Honouring the suffragettes

I have been for a walk in Royal Victoria Park with a woman well-known for her love of Bath and its history and heritage.  Audrey Woods is happy to share her enthusiasm too –  and she does with hundreds of visitors to the city each year.

Audrey has just been given a long-service award for forty years of volunteering as a member of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides – an organisation – currently celebrating its 80th anniversary – that operates twice-daily tours of the city. It’s a popular attraction  – maybe because its free – but every tour is unique with each guide adding their own knowledge and personality to what people see and hear on a two-hour gentle walk around the city.

Audrey beside the pine planted in Royal Victoria Park in 2011 to commemorate the suffragettes at Eagle House.
Audrey beside the pine planted in Royal Victoria Park in 2011 to commemorate the suffragettes at Eagle House.

Of course Bath is about people as well as Georgian buildings and Roman remains. The tours Audrey helps give will often involve pointing out some of the many brass plaques above doorways which indicate where some of the big names of history may have lived or visited.  

Now she’s determined to get proper recognition for a whole group of  early 20th century visitors who helped make history –  by standing up and fighting for their rights.

We’re talking about the Suffragette Movement which campaigned for votes for women in the years leading up to the First World War.

Bath was not a major centre of protest and had little of the activist displays seen in London and other cities but it did play its part in helping some of the women involved in this fight for equal voting rights.

Just how – l will explain in greater detail in just a moment. First let’s find out why Audrey had taken me to Royal Victoria Park and to a particular young pine sapling planted there in commemoration of the suffragettes three years ago.

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The Blathwayt family Audrey refers to lived at Eagle House in Batheaston and offered their home to suffragettes who wanted to recuperate from the harsh treatment they received when imprisoned for their political activism in support of votes for women. Many of them were force-fed when on hunger strike to protest against their conditions.

Suffragettes Adela Pankhurst, Kitty and Annie Kenney 1910 © Bath in Time
Suffragettes Adela Pankhurst, Kitty and Annie Kenney 1910 © Bath in Time.
Click on images to access original print.

At Eagle House the suffragettes were encouraged to plant a tree in the grounds. There were 60 planted and they flourished in the care of Mrs Blathwayt who also underplanted them with flowers and shrubs in the colours of the Suffragette Movement.

These colours are purple for dignity, white for purity and green for hope. It is – apparently – a myth that green meant GIVE , white WOMEN and violet VOTES.

This historic arboretum made way for a housing estate in 1960 – although one towering Austrian Pine does remain.

A view of the arboretum at Eagle House 1909. © Bath in Time
A view of the arboretum at Eagle House 1909.
© Bath in Time

B&NES Councillor and Heritage Champion Bryan Chalker – having found out about the story – arranged (with others) to have three new trees planted to commemorate the suffragettes at Eagle House. They were planted in Alice Park, Royal Victoria Park and Bath Spa University. The plantings took place in March 2011.

He has now been alerted about the lack of a Royal Victoria Park plaque and accompanying commemorative plantings and l will let you know what transpires from here.