Club hears of town’s suffragette heroine

L-R: Michael Gaunt, Andy Griffin, Peter Chandler and Paul Crook.
L-R: Michael Gaunt, Andy Griffin, Peter Chandler and Paul Crook.

Morpeth Rotary Club

It was two talks for the price of one at Morpeth Rotary when the District Governor came to visit at the same time as speaker Andy Griffin, who is writing a ‘Kindle’ book about local suffragette Emily Davison.

The District Governor is responsible for the 65 rotary clubs in the North East. This year he is Peter Chandler, of the Rotary Club of Stokesley, in North Yorkshire.

He has visited 50 of his clubs since he took office in July.

He reported that the worldwide Rotary project for this year is Purple for Polio, a continuation of the plan to get rid of polio, with the help of the World Health Organisation and Bill Gates. Bill will give double what Rotary raises.

The project name comes from the purple mark put on the little finger of children who have been vaccinated.

It is the 100th anniversary of the start of Rotary’s own charity, the Rotary Foundation, which in total has raised more than £3,000m. The target is an additional £300m from clubs this year.

There have only been a small number of polio cases over recent months in a small number of countries. They are Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Niger and Chad. This is where work will be concentrated.

The UK project for the year is to give respite and training to the many young people under 20 who act as carers.

There are over 300,000 of them in Britain, with 20,000 young carers in North East England.

Groups of up to 60 in a number of areas of the North East will be given training and support over six weeks.

A total of £45,000 will be needed to pay for training centres, transport and carers to cover for them when they attend.

The plan is to start in January 2017, with a hope that each club will contribute.

Andy Griffin said that his talk on Emily Davison usually lasts an hour, but he would cut it short.

Emily’s father, Charles, was born in Alnwick, where the family were armourers to the Duke of Northumberland.

They moved to Morpeth and bought property.

He went to India and married the daughter of Major Seton, and on return they lived in Greenwich.

They had eight children, but then his wife died. He brought the body back to Morpeth for burial, and she was the first to be placed in the family burial plot.

Margaret Caisley, of Morpeth, became governess and housekeeper when he returned to London. She fell pregnant, Charles married her and they had four more children.

Emily was the third of them and was born at Blackheath.

Her father died and was also buried at Morpeth.

Her mother and family were not well off. A property in Morpeth had been left in the father’s will. The Seton family gave her mother the house in Morpeth, which she sold, and moved to the Post Office in Longhorsley.

Emily was 20 when she first visited Morpeth.

She had gone to a private school in London, then London University to study literature, but had to leave.

She later got a first class honours degree at Oxford University, but was not allowed to graduate as she was a woman.

She returned to London University and got first class honours.

With two degrees she knew she could be a teacher, but could never be a school head or deputy because she was a woman.

The fact that women did not have the vote also made her very angry.

She joined the Suffragette movement, led by Emmeline Pankhurst, and became very active, being arrested and convicted nine times.

In 1913 she stepped in front of the horses racing at the Derby at Epsom as a Suffragette protest, was hit by the King’s horse, badly injured and died four days later.

The procession to the memorial service at a church in London, then to King’s Cross, was several hundred yards long and brought the city to a standstill.

Women in the parade wore long white funeral robes.

On the next day, her body arrived in Morpeth for burial and went in procession to St Mary’s Church.

There was controversy about what she had been trying to do when she died.

She had not been coerced by anyone to take this action. There had been in a group of suffragettes on Morpeth Moor rehearsing attempts to put a rosette on horses.

It does not look like she deliberately tried to pick out the King’s horse, or to kill herself.

There had only been eight runners in the race and the King’s horse had been the favourite.

The race was probably the most important event on the planet at the time, with a massive crowd, and also it was being broadcast live for the first time.

She had a green, white and purple suffragette flag with her.

She passed under the rail to a position facing one of the cameras. She avoided two horses, but went under the hooves of the King’s horse.

One year later the First World War broke out and the ladies transferred their support to the war effort.

In 1918 some women over 30 got the vote. In 1928 this was extended to all women over 21.

Morpeth Rotary Club meets at Morpeth Golf Club on Tuesday evenings at 5.45pm. Through volunteering their skills, time and resources, members hope to make a positive difference in their local, regional and international community.