New online resource for the Suffrage movement in Surrey

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Scrapbook for the Reigate, Redhill and District Society for Women’s Suffrage, which participated in the 40,000 strong march to the Albert Hall in 1908. Compiled by Helena Aurbach (SHC ref 3266/1)

With less than a year to go to the centenary of women first gaining the vote, we recommend you take a look at Surrey History Centre’s excellent new online local suffrage history resource.  Here, Archivist Di Stiff explores some of the material you will be able to access.

Surrey Heritage has prepared a new online resource on the Exploring Surrey’s Past website featuring various aspects of the suffrage movement in Surrey . Located under the ‘People/Politics and Activism’ theme, the resource shows the varied range of archive and library collections held at Surrey History Centre. The Suffrage themed sub pages give an overview of notable Surrey suffragettes and suffragists, links to relevant theme pages already featured on the site. All of the web pages feature sources and other useful links, with links to our online archives Collections Catalogue.

The roots of the women’s suffrage movement in England lie in the aftermath of the Reform Act of 1832, which extended voting rights among men but not women. A chronology of the growth of the movement across the county and the key people involved is featured in the main resource section, ‘The women’s suffrage movement in Surrey’.  The movement appears to have been active from the 1870s, with the first suffrage meeting allegedly being held in Guildford in January 1871, featuring speakers from the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage. Key activists resided in Surrey. Many had links to political parties, or came from landed families, such as Dorothy Hunter, Lady Betty Balfour and the Farrers of Abinger; others were educated, working women like Constance Maud of Sanderstead, who used her experiences to pen No Surrender (1911), and one-time Royal Holloway student, Emily Wilding Davison.

Many suffragettes had homes in the Surrey hills. Peaslake, in particular, became something of a hub and in 1912 Edwin Waterhouse described the village as ‘rather a nest of suffragettes…there are fourteen ladies there of very advanced views’. One of these was Marion Wallace-Dunlop, the first member of the Women’s Social and Political Union to go on hunger strike after imprisonment in July 1908. Just a few miles away in Holmwood, near Dorking, suffrage stalwarts, Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, provided a safe haven for women who had endured the horrors of force-feeding and imprisonment.

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Surrey Constabulary case file papers relating to the bombing of Oxted station, 3 April 1913 (SHC ref CC98/11/2)

The county also witnessed the rift between peaceful suffrage protesters and militant suffragettes, as featured in the section ‘Activism and militant suffragettes in Surrey’ . Helena Auerbach, president of Reigate, Redhill and District Society for Women’s Suffrage, persistently wrote to local and national newspapers decrying the violent tactics used by other groups for tarnishing the reputation of pro-Suffrage societies, she claimed that ‘aggressive political coercion is as little suited to our sex as the exercise of physical force’ (SHC ref.3266/1). Surrey was the scene of militant suffragette violence, including not only the fateful 1913 Epsom Derby but the bombing of Lloyd George’s house at Walton-on-the-Hill, and the bombing of Oxted railway station, among other incidents.

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Front cover of  The March of the Women,  1911 (SHC ref 9180/5)

Dame Ethel Smyth, the Woking composer and suffragette, is featured is some detail on the resource. She took up the suffrage cause after meeting the Pankhursts and in 1911 was one of the many women who used that year’s census to protest ‘No vote, no census!’  In March 1912, she served part of her prison sentence for smashing the window of a politician in Holloway prison and is said to have used her toothbrush to conduct female prisoners to sing The March of the Women, the suffragette anthem which she had composed the year before.

Early suffrage debates and bills, the impact of the First World War, and the final hurdle to securing the vote are featured in a section ‘Women get the vote!’  A final section on sources for researching the women’s suffrage movement in Surrey comprises a fairly comprehensive list of suffrage related archive and library sources held at Surrey History Centre, including a downloadable bibliography, online sources list and useful web links – we hope researchers will find these useful and encourage them to discover more.

In the lead up to the 2018 ‘Vote 100’ centenary we expect an increased demand for information from our users and expressions of interest from those researching new areas of the subject. We also very much hope to have a commemorative project up and running which, through community outreach and partnership working, will expand our online suffrage resource and reveal more about Surrey’s road to the vote.

Di Stiff is the Collections Development Archivist at

Surrey History Centre
130 Goldsworth Road
Woking
Surrey
GU21 6ND

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Interwar Visitors to Royal Holloway

Taking tea next to the tennis courts with Founders building behind in the 1920s. With permission from Royal Holloway Archives

Taking tea in the 1920s, next to the tennis courts with Founders Building behind. [Image: Royal Holloway Archives]

We are delighted to welcome our guest student blogger, George Severs, who took time out from his final year studies to explore some little known sources in Royal Holloway’s Archives with some surprising results ….

