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Remember Emily Wilding Davison

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

Picture: Audrey Ardern-Jones and Emily Wilding Davison together in the sunshine on Epsom High Street / Credit: Audrey Ardern-Jones

Emily Wilding Davison is finally where she belongs, at the heart of the town where she lost her life

Wander onto Epsom's market square, in the heart of the town, and you will see a makeover fit for Covid's emphasis on outdoor life. New landscaping and street furniture include a broad, windy path funnelling you past the regular and guest food markets.

Well-spaced wooden benches provide plenty of safe places to eat and drink your purchases and to listen to the occasional concerts. To counter isolation, some of the benches have been designated "Happy to Chat" benches. Signs say, "Sit here if you don't mind someone speaking to you".

Across from Boots, the chemists, a white marble bench, with a life-sized statue of a woman seated alone to one side, provides a conversational offering of a different kind.

The woman is garbed as an Edwardian lady, her graduate's mortarboard resting on books on the bench beside her. She is smiling invitingly, her right hand is raised beckoning you to sit beside her. Her head is turned towards you as if to listen attentively to your thoughts, or to engage you in conversation.

But who is she and what is she doing there? Look on one side of the bench and you will see some words of explanation:

Emily Wilding Davison

11 October 1873 - 8 June 1913

"No victory without sacrifice"

A brass plaque embedded in the brick work on the ground elaborates on the sacrifice Emily made and the victory that sacrifice contributed towards:

"This statue commemorates Emily Wilding Davison, a Suffragette who was struck by King George V's horse Anmer at the Derby on 4 June 1913, while protesting for women's right to vote. She was severely injured and died four days later.

Following her death, these milestones were achieved towards full voting rights:

1918 - property owning women over 30

1928 - all women over 21

1968 - all women over 18"

Tattenham Corner

(For Emily Wilding Davison)

A Poem by Audrey Ardern-Jones

We may cross over a well turned track

turn back more than a hundred years

on Derby Day

spot a young woman in her prime

who was imprisoned, force fed

who spoke out, broke out

shouted out

who on that day, slipped under the railings

into an incoming storm

of horses

galloping round the curve

into the long final straightness

a moment of history

she braved it

a beacon – there for you

there for me

with her iconic message

Votes for Women

her last

to a King who should have listened

then she stumbled

under his horse

she never spoke again

never smiled again

never again smelt the freshness of rain

nor heard the June birdsong

outside her window at the Cottage Hospital

a much maligned heroine of her time

a heroine of our time

a voice that lives on

a voice not just for women

An Artist's Painterly Sensibility

Tattenham Corner was first published in 2013 at the centenary of Emily Wilding Davison's death and was showcased at a #RememberEmily event at Bourne Hall, Ewell in the borough of Epsom and Ewell.

“Ardern-Jones is a poet with an artist’s painterly sensibility, a musician’s fine ear, a nurse’s affinity for strangers and their plight. Poems for the ear, poems of language – Polish and Bemba, Portuguese and English. An intelligent, finely crafted poetry of curiosity and caring, of listening and loving, of humour and hope.” Paul Stephenson, an award winning poet and blogger, podcaster and co-curator of Poetry in Aldeburgh and teacher at the Poetry School, who interviews poets on their first collections.

Audrey Ardern-Jones spent her childhood in Africa (Lusaka, Zambia) where her English father and Polish mother were posted. She’s enjoyed a wonderful nursing career, specialising in cancer genetics. Audrey has always loved the Arts and founded The Poetry & Music Ensemble in 1984.

Her poems are widely published and have won prizes or been commended in international competitions. Currently, she is Artist in Residence at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and is an active supporter of poetry projects in her community of Epsom & Ewell.

The publisher's link takes you to Doing The Rounds, Audrey's collection of poems. "This collection touches on the poet's childhood memories of living in Africa - her feelings of being in awe of so much and yet uncertain about many of the happenings. Most of her travel poems in India relate to incidents that have made her question herself - some of the poems about her Polish mother and her suffering post WW2 echo throughout the collection."

