Lady Florence Priscilla Norman (1883-1964)
Lady Norman (née McLaren) and her husband Sir Henry Norman (1858-1939), settled in Surrey following the purchase of Rams Nest (later renamed Ramster Hall), near Chiddingfold, from Sir Henry Waechter in 1922. She was the daughter of Lord and Lady Aberconway, and the grand-daughter of Henry Pochin, who started the famous gardens at Bodnant in 1875. She was an enthusiastic horticulturalist and, like both her mother and grandfather, set about adding further to the gardens at Rams Nest, planting Rhododendrons and Azaleas to enhance the woodland planting in the garden. The garden was one of the original gardens opened to the public under the National Gardens Scheme in 1927 and is still opened to the public each year.
The oldest part of Ramster Hall is a timber-framed, central chimney house with close studding dating from the early seventeenth century. It was a substantial house for this period including two parlours, an upstairs storey and service rooms. A five bay barn was built at the end of the seventeenth century, and now forms the Long Hall which then opened out into the farmyard, now a courtyard. The farmhouse was previously known as Rams Nest and had been modernised into a substantial country house by Sir Harry Waechter who purchased the property in 1900. Sir Harry Waechter also laid out the foundations for the garden (using the services of Gauntlett Nurseries, Chiddingfold, who specialised in flowering shrubs and Japanese style gardens).
Henry Norman was an established journalist who became a Liberal MP in 1900, representing Wolverhampton South constituency. Although he was tipped to become foreign secretary, he did not achieve this, but in 1910 he briefly became assistant postmaster-general. He lost his seat in 1910 but was returned to represent Blackburn at the second election that year. He was knighted in 1906 and made a baronet in 1915. He had divorced his first wife Ménie Muriel Dowrie in 1903 and in 1907 married his second wife the Honourable Florence Priscilla McLaren.
Prior to settling in Surrey, Sir Henry and Lady Norman were predominantly London based, to fit in with his political duties. Lady Norman was a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). In the Common Cause issue of 17 November 1910 her brother, Walter Mclaren, is described as an hereditary suffragist as his grandmother Mrs Priscilla Bright Mclaren was a pioneer of the women’s movement. It is clear that Florence also favoured the cause. She became treasurer of the Liberal Women’s Suffrage Union and together with her mother Lady Aberconway, who was vice-chair, embraced the suffrage cause.
Sir Henry Norman MP and Lady Norman’s brother, Walter McLaren MP, were amongst the leading politicians who were supportive of extending the Parliamentary Franchise to include women on an equal footing. In the Common Cause issue of 22 February 1912 both Walter and Sir Henry are listed among the MPs who had accepted a platform ticket for a women’s suffrage meeting taking place on the 23 February. Surrey campaigners Sir William and Lady Julia Chance were expected to share the same platform.
Following the outbreak of war in 1914 Lady Norman and her husband ran a small voluntary hospital at Wimereux, in northern France. The Common Cause of 28 May 1915 published a report of Lady Norman’s plea to the Women’s Liberal Association for more women cooks to work in the military hospitals at the Front. This meeting at Caxton Hall had been organised by Lady Aberconway. Lady Norman was subsequently awarded a Mons Star and a CBE for her war service. The Common Cause of 31 August 1917 reported that Lady Norman had been awarded the CBE for her special service in connection with British Hospitals in France.
Despite their difference in age, the Norman’s embraced change and in 1916 Sir Henry Norman purchased his wife an Autoped (an electric scooter), possibly the first to arrive in Britain. These machines were manufactured by the Autoped Company of Long Island City, New York, in the period between 1915 and 1921, where they were used by couriers of the New York City Post Office. Lady Norman used the Autoped as her transport to work. It is probable she was the first women to be seen on an electric scooter on the streets of London, presenting a challenge to convention, despite the impact of the war on perceptions of ‘normal’ female roles.
