Thomas Cecil, 2nd Baron Farrer, MP and Lady (Evangeline) Farrer, of Abinger
Thomas Cecil, 2nd Baron Farrer, MP (1859-1940) of Abinger, Surrey and his second wife Lady (Evangeline (Eva)) Farrer, were active suffragists. Lord Farrer regularly corresponded with supporters of the NUWSS, including Millicent Fawcett. Their papers are held at Surrey History Centre and have been a key research tool in The March of the Women Project.
The Farrer family
Thomas Cecil Farrer was the second child and eldest son of Thomas Henry Farrer (1819-1899), and his first wife Frances (Fanny) Erskine, born at 27 Chester Terrace, Regents Park, on 25 October 1859. Thomas Henry was a civil servant, a member of the Yorkshire family who established themselves as solicitors in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Frances died on 15 May 1870 and Thomas Henry, a keen amateur botanist, remarried in 1873 to his former wife’s half-cousin and Charles Darwin’s niece, Katherine Euphemia (Effie) Wedgwood. In August 1877, the Darwins visited Thomas Henry and Effie at Abinger Hall and in November 1877 Thomas Henry and Effie visited the Dawins’ home at Downe, Kent. Read more about this in the Surrey History Centre Marvel: A visit to Mr Darwin.
Thomas Henry’s services in the Board of Trade and on the London County Council were rewarded with a peerage in 1893 and he became 1st Baron Farrer. The family came to Surrey when he bought a small estate, including Abinger Hall, in 1868. Thomas Cecil was attending Field House School in Rottingdean when his mother died in May 1870 (see SHC ref 2572/1/1). His education continued at Eton, and at Balliol (1878-1881), where his contemporaries included Cecil Spring Rice, whose sister Evelyn he married in 1892 (see SHC ref 2572/1/19-20). Evelyn died after six years of marriage, leaving Thomas Cecil with three small children. The whole family went to live with Thomas Cecil’s sister Ida and her husband, Horace Darwin, in Cambridge. In 1903, Thomas married Evangeline Knox (d.1968), a cousin of Evelyn’s, and the family (to which two further children were later added), was again established at Abinger Hall. Thomas died in April 1940 and Eva (who left Abinger in 1945), survived him till 1968.
Politics and the Suffrage campaign
Interestingly, the papers of Thomas Henry Farrer (1819-1899), contain an early example of awareness of the women’s suffrage campaign in the form of a letter from the Wimbledon-based social reformer Josephine Butler, on the headed paper of the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage, 28 Jackson’s Row, Albert Square, dated 18 January 1881 (SHC ref 9792/1/1/2):
In your interesting article on “Freedom of Contract” you specify the cases of infants and persons under age and [of] married women as under legal restraint in regard to their hours of labour but you omit [?] it seems to me strangely [??] that adult un married women who in every other kind of contract are treated by the law as equally free with men are not free to choose their kind and hours of labour but are placed under the same legal disability as children at the time of the passing of the first Factory Act. There was a kernel of reason for the restraint of the terms of married women because the wages earned by wives were never their property but belonged legally to their husband who held towards them the privilege of a slave owner in America. Husbands might hire out their wives to work, & the wages belonged to them just as the pay went for the owners as the slaves lived on & belonged to the owners. But the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870 gave the legal ownership of the wages to the wife, who earned them & that reason for the restraint on the work of wives is done away. There is no defence in justice for imposing restrictions on adult unmarried women. The restriction operates [most] injuriously and ought to be forthwith [repealed].
Liberal to the marrow, Thomas Cecil Farrer was asked by G Leveson-Gower in September 1889 if he would allow his name to be put forward as a candidate for the Guildford Division, even though he had earlier refused Reigate (SHC ref 2572/1/17). He must have refused this also, as by March 1890 he was Vice-President of Reigate Liberal Association, with which both he, and later Eva, were thereafter continuously and actively associated. In 1895 he stood, unsuccessfully, in the London County Council election as a candidate for the West Marylebone Liberal and Radical Association (SHC ref 2572/1/23 and SHC ref 2572/144). After his father’s death in 1899, Thomas became a regular speaker for the Liberals in the House of Lords. In 1912 he was Chairman of the Home Counties Liberal Federation.
