top of page

Remembering Suffragists in Cuckfield

Updated: Mar 8, 2021





Where is the man who has the power or skill

To stem the torrent of a woman’s will?

For if she will she will you may depend on’t,

And if she won't she won't, so there’s end on’t.

What a good thing for the peace of this country it would have been if the Government had recognised the truth of the above lines! In the United Kingdom there are thousands of law-abiding, clearheaded, hard-thinking women who have made up their minds that, as a matter of justice, their sex should be enfranchised, and who mean to adopt every constitutional method to bring about that reform. Scheming, hard words, jeers, abuse will not turn them, and there will be no peace for the law makers until they do their duty by the women.

Why they should be denied the Parliamentary vote is not easy to understand. A woman, properly qualified, has a vote for the Parish Councillor, the District Councillor, the County, or Town, Councillor, why then should she not have a vote for the Member of Parliament for the Division in which she lives?

There are some people holding the idea that only a mere handful of women wish to be enfranchised. That is not true, and to show the country it is not true, the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies have planned a monster demonstration in Hyde Park, London, next Saturday at five o’clock. It will be attended by women from all parts of Great Britain—North, South, East and West and hundreds of them will complete the journey on foot. The pilgrimage is meant to give the public the strongest proof of the earnestness and enthusiasm of Suffragists in a just cause which it is in their power to give. All the women taking part in the pilgrimage are opposed to violence, and hold firmly to the belief that the vote can only be won by peaceful and orderly methods of propaganda —by appeals to reason and not to force.

Yesterday (Monday), at ten o’clock, about 100 Pilgrims started from Brighton, and they had a good send off. Besides Brightonians, there were supporters of the cause from Worthing, Littlehampton and Seaford. They looked very fit - and not a few of them looked very clever too! There were among the Pilgrims ladies holding University degrees, and others noted for their work on behalf of their poor and suffering sisters. Mrs Douglas Miller, of Haywards Heath, walked from Brighton to Burgess Hill with the party, who were headed by that splendid organiser—Miss Merrifield, Hon. Secretary of the Brighton and Hove Women’s Franchise Society.

The Suffragist colours - green, white and scarlet—were freely worn, and everybody appeared in the best of spirits. A banner or two commanded attention, and we noted one lady with a drum and another with a violin. Then there was a van, and what this contained caused opponents to imagine all sorts of uncharitable things.

They may take it from us, however, that there were no bombs carted, or spirits! Several prominent Brightonians assembled to witness the Pilgrims commence their journey and to wish them Godspeed. The first halt was at Patcham, where a Suffrage song was sung. At Clayton Hill luncheon was partaken of, and the keen, fresh air sharpened all appetites A photograph of the party was taken by Mr. Douglas Miller, of Haywards Heath. The weather was just right for the Pilgrims. There was neither sun nor wind, and motorists very considerately slowed down whenever they passed.

At two o’clock Hassocks was reached, and among these who greeted the processionists were Miss Bevan, the Misses Harris, Miss Verrall, Miss Chute Ellis, Mrs. Warren, Mr. T. Meates, J.P., Mr. and Mrs. Canniford, Mr, and Mrs. T Collins, Miss Darby, Mrs. Garrett Jones. Mr. and Mrs. Glover and Mrs. Cowley. The Hon. Mrs. Bertram Russell (a relative of Lord John Russell) smilingly went up to several of the onlookers and offered them the Suffragist journal "The Common Cause,” while other ladies dismounted from their cycles and distributed Suffragist literature.

The march into Burgess Hill was uneventful. Mr. Meates very kindly offered the Pilgrims hospitality at his residence, Hammonds Place, and the cups of tea handed round proved most refreshing. At 3.15 p.m. a move was made to the road and the processionists were got into order. Our attention was directed to a blind lady - Miss Ormerod, of Croydon - and we were informed she had walked up from Brighton, and she said she felt no ill-effects from the march. On the signal being given to start the Pilgrims sang the following song :-

A good heart and a steady mind,

Our purpose clear in view,

And we will show our country now

What women folk can do.

From Land’s End by the blue sea coast

From far beyond the Tweed,

We march that all our countryside

May know the women's need.


And shall they scorn the women's voice

When we for justice cry?

We’re marching in our thousands now

To know the reason why.

Outspake our leaders every one,

A goodly band were they:

"We claim the right to serve our land,

And who shall say us nay ?"

And we have heard our country’s call,

Can we stand idle by?

If still we may not serve, we come

To know the reason why.

