham was not the only member of the literati to be inspired to poetry by Laura Grey’s death. On 14 June 1914 Gilbert Cannan, poet and essayist, wrote to Lady Ottoline Morrell,  ‘these last days I have been haunted and most passionately moved the story of the girl, Laura Grey. Her unassailable spirit thrust deliberately through the worst of life has shone splendidly for me and I wrote this poem which I send to you now..’His biographer, Diana Farr, commented ‘ Here was a girl that Gilbert would have loved to cherish and the poem he sent to Ottoline called simply Laura Grey was his response to a story which moved him deeply.’

But there were many others who were moved in a different direction. The novelist, E. W. Hornung, the author of Raffles, a brother-in-law of Arthur Conan Doyle, and a Kensington friend of the Guthrie family, wrote a letter to The Times, published on 13 June as an Appreciation of ‘Laura Grey’. Referring to her throughout as Lavender Guthrie, he described her as ‘a beautiful and gentle creature: one both gracious and unaffected, indeed as great-hearted and noble-minded and sweet-tempered a girl as ever looked like a Greek goddess and carried herself like a queen.’

This paragon, this icon of young British womanhood, did however have one fault – ‘Erratic and wilful she no doubt had always been.’ It was this fault, ‘observable outside her family circle’, that had caused her to associate with the militant suffragettes, whose ‘methods and practices both inside and outside prison’ oozed ‘slow and subtle sex-poison.’ It was this that had robbed Lavender Guthrie of her ‘bloom’ – ‘the thirst for sensation had become a passion and the craze for revolt had become a disease’. For this he laid the blame firmly on the leaders of the WSPU.

All the newspapers were awash with letters about the case. A few were sympathetic to Laura Grey’s fate but most, like a correspondent to the Daily Express, saw her as the ‘Victim of the Furies’. And you will have no difficulty in guessing who these were.

For their part, the WSPU put its own particular spin on the sad story, declaring that Laura Grey had long left their ranks and it was because she was no longer a suffragette that she had fallen in with the wrong sort of people. Why were the names of the men which whom she had associated – particularly the father of the child she was expecting – not publicised? It was the Government and the attitudes of society that were responsible for Laura Grey’s death. In fact her ‘ruin’  ideally illustrated Christabel Pankhurst’s slogan of the last couple of years – ‘Votes for Women and Chastity for Men’.

It was certainly not a good moment for the WSPU to be associated with drug-taking, for at this very time – amongst all the other newspaper reports of suffragette mayhem – was the story – sensationalised in the popular press – that a solicitor’s clerk had been discovered attempting to smuggle a drug to Grace Roe, one of the WSPU leaders, now on hunger strike in Holloway. The drug was actually an emetic – enabling her to be sick after forcible feeding – not a barbiturate – but the man and, indeed, woman in the street, could now even more easily associate ‘drugs’ with ‘suffragettes’.

If only Laura Grey/Lavender Guthrie had been able to hold out for a couple more months might the war have made a difference to her situation? With the great change that British society was about to undergo, the birth of baby to yet another unmarried young woman might have felt of little less consequence in general, although doubtless still fraught in the particular. In her farewell letter to her mother she sent ‘My love to Lilias, and I hope she will be very happy and marry some decent man whose children you could be proud of’. This strikes me as the saddest sentence in a long, sad letter. Lilias never married. If Mrs Baillie Guthrie had wanted only grandchildren of which she could be proud, she was to be disappointed.

Nearly 100 years after the sad event, Lavender Guthrie’s suicide still has the power to shock. Although I had known of the case in a general way it was only a week ago, when going through cuttings accumulated by my diarist, Kate Parry Frye (for all about Kate Frye’s diary click here), that I came across a copy of Hornung’s letter to The Times. Kate had clipped it and neatly folded it and I doubt anybody else had looked at it until I opened it out last week. I have checked and, although she was in London at the time, Kate makes no mention of the case of Laura Grey in her diary – but it had obviously not gone unremarked.

In another neat leap through the century, Lavender Guthrie’s hunger-strike medal that I illustrate at the head of this post is now held in the collection of Ken Florey, who illustrates it beautifully in his  Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study. So, the very hunger-strike medal that in 1914 was in the Jermyn Street room as poor Lavender Guthrie took her overdose of veronal, was taken away by the police and then held up to such contempt and ridicule by the Coroner, is, a century later, the prized and treasured possession of a dedicated collector of suffragette memorabilia.

Copyright All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and 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 Suffrage Diary: Live in Wood Green, 25 July 2013

Wood Green 25 July




Do come along and experience a taste of suffrage  life 

Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary is published by Francis Boutle Publishers

Wrap-around paper covers, 226 pp, over 70 illustrations, all drawn from Kate Frye’s personal archive.

ISBN 978 1903427 75 0

For a full description of the book click here

Copies available from Francis Boutle Publishers, London Review Bookshop (shop and online),  Foyles (shop and online) – and from all good bookshops – including the Big Green Bookshop!

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Suffrage Stories: Emily Wilding Davison and Kate Frye – Derby Day 1913

The memorial brooch to Emily Davison that Mary Leigh kept all her life

The memorial brooch to Emily Davison that Mary Leigh kept all her life, I can’t explain the scribbles!

In yesterday’s post I explained that on the evening of 3 June 1913 Emily Davison went to Kensington, to the WSPU Summer Fair. I think it likely that the idea of doing ‘something’ next day at the Derby only crystallised during the course of that evening or night.

For, the next morning, Emily travelled into town from 133 Clapham Road, where we believe she was staying with her friend, Mrs Alice Green, in order to visit WSPU headquarters in Kingsway and acquire two WSPU flags. The journey she would have followed involved travelling on the City and South London Railway (now the Northern line) to Bank, changing there to the Central line and exiting at British Museum, a station long since incorporated into Holborn station. From there it was a short walk to WSPU headquarters at Lincoln’s Inn House.

A WSPU flag

A WSPU flag

If she had planned in advance to travel to Epsom that day, Emily would surely have picked up the flags earlier. It would have been much easier to travel from Clapham to Victoria, without making a detour into Holborn. As it was it would appear that she rolled up the flags, which are made from quite heavy woollen material, pinned them inside the back of her coat (according to the police report) and set off for Victoria.

Victoria Station

Victoria Station

As I have explained in an earlier post, at Victoria it is more than likely that the only ticket Emily could buy, whether she wanted it or not, was a special Derby Day  excursion return – at the not inconsiderable price of 8 shillings.  The one she travelled took her to Epsom Downs station, close to the Grandstand, but quite a distance from Tattenham Corner. She may have arrived around the middle of the day, possibly in time for the first race.

The Derby began at 3.01pm. As the horses approached Tattenham Corner a mere 4 seconds elapsed between Emily Davison ducking under the rails and being knocked flying by Anmer. The horse got to his feet and the crowd rushed forward to surround Emily Davison and Herbert Jones, the jockey.

The main witness, a policeman, Frank Bunn, who was standing near to the point where Emily went under the rail,  made clear at the inquest that there was no identification of  Emily until after she was admitted to Epsom Cottage Hospital. The identification may have come from the marking on a handkerchief in her pocket. Here is the complete inventory of Emily’s possessions, as noted by Frank Bunn.

  • ‘On her jacket being removed I found 2 Suffragette flags, 1½ yards long by ¾ yards wide, each consisting of green, white and purple stripes, folded up and pinned to the back of her jacket, on the inside.
  • On person, 1 purse containing 3/8¾d.,
  • 1 return half railway ticket from Epsom Race Course to Victoria No 0315,
  • 8 ½d stamps,
  • 1 helper’s pass for Suffragette Summer Festival, Empress Rooms, High Street, Kensington for 4th June 1913,
  • 1 race card,
  • some envelopes and writing paper,
  • 1 handkerchief Emily Davison Mrs. E.W.D 8 88.
  • 2 postal order counterfoils No. 790/435593 for 2/6, ‘crossed’ written in ink thereon, one 20H/924704 for 7/6 E.Gore 1/4/13 written in ink thereon,
  • one insurance ticket dated May 10th 1913 on G.E. railway to and from New Oxford Street,
  • 1 key,
  • 1 small memo book’

Some of these items survive in the collection of the Women’s Library @ LSE

As she lay on the racecourse, Emily Davison was tended by Mrs Catherine Warburg, a member of the wealthy banking family, a woman with, the inquest reported, some nursing experience. The Warburgs’ had an estate nearby in Surrey and,  quite incidentally, one of Mrs Warburg’s sons, Edmund, was to become an eminent botanist.

While Herbert Jones was carried into the racecourse ambulance, Emily had to rely  on the goodwill of a race goer and was taken to Epsom hospital in the car of Johann Faber, who lived at nearby Ewell and, among his other activities, was the Danish consul general in London.

The reverse of Mary Leigh's Emily WIlding Davison brooch, annotated, characteristically,  in Mary's handwriting

The reverse of Mary Leigh’s Emily WIlding Davison brooch, annotated, characteristically, in Mary’s handwriting

There is no contemporary evidence to suggest that Emily Davison was accompanied to Epsom by anybody else. Mary Richardson, another militant suffragette, claimed, both in her autobiography and in a BBC interview, to have been standing near Emily and to have seen her dash onto the race track. However, I do not believe this. She wrote the book- and recorded the interview – in 1953, forty years after that Derby Day. She was impoverished and to create some hype placed herself at the scene of every major suffragette drama. This is, I feel, a pity as the parts of the book which can be tied to historical fact do have power, but in 1953 (as, perhaps, now) the public only wanted drama from the suffragettes. If she had really been close at Epsom on 4 June 1913 she would surely have written about this – or it would have been reported – in The Suffragette, even if not called as a witness at the inquest. Moreover she rather gilds the lily by claiming to be at the Derby to sell copies of The Suffragette, a paper that, at this very time, the Home Office was not permitting to be sold. I cannot imagine that the masses of police manning the Derby would have allowed Mary Richardson to ply her wares. But such is the power of the media that careful reasoning is always trumped by the easy soundbite.

Kate Frye coverIf we do not know what Mary Richardson was really doing for the Cause on Derby Day, there is no doubt what Emily Davison was doing and, indeed, what Kate Frye, another stalwart campaigner, working at this time in Fakenham, Norfolk, as organizer for the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage, was up to.

Kate’s diary entry for 4 June 1913 tells us that she was unsuccessful in her search for a chairwoman for a meeting (the reason often given was that whichever local worthy she approached did not want in any way to be associated with the militant suffragettes, even though the NCS was, as its name suggests, a constitutional society) and spent some hours walking round the town, canvassing for members. A thankless task and, of course, hardly the stuff of drama.

