Wednesday, 2 March 2011

My Local Heritage:- Emily Wilding Davison

The Suffragette Movement  is something that leaves me a little breathless with awe. From an achievement point of view, it is monumental. There are the figure heads, the names that people know. Namely the Pankhursts. This family trio started the ball rolling and remained the heart and soul of the movement. But there are those that took it to a whole new level.

Emily Wilding Davison was one of these women.   

Born on October 11th 1872 in Blackheath, London, she joined the cause with gusto in 1906. There is little doubt in my mind that militancy was always her plan.

After attacking a man she believed to be David Lloyd George and landing herself in Strangeways prison, she proceeded to go on hunger strike where she was eventually force fed. For other actions she was kept at His Majesty's Pleasure at Holloway. Here she threw herself from a window. Surviving, thanks to the wire mesh she landed on, but suffering severe back injuries, she had paved the way for her next move.

In early 1913,  have read that she planted a bomb at the home of David Llloyd George. The following explosion only damaged bricks and mortar, leaving the intended recipient unharmed.

 Then, on June 4th 1913, the annual Epsom Derby was in full swing. With the King George V and thousands of others in attendance, press, photographers and a cine camera all waiting for the race, it was an opportunity too big to miss. As the horses rounded Tattenham Corner, with baying crowds waving their betting slips and jeering the jockeys on, a single figure slipped under the railings and into the path of the thundering hooves.

There is reason to believe that she was not aiming for the Kings horse, but just the lead horse who would potentially cross the finishing line brandishing a "Votes for Women" banner or rosette that she hoped to attach.

Attach to a 30 mile an hour beast, in a throng of other 30 miles an hour beasts. How this could have ended in any other way is a mystery.

She was struck, full pelt, square and centre by the King's horse, bringing both the animal and its jockey to a shocking standstill. On watching the footage, it is clear to me that she was, in fact, aiming for the Kings stead. She seems to be almost waiting for it. 

What  fascinates me most is that there was a Pathe news camera on site to film the whole thing. That sort of thing is standard to all of us now. Grab your mobile phone, point and record. But back then? It was a rarity. Pre organised, fate or coincidence?

There is also reason to deduce that she did not intend to pull the horse to the ground. She had a return stub for the train journey and a ticket to a Suffragette dance about her person, indicating that she had every intention of returning home.

The horse, Anmer, escaped shaken but able to race again.The jockey, Herbert Jones, however, escaped relatively physically unscathed, but he was said to have been haunted by Miss Davison's face forever. He committed suicide in 1951.

And as for Emily Wilding Davison, she was taken to a local hospital in Epsom, where it was discovered that she had suffered horrific cranial and internal injuries. She never regained consciousness and died 4 days later on June 8th 1913.

Her funeral was treated as a state one by the Women's Social and Political Union. Over 6,000 women, resplendent in their colours of white (purity), green (fertility and hope for the future) and purple (dignity) walked behind her coffin on its procession in London. She is buried within her family plot in Morpeth, Northumberland.

The Government down played the event, spinning it in a negative "see!!-this-is-what-women-are-capable-of-so-who-in-their-right-mind-would-give-them-the-vote?" kind of way. Parts of society were appalled. Others were intrigued and joined the ranks themselves.

And then the bullet that ricocheted around the world was fired in 1914 and all bets were off. Women took the helm in all areas of life as the men left to feed the maggots of Flanders. By the end of the Great War a woman's lot in life had irrevocably shifted. Some were granted the vote in 1918, with this expanding to all in 1928.

Women helping with the war effort divided the Movement, with most calling a ceasefire
and others continuing to strive for political equality.

She is honoured in the Houses of Parliament by a small brass plaque, erected by Tony Benn, to commemorate the evening she spent hiding there when the census was taken in 1911.

By doing this, she could legitimately state that her address on that night was "The Houses of Parliament" thus recording that a woman lived there, adding gravitas to the movement.

The legacy of this lady is far reaching. Albeit not directly due to her death or actions, they did bring it attention.

Now. You might be thinking "hang on a cotton pickin' momento -  this woman was a militant mentalist!" And you would be right to some degree. But that said, I cannot help but admire her. She died for her cause, she believed so passionately in it's righteousness. I think living a 10 minute walk away from where the event took place makes it a lot more prominent in my mind. I go past "Emily Davison Drive" everyday.    

There is also a tree that is planted roughly opposite where I think she would have been struck.  It is hard to tell from the grainy footage the exact spot, but I cannot seem to find out why this is there. I like to think that it was planted in her honor.

And rightly so.    


  1. Absolutely wonderful post, a fascinating and very emotional read! I didn't realise it was at Epsom racecourse, silly of me!
    Your comment about the news camera being the equivalent of our current user-generated culture is so interesting, and that video is still so haunting, the flooding of the crowd over the course at the end is very powerful too.
    Very sad to hear that the jockey never recovered from the event, but without a doubt, she was a vital lady to the cause who ensured we are still talking about it today, Not many would go through what she suffered.

    I received a wonderful book for christmas "The Suffragettes in pictures" which has some very rare images, i highly recommend it!


  2. Hi Katie - thanks for the comment and the heads up on the book! I shall have to check it out :)

  3. A powerfull post in honour of an incredible woman, well done. X

  4. wow this was amazing. thank you for posting.
    it was really informative!

  5. what a tough honorable woman.

  6. That is so interesting and cool!
    Greetings from Norway!

  7. Wow, I didn't know any of this - thanks C. Can't argue with the rightness of the cause but she does sound like a right nutter - bet she wouldn't have been much fun at a dinner party ;) x

  8. can i make you jealous.... i have seen the plaque while at work... and best of all i have touched - yes touched the scarf/banner she was wearing. while working at parliament i got to meet this lady who was bringing in the scarf for Parliament to borrow. She was just a little girl at the time of the funeral and was given the scarf to carry as part of the funeral. would you like to see it? i can get you in....xx

  9. Awesome post, C! I just yum this sort of history up. It's easy to think "wow - what a mental extremist" today because we're in a different time. For her time era, she was truly a martyr for a worthy cause.

  10. Great ladies indeed, the suffragettes.

    xx Charlotte
    Tuppence Ha'penny Vintage


I'd love to hear what you think so feel free to comment away!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...