Flying the flag in Cuckfield for her sister suffragists

The Great Pilgrimage for Women's Suffrage at Cuckfield in 1913. Picture courtesy of Cuckfield Museum
The Great Pilgrimage for Women's Suffrage at Cuckfield in 1913. Picture courtesy of Cuckfield Museum

Heavy rain beat down on them as they huddled under brollies in Cuckfield High Street but hundreds of women defied the weather to march on London for the vote.

Among those who marched from Brighton to Hyde Park in July 1913 was Edith Bevan, the youngest daughter of Brighton banker and Cuckfield’s leading citizen Richard Bevan.

Edith Bevan

Edith Bevan

Born into wealth and privilege, she was denied both marriage and career and was expected to devote herself to looking after her parents in their old age.

In 2009, these pictures were published in the Middy alongside an interview with Frances Stenlake, who has written extensively on the Bevan family.

She said: “Edith had every reason to fly the feminist flag and I’d been meaning for ages to find out more about her activity as a local suffragist.

“I knew that she had been at the head of the Cuckfield contingent in the historic Brighton to London ‘Pilgrimage’ of July 1913 and it was an article about the march, published in the Middy, that made me get round to researching the whole story.”

Edith Bevan outside her Horsgate home

Edith Bevan outside her Horsgate home

The march, which took the women on a route through Clayton, Burgess Hill and Cuckfield, happened four weeks after suffragette Emily Davison threw herself under the king’s horse at the Epsom Derby.

The marchers, no-doubt galvanised by her tragic death, were photographed in Cuckfield by Haywards Heath-based photographer Douglas Miller and his pictures of the women, also at Clayton and Burgess Hill, form part of the Middy’s archives.

Frances discovered that the inaugural meeting of the Cuckfield Women’s Suffrage Society was held at the Bevan family home, Horsgate, in the spring of 1909 but, tantalisingly, there is nothing in the Middy archives to suggest how Edith’s father felt about her activities.

Frances said: “Edith organised meetings throughout the area covered by the Middy and in July 1914, before the outbreak of World War One caused the campaign to be discontinued, Edith had Millicent Garrett-Fawcett, President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, speak in Cuckfield’s Queen’s Hall.”

Suffragist Pilgrims at Clayton, July 21 1913, photographed by Douglas Miller. Courtesy of www.sussexpostcards.info

Suffragist Pilgrims at Clayton, July 21 1913, photographed by Douglas Miller. Courtesy of www.sussexpostcards.info

It was quite a coup for the village but Edith had to wait another four years before women over 30 were given the vote in 1918.

Just 12 days after the historic legislation her father, Richard, died.

By then, Edith was nearing her fifties but she was finally free to forge a life of her own.

She settled in East Chiltington where she set up home with two suffragist friends and died in 1952.