Politician’s campaign to honour suffragette movement

Honouring the Suffrage pioneers - Lesley Clarke, Colin Cartwright, Ruth Vigor-Hedderly
Honouring the Suffrage pioneers - Lesley Clarke, Colin Cartwright, Ruth Vigor-Hedderly

The search is on to find and honour the heroines and heroes of 100 years ago who fought to win the vote for women.

Buckinghamshire County Council is at the forefront of a national campaign to pay tribute to 100 pioneers from the past to mark the centenary in 2018 of the landmark Representation of the People Act.

The act allowed women of property who were over 30 to vote, as well as abolishing property qualifications for men.

Now Lesley Clarke OBE, county council cabinet member for planning and environment, is calling on the public to join in the centenary celebrations by nominating figures from yesteryear who helped the suffragette movement.

Mrs Clarke, who is also acting in her role as national chairman of the Women’s Local Government Society (WLGS), has been asked to co-ordinate the memorial initiative on behalf of the county council.

She said: “1918 is a very important milestone for this country’s democracy and it’s sobering to think that before then, there was no legislation to grant women Parliamentary votes.

“The Act of Parliament changed all that, allowing millions of women to vote for the first time. However, this may not have been possible without the extraordinary campaigning and courage of the suffragettes and suffragists, and it would be great to mark their efforts with a series of lasting memorials to them at this anniversary.”

The aim is that anyone recognised by the WLGS as a pioneer will be given a plaque, either above the house where they lived or on an appropriate public building.

Mrs Clarke added: “This is not only about women. Some men played a crucial role in the campaign and they should be honoured also.”

Buckinghamshire has a rich history of being involved in the suffrage movement.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of this came in March 1913 when suspected suffragettes burned Saunderton Station to the ground. Placards reading “Votes for Women” and “Burning to get the Vote” were left on the platform.

There was also a notable protest in Aylesbury in 1912 in which a suffragette, Miss Elizabeth Annie Bell, threw a stone at a window at the prison in Bierton Road.

As a result, she was the only suffragette to be tried in Buckinghamshire, appearing in court in Aylesbury where she was sentenced to two months in prison.

The Rev Colin Cartwright, from Chesham – the author of Burning to Get the Vote, a history of the suffrage campaign in Buckinghamshire – is supporting the memorial scheme.

Mr Cartwright, who is minister of the Trinity Baptist Church in Chesham, said: “I am very excited about this national initiative to celebrate an important landmark in our nation’s history. I am pleased that both the suffragettes who grabbed the headlines with their law-breaking and also the suffragists, who were perhaps equally defiant but law-abiding, will be honoured by these local tributes.

“At a time when UK voter turn-out is at an all-time low, it is good to remind ourselves of the value of democracy both yesterday and today.”

The suffrage movement was led in High Wycombe by Dame Frances Dove, who founded Wycombe Abbey School.

She was willing to stand up for her rights and during her campaign she almost became the first female Mayor of the town in 1908. Chesham has its own suffragette in Emily Brandon, who tried to set up a branch, and was imprisoned in 1911

Lesley Clarke is also being enthusiastically backed by Cheryl Gillan, MP for Chesham and Amersham, who was only the fifth elected woman MP to serve as a Conservative Cabinet Minister.

Mrs Gillan said: “I welcome this initiative warmly.

“In the House of Commons, there are many reminders of the campaign for women’s suffrage. It is excellent that Bucks County Council is working to commemorate the campaign in Buckinghamshire.”

Anyone who wants to nominate a pioneer from the past should contact Lesley Clarke at LMClarke@buckscc.gov.uk