What do they fear who hold us back.

Who number half the race?

Do we the needful courage lack

To fill a worthy place

The sex that toils, in home and mill

That shares their smiles and tears.

The sex that graced our country’s throne

For half a hundred years.

From West and East we gather now,

But one in purpose set.

Oh! ye who need the women's vote,

We'll be victorious yet.

Then join the women of our land

And march with us to-day,

Come one and all, a dauntless band,

And who shall say us nay?


They shall not scorn our just demand,

Our freedom still deny;

We’re marching in our thousands now,

And this our reason why.

At Station Road a large crowd gathered, and as the Pilgrims passed by, several women made remarks which did not do credit to their intelligence. Near Barclay’s Bank the onlookers were most numerous and orderly. We noticed the Chief Constable of East Sussex (Major Lang), Mr. Lawson Lewis (the well-known lawyer), the Rev. E. Cresswell Gee (Rector of Twineham), Mr. Watkin James and many other prominent Burgess Hillians. The Eastbourne contingent fell in with the Pilgrims, and when Mr. Meates mounted a cart to address the spectators there was much attention paid him. He spoke as a friend of the movement, and it is to be regretted that the noise of passing motor cars prevented much of what he said reaching the ears of the throng.

He pointed out that the Suffragists were endeavouring to press their cause upon public opinion and the public conscience by no weapon other than that of constitutional agitation. There were some persons —he would say misguided persons—who were advocating precisely the same cause, but forgetting the teachings of science and history that it is necessary to have patience to obtain reforms. (Hear, hear). Many wanted to have reforms in a moment, but one often had to wait years and years and years before the desired reforms made the slightest progress.

However, the Suffragists felt there was profound truth in the assertion that what is morally wrong can never be politically right. (Applause). There could be no doubt that public opinion was becoming accustomed to the idea of women taking an important part in public matters, and he felt convinced that although the intervention of women was having an immense influence in social and economic matters, the power of their influence would only be fully felt through the political vote, and that until the vote was given to women they would not secure that economic freedom they desired. He felt assured that sweated and under paid women would benefit if they could make their influence felt through the Parliamentary vote. (Applause).

The Hon. Mrs. Russell also made a very interesting speech. She referred to the Pilgrims’ good fortune having such pleasant weather and in being so kindly received all along the route. “We have not had a single rotten egg,” she said amid laughter. It was because they feared some such things might greet them that they refrained from putting on their best clothes. (Renewed laughter). It was very kind of Mr. Meates to entertain them to refreshments in his garden (Loud applause)—and they were very grateful for his hospitality. (Hear, hear).

The Pilgrims present were representative women. There were very many who were fully in sympathy with them who were not able to accompany them on the Pilgrimage. Their hearts were with them, however, and they had wished them Godspeed. (Applause). Processions like theirs were walking along all the main roads of the country. The speaker acknowledged the chivalry shewn them the men in connection with the Pilgrimage. The women would much rather have the vote than have to undertake that march to London. (Laughter). As citizens they maintained that as a matter of justice they ought to able to vote for one of the 670 Members of the House of Commons who made the laws of the country. Only when they possessed the vote would women have their wishes respected and their interests taken care of.

The housing question was one of the several questions which concerned women. It was more of woman's question than a man’s question. The man was out earning the living. The house was the home of the woman and children, and the woman knew what was wanted in the home. If they were going to have laws about housing and the home the women of the country ought to be consulted. (Applause).

Women had a point of view that was not necessarily the men’s point of view, and until they had the power of the vote behind them there was little chance of certain evils being eradicated. (Applause). Mrs. Timpany, B.A., made an excellent speech. The members of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, she said, were absolutely non-militant. They did not believe in violence and had never resorted to it. Reforms should not be secured by violent methods.

Proceeding, the lady said the one great object of the Pilgrimage was to correct errors, and next she gave some of the reasons why women wanted the vote. Theirs was a movement primary for human liberty, and human liberty had nothing to do with sex. Women cared about liberty and freedom just as much as men. The way in which men struggled to get franchise rights was recalled. Voteless the workers could not get their wrongs redressed. In time all the barriers of race, religion and class were swept away and all men secured the right to vote.

The only barrier that remained today was that of sex, and to get that barrier done away with was the reason why women were taking to the road. There were many grievances that women wanted to do away with: they wanted to do away with sweated women and with dishonoured women: they wanted to protect women, girls and babies. In the labour market today there were five millions of women, and those women were not toiling because they liked the work they had to do but because their livelihood depended on it.

