Calderdale Heritage Walks: Walking with Women’s Suffrage

An afternoon walk with Jill Liddington on Sunday 10 June, 2:15pm-4:15pm in the Hebden Bridge area following the footsteps of Lavena Saltonstall to visit the homes of local suffragettes, the clothing factories where they worked and George Square where Emmeline Pankhurst addressed the crowds.

PRE-BOOKING IS ESSENTIAL

It will not be possible to just turn up on the day.

You can book in person, by phone on 01422 368725 or by post to Visitor Centre, Halifax Central Library, HX1 1QG with full payment and a reply paid envelope.

The charge for this walk is £4.50. Cheques payable to ‘Calderdale MBC’.

Lavena Saltonstall is Hebden Bridge’s most celebrated suffragette. With Laura Wilson of Halifax, she become a key figure in early community suffragette campaigns. But while Laura emerges as a strong platform speaker, Lavena does not. Instead, she chose another powerful weapon: her pen – and her letters to the Hebden Bridge Times attacking an anti-suffragist carry a wickedly witty punch.

Lavena was born in 1881 at Rawholme on outskirts of Hebden Bridge (the road to Hardcastle Craggs), a child of the town’s late-Victorian fustian boom. She probably left full-time school shortly after her tenth birthday (1891) to work as a half-timer in one of the many local fustian clothing factories, at a sewing machine making hard-wearing clothes.

Then when she was about 23-years-old (c.1904) Lavena moved away from this small, damp and claustrophobic town down the valley to more cosmopolitan Halifax, joining Laura Wilson’s congenial friendship circles in the local labour movement. There she plunged into controversy over Votes for Women in the Hebden Bridge Times.

Then in March 1907, she went down to Westminster for a Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) suffragette demonstration, was arrested and imprisoned for 14 days; in February 1908, she returned to London, this time for the WSPU’s Women’s Parliament, and was sentenced to 6 weeks. This was a hard price to pay, especially for a working-class woman. Not long after, Lavena began to distance herself from WSPU militancy and to take the longer view on Votes for Women – catching up through the newly-formed WEA with the education she had earlier missed.

In 1917, Lavena married a Bradford soldier and moved to Bradford – where she died in September 1957. She remained one of the least-known local suffragettes, little more than a name – until Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class (2001, 2002) highlighted Lavena’s WEA writings.

Research through the local press confirmed her as a leading suffragette; tracking her birth certificates, census records (eg 1891 Wood Top, 1901 Unity Street) and sibling death certificates confirmed the Lenton family’s many moves around Hebden Bridge, and Lavena’s rootedness in the local community.

Jill Liddington, Rebel Girls: their fight for the vote, Virago Press 2006.

 

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