Monday, October 19, 2015

A soul snatched out of hell

Suffragette, the first film to portrait the working class woman's involvement with the Votes for Women campaign, features an early scene where laundry worker Maud Watts gets caught up in the great window smashing demonstration that took place in the West End in March 1912.

One hundred and thirty demonstrators, mostly women, were sent for trial on charges of malicious damage to plate glass windows. Among them was Edith's friend and fellow suffragette, Winifred Bray, sentenced to four months imprisonment in Winson Green Prison, Birmingham.

On her release Winifred wrote the following letter to Edith, describing her experience of forcible feeding and prison life.

Wed: June 26 [1912]

I'm home again at last, & feel just like a soul snatched out of hell & deposited in heaven! Still feeling desperately weak, & with a throat so sore that I mustn't talk, but nevertheless a peaceful soul, suddenly released from almost intolerable torture, & therefore happy!

We've had a ghastly time, some of us. It is very curious, tho', how the effect varies on different people some few seem able to be fed with comparative ease & don't appear to suffer anything very appreciable; admit that they don't really suffer, tho' of course in time their throats get frightfully sore. People with vigorous hearts get on but, naturally - woe betide the people who are cursed with feeble ones! They are feeding them all alike, rich & poor, high & low, strong & weak, halt or able, young & old!! Only thing is they dare not keep on at the weak ones very long. They feed them till they're at the last gasp, so to speak, & then they have to let them go...

The last time they began to feed us on Sun: afternoon, & we were fed twice a day, so I was tortured 3 times - on Sun afternoon, & twice on Monday. On Tuesday morning I was in such a state they didn't dare do it again, & I was released!

As a matter of fact, the two Drs. were heard by one of our prisoners in the hospital confabulating about me on Monday morning, & of course they knew then that I'd have to be let go & yet they inflicted the agony on me all over again!

The same with some of the others, who wd have been let go on the first occasion - all were brought up for torture all over again, for nothing, before they gave them up as hopeless! It was brutal. Especially so in the case of poor Mrs Huddleston who was one of those who came off worst, & had a ghastly time. I've only one word for it, & that is hell!

It seems like a frightful nightmare - if it were not for the pain in my head, neck, throat & at the back of my nose (which looks all red & swollen by the way, & a curious contrast to my face in general which is so ghastly & washed out looking) I shd almost feel as if it had never happened; but was merely a bad dream. It is because of my throat I can't see anyone yet awhile. I should just have to talk, & it is so bad for me - & so exciting.

Winfred goes on to say -

& above all, I've succeeded in smuggling out my prison knife! I feel I've earned that & it is so valuable to me & worth nothing to the King! A bit of old bent tin! I feel rather ashamed of having done it - but also very proud of myself! Don't let anyone know who wd be likely to let it get into print! We don't want them to know how the knives get "lost." It is such a trophy! I shall treasure it till I die!

Winifred talks about the 'precious' Magazine the suffragette prisoners compiled during their incarceration. 

I tried to smuggle out one copy of the Mag: but they searched my things, & seized it & I fear we'll never get it now. It was a tragedy! And so unjustifiable, for it was our own all through - the child of our brains, the darling of our hearts, the solace & comfort of our sad moments! Full of Treasures - the cream of our intellectual out put, & we were such a nice brainy set!!!

In 2012 an album of autographs and poems composed by imprisoned suffragettes came up for auction. Dating from the aftermath of the window smashing demonstration a hundred years earlier, it contains a verse written by Winifred Bray.

Join us on Sunday October 25 for a costumed suffragette March and Rally. We will meet at the High Street entrance to Lawns at 11 am and march through Old Town to the Radnor Street Cemetery Chapel to hear speeches from the day. Join members of the Sixth Sense Theatre Group and the Swindon Community Choir to remember the women who gave so much that we might enjoy the freedom we have today.

Carey Mulligan as Maud Watts.