The Government was responsible for the sweating of many women. If women had the vote the inequality respecting women’s and men’s wages would not exist. Men had done their best certain cases, but the country needed the best of its men and women working together for the good of the people. (Applause).

A resolution was put to the meeting, and carried unanimously, to the effect that that meeting considered it wise and expedient that women should be given the Parliamentary franchise, Mr. Meates thought it a great triumph that no opposition to the resolution was forthcoming. The meeting then broke up, and the Hon. Mrs. RUSSELL. advanced towards Police Superintendent Anscombe, of Haywards Heath, and complimented him on the order maintained and the admirable arrangements he had made in his district for the protection of the Pilgrims.

We may here mention that Superintendent Anscombe had control of the police arrangements right from Clayton Hill to Crawley, and it was the sharp lookout maintained by him and those working under him that mishaps were warded off.

Tea having been partaken of at the Station Road Hall, at the invitation of the Central Sussex Women's Suffrage Society, the Pilgrims at 5.15 formed up once more and made their way to Cuckfield, reaching Tyler’s Green at half-past six. Many Haywards Heath and Cuckfield Suffragists awaited their arrival, including Miss E. Payne, Miss A. Payne, Mrs. and Miss Cleare, Miss Gray, Miss Priestman, Mrs. Gosden, Mrs. Howard, Mrs. Short, Mrs. and Miss Mertens, Mrs. Sims, Miss Scanlan, Miss Spooner, Mrs. W, Stevens, Miss Goldring, Mrs. Durrant, Mrs. Wearn, Miss Keyl and several others with whose names we are not familiar.

The pedestrians did not look at all fagged, neither did they give one the impression that they were glad that they had neared the end of the day’s march. What a wonderful thing is enthusiasm! How it keeps the face bright and the mind alert!

Whatever views the people who turned to see the Pilgrims out of idle curiosity held regarding votes for women, they had to admit that the Suffragists before them were not such bad lot after all. May we not hope that the literature distributed will help them to better understand the women's cause and make them also realize that the Suffragists are not Suffragettes?

When the Pilgrims proceeded into Cuckfield, people flocked to their gates or windows and it was easy to note where the sympathisers dwelt! There is a depth of meaning in a smile; a kindly, good-natured smile even from strangers made the Pilgrims feel they were not in a strange land. The procession was the most imposing one of the day, and it was impossible for anyone stand by the Cuckfield Town Clock and to hear the Pilgrims sing their song and also the National Anthem without being deeply impressed with their earnestness.

The Pilgrims slept the night at Cuckfield, and this (Tuesday) morning they left for Handcross, accompanied by the Central Sussex Contingent. We noticed with them Mrs. C. H. Corbett, Mrs. Martindale, Miss Frank, Mrs. May, Miss Meyer, Miss de Luttichau, Miss Peek, Mrs. Maddock, Mrs. W. Stevens, Mrs. Richardson, Mrs. E. Newnham, Mrs. Etherton, Miss Lund, Miss Chute Ellis, Miss Armitage, Miss Lowndes, Miss Payne, Mrs. and Miss Cleare, Mrs, and Miss Young, the Misses Harris, Miss Verrall, Miss Merrifield, Miss Bennett, Miss C, Woolmer, Miss Howard, Miss Bonavia-Hunt, Miss Spooner, Mias Watney, Mrs. Sims, Miss Scanlan, Mrs. Gosden, Miss Goldring, Mrs. Lee, Mrs. C. Gilbert, Miss Atkinson, Miss Barnard, Mrs. R. Wood and Mrs. F. Deacon. The whole party numbered upwards of 70, and Superintendent Anscombe headed the procession, which started for Handcross at ten o’clock.

Rain was falling, but this fact in no way dampened the ardour of the Pilgrims, and as they disappeared from view an "Anti" was heard to remark: "They may he plucky enough to go through water, but will they go through fire?" To this a male Suffragist replied : "It’s time enough to raise your hat to the devil when you meet him!" —and the crowd laughed. At mid-day on open air meeting was held at Handcross with the Rev. E. CRESSWELL GEE in the chair. The next stage in the journey will be Crawley. On Wednesday the march will be from Crawley to Reigate and Redhill, on Thursday from the latter place to Purley and Croydon, on Friday from Croydon to Vauxhall, and on Saturday Hyde Park will be reached, and the meeting there may be relied upon to be one that will never be forgotten.



bottom of page