She ends the day’s entry with ‘My good landlady talks more than I need but she seems to like me and as she has never had a lady lodger before I must make a good impression.’ So, in her own way, Kate was breaking boundaries on that day 100 years ago. I am sure we are all grateful that, as women, we are not barred as lodgers. Presumably in previous years that ‘kind landlady’ had turned women away, doubtless worrying that they would give her house a bad reputation. My point being that revolutions require a succession of infinitely small changes – as well as the grand gesture.

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Suffrage Stories: Emily Wilding Davison And That Return Ticket

Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Wilding Davison, wearing a WSPU’ Boadicea’,  brooch, her ‘Holloway’ brooch and her hunger-strike medal. The latter was buried with her.

Ever since 1988, when  the Women’s Library@LSE  (or, as it was then, the Fawcett Library) was given, by descendants of Rose Lamartine Yates, items that had belonged to Emily Wilding Davison, the fact that amongst these was her return ticket, issued on 4 June for travel between Victoria Station and Epsom Race Course, has been considered important in assessing whether or not she intended to act in such a way as to harm herself. Click here to view an image of the ticket,  an item in a digital exhibition launched to mark the 100th anniversary of Emily Davison’s death.

The argument was, in essence, that if Emily Davison had a return ticket she intended to return. However, no contemporary report, either at the inquest, in newspapers or in the memoirs of her friends, made such a deduction. The first occasion on which this theory was put forward, as far as I can discover, was  in a 1988 Guardian article celebrating the gift to the Fawcett Library.

Some while ago I decided that this lack of contemporary comment required further investigation and that in order to determine what message the ticket carried it was necessary to look more closely at the workings of pre-First World War rail routes between London and Epsom, in particular the arrangements that were in place on 4 June 1913.  Experience has taught me that a lack of awareness of just such quotidian details can often lead historians astray. Thus, before attempting to interpret Emily Davison’s motive on Derby Day, it is necessary to understand the detail that shaped her day.

I quickly realised that, as Derby Day has dwindled in importance – no longer the epitome of a wonderful day out for Londoners – so has an appreciation of the logistics that 100 years ago brought hundreds of  thousands of  Londoners, of all social classes, by carriage, car and, most importantly, by train to Epsom. For Derby Day in 1913 was still the Derby Day of William Powell Frith’s painting and of the wonderfully descriptive scenes depicted by George Moore in Esther Waters, almost a national holiday, racing augmented by funfairs and sideshows. For instance, on 4 June 1913  many London theatres cancelled their matinees, knowing that their audiences would be elsewhere.

First I researched the route that Emily Davison had taken. From newspaper advertisements placed by the train companies in the Manchester Guardian and the Times I saw that on Derby Day virtually all the usual train services were suspended and special trains ran to the three Epsom stations – Epsom Town, Epsom Downs and Tattenham Corner.

Plaque showing map of L B & S C Railway system at Victoria Station

Plaque showing map of L B & S C Railway system at Victoria Station

Each of these stations was linked to a different rail company. Emily Davison’s ticket was issued from Victoria Station. I discovered that the only company that ran trains from Victoria was the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, the rather circuitous route taken by the line ending at Epsom Downs station.

Each of the rail companies advertised the virtues of its Epsom station – so, while the Charing Cross/London Bridge line trumpeted Tattenham Corner as the only station on the race course (and, indeed, at this time trains only travelled to that station on race days), the L B & S C Railway claimed Epsom Downs as the station nearest the Grandstand – and described it as the ‘Racecourse Station’. The return ticket gives the route for return as ‘Epsom Race Course to Victoria’.

On Derby Day 1913 all the companies put on special excursion trains. The L B & S C ran ‘cheap trains’ from Victoria up until 9.38 am and after that – between 10.15 am and 1.38 pm – put on 17 ‘fast trains’. The cost of Emily Davison’s ticket – 8s 6d  ‘with no particular class of carriage guaranteed’ – does not seem cheap. In 1913 the WSPU paid its organizers £2 10s a week – and Emily did not even have the luxury of such employment; the 2013 equivalent of the ticket price is over £40.The advertisements do not give much detail about prices.  No ‘8/6 ticket’ is mentioned, but the ‘ Pullman Limited’ Non-Stop train that left Victoria at 12.15 cost 12/6 (return) and another Derby Day ‘Special Through Train’ from Willesden cost 6/6 so I would conclude that Emily Davison caught one of the ‘fast trains’ from Victoria to Epsom Downs.

Epsom Downs station on Derby Day, 1907 (image courtesy of Nick Catford's 'Disused Stations' website)

Epsom Downs station, packed with trains, on Derby Day, 1907 (image courtesy of Nick Catford’s ‘Disused Stations’ website)

The advertised arrangements for Derby Day stress, as I have mentioned, that certain ordinary services to Epsom were suspended and others were altered. A reading of the advertisement would strongly suggest that it was not possible, on Derby Day, to buy any ticket from Victoria to Epsom Downs other than one that included a return element. The L B & S C Railway concentrated on running only ‘excursion’ trains on Derby Day, intent on transporting the hordes looking forward to this highlight in the holiday calendar, and that these tickets were, of necessity, ‘return’.

My feeling is that the explanation for no contemporary comment being made of the fact that Emily Davison had bought a return ticket – quite an expensive ticket – was that her contemporaries would have recognised that Derby Day excursion tickets were by their very nature ‘return’. On that day railway companies operating between London and Epsom  had a captive market and made the most of it.

Moreover, even if  Emily Davison had not expected to be injured at Epsom, she could hardly have been certain of returning to London that day. If, when she bought her ticket, she was then intending to step onto the race course and cause disruption to the Derby she would surely have known that, at the very least, she would to be arrested. I would suggest that the fact that she had notepaper, envelopes and stamps in her pockets (she does not appear to have been carrying any kind of bag) might indicate that she had thought it would be likely that she would need to write a letter or two that day, possibly from a police cell.

I would suggest that it does not seem likely that, impoverished as she was, Emily Davison, with the expectation of, at the least, detention, would have spent so much on a return ticket if she had not been compelled to do so.


All articles on are my copyright.

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Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Frye in ‘History Workshop Online’



Do click History Workshop Online 

to discover how, in a dark and dank north-London cellar, I first encountered Kate Parry Frye and how I slowly recognized the importance of her diaries are to those interested in the suffrage movement.

To buy Campaigning for the Vote, published by Francis Boutle Publishers, £14.99  click here

Kate Frye cover

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Kate Frye’s Suffrage Diary: Myra Luxmoore, Suffrage Artist

57 Bedford Gardens (now renumbered as 77)

57 Bedford Gardens (now renumbered as 77, courtesy of wikipage on William Magrath)

I first came across mention of ‘Miss Luxmoore’ in the pages of Kate Frye’s diary. Obviously a suffragist, with a Studio at 57 Bedford Gardens, Campden Hill, I presumed she was an artist.  But who was she? Her name is not recorded in, for instance, Lisa Tickner’s Spectacle of Women, the vademecum  on suffrage artists. Intrigued, I thought it worth finding out more about Miss Luxmoore and her world.

So, to begin at the beginning, here are three entries from Kate Frye’s diary in which she records meetings held at Miss Luxmoore’s Studio.

Tuesday February 9th 1909

Dinner at 7.30. Off at 8 o’clock to Bedford Gardens – Miss Luxmoore’s Studio to a Suffrage meeting. Got there in good time and started to work at once stewarding and trying to make converts. Got a young man student to join the Men’s League. Mr Mitchell and Miss Clementina Black were the speakers and did very well. Alexandra [Wright] was in the Chair. I waited at the end  helped count the money etc and walked up to Notting Hill Gate with the Wrights and Miss Black and walked all the way home. Was not in till after 11 o’clock. Very much enjoyed the meeting and the Suffrage atmosphere and meeting all those students was like a page out of a book.

Tuesday March 30th 1909

I changed my dress had a bit of something to eat then off at 7.30. Walked to Richmond Road took a bus to Bedford Gardens and went to Miss Luxmoore’s Studio Suffrage meeting. Gladys was there. Mrs Graves took the chair. Miss Meyer helped and Mrs Stanbury spoke – but, besides ourselves, there were only 15 audience. Mrs Henry of the Camden Institute was there. I had sent her a card and she quite disgraced herself and made Mrs Stanbury very uncomfortable by hissing loudly, then walking out with her poor unfortunate daughter. Something Mrs Stanbury said upset her – she was only talking history but Mrs Henry took it to mean the Queen of Spain – but I could not understand it till I got home and found from Daddie that Mrs Henry has become a ‘pervert’ to the Roman Catholic Church. It made a nasty impression on us somehow. We had a chat afterwards and all got very low spirited. There has been another raid on the House – several arrests and the women much knocked about – it is all so awful.

Tuesday May 4th 1909

Went off at 7.30 [pm] Walked to Richmond Road – a bus from there to Bedford Gardens – and to Miss Luxmoore’s Studio for a Woman’s Suffrage meeting. Such a crush of people and no end of helpers. Mrs Carl Hentschel, Miss Abadam and Mr Walter McLaren were the speakers. Miss Hentschel [her father, Carl Hentschel, was a lithographic printer, responsible for some suffrage posters], Miss Porter, Miss Meyer and, of course, Gladys and Alexandra. I had sent Miss Lockyer [who had been the late William Whiteley’s housekeeper] a ticket and she was there with Miss Clara Whiteley – and who should be there but one of the Miss Hollingsworths (Jessie) taken by some friend. I made three members – which wasn’t bad – and I waited with the others to help clear up and walked to Notting Hill Gate with them. Then came home in a bus. Was so tired. Mother was waiting up. Supper & bed. Mrs Carl Hentschel’s maiden speech and she did it very well and I don’t think I ever heard a more rousing speech than Miss Abadam. Mr McLaren [Walter McLaren, Liberal MP] was stupid.’

My research has shown me that ‘Miss Luxmoore’ was Myra Elizabeth Luxmoore (1860-1918), born in Paddington, the only child of John and Jane Luxmoore. By her first marriage, however, Jane had at least three daughters, Myra’s elder half-sisters. John Luxmoore worked for the Great Western Railway as a superintendent locomotive engineer. After a period based in Paddington, the family followed John’s work to Newport in south Wales and finally to Newton Abbot in his native Devon.

By 1888, giving her address as Somerford, Newton Abbot, Myra Luxmoore was exhibiting as an Associate with the Society of Women Artists. By 1891 she had moved to London and was living at 32 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square. She then spent a brief time living at 87 Cadogan Gardens before moving, c 1905, to her studio at 57 Bedford Gardens. After that she began exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy. Around 1912 Myra Luxmoore moved to 80 Redcliffe Square, Kensington, remaining there until her death in 1918.