Photograph and jewellery have no known connection to Winifred Bray.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Edith New makes headline news in the Swindon Advertiser

About forty people joined the Swindon Suffragette team on a guided walk around Old Town today visiting the places significant to Edith New, the Swindon born suffragette, who was the first to to chain herself to railings and to break windows at 10 Downing Street as a means of protest in the Votes for Women campaign.

Following her release from Holloway prison in August 1908, Edith returned to Swindon to recuperate from her ordeal. 

She stayed with her mother at 29 Lethbridge Road where a reporter from the Swindon Advertiser visited her and the following account was published in the newspaper.

Swindon Advertiser Monday, September 7, 1908.

Votes For Women
Miss Edith New in Swindon
The Active Suffragist interviewed
Swindon to be visited

Miss Edith New, whose name has been so prominently before the public in connection with the votes for women campaign, and who is a native of Swindon, has been taking a well earned rest in the railway town during the past few days, prior to commencing another busy round of engagements. It was at 29 Lethbridge Road, where Miss New has been staying, that an “Advertiser reporter found her this morning, and she granted a brief interview with cheerful readiness, despite the fact that she has been under strict orders to take a complete rest and for a time to, if possible dismiss from her mind the worries naturally associated with a movement which has grown so wonderfully of late.

Miss New, although she has undoubtedly derived benefit from her rest, still bears some traces of the fatigue and worry of the exceptional period of activity through which she has passed. A glance is quite sufficient to satisfy one that she is full of the enthusiasm of the cause, and is intensely in earnest. She is of an extremely vivacious disposition, and her vivacity is wholly given over to the furthering of the principles for which she and so many of her sex are fighting.

Almost her first remark indicates how intensely in earnest she is, and how her whole existence seems to depend upon her ability to find some fresh channel through which to advance the campaign.

“If I had not been ordered strict rest,” she said, “I should have hired a trolley and addressed the men as they left the GWR factory. I believe they would have listened to me. I was very much tempted to speak to them last week, and you may depend upon it as soon as I get the chance I shall come back again and do so. We want to fire the whole of London with the truth of our cause, and then we shall seek to do similar things in the provinces. Already we have a splendid organisation in the North of England and in Scotland, and great progress is being made. On Saturday, Sept. 19th, we hope to wake up the West of England to a sense of the justice of our claim that women shall be granted the Parliamentary vote, in order, as our official journal so well points out, we may have the power to establish equality of rights and opportunities between the sexes, and so practically assist in the social and industrial well being of the community. On Sept. 19th we are going to have a big demonstration on Durdham Down, Bristol, when addresses will be given by Mrs Pankhurst, Mrs Pethwick [sic] Lawrence, Mrs Christabel Pankhurst, and many other of our well known women speakers. As the result of this demonstration we hope to organise a series of meetings to be held in many towns in the West of England, including Swindon. Only this morning I received a letter from Mrs Pethwick [sic] Lawrence, who speaks in very bright terms of the general outlook, and says she has important meetings booked up right away to the end of next July. I hope you will make it clear,” Miss New added, “that we are working entirely independent of all political parties: we hope to achieve our end as the result of thorough national organisation.”

“When do you take up your active duties again, Miss New?”

“Tomorrow I return to London, and from there I expect to be sent to Newcastle on Tyne, where there is a bye election on the way. We intend to be in at the bye elections for all we are worth. If there happens to be a bye election in Swindon, you may expect a lively time, or at least your Mr Massie may, after some of the views he expressed in London.”

“You were the lady who smashed the Prime Minister’s windows, are you not, Miss New?” ventured the Advertiser man.

“Yes,” replied Miss New, proudly. “We are not violent by nature, but we are driven to do these things. Mrs Leigh and I, as you know, got two months’ hard labour each. We did the two months, but not the hard labour, though we would cheerfully have done that if it had been imposed upon us. We do not shrink from prison. We have every intention of winning our cause, and we shall succeed. I feel ever so much better for my little rest in Swindon, and I hope to do a lot of useful work as soon as I get into harness again.”
Miss New showed the Advertiser man a memento presented to her by Mrs Pethwick [sic]Lawrence on her release from Holloway Gaol on August 22nd.  It is a neatly executed miniature of the Boadicea Statue on Westminster Bridge. A similar one was presented to Mrs Leigh.

