I was recently fortunate enough to see ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company’s production of SYLVIA at The Old Vic. Maria Omakinwa, who had stepped into the title role of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst at very short notice, put up a great performance. It was very refreshing to to see a vibrant musical performance of women’s history enjoyed by a predominantly young audience. Edith Garrud, Islington’s “Jiu-Jitsu Suffragette” putting Emmeline Pankhurst’s bodyguard through their paces certainly lent itself well to dance!
Perhaps the show wasn’t entirely fair to Churchill’s position on women’s suffrage, but Delroy Atkinson’s portrayal of him torn between two strong women, mother Lady Jennie Churchill and wife Clementine was huge fun to watch.
Sylvia Pankhurst’s ongoing connection to Winston Churchill can still be found today on a bridge over the A406 North Circular Road at South Woodford. Since 2012, this has been the somewhat unlikely setting for a group of four public seats of which two commemorate a couple of Woodford’s most famous residents – on the left, Winston Churchill (MP from 1924 to 1964) and on the right Sylvia Pankhurst (resident from 1924 to 1956)
Whereas SYLVIA the musical ends in 1927, soon after the birth of her son Richard; Sylvia the woman was only halfway through a very full life indeed and aspects of that life are depicted on panels that form the back of the seat.
At the time of Richard’s birth Sylvia was living in Woodford Green with Richard’s father, Sylvio Corio. Sylvia moved to the area from Bow and the family lived in Woodford Green for more than 30 years, first at Red Cottage on the High Road and later in Charteris Road and scandalised some neighbours by their refusal to marry.
The ‘ tiresome Miss Sylvia Pankhurst” as MI5 dubbed her, remained active in politics throughout her life. She wrote extensively, supported the Republicans in Spain during the 1930s, campaigned against arial bombardment and was tireless in the campaign against the Italian occupation of Ethiopia.
Sylvia died in Addis Ababa in 1960, where she spent the last few year of her life having moved permanently to live in Ethiopia, at the invitation of Emperor Haile Selassie. She was regarded so highly for her work for Ethiopia that she was given a state funeral, attended by the Emperor himself and other members of the royal family.
To find out more about Sylvia Pankhurst and the east London Federation of Suffragettes join Oonagh’s Radical Women of the East End walk on Sunday 2 December.
Born on this day 1847 to a family of extraordinary women.
Excellent evening recently at WORLDwrite in #Hackney to see a screening of their Sylvia Pankhurst documentary. You can see a clip here: Source: Sylvia Pankhurst – Everything is possible
One hundred years ago today, on 6th February 1918, the Representation of the the People Act 1918 received Royal Assent and passed into law. The Act almost tripled the size of the electorate to seventy-eight percent of the adult population and gave around forty-three percent of adult women a vote.
“We should greatly prefer an imperfect scheme that can pass, to the most perfect scheme in the world that could not pass.” Millicent Garrett Fawcett
The political climate was not yet ready for women to have the vote on the same terms as men. It took another ten years for women and men to achieve equal franchise, but the 1918 Act did secure the vote for women over the age of 30 who met the property qualification. This change in the law was the result of decades of hard work, lobbying and campaigning by more than fifty suffrage societies.
While the militant “suffragettes” of Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union are the best known today, they were by no means the only campaigners: nor were all those who actively supported women’s suffrage female. Groups, now often overlooked, included Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes, the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, along with many others such as the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association, the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, The Artists’ Suffrage League; and largest of them all, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett.
It wasn’t until 1928 that all women got the vote on the same terms as men, but before we wait another ten years for that centenary….
The Garretts of Gower Street on 18th February or 19th May focusses on Millicent Garrett Fawcett of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and the other extraordinary women of the Garrett family.
Or come to Bow, in the afternoon on 11th February for the Radical Women of the East End to find out more about Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes.
While on 18th February, in the morning Newington’s Radicals takes us right back to the 1790s and Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
This sculpture of clasped hands on Three Mills Green by Alec Peever, commemorates four tragic deaths in an industrial accident one hundred and sixteen years ago today. On 12th July 1901 three workmen and the Managing Director of the nearby Nicholson’s Gin Distillery met a tragic end.
Today Three Mills is a picturesque spot, a time warp just minutes from the busy Bow Flyover, but it is also part of our earliest industrial heritage. There have been wind and tidal river mills on the site since medieval times, grinding flour, corn and even gunpowder. By the 1730s a distillery was established and gin (made popular by the Dutch king of England, William III) was produced here. From 1872, the business was owned and run by J&W Nicholson of Nicholson’s Gin fame.
On 12th July 1901, Godfrey Maule Nicholson, Managing Director of the distillery, Albert Dawkins, the foreman and two other workers went to open up a sealed well on a corner of the site to see if it could be used again. The well had fallen out of use a couple of years previously when the London County Council built a sewer nearby and the water dried up. Recently, Mr Nicholson had learned that the sewer was no longer in use and he wanted to see if it would be possible to use the well again. It was a hot summer and the additional water supply would be useful.
