Friday, August 28, 2015

Criminal Intent and the wilful Edith New

In July 2015 the first publicity material was released for a new film called Suffragette. The fight for female enfranchisement had ended in 1928 when the final restrictions were removed and all women over the age of 21 received the vote; yet this is the first time the story has been told on the cinema screen.

Early publicity included a trailer and posters of the lead characters - Meryl Streep, who plays a cameo role as Emmeline Pankhurst; Carey Mulligan as Maud, a ficitional character central to the story line and Helena Bonham Carter as Edith New.

Regular readers of this blog and the local history magazine Swindon Heritage will know that Edith New was born in Swindon. She grew up in Old Town and taught at Queenstown Infants' School. In 1901 she moved to London to teach at Calvert Road School in the tough dockland area of East Greenwich.

Emmeline Pankhurst with her daughter Christabel formed the Women's Social and Political Union at their Manchester home in 1903. The charismatic, fearless Mrs Pankhurst took the Votes for Women campaign to a whole new level and by 1906 the organisation had moved their headquarters to London.

In that same year Edith heard Mrs Pankhurst speak at a rally held in Trafalgar Square and by 1908 she had left teaching to become a paid organiser with the WSPU, travelling the country giving speeches, demonstrating and engaging in new and dangerous methods of protest for which she served several terms of imprisonment.

Since the early promotional material was released the film company has made a few amendments to the Helena Bonham Carter character, describing her as an amalgamation of several leading suffragettes of the time and renaming her Edith Ellyn.

In advance of the film premiere Swindon Heritage and the Swindon Suffragette group, sponsored by AMCS - Total Analytical Specialists are staging a series of free events to tell the true story of Edith New.

These will include a guided walk through Old Town, visiting significant places in Edith's life; an illustrated talk at Central Library on October 8 and culminating in a suffragette March and Rally.

Confirmation of dates and venues will be published on the Swindon Heritage website. Visit the Swindon Suffragette facebook page and follow us on twitter @swinsuffragette.

Probably the earliest photograph of a young Edith Bessie New pictured left with her mother Isabella, brother Frederick and sister Ellen (standing) and an identified young man.

Emmeline Pankhurst speaking in Trafalgar Square. (private collection)

Edith and Mary Leigh following their release from Holloway (private collection).

Edith with her class at St Mary's School, Lewisham.

Edith in holiday mode in Cornwall with friends and family.

Edith in retirement with her sister Ellen and great niece Mary.

Sponsor of Swindon Suffragette

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