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.