Arthur (1869-1918) and Iona Davey (1870-1945), Liberals and Women’s Suffrage Supporters
I noticed during my research at Surrey History Centre that Hon. Mr Arthur Jex Davey and his wife were cropping up in newspaper reports of the meetings of the Godalming Women’s Suffrage Society and felt that this interesting political couple needed investigation.
Arthur Jex Davey was born in Kensington in 1869, the son of Sir Horace Davey and Louisa Hawes Davey (née Donkin). He was Chairman of the Weaving Company and set up the Mills Equipment Company, of which he was a director in 1906; he was also a member of the Clothworkers Company. This company made the webbing belts, straps and haversacks which became standard in the British Army from 1908. He took on many public roles such as the governorship of the Central Foundation Schools in London and the chairmanship of the Gordon Hospital, Bridge Road, Vauxhall. His father, Sir Horace, was a Liberal and was one of the hundred people present at the opening of Wonersh Village Liberal Club in 1887. He had been brought up in a family which held liberal political views and it is not a surprise that Arthur Jex Davey became active in local Liberal politics.
Arthur Jex Davey married Mary Iona Fothergill Robinson (known as Iona) at Christ Church, Lancaster Gate, London, in June 1894. Iona was the daughter of the Vice Chancellor of Lancashire, William Fothergill Robinson.The couple moved to ‘Ockford House’, Milford, in 1907 with their two young daughters Iona Hildegarde and Julia Christobel.
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Arthur had political ambition and was adopted as Liberal Candidate in the Guildford Division in 1910. However, he was defeated by the Unionist candidate, William Edgar Horne, in December 1910. Following this, he turned his attention to municipal affairs, in 1912 he was voted on to the Godalming Town Council and served as Mayor of Godalming, 1915-1916. He continued to stand as Liberal Candidate but resigned from his candidacy at the outbreak of war in 1914. He was also president of the Godalming and District Liberal Association.
Iona also took an active part in local and national politics; she was president of the Women’s Liberal Association and secretary of the Women’s Local Government Society, as well as campaigning for women’s suffrage. During the First World War, as the mayor’s wife, she raised funds for both the Red Cross and the St John’s Ambulance, she was also a committee member of the Godalming Division of the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association (Lady Jekyll [Agnes] and Alison Ogilvy were also committee members).
Both Arthur and Iona were active branch members and supporters of the Godalming Women’s Suffrage Society, promoting the cause in meetings of both the Liberal Party and the local suffrage societies.
A column in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) newspaper Common Cause that listed forthcoming meetings noted that on the afternoon of 19 October 1911 Lord Lytton would speak on suffrage at Watts Picture Gallery, Compton, near Guildford, at the invitation of Mrs G F Watts, President of the Godalming Branch. Lady Midleton would be in the chair. Lord Lytton would also speak the same evening at meeting chaired by Miss D [Dorothy] Hunter and Mr A [Arthur Jex] Davey, to be held at Godalming Borough Hall. The meeting at Compton was a success, attended by 200 people including some ‘Antis’, and 11 new members were recruited (Common Cause, 9 November 1911).
On 23 March 1913 Common Cause gave advance notice of a meeting on women’s suffrage to be held in the Borough Hall, Godalming, at which the speakers were Hon. Arthur Davey, Rev. A H Fletcher, A R Heath, Sir William Chance, Lady Betty Balfour, Alison Ogilvie, T C [Ogilvy], Miss Aston, Miss D Hunter and Miss Hay Cooper.
The Godalming Women’s Liberal Association held a meeting at the Liberal Club on “Liberalism and Anti-suffrage Candidates” (Surrey Advertiser 31 March 1913), where Iona Davey was one of the speakers, she pointed out in her address that women in the party should not support Anti-suffrage Liberal candidates in the forthcoming election. A motion in favour of this view was passed.
The Surrey Advertiser of 21 July 1913 reported on a Liberal Party meeting in Guildford at which Arthur Davey answered questions on the “Cat and Mouse” Act. He commented that it was a “disagreeable remedy” for a problem which some people would prefer be solved by suffragettes being allowed to starve and die in prison. He believed that the women should not be allowed to die because that was wrong and that the government had little choice. He said that he supported the aim of the suffrage campaigners but not the methods of the suffragettes.
