Agnes Gardiner (1855-1943)
Secretary of the Weybridge and District Women’s Suffrage Society
Agnes Thory Gardiner was baptised at St Mary’s Church, Hornsey, Middlesex, on the 30 March 1855, her baptismal record shows that her mother was Susan Chapman Gardiner (c.1820-1914), and her father was Stephen Gage Gardiner (c.1810-1880), a Stationer.
Agnes had an elder sister, Harriette Caroline (c.1853-1932) and a brother, Thomas Gage Gardiner (1852-1901). Following the death of Mr Gardiner, the family moved to Weybridge early in the 1880s, where they lived first at Stanmore House, and then around 1884-5 they moved to ‘Heathfield’. Their other brother, Thory Gage Gardiner (1857-1941), was Rector of Farnham (1895-1905) and Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, and he married Dorothy Kempe [a friend of Eglantyne Jebb, founder of ‘Save the Children’] in 1913.
‘Heathfield’ was a substantial house on the edge of Weybridge a short walk from Weybridge Station. In the 1911 Census the household consisted of Susan, Agnes and Harriette, as well as a visiting sick nurse and five servants.
The Gardiners probably had friends or relations in the area as even before they settled permanently in Weybridge as the young Misses Gardiner are reported as being among the attendees at the Grand Ball held at Oatlands Park Hotel (Surrey Advertiser, 24 January 1874), and the Surrey Advertiser dated 18 January 1879 reports they attended the Oatlands Park Cricket Club Subscription Ball, with Mrs Gardiner and Mr T G Gardiner.
Both Harriette and Agnes became actively involved in the educational, social and political life of the community in Weybridge. Harriette is listed as a school manager in the 1911 Census and Agnes as secretary of the Weybridge and District Women’s Suffrage Society. These activities would have been carried out with the approval of their younger brother, Rev. Thory Gage Gardiner, who was a strong advocate for female education and founder of Farnham Girls Grammar School.Click on the image to see a larger copy.
In 1907 Thory was by then a Canon of Canterbury and Agnes used her family connections and wrote to Archbishop Randall Davidson on the subject of women’s franchise. He replied in March 1907: “I am on the whole in favour of the extension of the suffrage to women, provided some clearer and more consistent scheme can be devised than I have yet seen in print, but I am absolutely clear that this is not the moment when I could give my name in favour of that cause or even move a finger on its behalf.” He expressed alarm at the mode of action carried out by a number of suffragists, however as a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), Agnes did not advocate the method of campaigning carried out by more militant suffragists.
The Weybridge and District Women’s Suffrage Society (WDWSS) was formed in 1908. Agnes became secretary of the society the same year. The Surrey Advertiser reported that Agnes Gardiner of the Weybridge WSS attended Professor Sadler’s eloquent speech in favour of women’s suffrage given at a public meeting in Weybridge Village Hall (3 October 1908).
Throughout 1909 Agnes was actively involved in recruiting members and in promoting the formation of local suffrage societies affiliated to the NUWSS (Surrey Advertiser 13 March 1909, and letter to Surrey Advertiser 6 November 1909).
The West Surrey Times reported that Agnes chaired a suffrage meeting held at Addlestone Village Hall with the aim of forming a local branch of the NUWSS9 (April 1910). Agnes said that women they only asked that they should have the vote on the same terms as men, they paid the same taxes and burned with a sense of the injustice of their treatment. Miss Gordon the NUWSS organising secretary was also present and addressed the meeting.
Common Cause reported on 1 September 1910 that Agnes had made a donation to the fund for the Queens Hall Demonstration in June 1910.
At a “Votes for Women” meeting held at Weybridge Village Hall Miss Gardiner (either Harriette or Agnes), reported on a suffragist deputation to Mr MacMaster MP, who said that he was not interested in women’s suffrage and neither were the voters. The Misses Gardiner are reported as the meeting organisers (Surrey Advertiser 27 March 1911).
