Votes for Women! Local woman who inspired Emmeline Pankhurst

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that women from the North West of England played an immense role in securing votes for women – the Pankhursts of Manchester are synonymous with the fight for women’s suffrage, as are the Kenneys of Saddleworth – but Accringtonians should be particularly proud of a pioneering suffragist even closer to home: Lydia Becker of Altham, who was an inspiration for the Pankhursts and so many other women of her day.

Lydia Becker, the Altham suffragist who inspired the teenage Emmeline Pankhurst

Becker, a noted and home-educated botanist and astronomer, got her own inspirational spark in 1866 from The Enfranchisement of Women, a paper by sister scientist, Barbara Bodichon. Its contents ignited her passion for voting equality and spurred her to start the Manchester Women’s Suffrage Committee, the first of its kind in the country, in 1867.

A few months later, when widowed shopkeeper Lily Maxwell’s name appeared by default on an electoral roll, Becker saw an opportunity for a promotional push. She accompanied Maxwell to the polling booth, where her right to vote was upheld. Becker encouraged other female heads of household to petition for similar rights and was instrumental in bringing their petitions to court.

In 1870, Becker and Jessie Boucherett started the Women’s Suffrage Journal and were soon organising speaking tours of the country. Lydia presented to an audience of 500 at Accrington’s Liberal Club on March 21, 1872. The following year, the club presented a women’s suffrage petition and just a few years later, the Accrington Liberals instructed their representatives to vote for women’s suffrage. (William Haworth, himself a staunch Liberal councillor, was no doubt familiar with his nearby neighbour). It was at an event organised by Becker in 1874, that a 15-year-old Emmeline Pankhurst attended her first gathering in favour of women’s suffrage.

In 1887, Becker was elected President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. In Votes for Women: The Story of  a Struggle, Roger Fulford described Becker thus: “The history of the decades from 1860 to 1890 – so far as women’s suffrage is concerned – is the story of Miss Becker.”

More ardent in her support of votes for unmarried women than some of her fellow suffragists, Becker argued that single and widowed women were in even greater need of the vote than married women of means, who in 1918 became the first in the country to attain it. (On this point, Emmeline Pankhurst was to disagree with her). Becker also used her scientific acumen to campaign for equality in education, arguing that there was no inherent difference in women’s and men’s intellects.

This sometimes led to public ridicule, not least by politicians and the press. Lydia Becker was the subject of numerous cartoons, one showing her being thrown out of parliament wrapped in the Women’s Suffrage Bill.  But her legacy is of course one of pride to those who know her story and indeed there is currently an effort to commemorate her indefatigable efforts by local politicians.

Reformers’ Memorial, Kensal Green, where Lydia Becker rightly rubs shoulders with other Great British reform agents

Lydia Becker died in Aix-les-Bains in 1890, aged 63. Her name is marked on the grave of her father, Hannibal Leigh Becker, in the churchyard of St James, Altham – and, quite rightly, on the face of the Reformers’ Memorial in Kensal Green Cemetery, London, among the great historic figures of British reform and innovation.



Research reveals glimpses of ‘real’ lives of Haworths’ retainers

The Friends’ research is taking us on a fascinating journey into the Haworth’s lovely buildings, but also into the lives of the people who lived and worked here when it was Hollins Hill, a private house owned by William and Anne Haworth. Jean Emmett, who leads this research, has uncovered many personal details about the retainers who worked for the Haworths. Jean reveals some of her findings here.

William Beech, the Haworths’ coachman, hailed from Shropshire. When Beech came to Lancashire, William Haworth converted a small cottage for him in Hollins Lane, Accrington, where he lived while working at Hollins Hill. Slightly surprisingly to modern readers, perhaps, he and  his first wife Mary had 13 children – presumably all under the same roof. Perhaps less surprising then that at the age of 73 Beech was still working for Anne Haworth when she died in 1920.

Joseph Taylor in the Haworths’ Rolls Royce Double Landaulette

The Haworths’ chauffeur, Joseph Taylor, was a Manchester lad. Originally a bicycle maker, and obviously mechanically minded, he became a chauffeur, which, in the early days of the motor car, required real mechanical nous. It was in this capacity that William Haworth sought him out and hired him. Part of this deal was that William bought – and furnished – a house for Taylor on Manchester Road, Accrington. During World War I, Joseph drove an ambulance in Palestine and Egypt. Like Beech, he continued working at Hollins Hill until Anne’s death, after which he bought the ‘Hole-In-Bank Garage’ on Manchester Road, Baxenden. Part of the generation to live through two world wars, he worked in this business until 1944. His son, a well-known local figure, affectionately nick-named Nobby, then took over the business and ran it until the early 1970s. A number of Joseph’s descendants continue to live in the area and have been very helpful to our research.

Abraham Whiston: Groom, Valet, Butler, Curator!

Abraham Naboth Imlah Whiston was born in Cheshire. Originally a horse groom, he  parlayed his skills into grooming two-legged clients and became William Haworth’s valet. He and his wife Minnie had three children. Their first home in the area was also on Manchester Road, then on neighbouring Harcourt Road, though Abraham occasionally stayed at Hollins Hill after social soirées at the house. When William died, Abraham stayed on as butler, but after Anne’s death he became the first curator of the house, which the socially minded Anne bequeathed to the people of Accrington.

Ellen Priestly, housekeeper, nurse and Anne’s companion; a lovely lady, tall and stately.

Ellen Priestly was born in Russia, where her father was working, and was one of 11 children. As a small child she came to Heald (now Weir)  in Lancashire to live with her uncle and aunt and to attend school. She started work as a cotton weaver but became a housekeeper and was hired by the Haworths to nurse William’s and Anne’s elderly parents in their home on Burnley Road. After their deaths, she stayed on as Anne’s companion and travelled with the Haworths to Europe and Egypt.  In 1909 she moved with them to Hollins Hill and stayed on as companion until Anne’s death. Ellen loved music and the arts. She never married and had no children of her own, but had many nieces and nephews. She was described by one of Taylor’s descendants as “a lovely lady, tall and stately,” as her portrait also intimates.

Our research continues to give life to names and faces from over a century ago – an intriguing piece of the area’s social history. If you have any information about the Haworth or any of its occupants, we’d love to hear from you!