100 years of women’s suffrage: Pilgrims march towards the vote through Royston and South Cambs

Millicent Fawcett, who founded the National Union of Women's Suffrage, speaks at the Suffragette Pil

Millicent Fawcett, who founded the National Union of Women's Suffrage, speaks at the Suffragette Pilgrimage in Hyde Park. Picture: PA Images - Credit: PA ARCHIVE IMAGES

Today marks 100 years since women first got the vote and we’ve taken a look back at an awareness march from Cambridge to London that got national attention – and also made headlines in a much younger Crow.

A memorial procession for the Suffragette, Emily Davison, passing through Shaftesbury Avenue (Photo

A memorial procession for the Suffragette, Emily Davison, passing through Shaftesbury Avenue (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images) - Credit: Getty Images

Little more than three generations ago, women – plenty of whom were in employment either in domestic service or in the new industrial sector – could not have a say in parliamentary affairs.

They couldn’t vote or stand for election, and their husbands would be the ones who dealt with property and money – and who had their say on the running of the country.

The women’s suffrage movement was born out frustrations from those who were tired of not having their own voices heard.

In 1897, various local women’s suffrage societies formed the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and wanted the vote for middle class property-owning women.

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They believed they would achieve their end using peaceful tactics, unlike their counterparts the Suffragettes, who used violence, law-breaking and hunger strikes to get their message across.

One of the most famous marches of the suffragist movement – attended by 50,000 members nationwide – saw a group head from Cambridge and through South Cambs villages, before staying in Royston en route to London on July 21, 1913.

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The Crow reported in its July 25 edition of that year: “Between 6am and 7am, advance parties of the suffragist pilgrims appeared in the town. They were headed by a lady and a male supporter each on horseback, and the banner of the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Association.”

The report states there were about 40 pilgrims and that that they proceeded to The Green for a meeting, which went without interuption except for a bullock, who was being driven up from the railway station when it became alarmed at the crowd of people and “became rather troublesome”. The animal was eventually taken away on a float.

Peter Greener, curator at Ashwell Museum, said of the stay in Royston: “The whole troop were met by The Hon Mrs Phyllis Fordham of Ashwell Bury. They were no doubt given words of encouragement by her as she was a keen supporter of the cause.” The Crow reported that Mrs Fordham was in fact resident chair of the Letchworth branch of the NUWSS.

The Crow report continues: “The ladies, most of them looking rather weary, had left Cambridge that morning about 10.30am and on their way held meetings at Trumpington, Harston, Foxton, Shepreth, Meldreth and Melbourn.

“On Tuesday at 10.55am, the company formed up in Melbourn Street in Royston and marched up High Street to Buntingford. Before they departed some of the ladies expressed to a representative of this paper their appreciation of the kindly reception they had received in Royston, and the hospitality that had been offered them in many of the houses.”

They went on to Letchworth, Hitchin, Stevenage and Welwyn before heading to the capital and finally stopping at Hyde Park where a final imposing demonstration from the 50,000 suffragists was to be made.

The Crow will be telling the story of women’s suffrage throughout this year – if you would like to contribute email news@royston-crow.co.uk.

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