In 2018 Leatherhead Museum celebrated the centenary of the first granting of votes for women in Britain following their crucial role in maintaining the country during World War 1. The year's exhibition at Hampton Cottage recalled the background to this with particular coverage of local Suffragette activities. It was another decade before the voting age for women was reduced to 21 to match that of men but enfranchisement for women over the age of 30 in 1918 was a triumph after the long and painful pre-war years of the Suffragettes' campaign.
Although records are limited of individual Leatherhead residents who had fought for female equality before the war, the area featured significantly in the national campaign. On 16 May 1908, for example, the Women’s Freedom League suffrage caravan rolled into Leatherhead from Oxshott and was met with a barrage of abuse.
There was an open air meeting outside the Bull Inn, followed by a meeting inside VictoriaHall. Campaigner Teresa Billington-Greig was drowned out by jeers from around 500 people with whistles, trumpets, drums and rattles. The police intervened to stop violence. It was said to be ‘one of the most remarkable scenes that have ever been witnessed in a town for many years.’ Eventually the women were asked by the police to finish their meeting and swiftly make their way to Leatherhead station under escort with a sneering mob in tow. The women caught the 9.25 pm train to London, carrying with them a stone thrown through the entrance glass of the Victoria Hall.
Other local events included the night that Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Suffragettes, spent in Leatherhead police custody; the role of her daughters Christabel and Sylvia among others; and the tragedy of Emily Davidson who gave her life at nearby Epsom when she tried to interrupt the King's horse as a protest on Derby Day in 1913.
The second exhibition of 2018 covered Ashtead Potters Ltd, a short-lived but immensely influential operation between the two world wars. It was based at Victoria Works, Ashtead - now the site of Lime Tree Court sheltered accommodation. Only in business for 12 years from 1923-35, it was set up to give employment to disabled ex-servicemen. Its main driving force was the architect, journalist and civil servant Sir Lawrence Weaver, supported by Bertrand Clough Williams-Ellis, creator of the Italianate village of Portmeirion in Wales, and the Labour politician, later government minister, Richard Stafford Cripps.
Ashtead Potters made its sales debut at the British Empire Exhibition 1924-25 for which Weaver, the event organiser, was knighted. The company produced a vast array of wares, ranging from figures and commemoratives designed by leading artists of the day, through to everyday crockery in bold bright designs. From just four workers at first, Ashtead Potters eventually employed up to 40 men. Few were local and most were recruited from labour exchanges throughout the south of England.
The Ashtead Potters Housing Society Limited was formed to build 20 sheltered cottages around the village green for married workers without homes. Weaver's wife Kathleen raised a fund of £5310. Sadly both she and her husband died prematurely within three years of each other and the business then ceased.
A third exhibition was based on family photos from World War 1, donated to the Museum by the late Pearl Kew whose father Fredrick was shown with his regiment in France and Belgium from 1915.
See Museum News for upcoming exhibitions.