A ladder was put down the well and 26 year old Thomas Pickett, one of the labourers, descended with an 11 foot measuring pole to test the water level. As Thomas climbed back up and passed the pole to his foreman, he suddenly collapsed and fell back into the well. Without thought, 29 year old Godfrey Nicholson quickly climbed over and was trying to pull Thomas clear of the water when he too was overcome and fell in. Before Albert Dawkins, the foreman could follow, the second labourer, Joseph Barbour, stopped him suggesting that the men may have been overcome by fumes.
As Dawkins and Barbour ran off to get a rope, and ignoring their entreaties not to go too far down the well un-roped, a third workman, 35 year old George Frederick Elliott descended to try to recover his colleagues but he too was overcome and fell into the water. Despite the, by now obvious, dangers from noxious fumes a fourth man, 24 year old Robert Arthur Underhill, climbed down in another attempt to rescue his fellows and he too slumped into the water.
Thankfully, a rope was found and although the next man down, Job Vanning was also quickly overcome by the gases, he could be pulled clear by his colleagues and escaped drowning. When he recovered he said there had been no apparent smell but he had felt suddenly sleepy. He had no recollection of being pulled out of the well.
The Fire Brigade retrieved the bodies of the four men who were certified dead at the scene by local doctor Francis J Hilliard. At the inquest held the following Saturday, the jury returned verdicts of accidental death for all four men and expressed regret that the precaution of lighting a candle to test for the presence of gas, had not been employed.
The Coroner, Mr Attwater praised the bravery of those who had gone down the well to try to rescue their colleagues and the courage of Mr Vanning.
Alec Peever’s sculpture, erected in 2001, one hundred years after the tragedy, replaced an earlier monument a short distance away at the exact site of the well. This is now marked by a simple plaque.
Stone tablets from the original monument have been incorporated into the new memorial, including the following inscription:
“Of your charity pray for the souls of Thomas Pickett, Godfrey Maule Nicholson, Frederick Elliott and Robert Underhill, who lost their lives in a well beneath this spot on 12 July 1901. The first named while in the execution of his duty was overcome by foul air. The three latter successively descending in heroic efforts to save their comrades shared the same death.”
The valour of Elliott, Nicholson and Underhill is also commemorated in Victorian artist, GF Watts’ memorial to acts of heroic self sacrifice at Postman’s Park in the City of London.
Godfrey Nicholson was buried in his home parish at Holy Trinity Church, Privett, Hampshire where he is commemorated by a stained glass window and a marble plaque.
The three workmen who died were all buried locally in Woodgrange Park Cemetery where they appear to have no lasting monument. Sadly, much of the privately-owned 29 acre cemetery is in a very dilapidated state.
Graves are overgrown by brambles, headstones are broken and jumbled and many paths are no longer passable. Despite efforts by the Friends of Woodgrange Park Cemetery an Act of Parliament passed in 1993 allowed part of the site to be sold off for redevelopment as flats.
The remains of those who had been buried in this area were removed and have been re-interred in the so-called Garden of Remembrance – a long strip of rough, yellowing grass marked with a single small memorial stone.
Sadly, and perhaps especially after the care taken elsewhere to record the bravery of these four men, a visit to the cemetery where three of them were interred is a profoundly dispiriting experience.
Looking at this imposing Grade II listed church in the east London suburb of Wanstead it would be hard to imagine its very unusual history.
Now well-connected by the Central Line and popular with young families, Wanstead in the 1860s was an Essex village with an expanding population and a growing community of religious non-conformists without a purpose-built place of worship. They had been offered land by a Mr GH Wilkinson, but rejected as too costly the plans drawn up for building on it.
The non-conformists knew a bargain when they saw one, and the bargain they saw was nine miles away on the Euston Road where the junction with Midland Road is now. Here was a ready built church, only a few years old but already doomed by the onward march of the railway.
St Luke’s on the New Road (now Euston Road) was part of a Victorian church-building boom: 2,438 churches were built or re-built in England between 1851 and 1875 and St Luke’s was one of several planned to serve the needs of the ever-expanding population in the large urban parish of St Pancras.
Money had been short and work was slow. It took five years to complete the project and even then funds were insufficient for the tall spire on top of the tower.
The smart new building of Kentish ragstone with Bath stone dressings, designed by architect John Johnson, finally opened in 1861. However, the church was no competition for the might of the railway companies. A mere two years after the church was completed, the Midland Railway Company secured an Act of Parliament that would allow it to extend its line down to London, compulsorily purchase the land in its way (including that occupied by the church) and replace it with the cathedral-like splendour of St Pancras Station.
Pragmatically, the church quickly capitulated, accepted £12,500 for their early surrender of the land and were allowed to keep the fabric of the building.
At this point those astute non-conformists in Wanstead made an offer of £526 to buy the fabric of St Luke’s. This was accepted: Mr Reed a Walthamstow builder dismantled and transported the materials to Wanstead at a cost of £2,000. Even the crypt under the church was brought from the original site! John Johnson, the original architect, was commissioned to adapt his design to fit the rather different shaped and sized plot of land available.
As for St Luke’s, they had enough money from the deal to commission Basil Champneys to build a replacement safely out of the way of the railways in Oseney Crescent, Kentish Town.