Wednesday, July 19, 2017

TRIP - a magnificent part of Swindon's rich railway heritage and culture

As Swindon schools prepare to begin the summer holiday at the end of this week, the debate continues about the validity of a long six week break at the end of the school year.

The tradition harks back to our agricultural past when children were required to work in the fields, earning a much needed additional income for their family. Today things are a little different and the long summer break is said by some educationalists to disadvantage children and set back their learning. School holidays are an expensive time to travel but parents potentially face fines for taking their children out of school during term time. Perhaps there is an argument for readjusting how we do things.

While firms such as Honda still shut down for a fixed number of holidays across the year, nothing compares to TRIP when the mighty railway works closed for its annual break.

'Swindon changed its ways and adapted itself to accommodate TRIP, so significant was it for the town's economy and social well being. The council called special meetings, the shopkeepers changed their half day closing, the local paper even closed its offices and did not print an edition on TRIP day, the schools started summer holidays early, local employers adapted their holiday arrangements in keeping with TRIP. The impact on the town was huge', Rosa Matheson writes in her book TRIP - The Annual Holiday of GWR's Swindon Works.

The origin of TRIP began in 1848 when some 500 men, women and children enjoyed a day trip to Oxford where they were escorted on a tour of the colleges and other places of interest by members of the British Association.

By 1892 TRIP had evolved into a nine day unpaid break, beginning on the first Friday in July. By then the number of men employed in the works was about 10,000 and the population of New Swindon was more than 27,000. In that year 18,248 people took off on their annual holiday. The town emptied.

The Works closed on March 26, 1986 bringing the end of an era. 'The Great Western Railway Co., Swindon Works and TRIP are a magnificent part of Swindon's rich railway heritage and culture,' writes Rosa. 'While they are gone, they still live on in the memories of Swindonians, especially in the hearts of ex-Works railway families.'

Rosa's book is a treasure trove of memories and family photographs from another age and is packed full of fascinating facts and figures.

TRIP - The Annual Holiday of GWR's Swindon Works by Rosa Matheson published by Tempus.

Photographs courtesy of William Hooper and Local Studies, Swindon Central Library.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Emmeline Pankhurst

Today marks the anniversary of Emmeline Pankhurst's birthday, although the date is still up for debate. Emmeline always celebrated her birthday on July 14 aligning her arrival with that other revolutionary happening Bastille Day. It is more generally accepted that she was born in Manchester on July 15, 1858, the second of Robert and Jane Goulden's ten children.

Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline's involvement in socialist politics began in the 1890s when she joined the fledgling Independent Labour Park with her husband Richard Pankhurst. Her conviction that the only way women could improve their situation, still very much one of subordination to men across every stratum of society, was to campaign for the parliament vote.

In 1903 the widowed Emmeline and her daughter Christabel founded the Women's Social and Political Union in Manchester and three years later moved their organisation down to headquarters in London.

Mrs Pankhurst under police escort

On May 19, 1906 the first Women's Suffrage Demonstration was held in Trafalgar Square. Among the speakers was Keir Hardie Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil and in the crowd was a Swindon schoolteacher, Edith New.

Edith began her career as a pupil teacher at Queenstown Infants, one of the first schools built in 1880 by the new Swindon School Board.  Following two years spent in London studying for her teacher's certificate, Edith returned to Swindon but in 1901 she took up a teaching post at Calvert Road School in East Greenwich.  When Charles Booth conducted his Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the People of London he identified this area as largely poor where the average income was between 18 and 21 shillings a week.

Edith New

Edith joined the Women' Social and Political Union and in March 1907 she was sentenced to two weeks in Holloway Gaol for attempting to get into the House of Commons. In 1908 Edith left teaching and became a paid organiser for the WSPU. She travelled the length and breadth of the country, organising by-election campaigns and addressing meetings and demonstrations. She served several terms of imprisonment, most famously for breaking windows at 10 Downing Street.

Edith New (right)  and Mary Leigh following their release from Holloway

On July 14, 1913 Emmeline Pankhurst celebrated her 55th birthday during a brief respite from Holloway Gaol. In April she had been sentenced to three years penal servitude for being an accessory before the fact in the attempted burning of a house at Walton Heath. She was released on June 16th under the terms of the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge of Ill Health) Act. More commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act, suffragist prisoners weakened by hunger strikes and forcible feeding, were temporarily released when their health gave prison officials cause for concern. Released on licence, once deemed sufficiently recovered, they were rearrested to continue their sentence.

Both Mrs Pankhurst and Annie Kenney had ignored the terms of their licence and on July 14 they turned up at the London Pavilion for the weekly WSPU meeting. Mrs Pankhurst received a rapturous welcome from the audience, however, the police were also present and ready to arrest the two women.

They turned their attention first to Annie while Emmeline was said to have walked through the crowd and out into a waiting taxi cab.

Annie Kenney

"A struggle followed, the detectives and uniformed policemen rushing into the mass with their heads down to protect their faces from the possibility of attacks by hatpins, and striking out in all directions," the Times reported the following day. "Detectives attempted to encircle Miss Kenney, but women pressing out from the entrance to the Pavilion rushed to the rescue. Two detectives put their prisoner into a taxicab and took her to Holloway. Standing on the pavement were women with their hair down their backs, their hats off, and clothes torn while the detectives had suffered equally, their coats being in some cases almost torn from their backs and their hats broken in."

Mrs Pankhurst spent the following week in a flat on Great Smith Road, Westminster with a police guard on duty outside. An attempted escape using a 'double' to lure police away from her door failed, but a week later supporters managed to smuggle her out of the flat and into the London Pavilion yet again. A week after her birthday Mrs Pankhurst was rearrested as she attempted to take the stage for the WSPU meeting.

Emmeline Pankhurst's memorial in Brompton Cemetery

Emmeline Pankhurst died on June 14, 1928, just one month before her 70th birthday and shortly after the Representation of the People Act extended the vote to all women over the age of 21. On March 6, 1930 a monument to the suffragist leader was erected in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the House of Parliament and unveiled by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Edith New died on January 2, 1951 in Polperro, Cornwall. Recognition in her home town for her achievements in the Votes for Women Campaign would take another 60 years to be put in place, thanks to an appeal made by Greendown Community School pupils. In 2011 a street on Nightingale Rise, Moredon was named Edith New Close.

Edith was buried with her much loved sister Ellen