Tag Archives: Murillo Road

Caroline Townsend – A Lewisham Suffragette Activist

During the centenary year of (some) women obtaining the vote, it is important to remember those who were active in the campaign for women’s suffrage in South East London.  Running Past has already covered the two of the more prominent women – May Billinghurst and Emily Wilding Davison who both had a national impact; however, it is important to celebrate the work and lives of some of the other women activists who were involved in the struggle locally.  A few weeks ago, the role of Eugenia Bouvier was covered, and now it is the turn to look contribution of Caroline Townsend.

Caroline was born in Cork in Ireland on 13 August 1870; she was the youngest of three sisters in a family that travelled a lot – her eldest sister, Annie, was born in Gibraltar in 1864; Hannah in 1868 in Woolwich.

Little is known of her upbringing, and she doesn’t obviously appear in any censuses until 1901 when the three sisters were living at 188 Malpass Road in Brockley, the two elder sisters who were both listed as teachers, Caroline listed as a ‘housekeeper’ in the census return.

Caroline was one of the joint secretaries of the Lewisham WSPU, which was set up in 1907 (1).

She was arrested as part of a deputation to see Herbert Asquith, the then Prime Minister, on February 24 1909.  The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had attempted to set up a meeting with Asquith – Emmeline Pethwick Lawrence informed him on February 23 1909 that a delegation would be visiting him at the House of Commons the following evening to ask for votes for women to be included in the legislative programme for that session.  A terse reply noted that Asquith had nothing to add to previous statements and that, in any case, he would not be at The Commons that evening (2).

There was a large meeting at Caxton Hall in Westminster on February 24 addressed by Emmeline Pankhurst to protest against the Liberal Government’s failure to include women’s suffrage in the King’s Speech.  A resolution was passed calling for votes for women on the same basis as men. It was agreed to send a deputation, led by Emmeline Pethwick Lawrence to convey the resolution to Asquith. The 40 women in the deputation seem to have included Caroline Townsend (3).

The police would allow anything resembling a march so the women walked in pairs to Parliament.  The women walked to the ‘strangers’ entrance to the House of Commons.  They were followed by a fairly hostile crowd, their way was barred by around 40 police – the women went through the ‘futile formality’ (4) of asking to see their MPs before attempting to break through the police lines ‘threw themselves at solid lines of constables which not thrice the number of fighting men could have hoped to dislodge from their vantage point.’  (5)

Pethwick Lawrence and ‘the leaders’ were arrested, a total of 27 women and one man, and charged with obstruction.  This included Caroline Townsend whose address was reported as 188 Malpass Road. All were bailed upon a surety from the wealthy Pethwick Lawrence (6)

The following day all 28 appeared at Bow Street Magistrates Court, in front of the same magistrate that had heard cases involving Eugenia Bouvier, Sir Albert de Rutzen.  Pethwick Lawrence addressed the magistrate at length, but there was little sympathy from him ‘it is regretted that educated ladies should disgrace themselves in this way by contravening law and order.’ (7)

All of the defendants refused to be bound over and most were required to find sureties of £10 or a month in prison.  All the women were sent to Holloway Prison (8).

Caroline received frequent mentions in ‘Suffragette’ newspaper in 1910s, mainly in role as secretary but there were mentions of speeches too (9). It was noted in an interview with her in a ‘Suffrage Annual’ that she “particularly enjoyed ‘out-door work’ – speaking, paper selling, poster parading.”  (10) Whilst these may not be the most glamourous roles they are the things that all political groups need at the local level – making the cause visible and raising its profile with local people.

The photo of the banner shows Caroline on the front row Olive Llewhellin, who lived at 114 Burnt Ash Hill, behind her is Clara Lambert (who briefly lived in Glenfarg Road in Catford) – Running Past will no doubt cover both of these women over the next few months.  The fourth woman in the photograph which is part of the collection of the Museum of London (on a creative commons) is a Miss Warwick.

By the time that the 1911 census enumerators called the sisters were living at 27 Murillo Road in Lee.  The house had been built in the last few years of the 19th century after the demolition of a large house, The Firs, in 1893 following the death of its last owner John Wingfield Larking.  Many suffragettes used the census to protest against the lack of women’s suffrage; this included Caroline and her sister, Hannah, who was also an active suffragette – only Annie was listed in the census at 27 in 1911.

Hannah was a teacher and a founder and member of the Women Teachers Franchise Union (11) who campaigned for equal pay as well as suffrage. Both sisters were members of the Women’s Suffrage Club which was based at 1 Lewis Grove in Lewisham and served as the headquarters for the local WSPU branch (12)

The Pankhursts set up the Women’s Party in October 1917 and Caroline Townsend  became the ‘Election Organiser’ in Lewisham (13). The party advocated numerous policies that promoted equality for women including equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, equality of parental rights and raising the age of consent. The Party also campaigned for maternity and infant care, which would be subsidised by parents according to their income, beyond this their views were relatively conservative – pro Empire, pro-Union and anti-Bolshevik.

They held regular public meetings in the market – with Caroline speaking at several (14). There was no active input into the December 1918 election though as effectively there wasn’t a contest in either of the Lewisham constituencies, with both seats seeing Conservative & Unionist candidates elected unopposed with ‘Coalition Coupons’.

It seems that the sisters moved to Surrey Hannah and Caroline were living at  Gravel Pits Farm, in Gomshall, near Guildford by the time the 1939 Register was compiled.  Caroline died in the same district two years later.

