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Thursday, 10 March 2016

Sepia Saturday - Be Part of the Crowd

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history and memories through photographs.

I featured hats and kissing last year, and have only the usual London tourist shots of soldiers in bearskins, so here my focus is on crowds, with photographs from local history collections.

A suffragette meeting, at Towerknowe, Hawick in the Scottish Borders, 1909.Note - the number of men in the crowd. 
Photograph by permission of Scottish Borders Council Museum & Gallery Service -
from the Hawick Museum Collection. 

We tend to associate suffragette marches with London and the cities, but the scene above was in the small mill town of Hawick in the Scottish Borders, (population in 1911 - 16,877, where women were an integral part of industrial life in the manufacture of tweed and knitwear.

The 20th century saw a dramatic change in the campaign with a new militant form of protest. By 1903 Emeline Pankhurst took the view that years of moderate speeches had yielded no progress and with her daughters Adela, Christabel and Sylvia, she founded the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) dedicated to "deeds, not words". It inspired an almost fanatical devotion to the cause. It also adopted a public identification with its colours - Violet, Forest Green and White (symbolising Votes for Women), which they used as ribbons, sashes and badges on their white dresses. (An early example of branding!)

Emmeline Pankhurst  - http://foter.com/Suffragettes/

In February 1909 "The Hawick News" had a headline which read "Suffragette Invasion" - the occasion the campaign for the Border Burghs election. Emmeline Pankhurst addressed a crowded meeting in  Hawick Town Hall on 27th February 1909.  A piper marched around the platform  and the audience sang the local song "Votes for Women".

Rise, ye men of Border burghs.
Show yourself in your true colours
As you've done in days gone by
Stand by British Liberty
"Votes for Women" loudly defying
Stubborn foes you'll put to rout
Vote  and keep the Liberals out

"The Hawick Epxress" of February 26th 1909 reported that "The Suffragists are extremely busy in connection with the elections and have taken  a shop on the High Street as their headquarters,,,,,the window is smartly decorated with suffragette literature and pictures  and they are reported to be doing a roaring trade in the sale of "Votes for Women" badges".  Mrs Pankhurst returned to Hawick in August 1909 when she called on women to join a large demonstration in Edinburgh. 

In the Borders, more militant protest hit the headlines in April 1913 when the "The Kelso Chronicle" of April 1913 proclaimed   "Militant Suffragism coming Near Home". 

"There was considerable commotion in Kelso on Saturday morning when it became known that a couple of women, presumably suffragettes, had been caught red handed in an attempt to destroy by fire the new stand which had been erected in the paddock at the Racecourse.......The fire was subdued before any damage could be done and the the suffragettes arreste3d.......In the walk down to Kelso Police Station, the Ladies beguiled the time by giving lusty voice  to the suffragette song " March On. 

The women  were conveyed to Jedburgh and apprehended before the  Sheriff.   A big crowd collected in the vicinity of  the court room to catch a glimpse of the daring but mischeiveouly disposed females." 

The protesters  were committed to prison and taken by train to Edinburgh,  They  were found guilty as charged and sentenced to nine months imprisonment in Carleton Jail, Edinburgh.  However they were liberated within a week,  having gone on hunger strike.  The terms of their temporary release  stated that they must return after a stipulated number of days - an instance of the infamous "cat and mouse"  policy.
Emmeline Pankhurst died in 1928,  the year when women  were granted equal voting rights with men.  It was  the  part women played on the home front during  First World War that was widely regarded as the  major factor in the  change of attitude to their right to vote.

But Emmeline's  role  is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women's suffrage in Britain - and the Scottish Borders played its  part.  

With grateful thanks to local historian Gordon Macdonald
for his research  on this topic in his work
" Universal Suffrage - A Borders Perspective"


Two more crowd scenes in Earlston, a Berwickshire village in the Scottish Borders 

 Hiring Fair 1909

Hiring Fairs, held in Earlston Market Square, were important events in the local calendar when men and women farm workers, (ag. labs (agricultural labourers), shepherds, dairy maids domestic servants etc.) would gather to bargain with prospective farmers for work, and hopefully secure a position for the following 6-12 months.

  Hiring Fair in the 1930's

Hiring Fairs were also social occasions with a rare opportunity for friends and family to meet and enjoy side shows and stalls - as can be seen in the two photographs featured here, courtesy of the local heritage group Auld Earlston.  

Hiring Fairs lost their importance in the First World War and had largely died out by the late 1930's.


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  1. I don't think it would be easy to find a crowd photograph where everyone was wearing a hat these days. Interesting suffragette history.

  2. Three cheers for Emmeline!! I hope she got to enjoy her hard fought victory.

  3. Thank you for that very interesting history of Emmeline Pankhurst. I've recently seen the movie Suffragette but it only tells a small part of the story.

  4. Great shot of Pankhurst -- and, of course, of all those crowds.

  5. A clever 'take' on the prompt picture - focusing on the 'crowd' aspect, & some interesting history to boot!

  6. Isn't it interesting that universal suffrage was introduced in Ireland ten years earlier, in 1918? I'll have to investigate further how that came about.

  7. Thank you, all, for taking the time to comment.

    Dara - in the Uk in 1918 only women who were over 30 and also met a property qualification, were given the vote. Most had to wait until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 to get the vote on the same basis as men - so it was a long fight!

  8. Thanks for a very informative post...and reminder that I want to see the movie Suffragette.

  9. Wonderful reports about those brave women. We do tend to think everything happened in London!

  10. I found this very interesting. Thank you!

    How far we have come because of the courage and fortitude of ladies such as Emmeline!

  11. Most interesting given the recent movie and also that after all this time a couple of weeks ago I learnt to say Hoick (hope that ('ve got it right at last)


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