Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon: Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality.

Disclaimer: the author Frances Bevan is my mother and I received a free copy of this book.

S&S Swindon

If you’d asked me as a teenager, some twenty years ago, to name women of note from Swindon I’d have said the actress Diana Dors, glamour model Melinda Messenger and pop-singer Billie Piper. If you’d asked me about Swindon’s history I’d have told you about Brunel and the Great Western Railway.

Ask me now and I will obviously wax lyrical about Edith Bessie New, militant suffragette, who was born and grew up in Swindon. After training as a teacher Edith moved to London to teach and in 1908 became an organiser for the Women’s Social and Political Union. She was one of the first to chain herself to railings, smash windows, and go on hunger strike in Scotland. Imprisoned multiple times in Holloway she made the national and local newspapers several times and her name would have been known nationwide.


Ask me to name someone else, go on!

Emma Louisa Hull (née Alley) aka Louisa Smith. Louisa moved to Swindon with her family when she was ten years old. She married and moved to Bournemouth and went on to become an active member of the Women’s Freedom League.  She was also arrested and imprisoned several times for protesting and obstruction. On one occasion, she was arrested alongside four other women for chaining themselves to a police station and all five gave their surname as Smith or Smyth. Louisa returned to Swindon in 1947 where she would give talks about her work in the campaign for Votes for Women and died in a nursing home in Bournemouth aged 100.

How about May George? The first woman to hold the office of Mayor of Swindon in 1935, she worked tirelessly to improve the lives of women and children in her adopted town.


Have you heard of Mary Slade awarded the MBE for her work on the Swindon Prisoners of War Committee? She and her team of fellow teachers co-ordinated supplies of groceries, bread, clothing and books from local shopkeepers, schools and Swindon families to Wiltshire men interned at Gottingen and Munster.

These are just a few of the women featured in ‘Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon: Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality’, a clear, concise and easy-to-read account of the period 1850-1950, concentrating on the overlooked women in a town with a rich and varied history. Focusing on education; work; love and marriage; health care and motherhood; and the Votes for Women campaign this book celebrates and commemorates their work and achievements and should be a source of pride for Swindonians and beyond.

You can order or buy a copy of the book at the following:

Pen and Sword Books
Swindon Library Shop (inside Central Library at Regent Circus)
Ask your local independent bookseller to order – in Swindon that’s Bert’s Books

Swindon Suffragette Shopping

We’ve got a few items left over from our Women’s Art and Craft Sale so thought we’d offer people the chance to buy online. Just email us if you would like to order something and you can send the money via PayPal friends and family option or bank transfer. If you’re local to Swindon we might even be able to deliver.

We have four A5 spiral notebooks, they have a glossy soft cover and 150 pages of 90gsm lined paper, in two designs. The first design is an altered image of Edith New’s WSPU portrait, it has a smashed glass effect as Edith New and Mary Leigh were the first suffragettes to smash windows as a form of protest, a tactic later adopted by the WSPU. The second design is an altered image taken from a photograph of Edith New on her release from Holloway for the aforementioned window smashing incident. £7 each (this includes second class postage).


We have a number of notecards, these are 14x11cm, blank inside and come with a white envelope. They feature three glossy images of Edith New. The same two as the notebooks above and an altered image taken from a newspaper photo of Edith New being arrested after chaining herself to railings outside Downing Street. The text reads ‘well-behaved women seldom make history’. Three cards, one of each design, £3.50 (this includes second class postage).


We have limited numbers of various designs of our small button badges, any three cost £3.50 (including second class postage) or buy three cards and three badges for £5 (including second class postage).


All items were exclusively designed and made for the Swindon Suffragette Festival Women’s Art and Craft Sale, in order to celebrate and remember Edith’s contribution. Money raised has gone towards supporting the free activities and events we organise.

Our sellers…part two

We know you’re looking forward to the first of our Swindon Suffragette Festival events – the Women’s Art and Craft Sale – so we thought we’d share some information about our sellers. Here is part two, in alphabetical order:

Skyblue Blankets

Colour inspiration for my first blanket, made for my granddaughter, came from Lower Shaw Farm where we would visit the Wednesday Cafe and feed the animals and sit on the big red tractor. Since then I have been inspired by sunsets, country walks and the Walled Garden at Lydiard House. Larger blankets fit a single bed while the baby blankets are buggy size. All blankets are made from Acrylic/Nylon or Acrylic yarn, machine washable at 30 degrees.