During 1917 Lady Norman became involved with the setting up of the Imperial War Museum (IWM), becoming the chair of the Women’s Work Sub-Committee. The aim of this body was to record the war work carried out by numerous women as part of the war effort; the extensive Women’s Work Collection held in the IWM is a testament to the dedication of Lady Norman and this committee. In 1918 Lady Norman obtained a ruling from the Director General of the IWM that the Women’s Work Section “had the power to follow their own judgement in the purchase of paintings and drawings irrespective of the Art Committee”. By 1919 the Women’s Work Committee had collected over 2,500 photographs of women at work and 900 photos of women who had lost their lives in the course of their war work or had been decorated for their work. Many of the early acquisitions in the collection show a bias in favour of publications by the NUWSS and towards war work carried out by bodies supported by the NUWSS rather than those of other Women’s Suffrage Societies. She continued with her involvement in the work of the museum as a long-serving trustee for more than forty years. The IWM Art Collection was taken for storage at Ramster for the duration of the Second World War for safety purposes.
Lady Norman was also an active member of many other organisations, notably in 1919 she joined the Women’s Advisory Committee of the League of Nations. In 1921 she became a member of the Departmental Committee on Child Adoption and was a magistrate and a Justice of the Peace (Children’s Court, London).
The Common Cause of 3 October 1924 carried a notice that Lady Norman CBE, JP was to be the principal speaker at a conference on child adoption. A further report on 13 October 1924 gave details of a meeting of the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child attended by Lady Norman at Carnegie House, Piccadilly.
Her interest in mental health issues lead to her appointment to the board of management of the Royal Earlswood Institution (asylum), near Redhill, in 1925 [with Mrs Margaretta Lemon and Mrs Guy, one of the first women on the board].
During the Second World War Lady Norman drove a mobile canteen for the Women’s Voluntary Service during the air raids on London.
In 1955 Lady Norman was invited by the principal of the Princess Mary Village Homes to present the prizes and to give a speech to the girls at the annual prize-giving. She thanked the staff for their patience and said that she knew that the girls were not always as angelic as they appeared on this occasion. She expressed the hope that they would always be grateful for the days they had spent in the Princess Mary Village Home. Her speech continued with a description of her work as a magistrate.
In 1963 Ramster was passed to the Willant Trust Ltd (a family company, incorporated in 1934, in 2018 becoming the Ramster Estate Company; the house and grounds are still looked after by Sir Henry and Lady Norman’s descendants). Lady Norman spent the rest of her life in France, where she died at her home at the Pavillon du Parc Château de la Garoupe, Cap d’Antibes, in 1964.
Contributed by Miriam Farr, The March of the Women project volunteer.
Deeds relating to Ramster, formerly Ramsnest Farm, with additional land added to this estate from the Sydenhurst Estate, and a 2½ acre plot formerly known as Ramsnest Meadow, in Chiddingfold, 1818-1963 (SHC ref 6631/1/1-22)
Princess Mary Village Homes, Addlestone – Commemoration Celebrations (SHC ref 2591/8)
Royal Earlswood, minutes of board meetings; May 1922-April 1930 (SHC Ref 392/2/1/17-18)
Papers of Lady Florence Priscilla Norman, The Women’s Library (LSE ref 7NOR), https://archives.lse.ac.uk/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=7NOR&pos=4
Imperial War Museum; Standing Committee and Board of Trustees: Lady Priscilla Norman, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1020005240
Lady Priscilla Norman wedding photograph with her mother http://lafayette.org.uk/mcl5306.html
National Portrait Gallery images https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp54136/florence-priscilla-nee-mclaren-lady-norman
National Trust https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/who-was-laura-mclaren-lady-aberconwy
Online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – Norman, Sir Henry, 1st Baronet (1858-1939), article by Patrick French (accessed via Surrey Libraries Online Reference Shelf at Surrey History Centre)
Common Cause, newspaper of the NUWSS, accessed via the British Newspaper Archive at Surrey History Centre
Ramster featured with the National Open Gardens Scheme https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/268/