The Mayor of Godalming, Alderman E Bridger, was in the chair for a debate held at Borough Hall, Godalming on the subject of “Why Godalming Women want the vote”. The debate was organised by Godalming Branch NUWSS and speakers from the local Anti-suffragists were invited. However, Lady Midleton, Miss Aston and Mr A R Heath sent letters of apology (Miss Aston and Mr Heath were invited to the meeting to represent the case for the anti-suffragists). The Godalming Branch NUWSS decided to continue with the debate and set out to make the case for women’s suffrage by answering the arguments and assertions made by anti-suffragists. Arthur Jex Davey was among the speakers, challenging the argument that women were unsuited for politics, saying that in his experience of politics there was nothing that a woman could not do. He said that women were complimentary to men and asserted that both men and women did their best work when working together (Surrey Advertiser, 7 April 1913).
One of the NUWSS’s most spectacular mobilisation of support for their cause known as The Great Pilgrimage passed through Godalming and was reported by Surrey Advertiser on 21 and 23 July 1913. The 150 pilgrims who had already walked from Portsmouth left Haslemere on 21 July and arrived in Witley in time for lunch at ‘Great Roke’. They then continued to Milford, where they had tea at ‘Ockford House’ at the invitation of Hon Mrs A Davey [Iona Davey]. The report lists some of the names of the local suffrage supporters who met the marchers. These names include Lady Chance, Lady Scott Moncrief, Miss Scott Moncrief, Hon Mrs Arthur Davey, Mrs G F Watts, Mrs Dixon, Mrs Osgood, Miss Meugens, Mrs Redhead, Miss Ogilvy, Mrs [Miss T] W Powell, Miss Burnett, Mrs Overton, Miss Mellersh, Misses Beddington, Mrs Pollock, Mrs G T Pilcher and others. The local overnight hosts were Lady Chance, Hon Mrs A Davey, Miss Franklin, Mrs Overton, Miss Powell, Mrs Dixon and Mrs G T Pilcher. Iona Davey was one of the pro-suffrage speakers at an open-air meeting in Godalming later in the evening of 21 July 1913.
A meeting of the Home Counties Union of the Women’s Liberal Association was held in Guildford (reported in the Surrey Advertiser 19 November 1913) chaired by Iona Davey with support from Lady Jardine and Alison Ogilvy on the subject of women’s role and position in the Liberal Party. A speech from F D Acland MP said that women’s suffrage was not achievable in the current parliament. In an address from Eva MacLaren the women were urged to support the adoption of pro-suffrage candidates as women in the party would not support anti-suffrage candidates in the Liberal party and would rather see Tories elected. Arthur Davey also addressed the meeting.
Iona addressed the first meeting of the Wonersh and Bramley Women’s Liberal Association at the end of November (Surrey Advertiser 1 December 1913).
In 1916 the Davey’s moved from Godalming to Abbots Wood in Guildford, and Arthur stood down both as Mayor and from his seat on Godalming Town Council. In 1917 Arthur retired from his company and became Deputy Director of Army Contracts. Sadly, a year later whilst returning to England on the mailboat RSM Leinster, following an official visit to Ireland in the capacity of his work at the War Office, the vessel was hit by a torpedo and sunk by a German submarine UB-123 on 10 October 1918. Arthur was one of the 501 out of 650 people on board who lost their lives. There is a memorial to him next to his parent’s grave in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Forest Row, and he is also remembered on a plaque to commemorate the war dead members of the Wonersh Liberal Club. The Surrey Advertiser published an obituary on 12 October 1918 and the Times 22 October 1918.
Contributed by Miriam Farr, The March of the Women project volunteer.
Surrey Advertiser, Times and Common Cause newspapers, accessed via British Newspaper Archive online, via Surrey Libraries Online Reference shelf available at Surrey History Centre
See a photograph of the Wonersh Village Club Memorial Plaque for members of the Wonersh & Bramley Liberal Club, including Arthur Jex Davey, on the Surrey in the Great War project website https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/collections/getrecord/SHMEM_W_M_3042
See Godalming Museum’s information page on Arthur Jex Davey at http://www.godalmingmuseum.org.uk/index.php?page=arthur-jex-davey
The Royal Mail Archive’s story of RMS Leinster can be seen online at https://www.postalmuseum.org/blog/the-centenary-of-the-sinking-of-rms-leinster/