Miss New continued: “We are going to have a big ‘do’ on Wednesday, Sept 16, when some more of our workers are released from Holloway, and also on Friday Sept. 18th when Miss Mary Phillips is released.

“One of the most encouraging features of our campaign is the progress that the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage is making. You should see how the men of Camden Town rallied round us the other day. When we get men – real men – to work with us throughout the country we shall not be far off the goal we are seeking to attain. Please put Votes for Women in the biggest type you’ve got. [ they did]

“You won’t come round and put a brick through the office window if we don’t, will you, Miss New?” meekly queried the reporter.

“No,” smilingly answered Miss New. “I have a big lot of faith in Swindon, and I believe that the Advertiser would give us a whole page if Mrs Leigh and I came round and used a little mild persuasive argument.”

Miss New’s slender frame was already vibrating with suppressed excitement, and the Advertiser man deemed it prudent to wish the lady the best of luck and success, and to politely withdraw.

Five minutes’ chat with Miss New is quite sufficient to convince anyone that she is not a young lady to be trifled with on the subject of women’s suffrage. Her very presence breathes “Votes for women;” her being literally thrills with the battle cry of the movement! She has caught the fire of Mrs Pankhurst, Mrs Pethwick [sic]  Lawrence, and their kindred spirits, while the sufferings of Holloway have but whetted her appetite for the accomplishment of still greater achievements for the cause.

The Swindon Suffragette celebrations continue this week as we build to the highlight of our Edith New festival with a costumed March and Rally on Sunday, October 25. Meet at the High Street entrance to the Lawns at 11 am. 

We will march through Old Town to the chapel in Radnor Street Cemetery where there will be a rally and a chance to hear rousing speeches from the day.

For more information visit the Swindon Suffragette facebook page.

Edith's Boudica brooch - described as the Suffragette's Victoria Cross

 29 Lethbridge Road - the New family home for more than 30 years.

Edith's birth certificate

Edith (foreground) and her sister Nell, brother Frederick and mother Isabella.

 Our fantastic exhibition banner designed by Graham Carter, Swindon Heritage editor.

The Swindon Suffragette festival is sponsored by AMCS Total Analytical Specialists, Swindon Heritage and Amanda Adams Frances4lifeskills Claire Bennett Maggie Brunger Tamara Dugdale Willows Counselling Service

Monday, October 12, 2015


On general release from today, the film Suffragette puts fictional character Maud Watts at the very heart of the Votes for Women campaign.

The film focuses on the increasingly violent tactics employed by the suffragettes and the level of danger the women were prepared to risk in the battle for enfranchisement.

Confusing pre release publicity announced that Helena Bonham Carter would be playing Swindon suffragette Edith New, however, with the film set in 1912, it soon became obvious that the Helena Bonham Carter character was based on a different source, as our Edith had already returned to teaching by that date.

Carey Mulligan gave a compelling performance as young mother Maud Watts whose early involvement with the Votes for Women campaign begins because of the plight of fellow laundry worker Violet Miller, played by Anne Marie Duff.

The stories of Maud and Violet throw emphasis on the working class members of the Votes for Women campaign in contrast to the more familiar upper class, elegant ladies dressed in white. The downtrodden women who might seem less obvious participants in the campaign yet those most in need of empowerment.

The film is a must for the disaffected voter, both male and female, who feels that politicians at local and national level do not speak for them. These women fought hard and sacrificed their reputations, their health and sometimes their families so that women today could have a vote.

Suffragette is showing at Cineworld Regent Circus and Shaw Ridge all this week.

