• March of the Women

Agnes Margaret Dixon, of Witley, Suffragist (1865-1918)

Agnes Dixon (nèe Powell), was the second youngest of six daughters and three sons of Thomas Wilde Powell, a stockbroker, and his wife Mary Elizabeth (nèe Marten). Her sisters were Christiana Jane Herringham (1852-1929), [May] Mary Elizabeth Turner (1854-1907), the wife of Hugh Thackeray Turner who were also supporters of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), Rosamond Emma Wills (1861-1919), wife of Dr William Alfred Wills, Eleanor Grace Powell (1859-1945) and Theodora (1871-1920). Her brothers were Charles Marten Powell (1855-1928), Thomas Edmond Powell (1857-1901), and Herbert Andrews Powell (1863-1950). Growing up, the family lived at ‘Piccards Rough’, a house built for them by Richard Norman Shaw, at St Catherine’s, Artington, Guildford.

Image of Piccard’s Rough, c.1900 (from The Development of Arts and Crafts Architecture in St Catherine’s, Guildford, study notes by the Arts and Crafts Movement in Surrey, 2013, p.3)

Piccard’s Rough, c.1900 (from The Development of Arts and Crafts Architecture in St Catherine’s, Guildford, study notes by the Arts and Crafts Movement in Surrey, 2013, p.3)

Agnes lived with her husband, Charles Woldryche Dixon, at ‘Great Roke’, Witley, a large house designed and built by Buckland and Hayward, with gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll (a fellow suffragist and member of the Godalming Women’s Suffrage Society). Work was completed in 1909; since 1952 the house has been part of Barrow Hills School.

Image of a postcard showing ‘Great Roke’ house and grounds, Witley, when in use as a convalescent home in 1917 (SHC ref 6316/6897)

Postcard showing ‘Great Roke’ house and grounds, Witley, when in use as a convalescent home in 1917 (SHC ref 6316/6897)

Agnes was an active member of the Godalming Women’s Suffrage Society and her husband was also supportive of the female suffrage cause. Her sister, Theodora Wilde Powell, was secretary of the Godalming Women’s Suffrage Society, a local branch of the National Union for Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Agnes attended the AGM of the Godalming Women’s Suffrage Society, which was reported in the Surrey Advertiser, 25 January 1911. The following year she is listed as being re-elected as treasurer of the Women’s Local Government Association in the Surrey Advertiser 29 April 1912. In the Surrey Advertiser of 20 January 1913, Charles is listed among the co-signatories of a letter from the Godalming Women’s Suffrage Society branch and other societies asking W Edgar Horne MP to support the Franchise and Registration Bill. The MP refused to meet the delegation.

Image of Godalming NUWSS banner worked by Gertrude Jekyll. The banner was paraded through Surrey in the Great Suffragist Pilgrimage of 1913 (Courtesy of Godalming Museum)

Godalming NUWSS banner worked by Gertrude Jekyll. The banner was paraded through Surrey in the Great Suffragist Pilgrimage of 1913 (Courtesy of Godalming Museum)

In July 1913, on the ‘Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage’ from Portsmouth to Hyde Park in London, Harriet Blessley documented in her diary that the pilgrimage travelled along the Portsmouth Road, through Godalming and places visited including the home of Mrs C W Dixon of Great Roke, Witley, and Miss Theodora Powell of Munstead (SHC ref Z/708/1-7): “Lunch en-route by invitation of Mrs C W Dixon, Great Roke, Witley. Great Roke is a very big place like Cowdray. We have lunch in the Hall, and our host and hostess wait on us. Short rest. Three cheers and off again.” The Surrey Advertiser for the 21 and 23 July mentions that 150 pilgrims arrived at ‘Great Roke’, where they were provided with lunch, before heading towards Godalming, stopping for tea at ‘Ockford House’, home of Iona Davey and her husband Rt Hon Arthur Davey.

During the First World War Agnes and Charles offered the use of ‘Great Roke’ as a convalescent hospital for returning wounded soldiers. This was run by the Red Cross and Agnes became commandant. Life became very busy but throughout the war years, despite her growing workload in the Red Cross, she continued with her involvement in the Godalming Women’s Suffrage Society and became chairman. On 5 March 1917, the Surrey Advertiser reported Agnes had sent her apologies to the AGM of the branch because the Red Cross were closing ‘Great Roke’ and she was going to the Front to continue her work in the Red Cross Canteens.

Agnes had a lifetime interest in botany and gardening, as evidenced by a letter she wrote to the Times, published 30 December 1912 describing in detail what plants were flowering in her garden that month (‘Flowers in December’, Times, p.9). This interest continued and whilst working with the Red Cross Canteens at the Front in France, she wrote an account of her life and work there –called The Canteeners, 1917. In it she observes and describes the seasonal changes in flora she observed, including:

The woods are nearly bare of leaves. Day by day the great avenues of poplars have shown more clearly the huge clumps of mistletoe, which look in the distance like gigantic rooks’ nests.” (p.42). This is followed by “Less than a week ago I went up Mont Vaudois, and found the ground carpeted with scilla bifolia, almost as blue as our English bluebell woods; here and there an anemone or an oxlip. Today, six days later there is not a scilla to be seen, but the ground is thickly starred with white anenomes, and there are great clumps of oxlips, rows of lungwort along the dry ditches, and little groups of fumitory, ranging from crimson to white through every shade of pink and lilac.” (p.125).

Agnes died in February 1918 and is buried at All Saints, Witley. Like her sisters, she had a large personal fortune and she left £75411. 18s; her executors were her brother Herbert Andrews Powell, and her husband Charles. Charles re-married in 1924 and the house and its contents were sold.

Contributed by Miriam Farr, volunteer for The March of the Women project.

Sources

‘Flowers in December’, Times, 30 Dec 1912, p.9. Available on British Newspapers Online, accessed via Surrey Libraries Online Reference Shelf at Surrey History Centre
The Canteeners by Agnes M Dixon, John Murray, 1917. A reprint is available through Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Canteeners-Classic-Reprint-Agnes-Dixon/dp/1331369339, whilst original copies are held at the British Library and a number of university libraries, see https://copac.jisc.ac.uk/search?author=Agnes%20Margaret%20Powell%20Dixon&title=The%20Canteeners&holding-library=National%20Library%20of%20Wales&page=1
For a copy of a transcript of an extract from the diary of Harriet Blessley, documenting her journey from Portsmouth along the Portsmouth Road on the ‘Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage’ through Liphook, Haslemere, Hindhead, Godalming, Guildford, Esher, Surbiton, Kingston, Twickenham and Richmond towards Hyde Park in London, see SHC ref Z/708/1
For Powell family names and dates see https://outoftheblueartifacts.com/thomas-wilde-powell-1818-1897/
For Powell family deeds and documents, see SHC refs 1384/39/1, 1384/3/2, BR/T/2229/1-2, 1218/10; for an album of photographs showing Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses at ‘Piccards Rough’, Guildford, 1915-1923, see SHC ref 9307/1/1/1
Powell family information, including ‘Piccards Rough’, appears in The Development of Arts and Crafts Architecture in St Catherine’s, Guildford, study notes by the Arts and Crafts Movement in Surrey, 2013, available as pdf at the Artington Parish Council website https://www.artington.org.uk/history.html
In 1915, Agnes’ brother Herbert Powell, and his wife Elizabeth placed their house, ‘Piccard’s Rough’ at the disposal of the War Office. It provided 50 beds for sick and wounded soldiers with Mrs Powell as its Commandant and Mr Powell as Medical officer, see Lizanne Lloyd’s blog “The British Water Colour Collection”.

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