Monday, July 27, 2015

Edith New - Swindon Suffragette

In 1906 the suffragette campaign entered its most violent phase. Over 500 women had been imprisoned by 1909 and right up there among the militant activists was a Swindon schoolteacher.

Edith Bessie New was born 17th March, 1877 at 24 North Street, Swindon, the fourth of Frederic and Isabelle New's five children. Frederic worked as a railway clerk at the GWR Works and Isabelle was a music teacher.

An assistant mistress at Queenstown Infant School from 1899-1901, Edith subsequently left her Swindon home to teach in the deprived areas of Deptford and Lewisham. It was after hearing the charismatic Emmeline Pankhurst speak at a meeting in Trafalgar Square that Edith joined the Women's Social and Political Union.

In February 1907 a deputation of suffragettes marched on the House of Commons in protest at the omission of votes for women from the King's speech. What had begun as a peaceful demonstration ended in a violent confrontation with police. Edith was among those arrested and sentenced to two weeks in Holloway gaol.

She continued to be at the forefront of innovative and dangerous protest methods. In January 1908 Edith chained herself to the railings at 10 Downing Street, the first time suffragettes had employed such tactics. It took the unprepared police sometime to release her, allowing Edith to make her protest heard by the assembled Cabinet gathered there. A three-week sentence in Holloway followed.

The hugely successful Women's Day rally held in Hyde Park on June 21,1908 attracted an estimated crowd of 250,000. Edith, by now an experienced and informative speaker, took her place alongside suffragette leaders.

Later that same month Edith, accompanied by Mary Leigh, broke windows at 10 Downing Street, another new headline grabbing tactic which would be increasingly employed by suffragettes. The women served two months in Holloway. On their release they were taken to a celebratory breakfast party in a carriage drawn by six suffragettes.

Edith resigned from teaching in 1908 to join the WSPU paid workforce. She travelled the country organising support for parliamentary candidates sympathetic to women's suffrage. In September 1909 she campaigned in Scotland where she was arrested for causing a breach of the peace during a meeting in Dundee. Sentenced to seven days imprisonment, Edith and her fellow prisoners went on hunger strike, the first to do so in Scotland.

Edith returned to teaching in 1911, where she continued to campaign for women's rights and equal pay within her profession.

Edith died aged 73 on 2nd January 1951 at The Croft, Landaviddy Lane, Polperro, Cornwall. She left property valued at £3,771 to her two nieces.  She never married and her death was registered by her companion of over 40 years, Nea Campion, a fellow teacher from the Lewisham days.

Images courtesy of T. Dugdale and Swindon Local Studies 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

GWR Park

Today you will be unlikely to hear the thwack of leather on willow in Faringdon Road Park where in 1844 the GWR bought a parcel of land west of the Railway Village, owned by Lt. Col Vilett.

In the early days the Cricket Ground was surrounded by a hedge and wooden palings and the GWR frequently had to issue warnings when their property was vandalised.

A notice published in June 1860 by Works Manager William Gooch announced – “I have again to caution, and call the attention of the Workmen to the damage done in the village by their Children, such as destroying trees in the Cricket Ground.”

Families faced severe penalties if their children were found to be the culprits. Gooch warned that the guilty boys "will not in future at any time be employed in the Works." If the offences were repeated the men risked losing not only their job but their home as well.

The GWR Cricket club, formed in 1847, shared the Cricket Field with teams representing other Shops in the railway works, even playing separate matches on the same day.

Star all-rounder was foundry worker John Laverick who as a 19 year-old moved to the GWR Works in 1866 from his home in Northumberland. He joined the cricket club the following year and scored 60 runs in his first innings played on the home ground.

In 1870 a match played at Bedminster's home ground saw batting legend W.G. Grace bowled out for a duck by Laverick.

During the club's heyday, when crowds averaged 1,000, team members included twin brothers Tom and George Hogarth who apparently caused the tetchy Dr. Grace some confusion when they played against him. Convinced that the GWR team had put the same man in to bat twice, the brothers had to stand side by side to settle the charge.

The GWR Company continued to develop the park, although sometimes at the expense of the cricket club, as Frederick Large notes in A Swindon Retrospect. “A bandstand having been erected by them almost in midfield of play rendered the playing of matches well nigh impossible ...”

After 63 years the club's career finally came to an end in 1910. Financial difficulties compounded by the high rent charged by the GWR on the Cricket Field saw the team selling off materials to pay debts.

In 1925 the park passed out of GWR ownership when the company entered into an 'exchange' with Swindon Corporation for land at Gorse Hill.

1870 - plans are drawn up for a Lodge on the eastern side of the New Swindon Cricket Field.
1871-72 Landscaping and formal gardens are laid out. Pavilion built on western side of the park, backing onto Park Lane. Fund raising events such as Penny Readings held at the Mechanics Institute to pay for these improvements.
Drill Hall built for the XI Wilts Rifle Corp - site now occupied by the TA Centre.
1881 census - Robert Matthews is head gardener and park keeper living at Park Lodge, Church Place.
1897 - railings and ornamental gates added.
1898 - plan for Bandstand submitted.
2010 - New railings erected around Faringdon Road Park

old postcard views of GWR Park courtesy of