Monday, August 31, 2015

On the campaign trail

Edith travelled the country in her role as an organiser in the Women’s Social and Political Union and in February 1909 she was on the campaign trail at a by-election in the Scottish border town of Hawick.

The by-election was called following the resignation of the Rt Hon Thomas Shaw who had held the Border Burghs seat since 1892, beating his Liberal Unionist opponent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, at the 1906 General Election.

On Friday, February 26, 1909 the Hawick News reported the presence of the campaigning women in Hawick as a ‘novelty.’ The newspaper was slightly less patronising in its description of Edith ‘a lady of attractive personality, an eloquent speaker, and has the knack of keeping herself on the best of terms with her audiences.’

As was the usual practice the women had set up a temporary campaign headquarters in a shop in the High Street from which they sold their political literature, encouraging voters to vote against the Liberal candidate.

Edith launched the campaign by addressing a large public meeting on the Tower Knowe during which she ‘justified militant tactics adopted to secure the end they had in view – the political enfranchisement of women.’ By this time Edith had already served several terms of imprisonment.
The meeting was described by the local press as ‘orderly’ with the women speakers receiving a ‘courteous hearing.’

Emmeline Pankhurst and her youngest daughter Adela both attended meetings during the 1909 by election campaign in Hawick.

Mrs Pankhurst was introduced by Edith at a crowded meeting held in the Town Hall where a piper had been engaged to accompany the singing:

Rise, ye men of Border burghs.
Show yourself in your true colours
As you've done in days gone by
Stand by British Liberty

"Votes for Women" loudly defying
Stubborn foes you'll put to rout
Vote and keep the Liberals out

Edith tried to rally the crowd with a cry of ‘come away, now – you have your song sheets’ but there was a definite lack of enthusiasm. Undaunted Edith continued ‘we will have that song, we have lost our voices with talking, and you have not; come away now – Rise ye Men,’ but still the response was poor.

The report continued:

“The second attempt was not much better than the first, whereupon she advised them to get the words off for next week. ‘We will have the pipes again, and will expect you to do much better.’”

Edith knew how to work a crowd and before introducing Mrs Pankhurst, she told the audience that she was not going to worry them with a speech as they would hear plenty from her during the following week ‘whether you want it or not, some of you – you have got to have it,’ to which they responded with ‘great laughter and cheers.’

At the end of the meeting Edith moved a resolution calling upon the Government to pass a measure that session to give women the vote. She accused the Government of being antiquated because the leader was antiquated to which a joker in the crowd called out – ‘He’s fear’ed for e’e’.

On Polling Day, March 5, 1909 the women were on duty at the Polling Stations handing out postcards addressed to the Prime Minister declaring a vote had been cast against the Liberal candidate in protest against the Government not having passed a measure to give women the vote. There was, however, a general feeling that the campaigning women had gone a step too far.

The Liberal candidate Sir John Barran won with 3,028 votes, a reduced majority of 520, over his opponent the Liberal Unionist Halford John Mackinder who polled 2,508 votes.

Edith addressing an open air meeting at Hawick.

This familiar photograph of Edith was taken during the Hawick campaign.

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Farm Cottages at Shaw

Boundary changes in 1928 added areas of Chiseldon, Wroughton, Lydiard Tregoze and Lydiard Millicent to the parish of Swindon.  By the 1960s town planners were looking for a suitable site for a rubbish tip for the growing town and Shaw Farm in the west of the parish was identified as a prime location.

Once part of the extensive Lydiard Park Estate, Shaw Farm appears on the marriage settlement between Frederick, Lord Bolingbroke and Lady Diana Spencer in 1757 described as "Shaw ffarm alias Bailey's ffarm."

In 1809 it was sold by the cash strapped St John family to Robert Hughes who promptly sold it on to wealthy Thomas Packer Butt of Arle Court, Cheltenham.

An indenture dated 1809 between Hughes and Butt provides some fascinating farm details.  The names of previous tenants include 'Christopher Strange afterwards of John Clifford since of Joseph ffurnell and now of John Osborne' and field names such as Marlings Pits, the Motley and Pickett Mead.

In 1962 then owner Raymond Simpkins sold the 125 acre farm with two brick and stone built cottages to Swindon Borough for £20,000, staying on as tenant farmer.

In 1964 the farm was in a poor and dilapidated state with the farmhouse virtually uninhabitable. Fencing was so poorly maintained that cattle kept straying into pastures at Lower Shaw Farm, much to the annoyance of farmer Sarah Maslin who held the animals hostage!

Eventually both farm and former tied cottages 31 and 32 Shaw Road were empty and awaited the council's demolition team.

Among the paperwork of the acquisition and demolition of Shaw Farm held at the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives in Chippenham is a heartfelt letter from Mrs Ivy Brotheridge, licensee at the Sun Inn, Lydiard Millicent.  Regarding the cottages she writes:  'On either side of wall in front are stone pillar heads (if that is proper description).  Rather than they should be smashed by the workman may I ask for them myself?  I've known the cottages all my life having never lived anywhere else than here.'

What happened to those stone pillar heads?  Did Town Clerk David Murray John heed the plea of Mrs Brotheridge?  Perhaps today they adorn the pub garden at the Sun Inn?  Who knows?

Today the former landfill site at Shaw enjoys a greener aspect as the developing Shaw Forest.  With more than 60,000 trees planted since the mid 1990s, Swindon's urban forest is part of the Great Western Community Forest covering an area of 168 square miles from Royal Wootton Bassett to Faringdon and the Downs to the Thames.

Lower Shaw Farm 

Lady Diana Spencer 

Frederick, Lord Bolingbroke

photograph of the Sun Inn today courtesy of Collin West visit