For the Farrers, Liberalism and the suffrage campaign went hand in hand. In July 1910 Mrs Humphrey Ward, author and staunch anti-suffragist, wrote to The Times claiming that women did not want the vote, Lord Farrer replied on behalf of the women of Surrey that they very much did! (SHC ref 2572/1/57 (7)). The publication of this letter (written 11 July 1910), elicited grateful and supportive responses from Surrey suffragists including Lady Betty Balfour and Lady Julia Chance. There were also letters of thanks from Mrs Morgan-Browne, who described herself as “…an old worker in the cause of women’s suffrage”, and Mabel Tuke, writing in her capacity as Honorary Secretary of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), inviting Farrer to a public meeting at Queen’s Hall on 23 July. Tuke had been encouraged to take up the campaign after a chance meeting with Emmeline Pethick Lawrence on a ship bound for England from South Africa, in 1905. She became very close to the Pankhursts and in March 1912 she took part in the WSPU window-smashing campaign and was arrested for breaking a window in 10 Downing Street. She was found guilty and received a three weeks sentence in Holloway Prison.
Millicent Fawcett’s correspondence with the Farrers began as early as 1912, when she wrote to thank them for their ‘Suffrage Dinner Party’ (SHC ref 9793/1/1/40/(40)). Her letter to Lord Farrer of 1 May 1914 (SHC ref 2572/1/66/1) thanks him for a ‘ticket’ to the House of Lords for the following Tuesday and asks Farrer on behalf of the NUWSS to speak in support of the Bill. After the hiatus of the First World War, Millicent Fawcett was to write other letters to Farrer over the course of women’s struggle for equality; one of March 1918, for example considers that it ‘seems quite plain’ that the Married Women’s Property Act ‘ought to control the application’ of the Income Tax Act (SHC ref 2572/1/75/27). Other correspondents of the Farrer’s included Margaret Chorley Crosfield (1859-1952), a palaeontologist and geologist, and an active promoter of women’s suffrage. In June 1918 Margaret wrote to concerning the ‘gross injustices between husband and wife’ regarding taxation and payments (which she describes as ‘incidental expenses incurred by the possession of an unpaid housekeeper – ‘a species of slave’; SHC ref 2572/1/75/100).
Eva’s involvement in the suffrage campaign was one of support for her husband’s interest in the matter, giving dinner parties such as the one mentioned above, fundraising, and lending her name to various organisations. On 2 May 1914, Catherine Marshall, honorary secretary to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), wrote to her on headed notepaper asking her to lend her influence to the cause by writing to peers to ensure they attended the reading of a Women’s Suffrage Bill at the House of Lords (SHC ref 9793/1/1/51 (34)). Eva was heavily involved with the Leith Hill Musical Competition and Festival during her lifetime (she was co-founder with Margaret Jane Vaughan Williams). It seems this left her little time to devote to other interests so her suffrage role was supportive rather than active. Eva’s letters of the First World War period (SHC ref 9793/1/1/40-81), include many from those interested or active in suffrage, asking her to either support them in various ways or lend her influence to Lord Farrer’s efforts. Aside from Margaret Crosfield, Millicent Fawcett herself wrote to Eva on several occasions, once in 1913 regretting that she could not attend one of Eva’s ‘At Home’ evenings (SHC ref 9793/1/1/44 (25).
The indexes of suffrage activities and surnames from local newspapers, compiled by The March of the Women Project volunteers, feature dozens of entries showing Thomas Cecil and Eva Farrer attending or speaking at pro-suffrage meetings, or writing letters of support for the suffrage campaign, from 1906 onwards. The indexes can be searched here https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/subjects/womens-suffrage/the-womens-suffrage-movement-in-surrey-new/suffrage-indexes/
Contributed by Marion Edwards, archive cataloguer for The March of the Women Project, and Di Stiff and Isabel Sullivan.
Papers of Thomas Cecil, 2nd Baron Farrer, MP (SHC ref 2572/-). The catalogue contains a detailed description of T C Farrer’s life and index to correspondents of the many letter books.
Papers of Thomas Henry Farrer (SHC ref 9792/-)
Papers of Lady (Evangeline) Farrer (SHC ref 9793/-)
The March of the Women online exhibition features the Farrers https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/people/activists/road-to-the-vote/the-march-of-the-women-surreys-road-to-the-vote-online-exhibition/panel-6-leading-suffrage-supporters-in-surrey-peaceful-vs-militant/