THE BATTLE FOR WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE IN ELMBRIDGE
One hundred years ago some women obtained the vote and ten years later all women gained the vote on the same terms as men.
Elmbridge was caught up in the battle for women’s suffrage. Charlotte Despard, a prominent activist, lived for a time at Courtlands in Esher. Princess Sophia Duleep Singh sold copies of The Suffragette outside Hampton Court Palace and Kitty Marion and Clara Giveen set fire to the Hurst Park Grandstand in West Molesey in 1913.
Suffragists passed through Esher on The Great Pilgrimage of 1913 on their way from Portsmouth to Hyde Park in London; but anti-suffrage feeling was also strong in Elmbridge too as we know from The Surrey Herald’s report of the meeting of the National League for Opposing Women’s suffrage in Weybridge in 1911.
This satirical card shows a cute kitten demanding “I want my vote!” Behind the kitten are the colours of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU): white for purity, green for hope and purple for dignity.
Around 1908, same date as this card over 700 million postcards were sent annually and Londoners had up to six postal deliveries a day!
Both supporters and opponents of women’s suffrage sent postcards with this picture on it to their friends. What do you make of it? Is the image designed to make the WSPU more appealing to women and men who disapprove of the suffragettes’ law-breaking but are otherwise sympathetic to votes for women? Or, does it ‘disrespect’ suffragettes by suggesting they are not grown up yet and, therefore, not to be taken too seriously when they stamp their feet, or in this case, their paws?
Item chosen by Anthony Barnes, Elmbridge Museum Volunteer
Celebrating E.M. Forster for February’s LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) history Month
Novelist Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970) lived in Weybridge from his twenties to early forties and wrote or completed all his novels at 19 Monument Green. His most famous books were ‘A Passage to India’, ‘A Room with a View’ and ‘Howard’s End’.
Forster’s novels deal with themes of morality, societal structure and the confinements of middle class life. ‘Maurice’ was the most controversial book written by Forster because it dealt with homosexual life at a time when sexual activity between men was illegal in England and Wales.
Dubbed the "quiet revolutionary" in a 1969 Observer Review, Forster was described as someone who "all his life […] evaded labels". The author’s personal struggle with his sexuality stemmed from his belief that being gay damaged his creativity. Forster never married and ‘Maurice’ was only published after his death, publically ‘outing’ him.
This 1982 photograph was taken of Forster’s house in Weybridge. At the time it was taken, it was commonly believed that Forster resided at number 20 Monument Green (centre). However, research into house deeds in the 2000s proved that number 19 (right) was owned by Forster’s mother, Alice. After this discovery, the commemorative plaque dedicated to E M Forster situated at number 20 was moved to number 19!
2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s birth
This pen and ink sketch of Claremont by Robert Taylor Pritchett is a unique record of where he lived in the mid-19th Century, and the Esher that Jane Austen describes in a letter to her nephew in 1813:
"We left Guildford at 20 minutes before 12 (I hope somebody cares for these minutes), and were at Esher in about 2 hours more. I was very much pleased with the country in general. Between Guildford and Ripley I thought it particularly pretty, also about Painshill; and from a Mr Spicer's grounds at Esher, which we walked into before dinner, the views were beautiful. I cannot say what we did not see, but I should think there could not be a wood, or a meadow, or palace, or remarkable spot in England that was not spread out before us on one side or other. Claremont is going to be sold: a Mr Ellis has it now. It is a house that seems never to have prospered. After dinner we walked forward to be overtaken at the coachman's time, and before he did overtake us we were very near Kingston."
Curiouser and Curiouser: Mr Hyde’s Tax Bill
English citizens were made to pay a tax on windows from 1696 to 1851. Window Tax essentially taxed the size of a property and was payable by the owner, not necessarily those that lived there.
Weybridge resident, Mr Hyde, was charged so much in Window Tax in 1834 that it amounted to almost half of his bill! At a time when the average labourer earned about 3 shillings and 9 pence per year, Mr Hyde paid the grand annual sum of 5 pounds, 3 shillings and 3 pence to the tax collector.
As towns and cities drew people in for work in the nineteenth century, many moved into large tenement buildings. Landlords boarded up windows to evade paying Window Tax, meaning that many tenants ended up living in buildings with poor ventilation and little light.
The Window Tax was repealed in 1851 after the impact on public health could no longer be ignored.
Based on the research of Julie Reynolds, Elmbridge Museum Volunteer