Woking Remembers

Woking Remembers is a year long programme of cultural activities to commemorate two significant national centenaries in 2018.

In 2018 we mark 100 years since Armistice Day ended the horrors of WWI and also celebrate 100 years of British Women's right to vote.

We remember prolific suffragette Dame Ethel Smyth, proud Woking resident and talented composer, who fought side by side with iconic women’s rights activists; including Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Wilding Davidson, to win the vote for Women. Her composition, March of the Women resounded through the streets of London as over 50,000 women sang it whilst they marched in protest through Hyde Park.

Dame Ethel was at her most creative and politically active whilst she was resident in the Borough. You can read more about her below.

We also pay homage to the 700 soldiers from Woking who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Great War, and look back at Woking's contribution to the war effort.

 For more information on exploring Surrey's past visit the Surrey Heritage site.

Blue plaque unveiling

On Saturday 22 September, a blue plaque was unveiled outside Dame Ethel Smyth's former Woking residence, Brettanby Cottage.


Ethel Smyth in 1908 (Lewis Orchard Collection, Surrey History Centre)

Dame Ethel Smyth - Woking's composer and the Great War

Ethel Mary Smyth was born in Marylebone (then Middlesex) on 22 April 1858. She was one of the greatest British composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout her life, Ethel met and came to know important composers notably Brahms, Grieg and latterly Tchaikovsky. She composed many works, including The Boatswain’s Mate, which has been professionally recorded, supported by Woking Borough Council. The recording by Retrospect Opera is available to buy here.

Fête galante will also soon be recorded and you can follow the project's progress at www.retrospectopera.org.uk
Sadly, severe deafness set in during Ethel's later years and she composed very little after 1930. She was awarded Doctorates of Music by both Durham and Oxford Universities and was awarded the DBE in 1922.

When not composing, Dame Ethel was a keen sportswoman and a member of the Woking Golf Club. In addition to golf, tennis and cycling, she was a competent horse rider and an adventurous rock climber and walker. She was also a member of the White Heather ladies’ cricket team around the turn of the century, at that time a rarity.  

She was an energetic and frequent writer on musical matters and women’s rights. She commenced writing her books when still working for the French Army as a radiographer at a hospital at Vichy during WW1, saying that musical composition was impossible under the conditions but writing her memoirs was an acceptable relief.

A well-regarded author, she published no less than ten books in her lifetime. She supported the suffrage cause and for two years was an active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union as a suffragette. She suffered a brief period of imprisonment in Holloway jail for breaking the window of the Colonial Secretary’s London home. Following Emmeline Pankhurst’s release from hunger strike in prison in April 1913, she was sheltered by Ethel at her home in Hook Heath, Woking.

Ethel never married, having rejected an offer from her long-standing friend Henry Brewster. She died at her home on 8 May 1944. She was a proud citizen of Woking and is reported to have stated that “if ever I were to be ennobled, the title I would choose would be Ethel, Duchess of Woking”.

To find out more about Dame Ethel Smyth, click here

The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Surrey

In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst, along with her daughter Christabel, formed the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). From 1903 to 1917, the WSPU was the leading militant organisation campaigning for women’s suffrage in Great Britain. Tactics used included illegal actions such as smashing windows, obstruction, violence, arson, and hunger strike following imprisonment; members became known as suffragettes.

The Woking branch of the National Union of Women’s Franchise Societies (NUWSS) formed in 1910. Woking also had a branch of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which was established by 1911 partly due to the most prominent local campaigner, Ethel Smyth.

In 1913, the NUWSS launched the Woman’s Suffrage Pilgrimage to demonstrate to Parliament how many women wanted the vote. An estimated 50,000 women marched through Hyde Park in London on 26 July. Ethel’s suffragette battle song The March of the Women was sung by suffrage supporters throughout London and elsewhere.

At the outbreak of the First World War some of the suffrage societies suspended militant tactics to focus on the war effort. During 1914-1918, two million women worked in roles traditionally fulfilled by men.

The contribution of women to the war effort became a key factor in obtaining the vote and The Representation of the People Act was passed on 6 February, 1918. However, the Act only awarded the vote to women who were householders or the wives of householders, aged 30 and over.

In November that year The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act was passed allowing women to stand for Parliament, although it was not until 1919 when the first female MP, Lady Nancy Astor, sat in the House of Commons.
After over a decade wait, the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act of 1928 gave women equal voting rights to men, and the voting age was lowered to 21. Fifteen million women became eligible to vote in the general election of May 1929.

For more information about the Suffrage movement in Surrey, click  here.

Woking in the Great War

The impact of the First World War was felt immediately in Surrey. Professional soldiers (“Regulars”) in the Surrey Regiments went into action in the early months of the war. Newspapers from the early war years are full of stories of prosecutions of local people for having unshaded windows and lights on cars and bicycles. The fears were justified as Guildford was bombed, although there were no casualties.

As the war moved into its second year, the mobilisation of troops gathered pace and numerous camps and temporary billets were created across the county. New railway lines and stations were opened, to assist the movement of troops and supplies.

Businesses and organisations began to feel the effect of staff leaving to join the forces. Women were soon being trained to work the land, drive buses and take up positions that had previously been male dominated. Manufacturers such as Manufacturers such as Sopwith in Kingston and Martinsyde in Woking ramped up their efforts to manufacture enough planes for the pilots being taught to fly at Brooklands.

The log books of the Maybury Infants School (now the Maybury Centre) indicate how the war affected them: “a good many attendances being lost this week due to boys being sent out for food”. At the end of the war this small school reported that 480 former pupils had served in the forces, of whom 74 had died.

Many of Surrey’s large homes and estates were put to use as military hospitals, including Clandon Park, Ottershaw Park and West Hall in West Byfleet. The predecessor to Woking Community Hospital, Beechcroft, was busy with casualties from across the world. The Muslim Burial Ground for casualties from the Indian forces was created. The fallen are now buried at Brookwood Cemetery and the burial ground transformed into a Peace Garden with a memorial to the men who once lay there. Men suffering from what came to be known as “Shell Shock” were admitted to local authority run mental hospitals such as Brookwood.

Surrey’s newspapers began to fill with lists of casualties and tell harrowing stories of the effect of the war on individual families. There were also reports of military honours and acts of valour. Major Richard Willis won the Victoria Cross for incredible bravery during the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April in 1915.

There are over 2,000 war memorials in Surrey dedicated to those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Great War, including 28 memorials in Woking to the 700 soldiers who died and some to give thanks for those who returned.

A list of all the war memorials in Woking will be available soon.

For more information about the Great War in Surrey, visit the Exploring Surrey's Past website or Surrey in the Great War.

To read the full fact sheet of the above information, click here.

Retrospect Opera’s recording of The Boatswain’s Mate: http://www.retrospectopera.org.uk/SMYTH/Boatswains_Mate.html