Protest and revolt have been woven into our Borough’s story from its earliest days. Streets, properties and empty fields which are now peaceful and serene were once arenas of opposition.
The colourful spectrum of protest witnessed by Elmbridge over the ages has ranged from peaceful objection to violent militancy. Although in many cases, movements were worlds apart – the 17th Century Diggers had vastly different demands to the 20th Century Suffragettes – the riots, rebellions and revolts all have one thing in common. Sparked by a deep-rooted anger at the status quo, every one of them is embedded in Elmbridge’s historical landscape.
On this page, we take a Look Back in Anger through a variety of projects. More about them can be discovered below in the following order:
'Look Back in Anger' Exhibition at Cobham Library
'Hidden Treasures' Object Video
From the Archive: A Refuge from Revolution
Activity: Could you make it through the English Civil War?
Look Back in Anger Exhibition
Protest has brought about vital change for centuries. It comes in all different shapes and forms, but each act of opposition symbolises a cry of disapproval at the way things are.
In this exhibition, you will gain a glimpse into the root causes of a variety of campaigns. Below, we examine the root causes, wars of words and defiant deeds of activists across the ages.
Top: John Player & Sons cigarette card album 'The Kings and Queen of England'. This page depicts Norman kings that Winstanley stated had oppressed their people under the 'Norman Yoke' – descriptions underneath list some of their atrocities. Middle: Scene from the 1975 film 'Winstanley', with Miles Halliwell (left) as Winstanley. Bottom: Print of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England from 1653-8. He was a Parliamentarian, taking over from Charles I after his execution.
A Spectrum of Protest
1. The Diggers
Date: April 1649
Leader: Gerrard Winstanley, a failed tradesman-turned-labourer from Cobham.
Roots: Winstanley claimed that the ‘Norman Yoke’ - the self-interested rule of the monarchy since the 1066 Norman Conquest - had given a select few vast powers to oppress the population. Then, when the English Civil War had raged between Parliament and the King from 1642, Surrey endured heavy taxation by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces on the promise they would reap the rewards later on. But when the Parliamentarians won and Charles I was executed in 1649, Cromwell’s assurance came to nothing. The Diggers finally formed to take action.
Words: In ‘The True Levellers Standard Advanced’, Gerrard Winstanley stated his Digger ideals. He believed that social hierarchies are wrong, and that all men are created equal with the same rights to use common land.
Deeds: A radical group of labourers occupied and dug the common land of St George’s Hill, Weybridge, in April 1649. They set up a commune there where everyone cooperated & lived equally.
The Diggers were eventually driven out by local authorities. They are now remembered across the globe in popular culture and are widely considered the proponents of the earliest form of Communism.
Head to the activity at the bottom of the page to see if you could make it in the English Civil War in Elmbridge!
Top to Bottom: Anti-Suffrage postcard depicting Suffragettes as a hissing kitten, with the caption 'I want my vote!' and Suffragette colours of green, white and purple in the background; 'The Woman's Book: Contains Everything a Woman Ought to Know'; Hurst Park's destroyed grandstand after the Suffragette arson attack of 1913.
2. The Suffragettes
Leader: Emmeline Pankhurst
Roots: It was the long-term social and legal inferiority of women which inspired the start of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the 1800s. ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ was noteworthy for challenging the traditional expectations of women - many of which are outlined in the more conservative ‘Woman’s Book’ (left). Emmeline Pankhurst became tired of how the peaceful methods of the Suffragists were not working, so in 1903 she created the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) - nicknamed the Suffragettes. This was a militant organisation which used violent protest.
Words: Their motto was 'Deeds Not Words', but they did use publications like 'The Suffragette' to get their ideas across and counteract the negative press they received. The postcards to the left mock the Suffrage debate in print, showing Suffragettes as a hissing kitten and anti-Suffrage campaigners as a pipe-smoking bulldog. The former Holstein Hall in Weybridge was also regularly used for pro– and anti– Suffrage rallies and debates alike, in February 1910 and 1911 respectively.
Deeds: January 1913 - letters were sabotaged in Weybridge by Suffragettes who poured ink into public letterboxes.
