Dame Ethel Smyth
Dame Ethel Smyth was a long-term citizen of Woking. She has an international reputation as a composer, and it is therefore appropriate that our town should be proud of Smyth, and to celebrate her achievements alongside those of other notable people in society who have connections with Woking, such as the author H. G. Wells.
Photo credit: Ethel Smyth in 1908 (Lewis Orchard Collection, Surrey History Centre)
Ethel Mary Smyth was born in Marylebone (within the county of Middlesex at that time) on 22 April 1858, the fourth of the Smyth family’s eight children. She moved to Hook Heath, Woking in 1910, to a newly built house she named ‘Coign’, where she continued to live until her death on 8 May 1944. Dame Ethel Smyth's timeline can be accessed here - as documented by Lewis Orchard.
Smyth was a remarkable woman by any standards. First and foremost a composer, she was also an author, a sportswoman, a vigorous campaigner for the recognition of women’s contribution to the arts, and - for two years (1910 to 1912) - a leading suffragette. She was particularly active in raising awareness of the status of women within the music profession, and her books as well as her voluminous correspondence - most of which were written whilst living in Woking - contain much forthright defence of this subject. She was one of the most famous conductors of the Woking Choral Society. More information about the life of Dame Ethel Smyth can be found here - as documented by historian Lewis Orchard.
2018 marked the centenary of the Great Reform Act, which finally gave some women the vote. Surrey History Centre was successful with a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project called “The March of the Women” which was part of the contribution to the celebrations of the centenary. Surrey played a significant part in the suffrage movement, and Dame Ethel Smyth was a prominent member of the campaign. Read more about it here.
Visitors to Woking
can 'see' Dame Ethel when a larger-than-life statue is erected in the newly developed Dukes Court in the town centre, near Woking railway station.
The quarter-size ‘maquette’ of the composer-come-activist (see right) was created by artist Christine Charlesworth before work began on the real thing.
The artist was excited to have been chosen to create the portrait figure of Dame Ethel Smyth, which depicts the composer enthusiastically conducting passers-by with her baton. Christine said: “I chose local resident Cathy Chappell to be my model for the maquette. She has been a member of local amateur dramatics groups for many years and is of the age and stature that I wished to portray Dame Ethel Smyth, when she was very active and before she lost her hearing.”
Dame Ethel’s statue will join the rich trail of public art that brightens the streets of the town centre, and which includes, most notably, world famous sci-fi author H.G. Wells, cricket heroes Eric and Alex Bedser, and Team GB Paralympian Ade Adepitan MBE.