A MORPETH genealogist is delving into the past as she bids to tell the true story of Suffragette Emily Davison.
Ever since Miss Davison’s death in 1913, after falling under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby, she has been held up as a martyr — a fanatic who deliberately went to her death for the cause of women’s rights.
But as Morpeth historian Maureen Howes is finding out, the Suffragette had no intention of giving up her life that day.
“I have been trying to change people’s views of Emily because when you get into the records the traditional view just doesn’t fit,” she said.
“After the protest when she lost her life the family just closed ranks and kept silent, which created this information void for people to fill with what they wanted. Nobody has challenged that until I came along.”
Emily Wilding Davison was born in 1872 in Blackheath, London, but her relatives hailed from Northumberland, particularly Morpeth, and after her father Charles’ death, her mother returned to Longhorsley, which became Emily’s home.
After her death, Miss Davison was brought back to Morpeth and is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard.
Mrs Howes, a retired genealogist, has been investigating Miss Davison’s life for the past ten years after she was asked to take on the research to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the campaigner’s death.
She had heard the stories of the ‘martyr’, but kept an open mind.
“Of course, I had heard of Emily, but I didn’t have an opinion of her. I have never been a feminist because I could always get what I wanted under my own steam, but it has been an interesting journey,” she said.
“At first I was frightened because what I was finding out wasn’t how history had depicted her and I thought nobody would believe me, but then I thought as long as I have evidence for everything I say and I don’t make assumptions nobody can refute it. All I’m doing is recording history.”
Mrs Howes discovered that contrary to popular belief, Miss Davison did have a return train ticket home from the Derby that fateful day, she was only at the event as a result of drawing straws and her death certificate records an accidental death.
“She went there that day to demonstrate, but there is no way she went there to kill herself,” said Mrs Howes.
“There were other women with her on Morpeth Common practising putting colours on the colts going round and at the end of the day they drew straws to decide who was going to go to Epsom. She drew the short straw.
“Her death was accidental on the certificate and in that period it was against the law to kill yourself and she couldn’t have been buried in a churchyard if she committed suicide. There is no way the church authorities would have allowed her to be buried in St Mary’s Churchyard if there had been any suggestion that she had killed herself.
“That was a myth that suited the Government of the day and the Suffragette publicity machine jumped on the band wagon. One side claimed she was a fanatic and the other said she was a martyr. The family were caught in the middle and just remained quiet, but now they are breaking their silence.”
The historian has gained the trust of Miss Davison’s family, who have helped to provide records, photographs and even the Suffragette’s Christening gown to help with her research.
Later this year Mrs Howes is hoping to publish a book of her findings, based on the family’s previously unpublished archives.
And she is also hoping to meet Pierre De Baecker of Paris, who is the grandson of Miss Davison’s sister Letitia and who wishes to offer his help.
Even now, ten years on Mrs Howes is still eager to find out more about Miss Davison’s connections.
“People think she was a southerner and there is a link to Longhorsley, but that was only the last 20 years of her life. When she came here she had 44 cousins in Morpeth. One of the family members used to say that if you went into the Market Place and spat you would hit a relative.
“We are doing our best to tell the story of Emily from the family’s point of view and not as history has depicted her. Northumberland and Morpeth have a great story to tell.”
Mrs Howes is seeking further help in tracing members of the Anderson, Davison and Caisley families of Morpeth.
She is particularly keen to hear from people who are related to the Anderson family of Simonburn and Alnwick, the Anderson/Andrucci families of Morpeth and Ashington, the Caisley/Anderson families of Morpeth and Bedlington, the Caisley/Biltons, Caisley/Blackhalls and Caisley/Waldies of Morpeth, the Caisley/Wilkinsons of Hepscott and Morpeth and the Caisley/Wood families of Morpeth and Wales.
Other links include the three times Mayor of Morpeth Thomas Plume Cranston, whose daughter Margaret married Emily’s eldest half-brother, and the Challoners, Joblings and Redpath/Wood families of Morpeth.
Mrs Howes wishes to find out more about Emily’s uncle Robert Anderson Davison, a Chelsea Pensioner who served 22 years in the Army as a Sergeant Armourer, and the whereabouts of his medals, as well as information about his wife Isobella.
She also hopes to trace Emily’s male cousins, who were pall bearers at her funeral, and is seeking information about the birth of Mary Anderson, Emily’s grandmother, in Scotland around 1791, and her death in 1841/42.
The historian also wants to find out more about the 75 Suffragettes who met in St James’s Hall in Morpeth between 1911 and 1913. They included Lady Mona Taylor of Chipchase,
Francis Brumell, a solicitor, gave a talk to their meeting, and the Misses Ayres, who ran a girls’ school in Howard Terrace, were politically active. One of Emily’s cousins, Jessie May, who married Lewis Bilton, was one of their students.
Anyone with information should e-mail Mrs Howes at firstname.lastname@example.org