The Hub was honoured to be gifted a signed copy of the collection by Audrey.

Thank you Audrey!

Listen to Audrey

You can listen to Audrey Ardern-Jones beautifully reading her poem Tattenham Corner and outlining its background, by clicking on the link below, and hear her declare: "I would have been a Suffragette!".

Audrey wrote the poem as part of a Poetry and Music Ensemble centenary concert "for Emily" at Bourne Hall, in the borough of Epsom and Ewell. Audrey, who met author and lecturer, Irene Cockroft, through a shared interest in the Suffragette movement and women's First World War poetry, introduced Irene to Epsom's museum at Bourne Hall.

Irene became the guest curator of 'Dying for the Vote', an exhibition coinciding with the centenary concert. Irene is the great niece of the suffragette artist Ernestine Mills and went on to spearhead the Emily Davison Memorial Project, along with Sarah Dewing the local person behind the funding and organisation of the project, culminating with the unveiling* of sculptor Christine Charlesworth's inspired work in Epsom's market square.

* The video link to the unveiling shows Sarah Dewing opening the event at around the seven minute mark.

Remembering Emily

You have read and heard the poem but who was the woman it was written about and who is the person behind the statue in Epsom's market square? Dr Diane Atkinson is the author of Rise Up Women!: The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes.

The book is described by Harriet Harman, Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham and Mother of the House of Commons, as: “A thrilling and inspiring read! For too long these extraordinary women have been hidden from history. Rise Up Women! should be a standard text in all schools and will be a treasured handbook for today’s feminists.”

Image: The cover of 'Rise Up Women!" by Diane Atkinson / Credit: Bloomsbury Publishing

In 2018, Diane Atkinson published a blog*, 'That malignant Suffragette': remembering Emily Davison', on the Museum of London website. The article was subtitled:

"The campaign for Votes for Women would not have been won in 1918 without the struggles and sacrifices of hundreds of brave Suffragettes. Today, we focus on just one: Emily Wilding Davison... the extraordinary life of a woman better known for her death, under the hooves of the King's horse on Derby Day, 1913."

The first three paragraphs set the scene: "In November 1906 the Women's Social and Political Union (aka The Suffragettes) enrolled Emily Davison. She was thirty-four years old and employed as governess to the four children of Sir Francis Layland-Barratt, the Liberal MP for Torquay and High Sheriff for Cornwall. While her involvement with the WSPU remained low-key she continued working for the family until, eighteen months later, her urge to 'come out' as a militant would lead her to resign and join the campaign.

In the afternoon of 30 March 1909, Dora Marsden, carrying a tricolour flag, led a deputation of twenty-nine women, Emily among them, to see (Prime Minister) Herbert Asquith at the House of Commons, although he had refused to meet them. Accompanied by a brass band and singing 'The Marseillaise', the women reached St Stephen's Entrance, but Dora Marsden, less than five feet tall, became tangled up with three police horses and the staff of her umbrella was broken. One Suffragette hit a constable on the head with her umbrella, other policemen had their helmets knocked off.

Ten women were charged with obstruction and assaulting the police, and sentenced to between one and three months. For Emily Davison, this was her first time in gaol; it would not be her last."

Image: A 1909 drawing from the WPSU newspaper 'The Suffragette' depicting the widespread habit of Suffragette hunger strikers, including Emily Wilding Davison, being force-fed in prison.

Imprisoned Suffragettes refused to co-operate with prison life, even to accept food until the status of political prisoner was granted. The response from the Liberal government and prison authorities was often brutal, with force-feeding using nasal tubes widespread.

Emily wrote to Home Secretary, Herbert Gladstone, from Holloway prison. "Ours is a bloodless revolution but a determined one." She added she and others were, "ready to suffer, to die if need be, but we demand justice!"