June 1913 - a fire at Hurst Park racecourse, started by hardened Suffragettes Kitty Marion and Clara Giveen, was the movement’s biggest attack in Elmbridge and cost £7000 to repair. It was a response to the death of Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who had thrown herself under King George V's horse at the Epsom Derby on 4th June and died on the 8th.
July 1913 - The Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage (‘Great Pilgrimage’) saw thousands of suffrage supporters march two routes across the country. One of these march routes passed through Guildford, Cobham, Esher and Kingston, with debates held anti-suffrage protestors meeting the walkers along the way.
The Suffragettes paused their campaign from 1914 to help the First World War effort, and the right to vote was given to propertied women over 30 in 1918. The Surrey Herald reported that a Mrs. New was the first Weybridge woman to "exercise the new enfranchisement of her sex."
Top: Banner for the East and West Molesey Women's Cooperative Guild. This group were closely tied to the Suffragette Movement and were particularly concerned with votes and rights for working class women. Like the Women's Freedom League, they largely supported pacifism during the First World War. Bottom: During the First World War, women took on jobs traditionally completed by men as their husbands, brothers and sons were called up to fight. Alice Ruffle had managed Frisby's shoe shop during the war, but was dismissed in 1918. Her experience meant she was able to set up Ruffle's across the road, and these boots were among the first stock she bought.
3. The Women's Freedom League
Leader: Charlotte Despard of Esher. Despard was supported by the Duchess of Albany who lived close by at Claremont.
Roots: The Women's Freedom League (WFL) started with a group of Suffragettes who had grown resentful of the WSPU's violent methods. They sat half-way between the peaceful Suffragists and the militant Suffragettes.
Words: This group widely advocated direct disruptive actions in their various public speaking and debates and through their publication, 'The Vote'. But they did not condone violence or attacks on property.
Deeds: In 1909, around 10,000 women boycotted the National Insurance tax on servant wages, with some facing prison sentences as a result.
In 1911, members of the WFL boycotted the census in an attempt to cause major disruption. They argued that women who couldn't vote for the government had no obligation to participate in its census. Some women hid so they were not recorded in the census and some moved about so they were recorded in a number of locations - this is part of the reason why local Suffragettes are so hard to trace!
Charlotte Despard herself was arrested and imprisoned frequently, and admired by many Suffragettes. As a result, the WFL eventually had 64 branches.
During the First World War Years, when the Women's Suffrage Movement paused its campaign Charlotte Despard turned her attention to supporting the Pacifist Movement (unlike many Suffragettes who were in favour of men signing up). When the vote was granted to some women in 1918, Despard stood as a Labour candidate in Battersea North, but did not win a seat in Parliament (the first and only woman to do so that year was Constance Markiewicz of Sinn Fein).
Strongly-worded newspaper headlines from the Battle of Ditton, 1966. Top to Bottom: a resident campaigner puts up the sign for 'Defence Headquarters: Battle of Ditton'; 'Residents must be militant, says chairman'; 'Thames Ditton Fights'.
4. The Battle of Ditton
Leader: Thames Ditton Residents' Association
Roots: The local council's plans to redevelop Thames Ditton's High Street caused outrage amongst local residents, who rallied behind their local Resident's Association to protest.
Words: The powerful language used to describe the non-violent spat in local and national newspapers (left) makes it particularly notable. In the press and local area the conflict became widely known as the 'Battle of Ditton', with numerous debates and angry meetings held over several months while the battle raged on.
Deeds: Esher Urban District Council was flooded with 300 letters from angry Thames Ditton residents. 4,500 people signed a petition against the development and activists set up a ‘battle’ base at a home in Thames Ditton.
Cartoons from the Surrey Comet criticizing plans for the new Esher Bypass, 1974. In the top cartoon, commuters sitting in a train carriage look angrily across at the Minister of Transport, who is reading the 'Plan for New Esher By-Pass'. In the bottom cartoon, traffic fills the roads with signs which read 'Esher Welcomes Piled Up Traffic', while ministers in old-fashioned clothes labelled names such as 'General Short Sight', 'Outdated Ideas', 'Self Interested Trader' walk along the pavement.
5. Road rage (the dispute over Esher ByPass)
Leader: Local residents, supported by the local press
Roots: The Esher Bypass had been in its planning stages prior to the Second World War, but was put on hold. The opening of Britain's first motorway in 1958 marked the start of a huge programme for similar roads across the entire country, and by the 1970s plans for this huge road (part of the A3) were back on track.