And to hear the true story of Edith New, join us on a guided walk of Old Town Saturday, October 17 meet at the Arts Centre at 11am and visit some of the places significant in Edith's life.

Anne Marie Duff (left) and Carey Mulligan give a powerful and poignant performance

Maud Watts

Helena Bonham Carter plays chemist Edith Ellyn

Friday, October 9, 2015

Celebrating Edith New (Part 2)

A sell out attendance at the talk last night at Central Library, Swindon and how lucky were we to have Tamara, Edith's great-niece as guest of honour?

Tamara made the journey from Leicester to share various items from Edith's effects, including her hunger strike medal.

These two photographs of Edith were taken approximately 45 years apart. In both of them she is pictured with her lifelong friend Nea Campion. 

The two women met in around 1906 as teachers at St Mary’s Church of England School in Lewisham and Nea was with Edith when she died in 1951.

Here they are pictured as young women taking tea – a setting straight out of a period drama.

And here they are some 45 years later – Edith puffing on a cigarette – sharing some letters.

What incredible times these women lived through. They had won the vote, survived two world wars, witnessed the beginnings of social reform and the creation of the National Health Service.

I’m sure you’ll agree, some things are worth fighting for!

The next of our events is a Costume and props Session at the Community Centre, Christ Church on Sunday October 11 at 11am - a two hour craft session for people to swap skills and materials to finish their costumes, props and banners. Also a chance to meet fellow suffragettes in advance of the March and Rally on October 25.

Please bring along any spare craft materials you may have and plenty of ideas too!

We will have some felt, feathers and ribbons for hat decorating and some paint and brushes for signs.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Celebrating Edith New

Today I took a very wet walk around Old Town with BBC Wiltshire presenter Marie Lennon, pointing out places significant to Edith New more than a hundred years ago.

Local woman Edith joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1906 and went on to become one of Emmeline Pankhurst’s fearless foot soldiers in the battle for female suffrage. By the end of 1908 she had set a precedent in the Votes for Women campaign. She was the first suffragette to chain herself to railings and the first to break windows as a means of protest.

Throughout October we will be celebrating the life and times of Edith alongside the release of Suffragette, the first time the womens’ fight for suffrage has been portrayed on the big screen.

Suffragette opens at Cineworld Regent Circus and Shaw Ridge on October 12, but before that we kick off our suffragette festival with a talk at Central Library, October 8 at 7.15. Tickets cost £1.50 for library members £2.50 for non members available from the Help Desk, Ground Floor, Central Library. Find out more about this extraordinary woman in Swindon’s Suffragette Edith New: From North Street to Holloway Gaol.

Are you handy with a needle; good at painting banners? Materials and womanpower is required for our Costume and Prop Craft Session on Sunday October 11, meeting at 11 am at Christ Church Community Centre. Want some help creating a costume for the March and Rally? It’s not as difficult, or expensive, as you might think.

Children can also get in on the act with a Childrens’ Craft Session at Christ Church Community Centre on Saturday October 24 12pm – under 10’s must be accompanied by an adult. Come and make a suffragette rosette to wear and banners to wave on the March and Rally.

The Swindon Suffragette March and Rally takes place on Sunday, October 25. We will gather at the High Street entrance to Lawns and march to Radnor Street Cemetery for a rousing rally. We’re hoping that members of the Sixth Sense Theatre Group will be among our number on the march and Linda Lee of the Swindon Community Choir will lead singing of the suffragette anthem March of the Women.

Marie will be broadcasting women talking throughout the week beginning October 12. And join us on the full version of the free guided walk, meet us at Old Town Library in the Arts Centre, Devizes Road on Saturday October 17 at 11 am. Let’s hope it’s not quite as wet as it was today!

Keep up to date with events as they happen on our facebook page Swindon Suffragette.

Edith is featured on the Time Travelling mural painted by The Visual Drop artists Ed Russell and James Habgood and featured in the Link Magazine photos courtesy of Calyx Picture Agency.