You can see from the photograph (above) that 57 Bedford Gardens had been purpose-built with artists in mind, with large windows to provide ample light.  A google search shows photographs of the inside of the apartments as they are today – lofty spaces, providing ample room for a suffrage meeting.

When researching suffrage boycotters of the 1911 census I was interested to note that, while the enumerator wrote in his book that Myra Luxmoore was the occupier of a studio at 57 Bedford Gardens, he marked the apartment as unoccupied on census night. Presumably she, along with several other of the artists who shared the address, had opted to spend the night elsewhere. Her distinctive name is to be found nowhere else in the census returns.

MMyra Luxmoore's card published by the Conservative and Unionist Women's Franchise Association

Myra Luxmoore’s card published by the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association (photo courtesy of Ken Florey)

I had wondered where Myra Luxmoore’s suffrage allegiances lay and have recently discovered this card (left) illustrated by her and published by the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association. I think, therefore, it would not be too far-fetched to think that she was a supporter of the CUWFA. Incidentally, as far as I remember, this is the only postcard issued by the CUWFA that I have ever seen.

The majority of Myra Luxmoore’s exhibited works bear rather wispy titles – such as ‘Roses and Sweet Lavender’, or ‘What’s O’Clock?’ – although a few portraits are noted. One such was the portrait of Norah, the 18-year-old daughter of Sir John Craggs MVO, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1913. By 1910 another of Sir John’s daughters, Helen, was a full-time paid organiser for the WSPU. This was most definitely not a career move of which her father approved and I wonder if he would have commissioned the portrait if he had known that the artist had strong suffrage – although not militant – sympathies?  [Incidentally Helen Craggs in 1957 married, as her second husband, the widowed Lord Pethick-Lawrence.]

One portrait by Myra Luxmoore is known to hang in a public collection, that of the Very Rev Edward McClure (1833-1906), Dean of Manchester.

Verallery, y Reverend Edward C. MClure, Manchester City Art Gallery, courtesy of BBC - Your Paintings

Very Reverend Edward C. MClure, Manchester City Art Gallery, courtesy of BBC – Your Paintings

Other of her works were collected by Mother Agnes Mason, Foundress of the Community of the Holy Family. Click here to read about her connection with Myra Luxmoore and her works. The article also gives some, unverified, information about the Luxmoore family’s friendship with the family of Gerard Manley Hopkins.



Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary edited by Elizabeth Crawford

For a full description of the book click here


Wrap-around paper covers, 226 pp, over 70 illustrations, all drawn from Kate Frye’s personal archive.

ISBN 978 1903427 75 0

Copies available from Francis Boutle Publishers, or from Elizabeth Crawford –  (£14.99 +UK postage £3. Please ask for international postage cost), or from all good bookshops. In stock at London Review of Books Bookshop, Foyles, National Archives Bookshop.

'Campaigning for the Vote' - Front and back cover of wrappers
‘Campaigning for the Vote’ – Front and back cover of wrappers

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Last-Minute Christmas Present With A Suffragette Theme? Look To Persephone and ‘No Surrender’

94-No-Surrender-web-162x162Looking for a last-minute present?

We are but a few weeks away from 2013, the year  in which the 100th anniversary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison will be extensively commemorated.  A present with a suffragette theme will seem percipient.

So – for a good ‘suffragette’ read – No Surrender by Constance Maud is the answer.

The  novel was first published in 1911 and gives the modern reader an insight into the arguments that fuelled the fight  for ‘votes for women’. The author was herself involved in the campaign and is faithful to reality, including among her characters some based on leading suffragette personalities.

No Surrender  has been republished, in their usual stylish format, by Persephone Books. The fabric pattern shown – so suffragette – so 1911 – decorates the endpapers.

Click here for full details of the book and how to order it. There is still time for Christmas delivery – and Persephone will even gift wrap the book for you.

Problem solved.

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Suffrage Stories: Beware! A Warning to Suffragists by Cicely Hamilton (5)

Cicely Hamilton wrote the words – the sketches were supplied leading suffrage artists: Mary Lowndes, Dora Meeson Coates, C. Hedley Charlton – and the ‘Rhyme Book’ was published by the Artists’ Suffrage League, 1909.

I will reproduce this delicious work in a series of posts – a few pages at a time – for your amusement and edification.

Instalment 5:

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Mariana Starke: The Mystery Of The Bodleian Diary

Duke Humfrey’s Library

It was over a year ago that I became aware that the Bodleian Library in Oxford had recently acquired a manuscript pocket diary that was catalogued as:

‘Diary of Mrs Starke, relative of the playwright and travel writer, Mariana Starke, 1791. This Ladies Pocket Journal; or Toilet Assistant: For the Year 1791 had been published in London by S. Bladon and comprised 84 leaves in a binding of gilt-stamped roan, with flap, clasp missing, marbled endpapers. The catalogue description went on to explain that ‘From internal evidence it appears that the author was the wife of ‘Starke’, an officer in the army, and a relative of the playwright Mariana Starke. They were married 16 Feb. 1764 (see fol. 18v). There are brief entries each day describing her social engagements and her husband’s movements. They often visited Mariana Starke’s family at Epsom and were frequently in the audience at her new play, ‘The Widow of Malabar’. The entries include weekly accounts. Many are supplemented by notes in shorthand.’

I was intrigued.  Having, as I thought, researched Mariana Starke’s family fairly comprehensively from her great-grandfather’s merchant life in the late 17th century, through the overseas adventures of her grandfather and father I was interested in discovering who this ‘new’ Starke relation was. For I could not place any ‘army’ Starke – married in 1764 – in the family tree. Nor, using all the wonderful internet genealogical sites that we now have at our disposal, could I discover a suitable 1764 Starke marriage.  I was, however, quite prepared to believe that the marriage had taken place abroad – perhaps in India – or that there were collateral branches of the family of which I knew nothing. And it was certainly interesting to know of anyone who had had such close contact with Mariana – as this diarist apparently had

So, I eventually got round to planning a visit to Oxford and amassing the various forms that would allow me access to the Bodleian Special Collections. It was some years since I had been there – and then it had been to research the 19th-century suffrage movement. That had not necessitated sitting amidst the splendour of the Duke Humfrey Library; what a pleasure it was to do so now.

I devoted about four hours to reading this little diary. The shorthand was impenetrable, the conventional handwriting crisp and legible, but at the end of my visit I was no clearer as to the identity of the diarist than I was at the beginning. One thing was incontrovertible – she did refer to her husband as ‘Starke’ or ‘S’ throughout – and there was no mention of any other family name. There were, however, various clues as to identity – of which I took careful note. There was the date of her wedding – on 16 February 1791 she had been married 27 years and there was mention in March of the birth – abroad – of a third son to her own son. Further reading showed that her son’s name was William; there was no mention of any other children, so perhaps, I thought, William was her only son. It also appeared that William’s wife was ‘Lady Sarah’, a daughter of Lord Plymouth. Moreover after her son’s family returned from abroad they were all staying with the diarist when the new grandson was christened ‘Augustus James’, in July, from her house.

On my return home I used this information to search the online websites for a likely Augustus Starke, a William Starke, a Lady Sarah Starke – all to no avail. I then made a wider search – using just the names ‘Augustus James’ and a date of birth ‘1791’. And immediately came up with the answer to the conundrum.

Champion Lodge, Camberwell, a watercolour painted in 1823 by which time Mrs Crespigny’s son, WIlliam, had inherited the estate. Courtesy of Surrey History Centre.

The diarist’s family name is not ‘Starke’ but ‘Crespigny’. She is Mrs Mary Crespigny of Champion Lodge, Camberwell, patron and friend of Mariana Starke. Mary Clark (1748-1812) (see her portrait here) was married at St Giles, Camberwell, to Claude Champion Crespigny (1734-1818) on 16 February 1764 (see here for his portrait, painted 10 years before the marriage). Their only child – a son – William (1765-1829) was baptized at St Giles Camberwell (Jan 1765). William Crespigny married Lady Sarah Windsor, daughter of the Earl of Plymouth, in 1786. William Crespigny’s third son, Augustus James Crespigny, was born on 9 March 1791 in Nice and baptized at St Giles, Camberwell, in July 1791.  The military group to which the diary often refers – her husband is on duty etc – is likely to have been the Camberwell Volunteers (which may have had a slightly different name in 1791), to whom Lady de Crespigny (Claude Crespigny was created a baronet in 1805) later presented colours.

I – and the Bodleian – would be most interested in hearing from anybody who might be able to shed light on why Mrs Crespigny referred to her husband – Claude Champion de Crespigny were all the names he seems to have possessed – as ‘Starke’. There is not, as far as I know, any connection between the families by either blood or marriage. There was, however, certainly a connection between Mary Crespigny and Mariana Starke –  sympathy – and the theatre. Their preoccupation with drama – as writer, actor and patron – will become clear in a subsequent post.  But for the time being let me mention that Mrs Crespingy noted on 12 January in this 1791 diary that:

‘Miss Starke’s play The Widow of Malabar came on and it went off extremely well  – but Lady Salisbury took my Box which caused great confusion’. A week later, on Wednesday 19 January, Mrs Crespigny attended ‘Third night of the Widow. Miss Starke had a very full house. I sent [?] vast numbers – filled 10 rows of pit & nearly all the Boxes – & numbers [?] into the Gallery.

As I say, Mrs Crespigny’s handwriting is really very clear and these lacunae could have been filled in – or puzzled out – had more time been available.

With the identity of the diarist known, the names she mentions can begin to shape themselves into a circle of acquaintances – families that lived within riding distance of Camberwell or whom she saw on her frequent visits to Town. Epsom was a favourite haunt – not only to visit  – or even stay with – the Starkes at Hylands House, but to go hunting (Mr Crespigny) or for archery (Mrs Crespigny). For Mary Crespigny, I now discover, was an early female toxophilite,  the diary describing competitions held at Epsom and Box Hill. In fact, with the diary identified as recording a year in the life of Mrs Crespigny, it now has a considerably greater significance than if it had indeed belonged to a shadowy ‘Mrs Starke’. It only now requires a cryptographer to set to work to decode the sections that she wished to keep safe from prying eyes.

I shall certainly have to return to Duke Humfrey’s Library and re-engage with Mrs Crespigny’s diary. One piece of information that it contained pleased me greatly: she notes the exact day on which the Starkes embarked on their travels on the continent and, before the year’s end, records letters from Calais and Lyons. These letters were undoubtedly penned by Mariana who, despite the difference in their ages, was, the diary makes clear, Mrs Crespigny’s especial Starke friend.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and 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.



