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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:
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:
- 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.
- Free Trade and No Food Taxes.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
This beautifully produced and illustrated book, published by Libanus Press, is available from all bookshops and from Amazon – https://tinyurl.com/y7asmw8g
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.
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!
Back 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
Harp 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.
I 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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.