Noeline Baker and The Guildford and District Suffrage Society
Isabel Noeline Baker was born in Opawa, Christchurch New Zealand, 25 December 1878, the second and only surviving child of John Holland Baker, chief surveyor of Canterbury, New Zealand, and his wife, Isabel (née Strachey). John Baker was involved in the survey work when the Maori sold Rakiura to the Crown in 1867. Later he became Surveyor General of New Zealand. Noeline as she was usually known, often accompanied her father on explorations of the North Island. After travelling for several years in the 1890s John Baker retired in 1896 and the family moved to England. In 1893 New Zealand became the first country to grant women the vote.
From 1899, Noeline studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London. The family moved to Guildford, living first at Warren House, Warren Road, Guildford, then at Monk’s Hatch, Shalford. The latter was designed for John Baker by M H Baillie Scott.Noeline was a cousin of Philippa Strachey who was already a significant member of the (NUWSS). She had possibly already become involved in Suffrage work when, in late 1909, Philippa asked her and Miss Swinburne to help with providing volunteers to collect signatures for a petition in favour of women’s suffrage at the forthcoming General Election on 25 January 1910. Meetings were held at the Astolat Tea Rooms in Guildford High Street. Noeline was able to place her workers at several Polling Stations including the Town Hall, Sandfield and Markenfield Schools, The Wycliff Buildings and Shalford School. Five Hundred signatures were collected and this success prompted the Secretary of the Godalming Suffrage Society to ask Noeline to form a branch in Guildford. The inaugural meeting was held in the Judge’s Room of the County and Borough Halls on Friday 11 February 1910. Noeline became the Honorary Secretary; Lady Roberts of Henley Park became the first President and her husband, Lord Owen Roberts, a member of the executive committee. The first public meeting was held in the Constitutional Hall on 8 March. They soon had 35 members, rising to 51 by the end of the year. In March 1909 Noeline wrote to Philippa requesting that Lady Frances Balfour come to Guildford to speak. Noeline also became acquainted with Gertrude Jekyll, the famous garden designer, either through her cousin, Lady Julia Chance (née Strachey) of Orchards, Godalming, or through her links with the local women’s suffrage groups – Miss Jekyll designed the banner for the Godalming branch.
The Great Demonstration
The Conciliation Bill was due to be read before Parliament in October 1910. Noeline organised a ‘Great Demonstration’ in Guildford in support of the Bill, to be held on Saturday 29 October 1910. Every aspect was organised by Noeline, including the display of the banners in the Borough Hall, one of which was for Guildford. There is evidence that at least two Guilford Banners were made but unfortunately, no images of the banners on display have been found. Noeline also gave precise instructions for the formation of each group of women taking part, and instructions for the march. They were to form up in Station Square and included supporters from all over Surrey and further afield:
“Procession headed by the Band leaves the yard at 2.45. The effect will be greatly enhanced if those in the procession will refrain from looking behind, will keep in place and in step, and march like a regiment of soldiers. March until you reach your seats”. (Hocken Collections, ref MS-0619-9). This was a huge undertaking by Noeline, a great success and the largest demonstration ever held in Guildford drawing much praise in the local press: “However people may differ about the wisdom of giving women the vote to women, all who were present at last Saturday’s Great Demonstration in Guildford will admit that some women at any rate know how to organise a thoroughly successful meeting.” (Surrey Advertiser, 2 November 1910, SHC ref Z/361/1).
A much fuller and more detailed report appeared in the Surrey Advertiser on 2 November 1910, naming all the groups taking part, including a group from the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Such was the huge attendance that a full report gave details of the main and overflow meeting, and also an open-air meeting. Lady Frances Balfour was one of the speakers in the main hall and Lord Roberts presided over the meeting in the east hall and declared himself one of the oldest supporters of Women’s Suffrage in England as he had joined a small society at Oxford more than 50 years before. Again, Noeline was praised for her work as the report ended with these words: “Everything went without a hitch, the stewards in charge of the procession also worked well under their chief, Miss Noeline Baker of Guildford.” (SHC ref Z/361/1). Meetings of Guildford NUWSS were attended by Lord and Lady Chance, Thomas Cecil, 2nd Baron Farrer, MP and Lady (Evangeline) Farrer, and Gertrude Jekyll.
Mr Arthur Chapman, Vice Chairman of Surrey County Council and chair of the mass main meeting also praised her work on such a magnificent meeting. The handwritten first report of the local society for 1910 records all the activities and meetings for that first year. As the Honorary Secretary, it was probably written by Noeline herself. One fact that comes across very strongly from the report and newspaper reports is the commitment and support of men to the movement.