Kate Frye’s Suffrage Diary: Two Days in April 1908

Kate Frye was a devoted theatre goer. She had trained as an actress and had toured for two or three years from 1904 and joined the Actresses’ Franchise League as soon as it was founded. 

A scene from ‘Diana of Dobson’s’ – an article in ‘The Sketch’, 10 February 1908. Courtesy of the V & A

 ‘Diana of Dobson’s, a romantic comedy that also criticized the ‘live-in’ conditions that Edwardian drapery stores imposed on their staff, was written by Cicely Hamilton (1872-1952)  actress, author, and active suffragist. Lena Ashwell (1862-1957) was both the leading actress in the production and the manager of the Kingsway Theatre. ‘Diana of Dobson’s was the second play in Ashwell’s first season at the Kingsway. She was later a vice-president of the Actresses’ Franchise League and a tax resister. Dennis Eadie, in the ‘elderly character part’ was then only 33 years old.

The walk from Tottenham Court Road to the  Kingsway Theatre in Great Queen Street, to the west of Kingsway, would have taken the Fryes through the still relatively unsavoury St Giles and Seven Dials area.

Wednesday April 8th 1908

Mother, Agnes and I left just before 2 o’clock and went by bus to Tottenham Court Road and walked to the Kingsway Theatre just before 3 o’clock and we went in to the reserved seats to see ‘Diana of Dobsons’. It is nearly a month since I got the seats. We very much enjoyed our afternoon. The play is most interesting and amusing and sad too – underneath it all. Lena Ashwell, though her voice sounded tired, was very good – so was Hollard – and Dennis Eadie excellent in an elderly character part. It is quite a novel sort of play and I don’t wonder it is popular. It ought to make people think. The scene of the first act must be a revelation to lots of people.

The next day’s ‘Suffrage Discussion’ was organised under the aegis of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage – a constitutional society. Although it was to be several years before the founding of the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage, there was obviously already an interest in the subject among the Jewish community.

Mrs Gertrude Spielman (1864-1949) born in Germany, was the wife of Meyer Spielman, who was later knighted. She was actively engaged in educational and other forms of social work, particularly with the Norwood Jewish Orphanage and was, in 1912, to be a founder of the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage. 

Aylmer Maude (1858-1938) translator of Tolstoy, Fabian, was renowned as a persuasive lecturer. 

Mrs Campbell Lethbridge (1873 -1945), a woman of mystery, was born Sybil MacGregor Allen, in 1894 married William Lonergan, but by 1901 had become Sybil Campbell Lethbridge, a popular and prolific author. Find out more about her here.

Israel Zangwill, Jewish novelist, was always a great favourite of Kate’s.

Israel Zangwill, photographed in 1905

Thursday April 9th 1908

Agnes and I left in a cab at 8 o’clock to Mrs Spielman, 38 Gloucester Square. Got there with Alexandra and Gladys [Wright] and some of the other stewards and we all went up together. There was nothing for us to do at first except make the people sit tight – such a pack it was – hundreds – nearly all Jews except our own friends. It was a Suffrage Discussion – Mr Aylmer Maude in the chair – Mrs  Campbell Lethbridge spoke, Miss Spielman (oh! that was  painful) and Mr Zangwill. He, of course, was beautiful – but I am much afraid too frivolous to do any converting. He was so funny he made me laugh until the tears ran down my face. The discussion was most amusing – such weird people got up and said things. Afterwards we went up and talked to people. I got five members and did better than anyone – but it was hard work. I didn’t give myself any rest and kept straight on – while Agnes looked after our guests and saw they got something to eat. We came back in a hansom. Got in at 11.45 and then had supper. It was past one before John [her fiancé] departed and 2.30 before we got off to bed. I was tired.



Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary edited by Elizabeth Crawford

For a full description of the book click here

Wrap-around paper covers, 226 pp, over 70 illustrations, all drawn from Kate Frye’s personal archive.

ISBN 978 1903427 75 0

Copies available from Francis Boutle Publishers, or from Elizabeth Crawford –  (£14.99 +UK postage £3. Please ask for international postage cost), or from all good bookshops. In stock at London Review of Books Bookshop, Foyles, National Archives Bookshop.

'Campaigning for the Vote' - Front and back cover of wrappers
‘Campaigning for the Vote’ – Front and back cover of wrappers

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Mariana Starke: An Epsom Education

Mariana Starke was christened at Epsom Parish Church on 23 October 1762. On 19 June, barely four months earlier, and three years into their marriage, her parents had buried their first-born child –  a son, John – in the church’s graveyard. Mariana was to be an only child for six years – until the birth of her brother, Richard Isaac Starke, in 1768 – and to be an only daughter until the birth of her sister, Louisa, in 1772. Although there is no record of other children having been born in the years between the births of these living children, the gaps are significantly long, suggesting the possibility that Mary Starke may have suffered miscarriages. Certainly Richard’s father, John Starke, while leaving his eldest son only Hylands House in his rather punitive 1763 will, seems to have expected him to sire at least five children – to all of whom the grandfather was prepared to leave handsome legacies.

We know no firm details of Mariana’s early life as she grew up in Epsom. She may have had a governess, but more likely was taught by her mother, who from her letters appears a competent, amusing woman, interested in literature and the world. The only extant reference I have found to the hiring of a teacher occurs in one of Mrs Starke’s letters, in which she mentions that she is thinking of engaging a music master for her daughters.

This letter written, probably, in 1781, is to Mrs Hayley, wife of William Hayley, an influential man of letters and, in his life-time at least, a highly-regarded poet, patron of William Blake, friend of Cowper, of Romney and of Mariana Starke, who was to him his ‘dear poetical daughter’. The earliest letter in the extant correspondence between the Starkes and the Hayleys dates from 1779 and it is clear from the tone and language employed by the writers that the two families were on close and affectionate terms – and would appear to have been so for some time. There is no indication, however, of how or when the introduction between the families took place. Mariana’s earliest letter in the sequence, dated 22 December 1780, is to Mrs Hayley inviting the Hayleys to ‘a little Hop’to be held by her family early in the new year – on Monday 8 January – and to dinner the day before. At this time the Hayleys lived at Eartham in Sussex, about 45 miles south of Epsom. Hylands House was on their route into Town; in another letter Mrs Starke mentions that she could look out for their chaise as it passes along the Dorking Road. When she wrote this letter of invitation Mariana was 18 years old and entirely at ease in corresponding with the older woman.

From her mother’s letters we can catch glimpses of this youthful Mariana. In November 1780 (?) when Mrs Starke suffered a a bout of illness, during which exertion ‘produced a spitting of blood’,  she was ‘an affectionate un-wearied attendant under Providence’  ‘her tenderness contributes materially to my recovery….I can read a little, and so my daughter ransacks the circulating library for my amusement and has brought me the life of Garrick, written by Davies, the materials supplied by Johnson and the whole regulated by him. Tis very entertaining; it contains a history of the Theatre for 36 years. I remember many of the persons mentioned. It likewise comprehends an account of the contemporary dramatic Writers. What an assemblage of opposite qualities met in ‘Dr Goldsmith’ without one particle of common sense to rectify the composition.’ Davies’ life of Garrick was first published in 1780, suggesting that the Epsom circulating library was quick to offer the latest published works and that Mariana had been prompt in her ‘ransacking’. From the list of books catalogued when the stock of the Epsom circulating library [as far as I can establish this was the only circulating library in Epsom during this period] was put up for auction in 1823 it is clear that there was no shortage of reading matter likely to appeal to both mother and daughter. For instance, quantities of novels and book of travels dating from the 1780s were still held in the stock of the library at the time of its sale – novels such as Aspasia, the wanderer (1786), Alfred and Cassandra (1788), Letters of an Italian Nun (1789) and Adeline the Orphan (1790).

By the 1780s Epsom’s heyday as a spa town had passed but, in a healthy position close to the Downs and close to London, it attracted well-to-do merchants quite prepared then – as now – to commute into town on business. Although he had no necessity to make this journey regularly,  ‘Governor Starke’ – by which slightly inflated version of his former title Richard Starke is often named in contemporary accounts  – still some had business with the East India Company. By virtue of his stock holding in the Company he was able to vote for candidates to the Directorate of the Company and probably made periodic visits to their headquarters in Mincing Lane – a stone’s throw from the house in which his grandfather, Thomas Starke, the slave trader, had lived 100 years before. It is interesting – if useless – to speculate as to whether a knowledge of the lives of his forebears was incorporated into his perception of the world. Did he know – as we shall never – that his father had turned to India because he did not wish to be involved in the trade in Africans of which Thomas was a pioneer? Or, what is more likely, did he know that John Starke had seen that the Virginia tobacco trade was taking a downward turn – and was tediously prone to litigation – and that India was the new Virginia?  Whatever his thoughts as he walked along Mincing Lane Richard Starke would have been well aware of the importance in Starke family history of the church of St Dunstans in the East, just three minutes walk away, down towards the river. Besides his grandfather – and all the late-17th- c infant Starkes buried there, it was here that his own mother had been interred in 1730 and here, five years later, that his wife, the daughter of a merchant, had been christened. That, at least, should have inculcated a proprietorial feeling for this small area of the City in a man who had spent his working life in India and now lived a rather secluded life in Surrey. Again, idle to speculate, but surely, on occasion, Mariana would have been taken to the City. Would she not have been curious to see the streets where her forebears lived?

Cowdray Park, late 18th century, courtesy of Christies

For Mariana, we know, was in her youth passionate about ‘antiquity’. In 1781 her mother, writing to Mrs Hayley, mentions that they had visited ‘Cowdry’ [Cowdray, a Tudor house in Sussex that in 1793 was reduced to ruins by a fire but whose magnificence was still intact when the Starkes visited], remarking that ‘The outside is striking, fine, venerable and claims respect, but within tis unequal and disappoints the expectation. Perhaps altogether no ill emblem its owner. Marian was pleased; I am not so rapturously fond of antiquity as she is. At her age I was, but my passion for gothic structures, and tragedy, expired at the same moment. When the gaiety of youth is fled, lively scenes become necessary.’ So, here is a glimpse of a Mariana swept up in the zeitgeist for the gothic – her ‘sensibility’ a counterpoint to her mother’s ‘sense’.

‘Sense’ was, I am sure, a virtue with which Mariana’s closest contemporary companion of her youth was liberally endowed. Millecent Parkhurst, who was a few months younger than Mariana, lived with her parents in Abele Grove on the other side of Dorking Road from Hylands – on the way into Epsom town. Then an elegant house, with coach house, stables and grounds of about 1 acre, Abele Grove is now, rather bizarrely, the Epsom Central branch of the Premier Inn chain, But it is there still – as is Hylands House – and you can still walk along the Dorking Road between the two-  either on your own two feet or, thanks to Google Street View, on your computer.