Words: There was no physical action taken, but much discontent at the loss of Common land and woodland. To the left are a series of cartoons published in the Surrey Comet in 1974, mocking the Ministry of Transport and criticizing the plans for the Esher Bypass. Popular since the 1700s, cartoons often represent protesting voices through satire.
In 1974, the Esher Bypass was built across the middle of Esher Common. To try and compensate for the loss of Common land, 90 acres were added to the Commons in other areas (known as "exchange land").
Top to Bottom: Entrance to The Land is Ours Campsite at St. George's Hill, April 1999; The Land is Ours Campsite at St. George's Hill; vest from The Land is Ours Campaign with Gerrard Winstanley quote 'Action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing'.
6. The Land is ours Campaign
Date: April 1999
Leader: 'The Land Is Ours' group
Roots: Access to land is an issue which has been raging on for centuries, and St. George's Hill in Weybridge has found itself a particular focus for debates over public use of the land. The Land Is Ours Campaign used the Diggers of 1649 as inspiration for their protest in 1999, using many of the same arguments as their predecessors. They believed that the public had a right to access the common land in the now private gated community.
Words: The organisers of this modern-day movement used many of the same words as the Diggers had done. They produced t-shirts and memorabilia with quotes from Gerrard Winstanley's most famous writings printed all over them, and their campsite was adorned with references to the Digger Movement, with some participants even dressing up as 17th Century Diggers. In reality, much had changed since the Diggers - the historical context; the purpose of the protest; and the surrounding area were all vastly altered - and the two groups had very few similarities. But the sweeping parallels the modern movement attempted to draw were clear.
Deeds: Exactly 350 years since the Diggers set up their commune on St. George's Hill, The Land Is Ours organised a march and set up camp at the same site. They faced extreme hostility from locals, who were sometimes even violent in their attempts to remove the group. Eventually, The Land Is Ours were forced to pack up and leave after a brief occupation, and St. George's Hill remains restricted in access.
Watch the story of The Land Is Ours occupation, with original footage of the protest.
'HIDDEN TREASURES' OBJECT VIDEO
Explore the ins and outs of even more items of protest hidden in our collection in the object video below!
Watch the object video for our Look Back in Anger exhibition, to see some more hidden treasures from the Elmbridge Museum collection!
FROM THE ARCHIVE
A Refuge From Revolution
Elmbridge even had a hand in revolutions across the channel. In 1848, a Mr and Mrs Smith set foot in Esher after travelling all the way from France. But this was no ordinary couple - Mr and Mrs Smith were the King and Queen of France.
Engraving of Louis Philippe from his obituary in the London Illustrated News. He was the former King of France and later the Count of Neuilly
When the February 1848 Revolution saw King Louis Philippe of France deposed in favour of a republic, he and his wife Marie-Amelie fled. They lived out their final days in safety at Claremont as the Count and Countess of Neuilly, with many of their relatives surrounding them in neighbouring boroughs and their residence often reportedly 'full of French princes'. They became recognised members of the community and attended services regularly at St Charles Borromeo in Weybridge.
Louis died at Claremont on 26th August 1850, and he was initially buried in a mausoleum attached to the Catholic church of St. Charles Borromeo he had so regularly attended. Marie-Amelie lived on at Claremont until her death in 1866.
A fascinating record of Louis Philippe's life at his Elmbridge refuge and funeral there have survived, pristinely preserved in our archive at Elmbridge Museum. Take a closer look at some of the beautifully illustrated, 170 year old pages here.
Could you make it through the English civil war?
Print of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England 1653-8.
The Digger Movement came at a critical point in the English Civil War. As one of the most momentous national wars the country has ever seen, it saw families divided, homes ripped apart, and an unprecedented level of death and destruction unleashed as the English Parliament's forces protested and fought against the personal rule of the King.
But could you make it?
Take our quiz and add up your points to find out how you would have fared in mid-17th Century Elmbridge!
Elmbridge Museum's Exhibitions & Interpretation Officer explains how this exhibition was put together. Including the story of the 17th Century Digger Movement and thoughts on choosing objects for display and comparing protests through history.
Watch the Curator's Talk for our Look Back In Anger exhibition