There are many unsung heroes and heroines of the Suffrage movement and this article tells the unusual story of the Blathwayt family from Batheaston in Somerset.
Linley Blathwayt, a retired British army Colonel, his wife Emily and daughter Mary held progressive political views and were all advocates of women's suffrage. After retiring from the Army, Linley Blathwayt had purchased Eagle house with 4 acres of land just outside Batheaston and it was this that he was to turn into a suffragette garden and place of rest.
But how did this come about? In 1908, the Blathwayt’s daughter Mary became involved in the women’s suffrage campaign. In 1908 Mary agreed to help the local branch of the WSPU and through this became great friends with many of the leading lights of the Suffragette movement including Annie Kenney.
The Blathwayt’s generosity to the ‘cause’ became well known among the suffragettes and Colonel Linley Blathwayt even built a summer-house in the grounds of the estate that was called the "Suffragette Rest". Members of the WSPU who had endured hunger strikes and sometimes forced feeding were invited to stay at Eagle House and recuperate. Colonel Blathwayt decided to create a suffragette arboretum in a field adjacent to the house. The idea was for women to be invited to plant a tree to commemorate their prison sentences and hunger strikes. On 23rd April 1909 Emily Blathwayt recorded in her diary that Annie Kenney, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Lady Constance Lytton all planted trees. Colonel Blathwayt who was a keen photographer took photographs of the women and they were often sold to raise money at WSPU fund-raising events.
Over the next few months many of the well known names in the Suffrage movement came to Eagle House to rest, recuperate and to plant trees. Mrs Pankhurst who visited the house and gained much of the weight lost on hunger strike in prison, had two ponds named after her, known as the Pankhurst Ponds. Emmeline’s daughters, Christabel and Adela also planted trees. Emily Blathwayt wrote in her diary: "Christabel has planted her cedar of Lebanon by the pond; it was raining all the time. There is a wonderful charm about Christabel; she looks sweet and not like her photo. She is quiet and retiring."
The summer of 1913 saw a further escalation of WSPU violence when they began an arson campaign. In July attempts were made by suffragettes to burn down several houses owned by MP’s opposed to Votes for Women including a house being built for David Lloyd George. This was followed by arson attacks on cricket pavilions, racecourse stands and golf clubhouses. In June 1913 a house had been burned down close to Eagle House. Under pressure from her parents, Mary Blathwayt resigned from the WSPU.
However Emily and Mary Blathwayt remained active in the NUWSS. Mary Blathwayt continued to live in Batheaston until her death in 1962. However, sadly the land around Eagle House, was sold for a new housing development and the suffragette garden and the arboretum were destroyed. But we still have Colonel Blathwayt’s photographs to remember this wonderful period of history. To see a full range of Colonel Blathwayt’s photographs – visit the ‘Bath in Time’ website