The Cuckfield Women’s Suffrage Society (CWSS) was co-founded by Edith Bevan and held its first meeting in the spring of 1909 at the home that her father built in 1865, Horsgate House, Hanlye Lane. Other founder members included congregationalist Edith Payne, supported by other local congregationalists including the families of lawyer William Stevens, and of artist Fred Miller and his photographer son Douglas, and Charles Clarke, founder and editor of the Mid Sussex Times.
Edith Charlotte Bevan (1869-1952) was born in October 1879 in Cuckfield, youngest daughter of Richard Alexander Bevan (1834-1918). At the time of her birth her father was 35 and Mother Laura Maria (née Polhill) was c37. She was baptised in Cuckfield Church 22 November 1869. One of Edith's four brothers was the Camden Town Group artist Robert Polhill Bevan.
The young Edith began training as a nurse in London but had to return home to Horsgate to look after her ailing mother, and then to stay on as a companion to her widowed father. Her father died on 18 February 1918 days which was just after the enfranchisement of women over 30.
Richard Bevan's influence
Edith's father Brighton born Richard Bevan was a partner in Brighton Union Bank which then merged into what would become Barclays Bank. He served as a Justice of the Peace and was the Treasurer of Brighton College.
For his contributions to both Cuckfield Urban District Council and the Rural Council and more generally a benefactor, churchwarden and contributor to village life he has become known as 'the father of Cuckfield'. One of his most significant legacies was his chairmanship of the committee that directed the building of the Queen's Hall, which was opened in 8 November 1899. Bevan personally donated 25% of the cost.
Richard was very supportive of the cause of women's suffrage, but almost certainly not with the national movement's public disobedience campaign that followed - and maybe it was his influence that helped restrain the Cuckfield suffragists who remained law-abiding throughout. Edith and her father became Vice-Presidents of the Horsham Suffrage Society when this was formed in 1910 sitting under the umbrella of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). They also spawned several other suffragist groups in the area - which was recognised centrally as an example to other areas.
The Cuckfield group adopted the title of 'Central Sussex Women’s Suffrage Society'. Edith organised meetings throughout area which were studiously reported on by the Mid Sussex Times, and ensured other publicity for events such as the Women’s Sweated Industries Exhibition in Haywards Heath in 1912. In July 1914, before the outbreak of war which led to an interruption in active campaigning, Edith persuaded Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, to address the Cuckfield members in the Queen's Hall.
On 21 July 1913, Great Suffrage Pilgrimage organized by the NUWSS, Edith and members of the CWSS joined 50,000 women from all over Britain who converged on Hyde Park, to bring their campaigning nearer to Parliament. The Cuckfield group setting off from home on this historic march joined other local groups marching north and Edith welcomed them to the family home at Horsgate for an overnight break. Their banner was made by Edith's brother Robert’s wife, a Polish painter, Stanislawa de Karlowska.
There is no record of Edith ever having addressed local suffrage meetings herself but her social network enabled her as Organising Secretary to secure influential and titled supporters for the group's projects to raise public awareness of the issue of Votes for Women, and equality in the workplace and at home.
Edith Bevan subsequently moved to East Chiltington (Novington Lane, near Plumpton) to share a house with two suffragist friends. The probate record tells us that she died at Royal Sussex Hospital, Brighton on 9 October 1952, she was a spinster and left £28,817 8s - that's about a million pounds today.
Extended caption to main photograph
Edith Bevan, centre, wearing a hat decorated in NUWSS colours, Horsgate. The photograph was taken by Robert Bevan in 1914 and his wife, Stanislawa, stands at the back of the group while his children sit at the front. Edith is seated between her father and her sister. Source: Frances Stenlake, courtesy of Patrick Baty.
Frances Stenlake is a former curator of Cuckfield Museum and has written several publications including 'Mid Sussex Suffragists', published in 2009 by Unicorn Publishing Group. Researched from Mid Sussex Times archives and other sources this gives a comprehensive overeview of the suffragette activities in and around Cuckfield.
Further materialc ompiled by compiled by Frances Stenlake on Edith can be found at: Mapping women's: https://map.mappingwomenssuffrage.org.uk/items/show/226
Cuckfield Compendium http://cuckfieldcompendium.co.uk/suffragettes/
Edith's life in brief: https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/LVJM-5QG/edith-joyce-bevan-1899-1977
Richard Alexander Bevan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Alexander_Bevan
Ancestry census Cuckfield 1901 https://tinyurl.com/yefk847u
More about the Bevans:
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.