My friend Audrey Wood is a fellow member of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides and has enjoyed showing people around this city for more than forty years.
She also does regular voluntary work on duty at Bath Abbey, No 1 Royal Crescent and the Victoria Art Gallery – welcoming visitors and answering their questions.
You’d think she had little time for doing much more than putting her feet up with a well-earned cup of tea but no – something else has made her restless – and this concerns some rather special visitors from the past.
Of course Bath is about people as well as Georgian buildings and Roman remains. As a Mayor’s Guide the tours Audrey helps give will often involve pointing out some of the many bronze 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
The Blathwayt family who lived at Eagle House in Batheaston 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.
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.
Former 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 in March 2011.
However Audrey has been anxious to ensure the trees continue to prosper and that there are notices nearby to tell people why they were planted.
She had no idea if the tree at Bath Spa was still alive, was unhappy about the condition and location of the tree in Victoria Park and was worried about wire encasing the fir in Alice Park.
Now the University has sent her some good news. The tree there is alive and well and they sent a picture to prove it.
Meanwhile, the tree in Victoria Park is going to be replaced and re-positioned just inside the entrance to the Botanical Gardens where it will replace a fallen champion tree.
Meanwhile, the wire has already been taken off the tree in Alice Park.
Audrey’s last task is to find someone who would be able to give the brass plaque in front of the Alice Park tree a regular polish so people can read the inscription.
Here are ‘before and after’ shots – showing my meagre efforts. If anyone who is a regular visitor to the park can help – Audrey would love to hear from you.