PHOTO BY KATE HATHAWAY
The 6th of February 2018 marked 100 years since the passing of the Representation of the People act, which first saw (some) women in Britain being granted the right to vote, and 90 years since all women were given the right to vote. 100 years on, it’s important to remember the lengths and hardships that women went through to obtain the vote. In Morpeth, the final resting place of Emily Wilding Davison, this included the instalment of a statue to commemorate the renowned Suffragette. Here at The Northumbrian, we took a look back at the actions taken by Emily and her fellow Suffragettes, and what it means to the local community to have a permanent fixture in place to honour her.
As many will already know, Emily Davison was one of the most prominent Suffragette activists. In her time spent in the movement, she and her fellow Suffragists went to enormous lengths to gain votes for women. Though now these actions would not be considered particularly unjust, at the time such behaviour came with consequences such as prison time. Emily herself was jailed on multiple occasions for her actions, such as for attempting to hand over a letter to the then Prime Minister, and for stowing away in the Houses of Parliament during the 1911 census.
On June 4th of 1913, Emily travelled to Epsom to attend the Epsom Derby with what many believe were intentions to attach a scarf in the Suffragette colours to the King’s horse during the race. However, during her attempt she was struck by the horse and tragically died. Her body was transported via train to Morpeth, to be laid to rest in her family cemetery. Since 1913, her grave has been the only memorial in place in Morpeth to remember her by, until the commission of a statue to commemorate her was suggested in late 2017, with a plan of action taking quick course throughout 2018.
The sculptor commissioned for the statue was Ray Lonsdale a steelwork sculptor from Durham. When asked about the appeal of taking on this particular commission, her story stood out the most, as did the opportunity to create his first female figure, as previously he had only been commissioned to sculpt male figures:
“It’s been something that’s been quite different for me and it’s nice to do a female figure for a change, especially such a strong female figure.
“What I think stands out most about her story, is her dedication to the cause; not just her tragic end with the King’s horse, but all of the other things that she did, the publicity stunts some might call them, but how they worked and were successful in a time when such acts really weren’t something that was done.” In addition, the opportunity for his work to inspire learning and further interest in others is something he is particularly proud of. Speaking about the reception of his tribute to Emily at the unveiling he said:
“It’s nice to see people’s reactions to my work, and what it means to people, when people get emotional about it I realise that what I’ve done is worthwhile and it’s not just going to be something that stands there and gets ignored! It seems as though people of all age groups seem to be really appreciative of her, not so much what I’ve done, but of her story.”
In the Northumberland community, there are many individuals dedicated to keeping Emily’s legacy alive, with the hopes that it will continue to educate and inspire, and remind people why the votes for women fight was so necessary. Sarah Bing of the local Suffragette inspired choir Wercas Folk was delighted about the placement of the statue, saying: “Emily Davison is such an incredibly important figure, and to have a proper commemoration to her here in Morpeth is well overdue.
“Her relevance today is absolutely central to making sure that women appreciate the history of the really vicious fight to get the vote.
“It’s important to ensure that people recognise that and use the votes they have. We have a lot of campaigns in schools to try and make sure that kids understand their history, and I think having the statue will also help to daily reinforce that. It’s something that school kids will come to in the park and it will be a constant reminder of that history.”
Philippa Bilton, an ancestor of Emily’s, is excited by what the statue represents, and the potential it has to keep Emily’s legacy alive to inspire future generations:
“I think it’s a fantastic statue that epitomises Emily’s character. It represents her determination to make a change in the world, that change that we’re still continuously fighting for in the 21st century, and I think this is now actually a part of modern history going forward, and it’s going to be here for posterity.
“A lot of young children and young adults realise the importance of the Suffragists and the Suffragette movement, and how 50% of the population over 100 short years ago were not represented and didn’t have those rights that we basically take for granted now. They must register to vote and they must use their votes. Because by not voting, you’re not going to change anything, are you?”
EMILY WILDING DAVISON STATUE UNVEILING INTERVIEW WITH SCULPTOR RAY LONSDALE