Millecent’s elderly father, John Parkhurst, had inherited valuable estates around Epsom and, although a clergyman, of the high Anglican variety, felt neither the necessity nor inclination to seek preferment. His life was devoted to scholarship; amongst other writings he had published both Hebrew/English and Greek/English Lexicons (the latter to the New Testament). When, in 1798, after his death, a new edition of this work was called for, it was published with Millecent as editor. In the preface to the 5th edition, a later editor recorded that she was ,’reared under the immediate inspection of her learned and pious father, by an education of the very first order, [and] has acquired a degree of classical knowledge which is rarely met with in the female world’. In a 1787 letter (to be considered at greater length in a subsequent post) Mariana mentions ‘the almost paternal regard that [Mr Parkhurst] has for me.’ It would, I think, be safe to assume that Mariana spent a considerable time in that household, that she was at home in John Parkhurst’s library and, with Millecent, benefited from his teaching. See here to view portraits of John Parkhurst and his wife – held at Clare College, Cambridge. If the date (1804) attributed to the paintings is correct they were commissioned some time after the pair had died – John in 1797 and Millecent in 1800.

The Rev Parkhurst was not only Mariana’s advisor and critic but, with William Hayley, was responsible for inducting Mariana into the literary world. In 1781 she was among the subscribers to Ann Francis’ Poetical Translation of the Song of Solomon, from the original Hebrew, published by J. Dodsley. John Parkhurst subscribed six copies and it is to him that the book was dedicated, with a credit for supplying Notes. Among the female Epsom subscribers were Mrs Foreman, Mrs E. Foreman, Miss Foreman and Mrs Phipps. The latter ladies, who were presumably of a literary incline, were unlikely to have been those of whom Mariana wrote to William Hayley on 1 October 1781, ‘I spent an afternoon a short time since in company with Mrs Francis. She appears perfectly good-natured and unaffected – our Epsom Ladies  were quite astonished that she should be in the least degree like other people – one observed that she really dressed her hair according to the present fashion, another, that she had a very tolerable cap, and a third that she certainly conversed in a common way, in short they spoke of her, as tho’ they had expected to have seen a wild beast instead of a rational creature, & I felt myself very happy that they were perfectly ignorant of my ever having made a Poem in my life.’ In her preface Ann Francis had felt it necessary to defend her translation of this particular text on two counts  – in case it might ‘be thought an improper undertaking for a woman [since] the learned may imagine it a subject above the reach of my abilities; while the unlearned may incline to deem it a theme unfit for the exercise of a female pen.’

Besides John Parkhurst, the other male Epsom subscriber to The Song of Solomon was the Rev Martin Madan, who the previous year had raised considerable controversy with his publication of Thelyphthora; or a treatise on female ruin. In this Madan argued the social benefit of polygamy as a means of countering the evils of prostitution. He had been chaplain at the Hyde Park Corner Lock Hospital – a hospital for those afflicted with venereal disease – and may be considered to know of what he spoke. His treatise immediately attracted a series of ripostes. It was clearly a book – and, therefore, a subject much debated at this time and in the same 1 October 1781 letter to Hayley Mariana writes. Have you met with a book entitled ‘Whisper in the ear of the Author of Thelypthora’? The author Mr Greene did me the honor of sending it to me, and was it small enough to be enclosed in a frank, I would sent it to Earthham; tho I do not imagine it is a Book that would amuse either you, or Mrs Hayley much.’ Why, one wonders, did 40-year-old Edward Burnaby Greene send his work on this subject to 19-year-old Mariana Starke?

Greene was a translator and poet – though even in his lifetime not held in much regard – and at some time point his social or literary life must have intersected with that of Mariana to occasion this ‘honor’ .  For, while the Ladies of Epsom may have been ignorant of the fact that they harboured a young Poet in their midst, her literary mentors were not – Mariana was in the custom of enclosing poems in her letters to Hayley. And to Hayley she made clear her feelings about Epsom society, writing at the end of a 7 January 1782 letter, ‘Pardon this hasty and stupid scrawl, as I am going to dress for an Epsom Party, the very thought of which, has benumbed my faculties.’ Both Mariana and her mother doubtless felt more stimulated at gatherings at which literature and ideas took precedence over discussions of hairdressing and caps. Not only did they utilise the circulating libraries but when in Town they made a point of visiting booksellers. In a letter to Mrs Hayley, dated 2 August 1781, Mrs Starke wrote,  ‘Marian and I were at Dodsley’s the other day. The counter was covered by Mr Hayley’s poems, nothing sells so well. Dodsley did himself great credit with us, by his manner of speaking of Mr Hayley, second to none, now living, or that ever did live!’

Dodsley – whose shop was in Pall Mall –  had recently published Hayley’s Triumphs of Temper, a didactic work illustrating the usefulness of a good temper to a young woman in search of a husband. See here for a Dulwich Picture Gallery page setting Romney’s portrait of Hayley alongside one of his illustrations from Triumph of Temper

The literary Epsom ladies maintained their interest in furthering the publication of  interesting new works by women, subscribing to two important works of the period. In 1785 Millecent Parkhurst (‘Miss Parkhurst, Epsom’) and ‘Mrs Starke, Epsom’ were subscribers to  Poems by Ann Yearsley, the Bristol milkwoman and protegee of Hannah More and in 1786 Mariana, her mother and Mrs Parkhurst were all subscribers to Helen Maria Williams’ Poems. The women may well have supported other publications, their connection not yet brought to light by the digital scanner.  We can, however, be certain that these were two works that, along with The Song of Solomon, Hayley’s poems and that oddity, Whisper in the ear of the author of Thelypthora’?,  were definitely on the shelves in Hyland House in the late 1780s. It was not to be long before Mariana, together with Millecent Parkhurst,- put her own pen into public action.

Sources: William Hayley Papers, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and 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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Am I Not A Woman And A Sister: Women and the Anti-Slavery Campaign

Am I Not a Woman and a Sister: women and the anti-slavery campaign

‘Am I not a woman and a sister’ reads the legend arching over the female figure of Justice as she reaches towards a kneeling black slave woman, who holds her chained hands up in supplication. In the 1830s this powerful emblem was used on printed matter and on artifacts associated with women-only, or ‘ladies’, anti- slavery associations. It very consciously echoed the motto, ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother’, adopted in 1787 by the founders of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Throughout the long years of abolitionist campaigning women were always participants, their role becoming, over the years, increasing prominent. Experience gained in a movement of such social, economic and political importance was to prove valuable when, in the 1860s, they launched the campaign to gain their own political freedom.

In 1787, however, women could take no direct part in politics, their role confined to that of exercising influence on those who did have political power. One such woman was Lady Middleton, a member of the evangelical Clapham Sect, who conducted a country-house salon at Barham Court in Kent. It was she who, according to Thomas Clarkson, in 1786 persuaded both William Wilberforce and himself to take up the anti-slavery cause. Lady Middleton’s own interest in the subject was not new. In 1782 she had been among the subscribers to Letters of Late Ignatius Sancho, the first prose work by an African to be published in England. Ignatius Sancho, born on a slave ship, had, as a child, been a house slave in London, at Greenwich.

Women’s influence extended to rather more than cajolery over the dinner table. Another member of the Clapham Sect, Lady Middleton’s close friend the writer Hannah More, was asked, in late 1787, to write a poem to draw attention to the discussion soon to take place in Parliament. She quickly composed Slavery, a Poem, published as a large, handsomely printed, 20-page book. She was just one of many women writers who wielded their pens in the abolitionist cause. Although they did not have direct power women could exercise their influence through the medium considered most suitable to their sex, poetry.

Women were also a valuable source of the finance necessary for the funding of the campaign. Although the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed and officered by men, there was no attempt to prevent women from becoming subscribers. Subscriptions ranged from one to five guineas, sizeable sums, indicating that those donating were drawn from the middling to wealthy section of society. Fortunately for us, the Society printed a report listing by name all its subscribers. Women clearly had no more qualms at having their names listed in such a quasi-political publication than they did in appearing as subscribers to a novel or volume of poetry. It is possible, therefore, to study the names of 206 women, comprising about ten per cent of the total, who in the late-18th century made public their condemnation of the slave trade.

The main, London-based, committee attracted members from all around the country. It is noticeable that there are few obviously upper-class or aristocratic women on the list. Only three titled ladies subscribed: Lady Hatton of Longstanton, the Dowager Countess Stanhope (who gave £50), and the Dowager Viscountess Galway. A superficial investigation would indicate that all three were women associated with families with radical sympathies. Indeed the Dowager Countess Stanhope’s son, who had succeeded her husband as earl, was soon to style himself ‘Citizen Stanhope’ to demonstrate his support for revolution in France. Two others of those listed, ‘Miss Pelham and Miss Mary Pelham of Esher’ were members of an influential Whig family, counting a former prime minister amongst their forebears.

The names of some subscribers have entered the literary canon. Prominent are Elizabeth Carter (writer and ‘blue stocking’), Sarah Trimmer (evangelical educationalist and writer) and Mary Scott of Milborne Port, Dorset, who in 1774 had written a lengthy poem, The Female Advocate, in which she drew attention to Phillis Wheatley, the first slave and black woman to have a book of poetry published in Britain.

Phillis Wheatley, as depicted on the frontispiece to her ‘Poems on Various Subjects’

Information can, with some application, be teased out about many of the other names on the list. A quick Google search reveals that, at random,’ Mrs Elizabeth Prowse of Wicken Park, Northampton’ was the sister of Granville Sharp, a leading member of the Abolition Committee. That ‘Mrs Peckard, Cambridge’ was, probably Martha, the wife of Peter Peckard, vice chancellor of Cambridge University and a preacher of sermons against the slave trade. It was he who, he in 1785 had set the question, ‘Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will?’, for the University’s Latin essay won by Thomas Clarkson, the first step in his abolitionist career.

Through the Will Search facility at DocumentsOnline on the National Archives website it is possible to read the wills of some of the subscribers and discover a little more about their lives. For example, ‘Mary Belch, Ratcliffe’ was a corn chandler of Broad Street, Ratcliffe, in east London and ‘Deborah Townsend, Smithfield Bars’ was either the wife or the daughter of a Smithfield grocer. The wills may not reveal much about their abolitionist sympathies but they do demonstrate that women from this sector of society were committed to the cause.

