Suffragette play

To Freedom’s Cause


To Freedom's Cause

Kate Willoughby‘s play To Freedom’s Cause came to the Tristan Bates Theatre in London’s Covent Garden at the end of June. It was an intense and thought-provoking performance.

The play arrived in London on its last stop on a tour to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison. Emily is the character at the heart of the drama and the play considers not only her commitment to the ‘Votes for Women’ cause but also what that meant for those who were caught up in her struggle.

Many of the elements of the play are raw in their brutal telling of the experiences that Emily had to endure at the hands of the state. The terror of force-feeding and the treatment meted out when Emily barricaded herself into her prison cell are not easily forgotten. But while these scenes are horrific to watch, I feel that they are important reminders of what these women went through.

Kate Willoughby, as both playwright and actor in the role of Emily, portrays Emily as a clever but complex character, neither saint nor sinner, just human. We glimpse the playful and tender woman behind the determined and often difficult persona of the militant suffragette.

In an interesting twist, the play suggests that the 1913 Derby protest was initiated by the suffragettes of the North-East and it was they who persuaded the now exhausted Emily to join in. Soon after, Emily receives a telegram informing her that she has drawn the short straw and will be the one to implement the direct action. At this point, you can’t help wondering whether the selection was purely by chance. Resigned to her fate, Emily leaves her long-suffering mother and goes to do her duty.

In a rather beautiful mirroring of the tragic incident, the inclusion in the play of the figure of the King’s jockey, Herbert Jones, mostly in his later life, is a poignant reminder of how every action an individual takes can affect the life of others. This aspect was of particular interest to me. I was pleased to see ‘Bertie’ have a place in the story and was very moved by the performance, which I felt captured the sorrow of this gentle sportsman.

The stage production was clever and imaginative, but unobtrusive; I was amazed at how well the different locations were accommodated. The haunting Northumbrian folk music added atmosphere, suggesting an almost timeless inevitability of what it can mean to fight for your cause.

All in all, I found To Freedom’s Cause to be a very accomplished and compelling piece of theatre. The play tells of a key moment in our social history. That this play does so in a naturalistic yet poignant manner suggests to me that such a dramatization has further value as an educational tool, although not just for history scholars or students of citizenship, but for us all.

Remembering Emily

Commemorating Emily Wilding Davison


100 years after the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) procession that accompanied Emily Wilding Davison’s body across London from Victoria to King’s Cross Station, Bloomsbury again was filled with the sound of women’s voices. As part of their multi-arts-filled programme, the Wilding Festival held a procession from Russell Square to St George’s Church in memory of that solemn but magnificent occasion. Just as then, the white, green and purple of the suffragette colours were visible in the sashes, banners, ribbons and flowers of those who marched. A touching sight and a reminder that even, and possibly particularly, today, we should not forget the fight for women’s rights.

For more on the Wilding Festival, see thewildingfestival.co.uk.

The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013
The Wilding Festival, June 2013

Copycat protest

Derby copycat protest at the Gold Cup. Ascot, 19 June 1913: 100 years ago today


newspaper-article
How the event was reported at the time.

Two weeks after the Suffragette Derby and it is the next great racing event of the Season, Royal Ascot. On a perfect summer’s day, crowds gather to watch the highlight of the day, the race for the Gold Cup.

As the horses approach the long curve before straightening up to pass the stands, the American horse Tracery has a clear lead and is still accelerating.

At this point, a man emerges from a ditch behind the furze bushes on the outside of the course. Smartly dressed in a grey suit, he pauses to hang up his satchel on the fence. Cool and collected, he walks across the course, people think he must be an official. But then he opens his arms, holding out a revolver in one hand and a suffragette flag in the other. He stops by the inside rail, right in the path of Tracery and the pack of horses that are coming along close behind.

Tracery’s head strikes the man full in the chest and he falls. Horse and jockey fall together. Somehow most of the other horses swerve and jump, avoiding the pile before them, although one clips the man’s head with his hoof. Tracery rights himself. The jockey, Albert ‘Snowy’ Whalley, staggers to his feet and heads for the paddock, where he is treated for concussion. The man lies unconscious and bleeding.

The man was Harold Hewitt, a wealthy and educated 40-year-old, believed to be suffering from ‘religious mania’. Hewitt had a fractured skull and underwent surgery to move a piece of bone that was pressing on his brain. He recovered and was moved to an asylum, from which he escaped to Canada. In a strange postscript to this story, 8 years later he returned to England to face the charges of causing bodily harm to the jockey. I’ve yet to find out what happened next, but will let you know when I do.

The Gold Cup protest features in my novel, The King’s Jockey, for Bertie Jones was there. In fact, the previous day he had ridden Anmer, the same horse that he was riding in the Suffragette Derby. It must have been hard for Bertie with this event occurring so soon after Emily Wilding Davison’s death and also as he knew Snowy Whalley well, attending his wedding a few months later. Snowy Whalley was deeply affected by the incident and it was said to have been a factor in his early retirement as a jockey.