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Suffragettes of Kent by Jennifer Godfrey

The research for my book, Suffragettes of Kent, provided insight into many historic journeys of hope, determination and courage. In the course of my research I discovered many heart-warming stories, including the fruit farmers who provided a place to stay for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) touring party; a Justice of the Peace who allowed the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) to pitch their caravan in his garden; and; the owner of a lorry from which speakers from the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) presented who would only take half the agreed hire fee.

A significant discovery was the previously untold story of a 20-year old Kent working class maid, Ethel Violet Baldock. In the first chapter of my book, I profile Baldock, and I refer to her as ‘our Ethel’ because she represented all those from Kent involved in the suffrage movement.  Originally from Maidstone, Baldock was living and working in Tunbridge Wells upon her imprisonment in London in 1912.  Ethel’s crime was participation in the WSPU’s window smashing campaign, and it was a privilege to meet and learn from Ethel’s descendants as part of my research. I have also been fortunate to be involved in the making of a couple of short films about her.  The attraction to Ethel is understandable. Without any known prior involvement with the suffrage movement, Ethel was arrested and imprisoned in Holloway at the same time as Emmeline Pankhurst.  Ethel had partnered well known ‘master’ suffragette, Violet Bland, when smashing the windows of the Commercial Cable Company at no. 1 Northumberland Avenue. They were arrested and appeared in court together.  Violet was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment and forcibly fed in Aylesbury Prison.  Ethel was released after their 26 days on remand as she had been called upon to keep the peace and pay a £5 surety.  One film was created with the support of Kent Archives and the other with the Mapping Women’s Suffrage project. You can find out more on my website.

Since the publication of my book, I continue to research the history of those involved in the campaigns for women’s enfranchisement, including the story of Miss Rosa Billinghurst. Imprisoned, released then re-arrested under the Temporary Discharge for Ill Health Act of 1913 or as it is more commonly known, the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’, Billinghurst was a member of one of the touring suffrage parties that visited Kent in 1913.

In the course of my research, I retraced the Kent tours completed by the different suffrage societies. There were several by the WSPU; WFL; and NUWSS. The WSPU tour to Kent took place in August 1913 and consisted of 8 members.  Known as ‘Campaign Kent’, it was similar to the WFL Kent tours and was publicised as a holiday tour. The aim of the tour was to visit villages, promoting the caused the WSPU, selling and advertising their society newspaper, ’The Suffragette’.

My book acknowledges that this WSPU tour stopped in Lewisham on route to Kent to collect another tour party member, and that Rosa Billingshurst was likely involved in the tour, and indeed, Billingshurst can be seen on the front cover of my book here.

My research in this area continues, and for more information check out my website : www.jennifergodfrey.co.uk

Jennifer Godfrey is author of ‘Suffragettes of Kent’ published.  This is her first book which was published by Pen & Sword Ltd in 2019. To get in touch please email Jennifer at hello@jennifergodfrey.co.uk

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