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The report lists all those involved in the Society, including:
President – Lady Roberts
Vice Presidents – Sir William Chance Bart., Lady Chance, Lord Farrer, Mrs Herringham, Viscountess Midleton, Miss A Morton, Mr Pike Pease, and Sir Owen Roberts
Executive Committee – Mr J H Baker, Miss Bray, Mr Russell Davey, Mr Harold Gammon, Mr H Nevill J.P., Miss T Powell, Miss Todhunter, Miss Stephenson, and Mrs Swineburne
Honarary Treasurer – Miss Seymour, Ennismore, Guildford
Honorary Secretaries – Miss Noeline Baker, Warren House, Guildford, and Miss K Rowton, Hurst Lodge, Bramley
The Executive Committee for 1910 comprised: Mr J H Baker, Mrs Burne, Lady Roberts, Miss Todhunter, Mr W Smallpiece, Miss Stephenson, Mrs Swinburne, Miss Powell, Mr H Nevill J.P., Miss N Gillam
The War Effort and Surrey County Federation of Women’s Institutes
At the outbreak of the First World War, Noeline took charge of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage register of voluntary women workers. She was appointed honorary secretary and treasurer of a Surrey women’s farm labour committee in May 1916, and took on the organisation of training and finding work for women on farms. In 1917, when the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries founded the Women’s Land Army, Noeline became organising secretary for Surrey.
The Surrey Advertiser, reported on 5 April 1919, that the Surrey War Agricultural Executive Committee had a sub-committee responsible for Agricultural Labour across the county and that Miss Noeline Baker was a member of that committee. This work dovetailed with the work of the newly founded Surrey County Federation of Women’s Institutes (SCFWI). The minutes of the Selection and Allocation Committee of Women’s Land Army, Surrey Branch, show that Noeline was a member until September 1919 when recruitment ceased; she was also a member of the Welfare Committee at the same time (SHC ref 3410/2/2/1). The SCFWI Executive Committee minutes show Noeline as a member of the Committee until October 1922 (SHC ref 3410/2/2/1-2). The minutes dated 6 April 1922 record that Miss Baker was unable to accept the invitation to be co-opted to the Committee because she expected to be abroad for 5-6 months of the year, but that she was happy to serve on the Exhibition Sub-committee and to help at The Royal Counties Show (SHC ref 3410/2/2/2). The meeting on 9 June 1922 includes her report that the amalgamation of the National Association of Landswomen and the WI (unsure if this is NFWI or SCFWI) had been completed, and the Guild of Landswomen had also formed an Agricultural and Horticulture Committee, appointed to carry on the Landswomen’s work. Noeline chaired the Executive Committee until November 1922, when Helena Auerbach took over for a short time. Noeline was appointed MBE in 1920 for her war work. Noeline’s signature appears in the SCFWI 1929 presentation volume for Mrs Auerbach, fellow suffragist and chair of the Reigate and Redhill District Women’s Suffrage Society (SHC ref 3410/4/1).
Following her mother’s death in 1920, Noeline remained in England as companion to her father. After his death in 1930, she returned to New Zealand to edit his memoirs ‘A Surveyor in New Zealand’, published in 1932.
In 1934, she built a house, Moturau Moana, on 34½ acres of bush land which she bought at Halfmoon Bay, Stewart Island, an island to the south of New Zealand. Here, influenced by the work of garden designer Gertrude Jekyll and inspired by her appreciation of New Zealand flora, Noeline Baker created a garden of plants indigenous to Stewart Island which became a place of botanical significance.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, she returned briefly to England to help organise the Women’s Land Army in Surrey but was forced to retire since the work proved too demanding. In 1940, she gave Moturau Moana to the New Zealand government although she continued to live and work there for several more years before moving to a cottage on the island. Noeline Baker died at Stewart Island on 25 August 1958. The house at Moturau Moana burnt down in 1967, but the garden is still open to the public.
Contributed by Carole Brown, Linda Oliver, Hon. Archivist of the SCFWI, and The March of the Women project team.
Copy newscuttings and articles relating to Noeline Baker (1878-1958), of Guildford and Stewart Island, New Zealand, suffragist and wartime women’s labour administrator (SHC ref Z/361), including photocopy of articles in the Surrey Advertiser concerning the Suffragist demonstration in Guildford on 29 October 1910 (SHC ref Z/361/1).
Guildford and District Women’s Suffrage Society annual report, balance sheet and printed rules, 1910 (SHC ref G122/7/1).
For Noeline Baker material in The Hocken Collection, University of Otago, New Zealand
Surrey Advertiser, 3rd Edition, 5 April 1919, page 5 column b.
Leah Taylor, ‘Baker, Isabel Noeline, 1878-1958’, Dictionary of New Zealand National Biography, (New Zealand, 2001).
Surrey County Federation of Women’s Institutes presentation volume for Mrs Helena Auerbach, 1929 (SHC ref 3410/4/1).
For The March of the Women project online exhibition panels featuring Noeline Baker see: