Family-root search digs up link to Suffragettes

A COUNTY resident’s digging into his family tree has uncovered a link to two pioneering Suffragettes.

Richard Tolson, who lives near Stannington, has been looking into people with the same surname who, like him, are related to George Tolson, who was born in the mid 1600s.

Using the website he found Helen and Catharine Tolson in the 1901 census records. They are related via his six-times great grandfather.

From a range of sources, he then discovered that the sisters were heavily involved in the Suffragette movement and closely acquainted with the Pankhurst family and Mary Gawthorpe, corresponding frequently by letter.

Manchester Guardian cuttings from the early 1900s detailed how they were sent to Strangeways prison as a result of their disruptive behaviour and even received hunger strike medals from the Women’s Social and Political Union after refusing food as a means of protest.

Mr Tolson said: “The family research started off as something of interest and it then became a bit of an obsession, particularly when I found out about Helen and Catharine.

“It was fascinating to discover that they mixed with a number of the Suffragette movement’s prominent members. They were clearly prepared to go to any lengths to ensure that women were treated equally.

“It’s amazing what you can find out if you do some research, although you do need to be prepared to spend time going through lots of records and reports.”

He has written a book about the Tolson family history, published privately, and a whole chapter is dedicated to the two women.

Mr Tolson has also branched out to do research for other people as a hobby.

A series of events and activities to mark the 100th anniversary of local Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison’s death will take place throughout 2013.

Miss Davison, who lived in Longhorsley, died after falling under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby. She was a strong campaigner for women’s rights.