In a manuscript, Emily provided a vivid account of the protest made by Suffragettes who were being kept in solitary confinement and force-fed in their cells. On 22 June 1912, near the end of a new six-month sentence in Holloway, she and others barricaded themselves into their cells.

"a regular siege took place... on all sides we heard crowbars, blocks, wedges being used, joiners battering on doors with all their might. The barricading was followed by sounds of human struggle, the chair of torture [used for force-feeding] being pushed about, suppressed cries of the victims, groans and other horrible sounds."

She decided to make a "desperate protest" to end the "hideous torture". Emily threw herself down the staircase outside the hospital wing, landing "on my head with all my might." She was knocked unconscious, but the prison authorities resumed force-feeding her through a nasal tube the next day.

Ten days before the end of her six-month sentence, on 28 June 1912, Emily Davison was released in a run-down state, two stones lighter, with two scalp wounds. She had been force-fed forty-nine times. Outside prison Emily continued her campaign of militancy by breaking windows, setting fire to postboxes, and attempting to assault Lloyd George.

The Daily Sketch published Emily’s last article on 28 May 1913. The language of ‘The Price of Liberty’ is apocalyptic. ‘The perfect Amazon is she who will sacrifice all … to win the Pearl of Freedom [the vote] for her sex. Some of the bounteous pearls that women sell to obtain freedom… are the pearls of friendship, love and even life itself.’

Picture Gallery: The front cover of the Daily Sketch, 9 June 1913, headlined:

The First Martyr for Votes for Women; Emily dressed as she travelled to Epsom; Inside page of the Daily Sketch 9 June 1913

On Wednesday 4 June 1913 Emily caught a tram to Victoria station, and bought a return ticket to Epsom Downs. She pinned a purple, white and green flag inside her jacket and another suffragette flag tucked up her sleeve, walked to the racecourse and bought a Dorling’s List of Epsom Races.

(The link goes to a Jockey Club account 'The Derby and The Suffragettes' of the 1913 'Suffragette' Derby with biographical detail of Emily, including of her academic life. After attaining B.A. Honours at the Royal Holloway College in London, she went on to study English Language and Literature at St Hugh’s College, Oxford where she won first class honours. At a time when women were a rarity rather than commonplace at such institutions. Explaining the symbolism of the mortarboard and books next to Emily's statue.)

Emily made her way to Tattenham Corner, a tricky place for horse and rider in the gruelling mile and a half race. This was the biggest day out in Edwardian England. Here at three o’clock, the apex of the social pyramid met its base. The King and Queen and their entourage added glamour to an occasion that welcomed both the establishment and the working class at play.

Emily squeezed close to the rails. As the race started the sixteen horses and riders ran straight for three furlongs before the course climbed to a gradient of one in fifteen. The King's horse, Anmer, made a good start. At seven furlongs the field took the left turn downhill for five furlongs and Anmer fell away to the group at the back.

The leading horses pounded towards the spot where Emily was waiting. Tons of horseflesh and men flashed past, spittle, sweat, huge eyes rolling with the effort, the noise of the crowd was bewildering. Everyone was screaming the names of their horses for that brief moment, and jumping up and urging them on. The trailing bunch, including Anmer, approached. Emily fiddled with the sleeve of her jacket, bobbed under the white railings, and made history.

* With thanks to Dr Diane Atkinson for her kind permission to adapt her blog, 'That malignant Suffragette': remembering Emily Davison', published on the Museum of London website. You can contact Diane via @dithedauntless and her website.

This Memorial Was Made Possible By...

Picture: Side of the Emily bench acknowledging the range of people who made the memorial possible / Credit: The Hub

And finally... if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a host of dedicated and generous individuals, groups and organisations, near and far, to bring an enterprise like The Emily Davison Memorial Project to a successful outcome.

As Audrey says, there are "too many people" to name directly but all played their part, big and small. The picture above captures those named on the other side of the bench.

A round of applause to all concerned!



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