The will of another subscriber, ‘Elizabeth Freeman, Woodbridge’, reveals that she was a Quaker and that she left ‘to my poor relations in America twenty pounds to be disposed of by friends of the Monthly Meeting in North Carolina’. It might be presumed that with these connections she knew something of conditions in an American slave state. Further research might indicate that other women subscribers from Woodbridge were also Quakers. Some names, of course, do indicate clear Quaker connections. Five female member of the well-known Fox family of Falmouth were subscribers and, with their fellow Quakers, are likely to be traceable through the records kept by the Society of Friends.

Women were also subscribers to the separate local committees formed in provincial towns. In Manchester 68 out of total of 302 subscribers were women. However few of the names include any indication of address and are, therefore, more difficult to identify. Some were wives of men involved with the Manchester committee. One such was ‘Mrs Bayley of Hope’, wife of Thomas Bayley, Unitarian, JP and penal reformer. Here too many the female subscribers were likely to have been nonconformists, particularly Unitarians and Quakers, a large number having connections with Manchester’s manufacturing interests.

In Bristol, notorious as a slave port, subscribers to the local committee included Miss Anna Goldney and ‘Mrs Goldney’. It has to be remembered that ‘Mrs’ at that time was a title given to unmarried as well as married women and, therefore, that the latter was probably Ann Goldney, who was unmarried and had recently inherited the family’s Clifton estate from her brother. The Goldneys were Quakers although an ancestor, Thomas Goldney, had, in the early 18th century, been the principal investor in a venture leading to the capture of slaves, the family fortune enhanced by investment in the manufacturing of guns for trade with Africa. Between them, Ann and Anna Goldney, a cousin living in the Clifton household, gave a generous six guineas.

Other Bristol women subscribers were Mrs Esther Ash, Mrs Frampton, Mrs Olive and Mrs Merlott, all of whom had at least one other thing in common, being subscribers in 1787 to a translation of Persian poems by Charles Fox. It is likely some were Quakers, but ‘Mrs Merlott’ was probably the unmarried sister of John Merlott, a Presbyterian sugar refiner.

Named women also subscribed to local committees in Birmingham, Exeter, Leeds and Leicester, some of which were probably set up with the encouragement of Thomas Clarkson as he acted as roving ambassador for the Abolition Society. He also organized mass petitions that were such a novelty of this campaign, an early manifestation of the method to be used by popular protest groups throughout the 19th century. Women, however, were not signatories. It was presumably thought that if they were the value of the petition would be diminished.

Women did, though, on occasion take part in public debates about the slave trade. One such was held in 1788 in La Belle Assemblée, a concert hall in Brewer Street, Soho, London, where ‘ladies were permitted to speak in veils’. In 1792 women were also present at a debate at the Coach-makers’ Hall, Foster Lane, Cheapside calling for the boycott of West Indian sugar and rum. The motion was carried by a unanimous vote of 600.

The subject of this latter meeting was one that women were making their own. For, although denied political power, they were able, at least in theory, to influence the economy. As early as 1788 Hannah More had urged a friend ‘to taboo the use of West Indian sugar in your tea’. Women, as chief purchasers of household goods, were encouraged to boycott slave-produced sugar from the West Indies, shopping instead for that grown in the East Indies by free labour. It is thought that by 1791-92 the sugar boycott affected as many as 300,000 people.

As well as redirecting their spending power to ‘free’ produce, women were also encouraged to purchase items that would proclaim their support for the abolitionist cause.

Wedgwood jasper-ware cameo. By courtesy of the Wedgwood Museum Trust, Barlaston, Staffordshire

Thousands of Josiah Wedgwood’s ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother’ jasperware cameos were incorporated into brooches, bracelets, earrings and hair ornaments, allowing the wearer to indicate sympathy with the abolitionist cause. The ‘kneeling slave’ image was also rendered on a variety of other artefacts and was considered a very suitable subject for young girls to embroider on their samplers.

Women could also buy china bearing anti-slavery messages. The tea table was the sphere of influence particular to the woman of the house and, while entertaining her friends, she could pass round a sugar bowl bearing the motto, ‘East India Sugar not made/By Slaves/By Six families using/East India, instead of/West India Sugar, one/Slave less is required’. By boycotting West Indian sugar and displaying articles such as this she turned herself from a passive consumer into a political activist.

Women were able to demonstrate their sensibility by buying and subscribing to the slim volumes of abolitionist poetry that were finding a popular readership. These were written by women of all sorts and conditions, by, as already noted, the evangelical Hannah More, by her working-class protogée, Ann Yearsley, by Mary Robinson, ex-mistress of the Prince of Wales, and by a succession of young women, such as Mary Birkett of Dublin. Women were also able to educate the younger generation by purchasing works such as The Negro Boy’s Tale: a poem addressed to children, published by Amelia Opie in 1802.

By then, however, the mass popular campaign had collapsed. In 1792 the British public had watched in horror as the French monarchy was overthrown by the mob and, in the same year, slaves in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) rose up against their masters. Whatever its theoretical sympathy with the anti-slavery campaign, the British public had no wish to unleash similar forces. When the act abolishing Britain’s direct involvement in the slave trade was passed in 1807 it was as a result, not of popular protest, but of parliamentary manoeuvrings, in which, of course, women played no part.

There was no further popular agitation against slavery until 1823 when Wilberforce and Clarkson once again took the lead in the formation of the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions. Over the intervening years there had been a decided change in the position of women who now had no inhibition about founding their own anti-slavery societies. The first such was formed in Birmingham in 1825. Here Lucy Townsend, the wife of an Anglican clergyman, worked with a Quaker, Mary Lloyd. Contact was made through their various denominational networks and soon towns such as Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Bristol, Newcastle, York, Southampton and Plymouth, as well as London, supported ladies’ associations. There were also groups in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

The formation of these societies and the activities they undertook did not escape criticism. Wilberforce expressed what one imagines was a very common view: ‘All private exertions for such an object become their character, but for ladies to meet, to go from house to house stirring up petitions – these appear to me proceedings unsuited to the female character as delineated in Scripture’.

For women were now, indeed, a petitioning force. In the early 1830s hundreds of thousands of women signed petitions. Those presented in 1833 alone bore the signatures of 298,785 women, nearly a quarter of the total. A large number – 187,157 – were on a single petition circulated by the London Female Anti-slavery Society and presented to the House of Commons on 14 May 1833, the day the emancipation bill was produced.

Women were not only, by petitioning, participating in the political process, but were now even questioning the aims of the movement. In 1824 Elizabeth Heyrick, a Leicester Quaker, published a pamphlet, Immediate not Gradual Abolition, calling for immediate emancipation of slaves, in contradistinction to the Anti-Slavery Society’s aim of gradual emancipation. In 1830, at Elizabeth Heyrick’s suggestion, the influential Birmingham women’s society threatened to withdraw its funding from the Anti -Slavery Society if it did not agree to change its aim to immediate abolition. The change was agreed.

Elizabeth Heyrick was also the leader of a new campaign to boycott West Indian produce, especially sugar. Like that of the late-18th century, the 19th-century campaign appealed to the woman of the family to exercise her economic power. In 1828 the Peckham Ladies’ African and Anti-Slavery Association published Reasons for Using east India Sugar, demonstrating to its readers ‘that by substituting east India for west India sugar, they are undermining the system of slavery, in the safest, most easy, and effectual manner, in which it can be done’. ‘If we purchase the commodity, we participate in the crime. The laws of our country may hold the sugar-cane to our lips, steeped in the blood of our fellow-creatures; but they cannot compel us to accept the loathsome potion.’

Women also exercised their talents in order to raise funds for the cause. The bazaar became a particularly womanly form of demonstrating support. As ever, this activity was regarded in some quarters as a waste of effort. In a letter of 22 September 1828 the salon hostess, Mary Clarke Mohl, wrote: ‘My niece spends all her time making little embroidered bags to be sold for the Anti-Slavery Society …which would be all very well if, instead of turning seamstress to gain £10 a year, she put some poor woman in the way of work’.

Only three years after the Anti-Slavery Society had agreed to change its agenda, the 1833 Anti-Slavery Act abolished slavery within the British colonies. Although a period of apprenticeship was imposed on former slaves before they could obtain freedom, a determined effort by the abolitionists led, in 1838, to the early termination of this system. A national women’s petition on behalf of the apprentices addressed to the newly crowned Queen Victoria had carried the signatures of 7000,000 women, a number described as ‘unprecedented in the annals of petitioning’.

Although Britain no longer allowed slavery within its own territories the anti-slavery campaign continued, with the aim of abolishing slavery world wide. In 1840 the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society organized the first World Anti-Slavery Convention. Women delegates, among them a grand-daughter of Lady Middleton, arrived in London from all parts of Britain. From across the Atlantic came women belonging to a section of the US abolitionist movement that wished to combine anti-slavery activity with campaigns for women’s rights. All women were, however, denied participation in the proceedings. As might be expected that decision led not only to a split in the British anti-slavery movement but, indirectly, to the beginning of the US campaign for women’s suffrage. Several of the British women who were barred, women such Elizabeth Nicholls (later Pease), Hannah Webb, Maria Waring, and Matilda Ashurst Biggs, were among those who 26 years later signed the first women’s suffrage petition.

Both factions of the American anti-slavery movement were keen to gain support from British activists and throughout the 1840s and 1850s strong transatlantic links were developed. As in Britain, bazaars became a particular field of endeavour for American abolitionist women, with the British societies keen to supply boxes of goods for sale. In 1846 the Glasgow Society reported that at the Boston Anti-Slavery fair ‘every one of the great plaid shawls sold instantly. The beautiful cloaks sold, and also the bonnets. Aprons do well. The shawls sent by the Duchess of Sutherland sold immediately.’

Sarah Parker Remond

The societies organized lecture tours for members of the American movement. In 1853 the Glasgow Society sponsored Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin had already sold 1.5 million copies in Britain and in 1861 the Edinburgh Society organized a series of lectures by Sarah Remond, whom they described as ‘a lady of colour from America.’ She wrote: ‘I have been received here as the sister of the white woman’.

Even after the ending of the American Civil War and the freeing of slaves in the US, British women’s societies continued their work, concentrating now on providing aid for the ‘Freedmen’. The Birmingham women’s anti-slavery society continued to meet until 1919.

Over the years many of the women’s anti-slavery societies printed reports, listing the members of their committees. It is now possible to study these, together with publications such as the Anti-Slavery Reporter, to discover not only who the women were who worked for this cause, but also to examine the clear links between the members of the abolitionist and of the women’s suffrage movements.

Further Reading

C. Midgley, Women Against Slavery: the British campaigns 1780-1870, Routledge, 1992.

Anti-Slavery International: .

