Maria Isabella Bates – A Militant Suffragette revealed on the Ash 1911 Census
When the 1911 census was taken, the form was completed, in theory, by the head of the household, usually the husband. However, in Ash Vale, as in many places around the country ladies who were affiliated to the Women’s Social and Political Union, known as suffragettes, refused to co-operate. Some wrote across their return ‘No Vote, No Census’, some left their homes for the night so that they were not listed and some refused to give their husbands the information they needed to fill out the form.
Our suffragette in Ash Vale was called Maria Isabella Bates and she lived with her husband John Sidney Bates at Denton Cottage in Vale Road and it would appear that she was one of the ladies who refused to reveal the information needed. John and Maria had married at Holy Trinity Church Guildford on 18 February 1890 and they had lived at Denton Cottage ever since. In fact Maria had been living there for several years with her first husband, Reginald Riddell, who died in 1888. Then it was called Scotland Villa.
Both Maria and Reginald came from Devon and were from wealthy families living on estates quite near each other in the Barnstaple area. They had married in Gloucestershire in 1862 and set up home at Spreacombe Park back in Devon, his ancestral home. They had four children; Rose in 1863 and Marguerite in 1864 both of whom died in 1865. The younger two, Charles, born 1867 and Evangeline born 1869, survived and moved with their parents to Surrey.
Reginald was a regular solder in the Hampshire Regiment whose father was also a military man. Maria was the daughter of Augustus Charles Gustavus Skynner who was a major in the 16th Lancers. In 1871 the family, Reginald, Maria, Evangeline and Charles, along with Maria’s brother William, who was visiting, were at Lower Spreacombe in Devon. Reginald was a ‘landed proprietor’ and they had several servants.
Ten years later, most of the family were at Normandy Park in Surrey with Reginald’s father. Reginald’s brother Robert had married Maria’s sister Georgina and she was there with three of her children, Reginald was there with Evangeline but no sign of Maria. She does not appear anywhere else on the census either. It is possible she was visiting someone out of the country, she may have been somewhere under an assumed name or she may just simply have been missed.
Meanwhile, John Sidney Bates, Maria’s second husband was rising through the ranks of the Irish Dragoon Guards and in 1881 was based at Aldershot. He was the son of a vicar, born in Dover, who attended a military school in Kent so was destined from an early age for a military career. At the end of 1881 he retired from the army and received the value of his commission. This would have been a very large amount of money and would have acted as a pension for him for the rest of his life. He was then aged 39.
The presence of Reginald Riddell, Maria Skynner and John Bates in and around Ash shows what a close connection to the military the village enjoyed. Maria may have known John Bates through the military as, a year after Reginald Riddell died. Maria married him. They were to stay at Denton Cottage for the rest of their lives.
After the marriage, Evangeline came to live with them too and in 1891, when the census was taken, they were listed in Ash Vale along with two servants. What is not clear is whether Scotland Villa and Denton Cottage are the same house, but it seems likely. John Bates is on the electoral register from 1892-1904 at Scotland House and the 1901 census has them at Denton Cottage. This census possibly gives the first signs of Maria challenging authority as she gives her age as 40, when she is actually 55 and her birthplace as unknown, when she has given all that information correctly in the past. Or possibly she was not there that night and her husband is making intelligent guesses.
In 1910, Evangeline married in London. Her husband was Horatio Nelson Rivers and he went on to be, appropriately enough, Head of the Royal Naval Reserve.
So in 1911, John and Maria were living at Denton Cottage with two servants. On census night, John appears to have had more than a little difficulty with the form. The heading for names is blank, the relationship to head of family column read “Head of House”. Under the marriage particulars column, he has written “Married sometime in the 9ties” “Nil” for number of children. He describes his occupation as “loafer” and his birthplace as “Dover”. That was correct. Under nationality is written, “Father English. Mother Irish“. And finally under the disability column “Just fallen downstairs. Hurt knee badly.”
Further down the page, he has written “Mrs Bates is a militant suffragette and refuses to give me her age. What the blazes can I do?”
It appears that her age is not the only thing Maria did not disclose. He did not have her name or place of birth either. All this seems a little odd as he had been married to her at this point for fifteen years and should surely have known her age and where she came from. He is complaining that she would not tell him but why did he not fill in his own information correctly, not even his name and age. It is all very strange.
He did acknowledge the two servants though as, at the bottom of the page is written, “Two kitchen ladies aged 25 and 18 respectively. The enumerator, has filled in the details correctly although Maria’s age is wrong and no place of birth is given.
From 1911-1922, John Bates is listed on the electoral register for Denton Cottage. From 1918-1922, Maria is on the list too. Women had been given the vote in 1918, as long as they fulfilled certain requirements. For women to be allowed to vote they had to be over 30, occupying a house as an owner or tenant, a university graduate or the wife of a man eligible to vote in local government elections. As time went on, all women were to be given the vote, but Maria was at least one of the first. Presumably she voted in the election in December 1918 which returned a Coalition government with David Lloyd George as prime Minister.
Further research has not uncovered any information about Maria as a suffragette, militant or otherwise, but there was an active group in Guildford, of which she may well have been part.
Written by Jane Morgan, originally published in Ash Newsletter, and contributed to ‘The March of the Women’ project.