Stitches for Titches

I have been crafting in some shape or form since I was young and Stitches For Titches has developed from that love of all things crafty and a need of an income following redundancy. Mostly I make items of children’s clothing, using natural fibres wherever possible. However, following an enquiry from an online customer last Christmas, I am also moving into making memory or remembrance items with materials supplied from the customer, either in the form of fabrics from favourite items of clothing (a great way of utilising all those outgrown baby clothes) or by transferring photographic images onto fabric which can then be incorporated into a patchwork quilt or cushion, for example. I currently have a stall on the first Saturday of each month at Cirencester’s Craft Market, as well as attending other local craft sales and sell online. I am also happy to take on other sewing commissions.



Rebecca Sturgeon

I have always made artwork and successfully studied art at university, yet only now in my mid 30’s am I gaining the confidence to share my artwork in the public sphere. At the moment most of my work is textile based. I am enthusiastic about recycling and making use of reclaimed materials in my work; in recent years I have made numerous quilts from old clothes and offcuts of fabric which would otherwise have been thrown away. I am interested in different cultures and have been fortunate to meet people from various places, and have the chance to visit and get to know some other parts of the world. This provides me with unending inspiration plus opportunities to forage for materials! I am interested in learning about traditional societies through my artwork. At the moment I am particularly interested in exploring ideas about matrilineal heritage, including my own and that of my daughter. I am also keen on using words in my work. I’m interested in language in general, and I enjoy using other alphabets in my work as I find they can be beautiful and evocative.

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Swindon Suffragette

Dipping our toe into selling some small cards, badges, magnets and notebooks all proudly bearing Edith New’s image. Money raised goes back into supporting our current and future events which are all free to attend.



Tikara’s Trinkets

I create handmade, individual pieces, using a range of materials and textile processes. Handmade dreamcatchers, created with crocheted doilies, coloured wools and glass beads- a perfect gift for any occasion. Quirky, twisted wire, and bead jewellery, for people who like to stand out from the crowd! Miniature, framed, cross stitches, inspired by superheroes and unicorns! Can also be made to order, with a name and design of choice. I enjoy combining traditional and contemporary textile processes, to create beautiful, one-off, items, for both the home and person.



Marilyn Trew

I have been crafting for about 3 years; I enjoy recycling items for resale. People like my hand painted wooden fairy doors and fairies. My art is important to me as an outlet now I am retired. I mostly paint nature and local scenes and find it relaxing. I also enjoy helping other artists with Swindon Art Venues. Running two art groups at Stratton and Old Town keeps me busy!

Ruth Wintle

I sew and craft small one-off toys, bags and purses. I enjoy making earrings and necklaces; I also paint and decoupage crafts. Exhibiting my paintings and live painting is very enjoyable too. I aspire to improve my painting and drawing skills and will be exhibiting my work in September during the Swindon Open Studios.



Witchy Crafty

I have been producing art and crochet items for many years now so many in fact that I need to sell some. If my items prove to be popular then I will look into selling more.
I’ve lived in Swindon and the Swindon area for over 30 years now. I have three children and am a reasonably active feminist.


Churchyard Walk – 2pm – 10th June

Militant suffragette Edith New could trace her family history in Swindon back to the 18th century. She was the first, in fact the only woman in her family to leave a lasting legacy.

But of course, this is a simplification of women’s lives throughout history. While Edith made headline news, without the lives of all those other women standing behind her she might never have found the courage to fight for female suffrage.

It was the experience of those women whose names might only appear in parish registers and on birth, marriage and death certificates; those women whose status and occupation are recorded as someone’s wife or daughter on Victorian census returns. It was those women who inspired Edith to fight for the cause.

What was life like for women in 19th century Swindon? Find out during a free guided churchyard walk at Christ Church on Sunday June 10th at 2 pm – part of the Swindon Suffragette Festival.

Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon – Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality by Frances Bevan will be published by Pen and Sword towards the end of 2018.


Our sellers…part one

We know you’re looking forward to the first of our Swindon Suffragette Festival events on 10th June – the Women’s Art and Craft Sale – so we thought we’d share some information about our sellers. Here is part one, in alphabetical order:

Artkore Mosaics

I have been making mosaics for around 15 years, mainly working on larger pieces but I also like making smaller quirky items to sell at craft fairs. I enjoy making themed teapots which I can also personalise for people. I belong to an arts charity organisation Artsite where I rent my studio (in the Shoebox theatre building).



Carter Collectables

We produce our own exclusive range of retro-themed decoupage craft items. These include small items of furniture, bowls, pictures, sculptures, etc. Each one is handmade and therefore unique. Everything we make is lovingly crafted using 100% genuine and original items such as comics, stamps, maps, sheet music, games etc. We also have a range of children’s classic books.



