The suffragettes in North Devon are the subject of a new book by author Pamela Vass
North Devon women were at the forefront of the fight to get the vote, Ilfracombe seethed with militancy and a Lynton mansion was destroyed by activists.
The revelations come in a new book by Pamela Vass, who has pieced together the lives and struggle of a generation of North Devon women every bit as committed as their counterparts in London.
Breaking the Mould, The Suffragette Story in North Devon follows the local ladies of suffrage societies who met, gave speeches, lobbied and campaigned in the early 20th century.
Pamela’s talk at Ilfracombe Museum on the evening of the 100th anniversary yesterday (Tuesday) sold out two weeks before.
As elsewhere, the West Country featured both the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).
The former were called ‘suffragists’ and believed in campaigning for the vote through peaceful means, while the name ‘suffragettes’ was given to the increasingly militant WSPU, whose members were arrested, imprisoned and abused for protesting, smashing windows and burning buildings.
Pamela’s interest was piqued when researching her fictional book Seeds of Doubt about the Lynmouth flood disaster and she discovered tales of the great Hollerday House mansion being burned down, perhaps due to ‘suffragette activity’.
She said: “Until then I had not heard of suffragette activity in North Devon. I couldn’t find anything initially, so I went page-by-page through all the papers of the time and all the suffragette publications.
“I was surprised when I discovered that Ilfracombe was a hotbed of militancy, because of the nature of North Devon, which had been Liberal from the year dot.”
Some of the main players in North Devon included Ilfracombe surgeon’s wife Marie Newby – who was sent to Holloway Gaol and force-fed after going on hunger strike – as well as Nurse Ann Ball and Margaret Eldridge.
When Liberal leader and Prime Minister Charles Asquith, who blocked women’s suffrage for years, holidayed at Clovelly Court, he was forced to drive from Exeter by car because of the suffragettes waiting for him at Bideford station.
Pamela said: “Asquith played golf while he was here. They discovered that and chased him across the golf course – the newspaper was adamant that no woman should distract a gentleman at his leisure on the golf course, that was beyond the pale!”
Breaking the Mould is available at www.boundstonebooks.co.uk or via Amazon and from Everything Westward in Westward Ho!