Notes

  1. Elizabeth Crawford (1998) The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 p689
  2. The Times, Wednesday February 24 1909
  3. The Times, Thursday February 25, 1909
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. ibid
  7. The Times, Friday February 26, 1909
  8. ibid
  9. The Suffragette (London) 21 November 1913
  10. Crawford, op cit p 689
  11. ibid
  12. ibid
  13. Britannia (Official Organ of the Women’s Party) 18 October 1918
  14. ibid

Census & related information come via Find My Past

The Firs – A Country House of Lee

From the early 17th century Lee became ‘home’ to a small number of large houses for the extremely wealthy.  Several still remain – two on Old Road, the Manor House (now library) and Pentland House – used for student and other housing, along with The Cedars on Belmont Hill.  Several were lost to Lewisham’s development – notably, Lee Place – which was covered on the blog last year, and what latterly was referred to as Dacre House.

The Firs was a large early Georgian house, on the corner of Old Road and Manor Lane Terrace, like Lee Place, it is long gone but its presence is still visible in the post-demolition street patterns in the area, particularly the on the western side of Old Road in Roads such as Abernethy and Lochaber.

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The Firs was a large red-brick house was a  built around 1700 as the ‘town’ residence for the Papillion’s, a prominent Huguenot banking family who had prior to that lived in Norton Folgate in Spitalfields as well as having a country house in Acrise, near Folkestone.  Three generations of Papillion’s lived at The Firs over the next century – the first two owners Phillip, who died in 1736 aged 80, and David who lived until 1762 were MPs for Dover.  The final owner, another David, passed away in 1809, when The Firs was sold.

The house had a series of owners after the Papillion’s sold the house in 1809.  Notable amongst these was, General Edward Paget who had been second in command to the Duke of Wellington for a while in the Peninsula War, before becoming Governor of Ceylon and then Governor of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst.

The Firs was later home to the Sladens, who were described as ‘hospitable at home, also charitable to the poor of Lee’ – their family tomb is in the old churchyard at St Margaret’s Lee and is listed – Joseph lived at The Firs until 1855, when the house was sold.

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The last owner was John Wingfield Larking (1801- 1891), who probably moved in after the Sladens – he was certainly on the electoral register by 1862.  Wingfield Larking was a member of a wealthy Kent family who had been a merchant in Egypt and British consul in Alexandria between 1838 and 1841.

One of the more interesting features of the latter years of The Firs happened in 1884 when Wingfield Larking appointed a young Thomas Sanders, who had been working as a gardener at the Palace of Versailles, to look after the grounds.  Sanders created a winter garden and a series of large conservatories at The Firs.  The winter gardens became well known and a trio of pictures were painted by Arthur William Head.

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For Sanders, The Firs was a stepping stone and he moved on to edit Amateur Gardener in 1887.  Sanders settled in Ladywell and became a Councillor for Lewisham Park in 1912 – his story in interesting enough to do a post in its own right at some stage.   His gardens only lasted a few years longer – Wingfield Larking died in 1891.

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The area changed rapidly after Wingfield Larking died; The Firs was sold and by 1894, OS maps show  the first homes on Lochaber Road and Lee High Road had already been completed on the former estate, and the housing on the western side of Old Road, Abernethy, Murillo and Rembrandt Roads would soon follow.

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So who were the builders? The Scottish Lochaber and Abernethy Road names could have links with Cameron Corbett, who named all of his roads in both his Eltham and Hither Green/Catford borders estates after Scottish towns and areas. Similarly, it could have been one of his builders James Watt who was of Aberdonian and Orcadian descent.

A more likely answer though is the local building firm, the Siderys – there is a glazed panel above the door of 51 Murillo Road, on the corner of Rembrandt Road noting the base the fourth generation within the building trade.

The earliest was William Sidery, who was born in 1771 and died in 1825; the second generation of builders was also William Sidery, who had been born in Lee in 1803 and by the 1851 census was a master bricklayer employing 8 men; his son, predictably, also William (born in 1836) was apprenticed to his father. By 1861, William was listed as a builder at Grove Place on Lee High Road (just below Eastdown Park). He remained there until his death in 1876 – which seems to be noted on the side of the building (sadly partially hidden by a modern drainpipe).

William (1836) was listed in 1881 in Grove Place with 8 children with Elizabeth, including three sons William (1862) and John Sutton (1863) listed as carpenters and Charles (1864), a painter. In the 1891 census William was listed as a bricklayer living in st Mary’s Villas on Pascoe Road; he was to die the following year before The Firs estate was sold. The adult sons had all moved out by that point. Elizabeth, the widow of William (1836) moved into 72 Murillo Road where she remained until her death in 1908.

It isn’t clear where John was living in 1891, but by 1901 was living at 51 Murillo Road and listed as a house decorator with Mary who he had married in 1886 and two children. John died in with Mary passing away in early 1939. Their son Sydney is listed in the 1939 Register as living next door at 53, although this isn’t that clear on the register itself and could easily be at 51.

While it is possible that the Siderys built the estate, for a firm of this size a development of a couple of hundred homes may have been beyond their range, although much will depend on the extent to which work was subcontracted. They may just have worked on the estate.

Picture Credits

The three pictures by Arthur William Head (a view of the house, the Fernery and the Winter Garden) are owned by LB Lewisham and are accessible via the Local History and Archives Centre, but have been made available through the BBC’s Your Paintings site; images and data associated with the works may be reproduced for non-commercial research and private study purposes.  Non Commercial research includes blogs such as this.

The black and white picture is photographed from the information board on Brandram Road, opposite St Margaret’s church.

Census and related data comes via Find My Past