“O! Lovely Surrey! There is nothing like it”: Christabel Pankhurst in Ewhurst
Dame Christabel Pankhurst (1880-1958), daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and co-leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union, was a central figure in the women’s suffrage movement. This charismatic and highly intelligent suffragette was a talented speaker who did not refrain from encouraging militant forms of protest in the pursuit of votes for women.
During the height of the campaign, Christabel edited The Suffragette (renamed Britannica in 1915), the newspaper described as ‘the official organ of the Women’s Social and Political Union’ and on 14 December 1918, in the first national election after women were granted the vote, she stood as candidate for the Women’s Party (formed by Christabel and her mother). Although she was unsuccessful (she had only three weeks to prepare between the passing of the Bill that allowed women to stand for election to the House of Commons and the vote taking place), this Graduate in Law with First Class Honours made history as one of the first women to stand for election.
Following the defeat she retreated to rest at a cottage she rented called High Edser in Ewhurst, Surrey – the address where her name appears in the 1918 and 1919 Electoral Registers. In a new biography, Professor June Purvis describes Christabel’s time here – including her habit of sleeping outside to take in the country air (interrupted by rain on more than one occasion!).
Professor Purvis explains that she would often meet with Marion Wallace-Dunlop while in the county. Marion was the first suffragette to go on hunger strike during imprisonment and lived in the nearby village of Peaslake. In a letter to Marion on 4 Oct 1917, Christabel enthused, ‘for getting ideas for the ensuing campaign. O! Lovely Surrey! There is nothing like it’.
Following the outbreak of war, in 1915 her mother Emmeline had announced that the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) would help the ‘war babies’ problem by adopting baby girls born to single mothers whose fathers were on the front lines. Emmeline had adopted four babies herself (Kathleen King, Flora May Gordon, Joan Pembridge and Elizabeth Tudor) and appealed to WSPU members to follow suit or offer financial support. Elizabeth Tudor (named by Emmeline after Queen Elizabeth I but known as simply ‘Betty’), was later adopted by Christabel and accompanied her to Ewhurst in 1918.
In the summer of 1919 Emmeline brought the other three to live temporarily at High Edser with Christabel and four-year-old Betty. While there Emmeline was visited by Ethel Smyth, suffragette, composer of The March of the Women and Woking resident. Having been a tomboy in her youth, Ethel was horrified to see how the Pankhurst children ‘flitted about like fairies, offered you scones with a curtsey, and kissed their hands to you when they left the room’. Professor Purvis writes that Ethel assumed Christabel must be behind these airs and graces at first but soon suspected Emmeline to be the culprit!
By December 1919, Christabel could no longer afford the rent of High Edser and she was forced to give up the cottage. From there Christabel and Betty spent a period of time staying with various friends as they continued to try and make ends meet, including a brief stay at Abinger Hatch Hotel in Abinger, before moving to California in 1921.
High Edser still stands and is now a B&B retaining much of the charm that must have drawn Christabel to the property a hundred years ago. You can visit the website here: http://www.highedser.co.uk/.
The Mary Evans Picture Library hold a photograph of Christabel Pankhurst in Ewhurst, c.1925, featured on their website here: https://www.maryevans.com/landing.php?ref=10117367. By this date she would have long since left Ewhurst, and the chimney in the background does not belong to High Edser, so we can only assume that this photograph was taken whilst revisiting the area. If anyone has any information about this, we would love to hear from you!
You may have spotted the large mural outside Woking train station depicting a parade of Edwardian shops on the route to Surrey History Centre from the station. On the steps outside Robinsons you can see a figure of a woman stood next to a ‘Votes for Women’ poster. When I first spotted this, I was delighted to see the suffrage movement represented here in Surrey. It wasn’t until I was a few weeks into the project that it struck me how familiar the image of the woman was and it occurred to me that this was in fact Christabel Pankhurst herself.
I don’t know the story behind why Christabel was chosen to be a part of the mural but as I make my way past it this December, on the anniversary of the first election in which women could vote and stand for election as a member of Parliament, I will look over and think about this incredible suffragette, her story and her connection to “lovely Surrey”.
You can access Christabel Pankhurst: A Biography by June Purvis (2018) and a copy of The Suffragette, 13 June 1913, at Surrey History Centre in our reference library collection. You can also view Surrey’s Electoral Registers on Ancestry.co.uk in our searchroom. Visiting information can be found here: https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/culture-and-leisure/history-centre/visit.
(Please click the images to enlarge)
Surrey County Council consultation on Libraries and Cultural Services
You may be aware that Surrey County Council has launched a number of consultations on the future shape of some of its services. One of these consultations is on Libraries and Cultural Services of which Surrey Heritage is a part. At present the proposal is to reduce the Cultural Services budget (covering Libraries, Heritage, Surrey Arts, Adult Learning and Registration) by more than half – from £8.7 million to £4 million over the next two years unless its public value is clearly stated. We are encouraging everyone to complete the short survey and give their views on the value of our work. Please click on this link to find out more about what is proposed and to take you to the survey itself. Although the main focus of the survey is Surrey’s library service, Surrey History Centre is very much part of the review, so take advantage of the two free text boxes in questions 2.1 and 4.3 to tell the Council what you think about the county’s Heritage service and its future shape and role in meeting the Council’s priorities. Please share the news with your friends and anyone else who may be concerned by what is proposed.