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Suffragist Pilgrimage

Posted in Articles on 02 Jul 2024

In July 1913, a pilgrimage of suffragists in Cornwall began making their way to Hyde Park in London. This was just one of several groups of campaigners descending upon the capital and some of them made their way through Hungerford, Newbury, Reading and Maidenhead on their journey. Unsurprisingly, the local press took notice of this display of campaigning and reported on the women’s journey.

In the week preceding the pilgrim’s arrival into the county, advertisements were posted in the Reading Standard showing four planned meetings. These were due to take place between 21 and 23 July in Newbury, Theale, Reading and Twyford. On July 19, the Reading Observer gave a detailed itinerary of the pilgrims planned route through Berkshire:

“This detachment arrives in Hungerford on July 19th, and will be met there by Mrs. Robie Uniacke, who is in charge of the road through Berkshire. No Suffrage Society exists at present in Hungerford, although the attitude of the townspeople is most friendly, and there are good hopes of a large meeting in the Market-place if the weather is good. The Pilgrimage from Hungerford to Newbury will be very small, as few of the west country pilgrims are coming into Berkshire, and the ground here is practically unbroken. Volunteers from Wallingford and Pangbourne join the march at Theale, and it is hoped that some of the Reading members may also come out to Theale; those who cannot get so far are asked to assemble in Prospect Park at 6.30 on Tuesday evening and to march in with the procession to the Market-place, where the speaker will be Miss Frances Sterling, one of the best speakers in the National Union.

The Pilgrims proceed on Wednesday to Maidenhead, leaving the Market-place at about 9.30. A meeting is to be held at Twyford at mid-day, and Miss Susan Lawrence is offering hospitality for lunch to all Pilgrims at her house, “Castlemans,” two miles beyond Twyford. Mrs. Philip Snowden is to address the meeting at Maidenhead.  

The Pilgrimage leaves Berkshire on July 24th crossing the river and proceeding to Slough and Richmond.”

Upon their arrival in Hungerford, the pilgrims addressed a crowd of over 800 people according to the Maidenhead Advertiser, and the Windsor, Eton and Slough Express recorded that even though the meeting lasted for two hours, the crowd remained afterwards to ask questions of the speakers.

Two ladies address a crowd on a suffragist pilgrimage 1913

On Tuesday 22 July, the pilgrims were scheduled to arrive in Reading where a meeting was to be held in the Market Place at 7:30pm. This seems to have been a rousing success, with the Reading Standard praising the ‘eloquence and reasoning power of Mrs Sterling and the cogent arguments of Miss Walford’ and stating that the speakers made ‘a profound impression’.

The Reading Standard also recounts an amusing and heart-warming sight as the pilgrims departed from Reading accompanied by the bells of St Laurence Church. It describes how Mrs Cobb, a campaigner of 60 years, ‘came down in her bath chair and was wheeled in the procession for a considerable distance, saying how pleased she would have been to accompany the pilgrims further’.

In Twyford, the pilgrims were met by a group of supporters from Hurst and addressed another large crowd. The Reading Standard notes that amongst this crowd was the vicar of Twyford, the Reverend R. W. H. Acworth, who raised his hand in favour of women’s suffrage. The pilgrims also gained a slightly more unusual supporter in Twyford in the form of a ‘Scotch Terrier [who] gave a grateful wag of his tail on being decorated with the red, white and green badge.’

The Maidenhead Advertiser advertised the pilgrim’s arrival into the town as well as the meeting scheduled to be held there. Mrs. Philip Snowden and Miss Frances Stirling were to speak at the meeting in Maidenhead Town Hall. Referring to Mrs Snowden as having ‘a world-wide reputation as a speaker’, the Maidenhead Advertiser’s recommendation was that ‘everyone, whatever their opinion on the Suffrage question, should make a point of hearing her’.  This advice certainly seems to have been taken to heart, as the meeting was so crowded, that an overflow meeting in the street was necessary.

Although the reception to the pilgrims seems to have been generally positive, there were reports of troubles suffered by the campaigners throughout their journey from the West of the country. However, most papers denounced those causing the trouble as ‘hooligans’, ‘drunken men’, or ‘lawless roughs’, demonstrating a significant level of support for the suffragists by the press. It appears that most of the crowds who turned out to see the pilgrims supported them, or were at least willing to listen peacefully. When the pilgrims first entered Berkshire at Hungerford, the Windsor, Eton and Slough Express reported that ‘the persecution came to an end, possibly because, had it been attempted, the roughs themselves would have been put in the river’.

According to Berkshire’s newspapers, the Suffragist Pilgrimage seems to be considered a welcome and successful enterprise. Whilst universal women’s suffrage was still some years away, the pilgrimage was significant enough for the Prime Minister to receive a delegation of campaigners. The people of Berkshire were reported as being welcoming and hospitable to the campaigners and, through the press, the pilgrims were generally depicted as skilled orators with effective arguments and a just cause. The Windsor, Eton and Slough Express proudly stated that ‘the pilgrims have had an excellent reception throughout Berkshire’.

Support for women’s suffrage seems to have been in ample supply from the clergy. The vicar of Earley St Peter wrote of it in the parish magazine from December 1918 (reference: D/P191/28A/25A). The rector of Remenham wrote similarly in their parish magazine (reference: D/P99/28A/4).

If you would like to learn more about the movement for women’s suffrage, the National Archives has resources and information available on their website.