Wilberforce House Museum, Hull: details of materials relating to the anti-slavery campaign can be found by searching for ‘Wilberforce House’ at . contains an article on the Quaker involvement in the anti-slavery campaign. The library at Friends’ House, London, contains useful biographical records.

BBC History: Elizabeth Crawford, Women: From Abolition to the Vote

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Mariana Starke: Father is Worsted by Robert Clive

Fort St George in the 18th century

Although Mariana Starke’s grandfather, John Starke, was never an employee of the East India Company, both his sons, Richard and John, were.  Richard Starke (1719 – 93) – yet to be the father of Mariana – sailed from London in 1734 as a passenger in the Onslow to Fort St George, taking with him wine, a chest of apparel and an escritoire. In Fort St George he could have resumed contact with his mother’s family, the Empsons.

On 29 December 1735 Richard Starke entered ‘the service of the Honourable Co on the coast of Coromandel as ‘Writer Entertained’. A 1736 note made clear that it was ‘out of regard for his father’ that he was ‘taken into our service’, a 10 May 1737 dispatch confirming that ‘Mr Richard Starke is so usefull a hand in the Secretary’s Office’. During the following years his father sent out to him several boxes ‘of apparel’ and in 1746 ‘two boxes of books’, in 1747 one box of books and a hat, in 1750 one box of pamphlets and pens, in 1752 a box of books and in 1753 a pair of scales, a lanthorn and books. In April 1747 Richard was joined as a writer in the EIC by his younger brother, John Starke (aged 22), who sailed out on the Houghton with one chest, one escritoire, and a bundle of bedding

A dispatch from Fort St George to England, dated 22 February 1749, stated that Richard Starke, who had been ‘upper searcher at Madras – now appointed to that position at Cuddalore [i.e. Fort St David]. By 2 November 1749 he had been appointed ‘second’ at Fort St George – that is ‘under deputy governor’ and in February 1752 he succeeded Mr Prince as deputy governor of Fort St David, formally taking office on 31 July 1752.

Fort St David, about a mile from Cuddalore, was a small fortified town, near to the sea and, by all accounts, a very comfortable billet. In The Life of Lord Clive Sir George Forrest quotes the following description of the area: ‘The country within the boundaries is very pleasant, and the air fine, having seldom any fogs. In the district are many neat houses with gardens; the latter were laid out with much good taste by the gentlemen, who either had been, or were in the company’s service. These gardens produce fruits of different sorts, such as pine-apples, oranges, limes, pomegranates, plantaines, bananoes, mangoes, guavas, (red and white,) bedams (a sort of almond), pimple-nose, called in the West Indies, chadocks, a very fine large fruit of the citron-kind, but of four or five times it’s size, and many others. At the end of each gentleman’s garden there is generally a shady grove of cocoanut trees.’

Ruined remainder of Fort St David. Courtesy of

Clearly it was all too comfortable to last. First we hear that John Starke, who was also working at Fort St David, under the Paymaster, received a peremptory dismissal for which no reason was given; a dispatch from London to Madras, 31 Jan 1755 merely noted: ‘The services of John Starke are dispensed with.’.’ Having no further occasion for the service of Mr John Starke he is upon receipt of this to be accordingly discharged from the Company’s service’.

A year later Richard Starke was compelled to write the following letter, dated 19 August 1756:

‘Honourable Sir and Sirs [to the President and Governors of Fort St George] I am to acquaint you that agreeable to your orders of the [lacuna] June I have delivered over the charge of the settlement of Fort St David to Col Robert Clive and as I imagine by the Company’s having been pleased to supersede me, by the appointment of that Gentleman so much my junior in their service, my conduct cannot have been so agreeable to them as I can assure Your Honour etc I have endeavoured to make it, I am to desire permission to resign their employ and return to Europe. Richard Starke.’

To the letter was subsequently appended a brief note: ‘In which the Board acquiesce’.

A dispatch of 21 November 1756 gave further information. ‘Starke handed over charge to Clive, returned to Madras in August, and requested leave to resign the service as he had been superseded by Clive.’  A further dispatch, 20 October 1757, gave a list of the passengers sailing to England on the Norfolk, among whom were Richard and John Starke.

Thus ended, rather ignominiously, Richard Starke’s Indian career, ousted by the very much more wily and ambitious Robert Clive. I am sure that a reading might be made of The Sword of Peace in the light of Mariana’s close knowledge of these events.

In 1759 Richard Starke married Mary Hughes, the 23-year-old daughter of  Isaac Hughes, a merchant of Crutched Friars in the City of London, and  Yewlands House, Banstead. Mariana, born in the last week of September 1762, was their first surviving child; I think a first son had died soon after birth. UPDATE (6 April 2014) I’ve just found a news report  in ‘The Public Advertiser’ of 21 June 1762, to the effect that this young boy, aged 20 months, had died the previous week after falling out of the coach in which he was ‘taking an airing’ with some women servants and was then run over by the vehicle’s wheels.

Richard’s father, John Starke, died in a year later, in October, 1763. His will reveals some family dissension. Richard and his sister, Martha, appear to have been involved in a lawsuit, presumably involving John, the result being that, although John Starke left Hylands House at Epsom to Richard, the main part of his wealth was to bypass Richard, to be settled on Richard’s children. Thus, by the time she was a year old, Mariana Starke was living in a large, pleasant house in Epsom, where her father, who never again took up employment, could maintain a position in society on account of his Indian EIC service and, while probably not overburdened with great wealth, could live with a certain nabob style.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and 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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‘Glad were they to rest on Australia’s shore’

This article was first published in March 2008 in Ancestors, a magazine, now, alas, defunct,  published by The National Archives. 

‘From old Scotland’s shore a vessel set sail

Old ocean to cross mid tempest and gale

Full laden with souls bound to a strange shore

Australia’s bright land never seen before’

The vessel was the India, sailing from Greenock on 4 June 1841, bound for Australia. Among the ‘souls’ aboard were my great-great-great-great grandfather, Phillip Shillinglaw, and four of his children. I trace my descent from a daughter who, already married, remained in Scotland. Although, in the course of research for books and articles, I have spent years investigating the history of others, only recently have I looked at my own family. I was delighted to discover this Australian link, no hint of which had passed down to me. After a little internet detective work I had the amazing good fortune of making contact with a (very) distant Melbourne relative, Margaret Ball. With her help I have been able to piece together a remarkably full picture of the Shillinglaw family’s traumatic voyage and their subsequent life in Australia.

The above lines open an epic poem describing the disaster that befell the India, the near miraculous rescue of the majority of its passengers, and their eventual arrival at Port Phillip, then in New South Wales. The author of the poem was Phillip Shillinglaw’s grandson and namesake. The manuscript, as in all the best tales of genealogical research, lay unregarded in a tin box until inherited in 1984 by Margaret Ball, great-great-great granddaughter of Phillip Shillinglaw the emigrant. She wrote that ‘This tin box started me on a great chase and a love for family history which is never ending’ and of the poem, ‘It took me a while to work it out but when I started to check public records it all made sense’. It is certainly unusual to be able to trace so dramatically the experience of steerage emigrants of this period. Much of the information in the poem tallies well with that held in public records. Phillip Shillinglaw the versifier was, of course, retelling the story he had heard from his mother and father, who had both, then unmarried, travelled out on the India, rather than recounting an official history. I am very grateful to Margaret Ball for permission to quote from the poem.

The Shillinglaws represent the ‘everyman’ and ‘everywoman’ of the mid-19th century emigrant movement to Australia. Indeed the year 1841 has come to be regarded as a watershed in the peopling of Australia. The colonies were keen to break from their convict-peopled past and introduce a different kind of settler. Britain’s industrious, virtuous working-class, suffering in a severely depressed economy, provided the ideal candidates.

The cost of a steerage passage to Australia was around £17, almost the average annual wage of a rural labourer and about twice the wage of a young female domestic servant. In order to supply Australia with this type of worker a series of schemes were devised to assist their passage, all requiring candidates to fulfil occupation, health, age, and character criteria set by the colonial legislatures. There was a bias towards family groupings, ‘protected’ single females, and those from rural counties.

The Shillinglaws certainly qualified on that score. They were travelling to Australia from Aberdalgie, a village in Perthshire. My suspicion, mentioned when this article was first published, that Phillip Shillinglaw worked in some specialist area of horticulture, perhaps fruit growing, rather than as a general agricultural labourer has proved correct. In 1826, for instance, as gardener to the Earl of Kinnoul, of Duplin Castle, Perthshire, he was awarded a prize for his ‘Queen Pineapple’ and an extra medal for ‘uncommonly fine Black Hamburgh grapes’ by the Caledonian Horticultural Society, meeting in Edinburgh   . Two of the daughters he left behind in Scotland were married to estate gardeners and, as we will see, when they reached Australia it was as gardeners, rather than as agricultural labourers or sheep hands, that both he and his son found employment.

Phillip was born in Berwickshire in 1777, probably moving to Maidstone, Kent, with his parents and siblings in the mid-1790s. Certainly he was living in England when he married in St Martin’s-in-the-Fields on 25 October 1807. Several of his older children were born in Kent but the birth in Perthshire of the younger ones indicates that the family had returned to Scotland around the mid-1820s. It was at Aberdalgie that three of the older daughters were married. I have found no trace of their mother’s death, but assume that in 1841 Philip was a widower. The little I have been able to deduce from this genealogical study suggests that Philip Shillinglaw was not a man to limit his horizons and that he could write his name. I might have been able to discover more about the family were it not for the irony that the India set sail a mere two days before the taking of the first census.

Of the Shillinglaw party, Phillip’s son, William, and two of his daughters, Martha and Elizabeth, appear in the Index to Assisted British Immigrants, although with their surname rendered as ‘Shillingham’. William was in his mid-20s. Elizabeth’s age was given as 21 on her arrival, although she may have been considerably younger. Martha’s age is recorded on arrival as 16, which tallies with her death at the age of 65 in 1891.

A slight mystery surrounds the identity of the third female member of the party. Her name is clearly written as ‘Catherine Shillinglaw’ on a list of passengers. However, nothing is known of a family member of that name and Caroline Shillinglaw, one of Phillip’s elder daughters, certainly did travel to Australia. Caroline would have been 31 in 1841 and it is possible that the fifth named member of the party, James Shillinglaw, was her illegitimate son. Neither Catherine/Caroline nor James is recorded on arrival as an assisted passenger.

Phillip, too, is missing from this record, his absence explained by the fact that, at 64, he was well above the qualifying age. It was considered part of the success of the emigration scheme that ‘ship-room’ was given to elderly family members. This was important in persuading the younger people to emigrate. In this case, however, I rather think that Phillip may himself have been a driving force. He could quite well have stayed quietly in Perthshire with his married daughters.