Recently, I embarked on a minor research effort to find out whether or not Unity Mitford had visited Royal Holloway in 1937, knowing that she had been to Egham to drop her childhood nanny Laura Dicks (Blor to the Mitfords) off on holiday with her family. As I expected, there is no record of Unity Mitford or Blor in the Royal Holloway archive, but this search posed more questions than I had originally expected. Namely, how much do we know about interwar visitors to Royal Holloway College, and how do we know it?

There are two major sources which inform our knowledge of the College’s visitors during the interwar period: the Royal Holloway Visitors’ Book, and the Picture Gallery Visitors’ Book. Similar though they may sound, these two volumes are markedly different.

The Royal Holloway Visitors’ Book is a grandiose, lacquered tome, spanning the years 1887 to 1984 which holds the signatures of many members of the royal family and other esteemed visitors. Its interwar entries alone include the signatures of Queen Mary and Princess Helena Victoria both of whom visited in 1937, and the chairman of the London County Council who visited in 1939. Entries from these VIPs were often permitted an entire page for their entry.

The Picture Gallery Visitors’ Book, by contrast, is a worn ink-stained volume, full of entries. This book would have been accessible to the general public on days when the Picture Gallery was open to public visitors, which, during the interwar period, would have been Wednesdays and occasional Saturdays.

At first glance, then, we might assume that the Visitors’ Book was reserved for grand, often state occasions, whilst the Picture Gallery equivalent was available to the general public. Largely true though this is, closer consultation of both volumes yields a few unexpected entries.

Whilst entries of visitors to the Picture Gallery do overwhelmingly paint a picture of family outings and local visitors during the interwar period, there are a few remarkable exceptions. Tucked away just below one Hilda Price from Addlestone we find the signature of H. G. Wells, author of The War of the Worlds. Quite why he visited the Picture Gallery in August 1937, seemingly by himself, we do not know. What is interesting, however, is the lack of spectacle made of his visit, since Wells was well known internationally by 1937. Perhaps this points to the fact that the College’s managing parties were most, if not singularly concerned with titled and regal patrons, something which has gone largely unchanged.

Entry recording the visit of H. G. Wells. RHCAR/501/1. Image: George J. Severs

Entry recording the visit of H. G. Wells. RHCAR/501/1. Image: George J. Severs

 

More surprising, and indicative of the College’s seeming lack of interest in non-royal visits, is an entry from May 26th 1938 which records the visit of a 500 strong delegation from the League of Nations, “about 100 of which signed this book”. As you may imagine, the College archivist and myself were quite astonished when I discovered this. Neither of us had any idea that this event had occurred, not least, perhaps, because it is quite literally squashed at the bottom of a page.

Entry recording the visit of the League of Nations delegation. RHCAR/501/1. Image: George J. Severs

Entry recording the visit of the League of Nations delegation. RHCAR/501/1. Image: George J. Severs

 

The Visitors’ Book also contains entries which seem to go against the supposed grain of the volume. Ordinary, local people have their entries in the book, though a great deal less frequently. We do not yet know how, when and where this book was kept during public occasions, but it is safe to assume that it was infrequently available for the public to sign.

Both of these visitors’ books, then, tell us fairly extraordinary things about the people who visited the College between the wars. We know of the queens, princesses, and the politically powerful men who came, but what of the ‘ordinary’ women? Royal Holloway was, after all, a women’s college, and my search had originally been for a woman (though, admittedly, not an ordinary one).

A great many women visited Royal Holloway during the 1920s and 1930s, and the visitors’ books go some way in telling us about how women negotiated the College as a public space. Entries, particularly those in the Picture Gallery Visitors’ Book, suggest that women tended to visit the College in groups, whilst men like H.G. Wells, more often visited alone. Whether they were local, like Mrs Butler and Mrs Bauchamp (both from Egham, visiting on September 10th 1936), or foreign visitors, such as a group from Paris visiting in June 1937, female visitors overwhelmingly came in groups.

As sources, the books are of course imperfect. We know very little about when, where and how exactly they were used, and often even less about the signatories themselves, hence they remain overlooked by most people. Yet, as this blog post has suggested, they can also offer valuable insights into the ways in which women (and men) visited the College during the interwar period, as well as the range of better known guests.

If you know anyone who visited Royal Holloway and why they did so please do let us know.

George J. Severs is a finalist in the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London, and an Undergraduate Liaison Officer at the Bedford Centre for the History of Women.