Both Cherry Isherwood and Jo Roche have been eager to find evidence of Abberley women’s involvement in local government and the electoral process. Were there any suffragettes in Abberley? Jo Roche investigates…
Women were not prohibited from voting in the United Kingdom until the 1832 Reform Act. The 1834 ‘Poor Law Act’ gave duly qualified women the right to vote for Poor Law Guardians; however, the following year the ‘Municipal Corporation Act’ ended that right almost before it started!
|“By marriage, the personal identity of the woman is lost. Her person is completely sunk in that of her husband, and he acquires an absolute mastery over her person and effects. Hence her complete disability to contract legal obligations; and except in the event of separation by divorce, or other causes, a married woman in the United Kingdom cannot engage in trade.”||
—Leone Levi, International Commercial Law, 1863
It was to take another thirty four years before the ‘Municipal Franchise Act’ gave women ratepayers the vote “in the election of councillors, auditors and assessors.” Despite the 1870 ‘Women’s Property Act’ the court ruled in 1872 that this vote be confined to single and widowed women as married women still had no legal identity separate from their husbands and, until 1884, a wife was officially listed as one of her husband’s possessions.
In 1894 the Local Government Act extended voting rights to married women and allowed them to serve on the newly created Parish Councils and District Councils, School Boards and as Poor Law Guardians. This was a major step forward much to the shock of the male populous.
The Abberley Parish Council held their first meeting on Tuesday 4th December of that year when nine members were elected to represent the village. Eleven had stood, however, after a quiet word in a couple of ears the matter was resolved as two candidates withdrew. The new Council comprised the Squire, William Jones, and his eldest son Frederick William Jones, the Rector, James Lewis Moilliet, Alfred Dudley Clarke, Land Agent to the Estate, the farmers of Field Farm, Hazeland and The Beehive, Mr Quarterman from Manchester House and Mr James Key from the village. Not surprisingly, there was not a woman in sight!
At the July 18th, 1898 meeting it would seem that the Councillors had every intention of keeping the Parish Council as a “Boys’ Club” as it is minuted:
“This Parish Council does not think it advisable to throw extra expense on the ratepayers by the substitution of ballot for the election of Parish Councillors instead of a show of hands at present in use.”
One of the responsibilities of the newly formed Parish Council was to appoint Overseers of the Poor for a twelve month period and this afforded them the opportunity to vote a token woman onto the Council. On 15th April 1895 Mrs Martha Bluck, age 74, of Church Farm House was duly appointed along with two male colleagues as an Overseer. Martha had moved to Church Farm after the death of her husband in July 1871. In 1900, another widow, Mrs Charlotte Wilks, age 69, of Pool House Farm joined the team. Two years later, Mrs Elizabeth Fuller, widow, of The Old School House and in 1906 Mrs Coley Lewis, widow, of ‘The Royal George’ joined the ranks. Can anyone spot a pattern here?
By 1900 there were only 200 women serving on Parish Councils across the country and in 1920 at the NFWI AGM women were urged to stand for their local councils. Their involvement may have been interpreted as an extension of the philanthropic and improving work in which middle class women found scope for quasi-public charitable work rather then any political ambition.
Miss Mary Edith Garman, a spinster and daughter of retired surgeon William Chancellor Garman of Firleigh, was appointed as Minor Local Authority Manager of AbberleyParochial School on 15th March 1910. She was to hold the position for a total of 18 years before leaving the parish after the death of her father on 31st December 1928.
The parliamentary vote was extended to all men over the age of 21 years on 28th March 1918 and, also, to women over the age of 30 who met a minimum property qualification i.e. who were householders, householders’ wives, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5 or graduates of British Universities. Given that female students at both Oxford and CambridgeUniversities were eligible to sit their exams alongside their male peers they were not actually awarded their degrees until, in the case of Cambridge, 1948 some 80 years after they initially participated in a University education.
In Abberley nine women were enfranchised by the ‘Representation of the People Act’:
Jesse Bird, The Common
Jane Childs, 42, Village
Ellen Clarke, 34,Village
Sarah Ann Glazzard, The Common
Mary Maria Grosvenor, Home Farm Cottages
Marianne Harris, The Hill
Mary Neath, Glazzards Green
Ruth Annie Owen, Field Farm
Emily Raxter, Glazzards Green
It was not until ten years later that all women over the age of 21 were allowed to vote in the parliamentary elections which enabled fourteen women from the village to enter the polling booth:
Ellen Jane Berry, Village
Ellen Clarke, 34 Village
Elizabeth Davis, The Common
Rhoda Evans, Stockingfields
Blanche Harris, Field Brook Council Houses
Sarah Lee, Reynolds Farm
Hannah Mary Loynes, Village
Elizabeth Miles, Old Leasowe
Mary Neath, Glazzards Green
Agnes Palmer, Royal George
Constance Partridge, The Common
Esther Ann Riley, Beehive Cottages
Beatrice Shepherd, Highnets
Letitia Whaley, Nursery, The Common
However, despite all of this progress, the first woman, Mrs. Margot J. Pea, was elected as a Parish Councillor as late as 1951. Mrs. Pea was the wife of Henry J. Pea and daughter of the Rev. Canon J. M. Grant Richardson, Rector of Abberley. Unfortunately, she was unable to serve the community for very long as she and her husband immigrated to Canada and consequently, at the meeting of 3rd November 1952 the councillors received her resignation. The council proposed that Mrs K. Hargrave, wife of the then Rector, be asked to serve as a member of the Parish Council, however, she declined and Mrs. Hilda G. Knight of Upper Crundlend was approached. She accepted and went on to serve the parish for many years.
Margot Pea and Hilda Knight were members of the Abberley WI joining in 1949 and 1950 respectively. At the AGM in December 1950 a new committee was elected for the following year. Mrs Ashton of Abberley Hall remained as President and Mrs Pea and Mrs Knight were voted in as Vice Presidents. The ladies were to continue in this role for a further year. In 1953 Mrs Knight became President and in 1959 she was co-opted onto the County Organisation Sub-Committee.
It is interesting to note that all of these women who served in positions of responsibility were relatively recent newcomers to the village and had a wider experience of life than most of the ladies of the village and were quite happy to take on these roles.