100 years of women’s suffrage: Peaceful meeting descends into chaos in Bassingbourn

PUBLISHED: 18:50 30 April 2018 | UPDATED: 19:09 30 April 2018

A painting of The Hon Mrs Phyllis Fordham of Ashwell Bury. Picture: Ashwell Village Museum

A painting of The Hon Mrs Phyllis Fordham of Ashwell Bury. Picture: Ashwell Village Museum

Ashwell Village Museum

A peaceful meeting in Bassingbourn held 105 years ago today by a non-militant group campaigning for women to have the right to vote ended with hostile demonstrations and even explosions, as reported in a much more youthful Crow.

The Limes in Bassingbourn was the setting for a volatile meeting of the NUWSS. Picture: Google Street ViewThe Limes in Bassingbourn was the setting for a volatile meeting of the NUWSS. Picture: Google Street View

A peaceful meeting in Bassingbourn held 105 years ago today by a non-militant group campaigning for women to have the right to vote ended with hostile demonstrations and even explosions, according to a much more youthful Crow.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of women in Britain first getting the vote – after suffrage campaigners fought for a change in the law that was one of the most significant political changes in our history.

Meetings and demonstrations were being held up and down the country to rally support, and a significant milestone was the formation of the non-militant National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1897 by frustrated groups of women who were tired of not having their own voices heard.

They wanted the vote for middle-class property-owning women – as at that time they couldn’t vote or stand for election, and their husbands would be the ones who dealt with property and money.

Just over a century ago, on this day, a meeting – held by the local branch of the NUWSS – took place at the Limes community rooms in Bassingbourn, and seeemed to descend into chaos.

The building in High Street was a school at that time – it became an educational establishment in the late 19th century and remained as such until 1990, when it was turned into a community facility.

The report in the May 2, 1913, edition of the Crow, demonstrated how at the time even small, peaceful gatherings could become “very stormy in character.”

Mr WM Mirrlees and the Hon Mrs Phyllis Fordham, of Ashwell Bury, were the speakers.

Mr Mirrlees was a popular speaker and supporter of women’s suffrage. He could be seen regularly giving speeches in Cambridge city centre, saying the only question men need to ask themselves was: “Does justice demand votes for women?”, “Are women not people?” and “are they not as affected as men by legislation and taxation?”

At the Bassingbourn meeting, the Crow reported that Mr Mirrlees managed to get a hearing but Mrs Fordham – chair of the Letchworth branch of the NUWSS – “was quite unable to deliver her speech”.

The report said: “Heckling, shouting, whistling and other hostile demonstrations greeted the attempt she made to address the meeting, and some loud explosions added still further to the confusion and uproar.

The report concludes: “The question of women’s suffrage is certainly one of the burning questions today, and as this particular meeting was organised by the non-militant party, it was anticipated that a fair hearing would have been given to the speakers.”

The Crow will be continuing 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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