How would the Shillinglaws have heard about the possibilities of emigration and of the bounty scheme? Emigrant guides, aimed at the working class, had been published since the 1830s. It is quite possible that the Shillinglaws had studied one of these.  Also at this time the emigration scheme was being vigorously promoted in the various regions of rural Scotland. The official responsible for selecting emigrants travelled around, holding meetings, posting broadsheets and distributing circulars.

It was no simple business to apply for an assisted passage. Medical certificates and references were required, as well as money for a deposit, specified clothing and equipment, and the cost of travel to the port of embarkation. But well-informed, self-selecting, literate individuals with initiative could, and clearly did, overcome bureaucratic hurdles.

The voyage of the India was handled by Glasgow shipping agents McNeill and Somervall. The ship, described as ‘A 1 copper-bottomed’, was a three-masted barque of 493 tonnes, relatively new, having been built in Greenock in 1839. It had already completed one round trip to Australia. Passengers in 1841 were advised to be in Greenock by 28 May, ready for the 4 June departure.

It has been calculated that 172 passengers embarked. The ship had a poop cabin, accommodating 20 passengers, but the majority of the emigrants, including the Shillinglaws, travelled steerage. Thus, around 150 men, women and children lived and slept on the lower deck, in what was in effect one dormitory. Although the exact layout of the interior of the India’s steerage accommodation is unknown, it was usual for married couples and children to be housed in the centre, with the single women and girls in the ‘after berths’, and the single males and boys in the ‘fore-part’. Headroom was just over 6 feet, allowing for two tiers of bunks running along each side of a central table. These berths, usually fitted by the ship’s carpenter, were temporary so that they could be removed to make way for cargo on the return journey.

The passengers formed themselves into messes of six at meal times, with a mess captain appointed to collect the rations and take them to the galley for cooking. The India was well supplied with fresh meat, having live chicken, geese, pigs and sheep on board.Life in such close quarters could be fraught, but also led to friendships and, indeed, marriages. Seven months after their arrival at Port Phillip, William Shillinglaw married Jean Blamire, a fellow passenger. Their son, Phillip, the versifier, was born three months later.

The motion of the ship, causing, for many, incapacitating sea-sickness, the noise from wind, waves, sails and creaking wood, the threat of disease, and the increasing heat from the sun, combined with the discomfort of living packed together in such a confined space, made life on an emigrant ship at best uncomfortable. The passengers on the India were later to look back on the early stage of the voyage as blessedly uneventful.

The first indication that this journey was not to be without complication came when, according to Phillip’s poem, the crew mutinied. There is no mention of this incident in official sources, but I am prepared to give credence to his report that:

Now mutiny comes: crew refuses to work

So passengers have to handle the Barque

The crew’s dissatisfaction is unexplained and, according to the poem, the mutiny collapsed when they realised the punishment that would result from endangering the ship.

Near two hundred souls on that vessel’s deck

Having no knowledge of how life to save,

Constitutes a crime most fearfully grave.

After mutiny, the India and its passengers next had to contend with the threat of being pillaged by a Spanish pirate ship, the Gabriel.

Soon sea robbers hove in sight of the ship

But do not molest, though round her they slip

For, having established that the India carried a worthless cargo – emigrants – the Gabriel lost interest and sailed away. Shortly afterwards, however, she was involved in a four-hour gun battle with HM Brig Acorn and her crew captured.

It was about a fortnight after this encounter that, on 19 July, the India met its nemesis. As Phillip Shillinglaw put it:

At two of the clock, on the India they dined.

At six of the clock she was left behind

A glowing ball, burnt down to the water

To disappear, when the winds had caught her.

The disaster, he wrote, was due to the actions of the second mate (another report says the third mate), ‘a drunken fiend’, who went into the hold to fill a two-gallon measure with rum for the occupants of the state cabin.

But he could not stand

Steady, staggering with candle in hand..

At last he let fall

His candle…


Seizing the full measure with might and main

He dashed its contents right onto the flame

So quickly it caught, blazed up and flared

Beyond all control. For no-one dared

To face that inferno

The rather more prosaic report in the Times, provided by a cabin passenger, corroborates this story. The ship, 600 miles from the nearest land, was quickly ablaze. Death would have been inevitable for all had it not been for the fortuitous presence, about nine miles away, of a French whaler, the Roland.  Even so, the blazing India was only spotted when the Roland’s carpenter climbed its rigging to make a repair. The Roland hurried to the rescue, lowering all her boats.  The India’s boats, too, had been launched, but the first upturned when swamped by those desperate to clamber aboard, drowning 17 passengers and the boatswain. There was, anyway, only capacity for a third of the India’s passengers in its own long-boats. The India’s first mate then took charge of a second boat and used it to ferry passengers to those of the Roland.

To the ship they rowed

Returning-discharged-taking load after load,

Until, all were saved from the wreck, at last.

A fearful ordeal. But now it is past

Both my Father and my Mother were there

But they were not yet made into a pair.

The Times reporter wrote that ‘all was one scene of confusion and despair, the women were wringing their hands in the most heart rending manner, and this, mingled with screaming of children, presented a scene it would be vain to attempt describing.’ He also noted that the long-boat had to be cleared of ‘pigs, goats, &c., which were tossed overboard. ‘He described how, with his fellow passengers, he had doubted that the Roland would reach them in time as the India ‘was now one glowing mass of flame from stem to stern below, and rising through the hatches, and running up the rigging with incredible velocity. In less than one hour from the commencement of the fire her mainmast was lying over her lee-side.’  The surviving passengers were eventually picked up, many naked. Steerage and cabin passengers alike, they had lost all their possessions. It is salutary to note that during the 19th century at least 26 ships foundered on the voyage to Australia. Click here to see the watercolour of ‘The Burning of the Barque India of Greenock’, painted by Samuel Elyard and now in the Australian National Maritime Museum

On deck of the Roland, now, safely they stand

In mid Atlantic, a fortunate band…

Rio-Janaro’s the port – the name of the town

Where landed, and left to wander alone.

The Roland arrived at Rio de Janeiro on 26 July. There the emigrants were fortunate to be looked after by a remarkably considerate consul. Robert Hesketh’s correspondence with the Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, records the effort made to ensure the comfort of the survivors and to find and equip a ship to carry them on to Australia.  Hesketh found lodgings for all and, as he reported, ‘The British residents most charitably and liberally contributed Clothes’. For the sum of £1549 he chartered another ship, the Grindlay, writing to Palmerston, ’I shall have to draw on Her Majesty’s Treasury for the Sum, and also for the cost of Victualling the Emigrants during the Voyage. The expense of lodging, Victualling and Clothing in the place will form another item for which I shall also have to draw on Her Majesty’s Treasury. By thus acting, I hope to afford the assistance required from me by those unfortunate individuals in a manner that will meet your Lordship’s approval.’ Palmerston did not approve. However wiser counsels prevailed. It was pointed out that if this group of emigrants was left destitute in Rio all schemes for colonial emigration would be brought into disrepute.

The Grindlay sailed from Rio on 22 August. The widows of three drowned passengers returned to Scotland with their children. In addition, three women and two men had ‘absconded’, presumably tempted by the bright lights of Rio.

Hesketh appointed one of the India’s passengers, William Lilburne, as Superintendent of the Grindlay, giving ‘him charge of all the provisions, furnishing him with General Instructions, and with a set of regulations and Diet Scale which were notified to the Emigrants’. Hesketh wrote to the Governor of Port Phillip, ‘I consider myself fortunate in having had the assistance of such a person as Mr Lilburne to superintend on shore, in this Place, such a collection of persons under such trying circumstances, and his respectability, Discrimination and firmness makes me confident that the Passengers will be comfortable.’ Lilburne, who had been born in Perth in 1811, was given a testimonial to further his prospect of employment in Port Phillip.

It is noteworthy that Hesketh considered Lilburne better able to ensure the welfare of the passengers than the ship’s surgeon, Mr Houston, to whom, as was usual, they had previously been entrusted. Houston later appealed against the loss of gratuity resulting from this demotion, finally being offered half the money he might otherwise have received. William Lilburne received a free passage and a gratuity of £36.

British residents in Rio had raised a fund which provided the emigrants with clothing, some tools and Mr Houston with some medical instruments. The fund must have been substantial because a balance of £501 7s was left to be divided amongst the emigrants on their arrival at Port Phillip. A sum had also been given to the returning widows. The master of the Roland was presented with a gold chronometer and his crew a reward, shared between them, of £40.

There were no more adventures and the Grindlay disembarked at Port Phillip on 22 October 1841, one of 42 ships, carrying 7716 emigrants, which arrived that year from Britain.

Glad were they to rest on Australia’s shore.

But thankful indeed, the voyage is o’er.

Some came as servants, engaged ere they came,

As station hands some, all treated the same.

‘Tis a wild new land: Native tribes abound

“Plenty Blackfellow”, there wand’ring around

Port Phillip, soon to be renamed Melbourne, was clearly very different from Aberdalgie.

Phillip worked as a market gardener at Merri Creek, on the outskirts of Melbourne, until his death in 1852.  In 1847 William was a gardener to ‘Government gardens’, the precursor of what is now the world-famous Melbourne Botanical Gardens.  Caroline married in 1843 and had at least four children before dying in 1856. Elizabeth married in Melbourne in 1846, with her father present at the wedding. William Lilburne, a widower when he embarked on the India with at least two of his children, had married, soon after his arrival at Port Phillip, a fellow passenger, Christina Mcdougall. They had three children before divorcing. In 1853 he married Martha Shillinglaw.

The Shillinglaws thrived in Australia, the family increasing rapidly down the generations. Phillip the versifier settled in the Melbourne suburb of Eltham, where the brick house in which he and his family lived has been restored and preserved as Shillinglaw Cottage. In 1991 Margaret Ball organised a reunion for the descendants of those Shillinglaws who had, ‘with hearts all elate at what is before’, endured such danger to travel to that ‘wild new land’.

Taking It Further

Index to Assisted British Immigrants 1839-1871

Australian Family History and Genealogy.

Australian Vital Records Index 1788-1905. Available for purchase on CD, or can be freely accessed at The National Archives, Kew

Read More About It

M. Cannon, Perilous Voyages to the New Land, Today’s Australia Publishing Co, 1997

R. Haines, Emigration and the Labouring Poor: Australian recruitment in Britain and Ireland 1831-60, Macmillan, 1997

R. Haines, Life and Death in the Age of Sail: the passage to Australia, NationalMaritimeMuseum, 2003.

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