HistoricaLeigh: Deeds Not Words

April 30, 2019 by Carole Mulroney

Deeds Not Words - Eva Woodthorpe - Leigh's Suffragette

Eva Woodthorpe was born in 1867 one of the 14 children of Lewis and Jane Woodthorpe.  The females were the dominant gender in the Woodthorpe household – so perhaps this instilled in the 8 girls a sense of their position and status forged in what must have been a pretty lively family.  Eva herself referred to it as having a ‘brooding peace’. 

Eva was, as a young girl, interested in politics.  In 1902 Eva and another woman were summoned for obstructing a footway in Alexandra Street, Southend by wheeling their bicycles on the path.  The ladies were fined 5 shillings each. 

In 1911 census Eva with her mother and sister, Ida, were living at Fanns,  Oakleigh Park Drive in Leigh  (named after the Woodthorpe ancestral home of Fanns Farm, Aveley) .

By 1913 Eva was treasurer of the local campaigning group of the WSPU but with the advent of the Great War the following year the campaign halted and  their energies turned to the war effort.

On 12 May 1915 Eva, in a letter to her niece,  told of an adventure  a few days earlier when her mother had woken her at 2.45am to the sound of two loud explosions.   The alarm hooter went off  and with this came enemy aircraft and the blackout was put in place.  The family threw a few things together and went to their basement for safety. They could hear the sound of the two  zeppelins  which flew directly over their house in Oakleigh Park Drive, having just loosed their bombs on Marine Parade, and she described the bombs hitting houses and dropping through from floor to floor setting them alight.

People were out in the streets and the emergency services  in cars and on bicycles rushed to the scene. The    bombing was over in half an hour leaving one woman in Southend burnt.

Eva’s niece, May Blomefield, later wrote of her  "Of all my aunts, Eva was the most like Mother and the nearest to her in age. Gifted and clever, she was an ardent supporter of Women's Rights in the early years of the century, and a Militant Suffragette proud to have been both injured and imprisoned for her activities in the "Cause". “

It is clear that Eva was well respected  but as a ranking officer in the WSPU her approval rating in some quarters would have been low and militant suffragettes were considered dangerous and a threat to society. 

I can find no records of Eva’s activities after the War but I have no doubt she continued to campaign for the vote for which came in piecemeal in 1918 and was not for all  women over 21 until a decade later.

Eva never married and  after leaving  Leigh and lived in Rayne, near Braintree, until her death in 1946.


This article is by Carole Mulroney of Leigh Lives - www.leighlives.co.uk
To read all of Carole's previous article of the History of our little town, click here 


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