Walton and Weybridge Urban District Council minutes for 3 July 1911 show that the council voted to support a petition urging the government to grant the parliamentary franchise to women on the same terms as in parochial elections (SHC ref Ac1229/2/4).
In December 1911 the Weybridge and District WSS hosted a meeting at Holstein Hall at which two suffrage plays were performed. A motion in favour of women gaining the franchise on equal terms with men was proposed by Agnes and was carried (Surrey Advertiser 13 & 16 December 1911).
On 25 April 1913 Egham and Staines News reported on a ticketed meeting of the Weybridge and District WSS at Chertsey Public Hall. The meeting was attended by about 60 people and Agnes Gardiner gave a ‘finely written paper’ in which she argued eloquently for the vote. She was careful to distance herself and the society from the activities of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), some of which had occurred in Surrey.
It seems that Agnes’ brother, Thory was also supportive of the campaign for women’s suffrage because on 30 May 1913 Common Cause carried a report of a drawing room meeting of the North Lambeth WSS, at Rectory House, by kind permission of Rev. J [T] Gardiner on 7 May, at which the Misses Gardiner acted as hostesses for their brother. Miss Agnes Gardiner read out a letter of support from Mrs Benson. Thory was Rector of Lambeth from 1910-1918, he was Chaplin to the Archbishop of Canterbury 1903-1928 and remained a Canon of Canterbury until his death in Canterbury in 1941.
Agnes was interested in the promotion education of workers in particular, women and girls. The Surrey Advertiser 7 October 1933 carried a report of her presenting certificates at the Weybridge Technical Institute. She spoke about how there had been a growth in interest in workers education since the introduction of evening classes in South London in 1892. Mr Stebbing said that it was thanks to the enthusiasm of a band of chiefly ladies, in particular Miss Gardiner, that the students had the advantages of after school education.
Agnes was also involved in the establishing of Girl Guide Troop in Weybridge, she was reported as having donated the prizes which were awarded to the girls who participated in an entertainment put on at Holstein Hall, Weybridge (Surrey Advertiser, 29 November 1913). She was on the podium as a committee member and also gave a talk explaining the aims and objectives of the Girl Guide Movement.
Throughout the First World War, Agnes continued with her involvement with the women’s suffrage campaign and Common Cause continued to list her as the Weybridge NUWSS contact. She also became involved in the war effort becoming the secretary of the Weybridge War Savings Association. The Surrey Advertiser 15 July 1916, reported on the inaugural meeting of the War Savings Association in the Parish Room at which she was elected to the role.
Agnes died in 1943 and is buried in a family grave in Weybridge Municipal Cemetery B, along with all her siblings and mother.
Contributed by Miriam Farr, The March of the Women project volunteer
Sources held at Surrey History Centre:
Alumni Oxoniesis (for dates of Thomas Gage Gardiner and Thory Gage Gardiner)
Greenwood, G B, Seventy-five years of local government: some account of the Urban District of Walton and Weybridge 1895-1973 (1974)
Kelly’s Post Office Directory of Surrey, 1871-1907
Weybridge UDC minutes (SHC Ref: Ac1229/2/4)
British Newspaper Archive – Common Cause and local newspapers
Ancestry – for Census records and Parish Registers
Chertsey Museum http://chertseymuseum.org/local_suffragettes
St George-in-the-East Church http://www.stgitehistory.org.uk/sgiteclergy1900.html
Lambeth Palace Library https://lambethpalacelibrary.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/the-archbishop-and-the-suffragettes/
Jonathan David Francis Inkpen, ‘Combatting the sin of self-sacrifice: Christian feminism in the women’s suffrage struggle 1903-1918’; Durham University thesis 1996. Available online, http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/1517/1/1517.pdf
Letter from Canon S A Barnett relating to him staying with Mr Gardiner at Stanmore House, Weybridge, nd (LMA F/BAR/028) https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/46d85495-3f1b-4d8a-907d-71837ef49d96
Thory Gage Gardiner http://www.farnhamians.org/oga/Story%20of%20a%20School_a5.PDF