Heartfelt by Lorraine

Since 2013 I have been using my love of craft work to make and sell beautiful, inexpensive crafts to raise funds for Angel’s Orphanage, Nepal. Every penny raised goes to this very worthy cause.

Image may contain: hat, shoes and indoor


Illustrated Women in History

Julie Gough is a local illustrator. Her Illustrated Women in History project began in 2015 after the news broke of a Jack the Ripper museum in London which was due to open. The museum had been granted permission to open in order to celebrate women in history, and to have changed this to celebrate someone who brutally murdered women instead was outrageous. It made her think about how much she actually knew about women in history, and apart from a few names she knew very little. So she decided that it was important to learn about some of the women that have contributed to, and shaped our history and celebrate their achievements by illustrating them.

illustratedwomeninhistory: “Edith New was an English suffragette. She was one of the first to smash windows in an attempt to bring attention to women’s suffrage. New had been an assistant mistress at Queenstown Infant School from 1899-1901 before...



I have 15+ years experience in crochet and knitting and a few in sewing. I’ll be selling crocheted baby blankets and clothes along with small bags and other fabric goods, a lot of them in the suffragette colours of purple, white and green.



Old Town Belles WI

The Old Town Belles formed in 2012 as The Swindon WI and we celebrated our fifth birthday last year with a name change that better reflects who we are and our place in the town. The Women’s Institute has an emphasis on education for women and our meetings reflect this with a range of interesting talks as well as workshops that enable our members to try new skills or use an existing talent to teach the rest of the group. Last year we held our first Cream Tea and Craft Display to give our members the opportunity to showcase their wide range of crafting talents to the wider community. The items on our stall have all been handmade by our members and represent a range of crafts.




I am a Romanian-Canadian writer, poet and zine-maker living in Bristol. I write poetry and make zines with themes around feminism, body positivity, mental health and self care through the lens of identity and personhood.

Why a ‘Women’s Art and Craft Sale’?

Taken from an article by Anne Sebba – see here for the full article

In 1909 the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) held ‘The Women’s Exhibition’. An event open to both sexes, calculated to show men that suffragettes were not the dangerous ‘shrieking sisterhood’ but their wives, mothers and sisters, safely interested in the same pursuits they always had been. Women dedicated to creating beautiful things not destroying them. The exhibition raised about £5,000, generated enormous publicity and brought in hundreds of new members.

The exhibition was held in the now defunct Prince’s Ice Skating Rink in Knightsbridge, London. From May 13 to 26, the entire building was decorated in purple white and green and banners ‘so that no one could mistake who was in possession of the building’. Among the 50 or so stalls there were those selling farm produce, beautifully decorated confectionary or exquisite millinery. There was an art stall where female artists could be commissioned to paint or sketch portraits, a book stall with autographed books, a palmistry tent and several regional stalls specialising in local delicacies. There were four stalls supplying badges, ribbons and scarves in suffragette colours – white for purity, purple for dignity and green for hope.

Although deeply conventional at one level, the event was also groundbreaking. Visitors were offered a ballot sheet and asked to cast their vote on a particular issue of the day in a mock polling booth. Each day, the proceedings were formally opened by a different woman, eminent in her field yet denied the right to vote. On the first day, this was Garrett Anderson, Mayor of Aldeburgh and the first female mayor in the country. Another day it was Hertha Ayrton, the only woman member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. Most shocking of all, was the exact replica prison cell, designed to show the public the difference between male political offenders given ‘first division’ treatment and relatively luxurious cells, and the tiny, unpleasant ‘second division’ cells allocated to suffragettes treated as common criminals.

As Emmeline Pankhurst, WSPU leader, wrote, ‘This Exhibition is intended to help the most wonderful movement the world has ever seen. A movement to set free that half of the human race that has always been in bondage, to give women the power to work out their own salvation – political, social and industrial.’

137917Our first Swindon Suffragette Festival event honours this 1909 Women’s Exhibition in spirit. We have invited local artists and crafters, small businesses and independent traders, to sell their beautiful products in a celebration of women’s achievements. The event is on a much smaller scale, with free entry to all, and we will be sharing information on our stall about Edith New and her work as an organiser for the WSPU.

We hope you will come along to support our sellers and to remember the women in whose footsteps they follow. The women who paved the way for the start for equality, by campaigning for votes for women. We’ll hope to see you on the 10th June at Christ Church Community Centre.

Swindon Suffragette Craft Sale poster revised