Edith Rigby- A”Preston Legend”

Following our previous blog post you may know that three “Preston legends” have given their name to new meeting rooms in the UCLan Students’ Union building. The winners were Edith Rigby, Nick Park and Freddie Flintoff.

You might have heard of them but do you know what have they done for us and why they have been chosen?

In a series of blog posts we will introduce the “Preston legends”, and this week we will begin with Edith Rigby.

Edith Rigby

Edith Rigby was a famous suffragette from Preston. She was born as Edith Rayner on 18th October 1872 in Preston, Lancashire, at 1 Pole Street, near where Preston’s infamous Bus Station is built. She married Dr Charles Rigby and moved to an elegant house at 28 Winckley Square. She was interested in many social issues of the day, and tried to improve the working conditions of many women who worked in the many thriving factories in and around Preston.

However, she is best known for being a suffragette. Women did not have the right to vote at the beginning of the twentieth century, which many women (and men) believed to be unfair and many organisations were formed in this period to support their cause. The term “suffragette” came into to use to describe people who used organised protest to demand the vote for women. One of these organisations was the Preston branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which was founded by Edith in 1907. She worked tirelessly to secure the vote for women by holding meetings at her house and asking people to join the WSPU.

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Blue Plaque dedicated to Edith at 28 Winckley Square, Preston

Many of the methods used by Edith and her sisters were considered to be militant, but many of these today would be considered harmless, for example interrupting a public meeting where Winston Churchill was speaking for example. She also threw black pudding at a local MP in Manchester in 1913, as a ‘black pudding is more derogatory than tomatoes or eggs’!

Over time the Preston movement became more radical, which might explain why she was blamed for tarring and feathering the statue of Lord Derby in Preston’s Miller Park. The son of Lord Derby had opposed granting the vote for women. As an act of protest some women defaced the statue, while Edith did not commit the act she might have helped to plan it.

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Earl of Derby statue at Miller Park

However, some of the acts carried out would be considered extreme even today, for example Edith burned down the bungalow of Lord Leverhulme in 1913, though nobody was hurt. She saw this as a valid form of protest. These acts shows how desperate some suffragettes were to fight for their cause and to secure the vote for women.

Many suffragettes were arrested and imprisoned for their activism, Edith included. She was imprisoned in 1907 for four weeks, one of seven times spent in prison in total. The treatment they received was brutal.

Many suffragettes chose to go on hunger strike during their imprisonment. This was an act of protest to not being held as political prisoners, even though what they had done was with a political reason. The police force fed the suffragettes on hunger strike, which was brutal and damaging to the health of many women. This caused outrage and embarrassed the government.

The government felt it had to do something to end this. To break the will of the suffragettes they introduced the “Cat and Mouse Act”. The name came from the way in which a cat plays with its prey before finishing it. When a suffragette was arrested it was likely that she would go on hunger strike which would weaken her. She would be released in this state, and when she got out she would eat again and get stronger. If she then did another crime then she would be arrested again. And so the circle would start again.

After the outbreak of World War One in 1914, all suffragette activities ceased in order to support the war effort. Edith and her husband moved to a small cottage in Penwortham called Marigold Cottage where she did her best to support the war. She joined the Land Army and started to grow food on her land. Using her produce she gave help when there were food shortages and sold produce on the Preston Market. She was also influenced in new agricultural methods, like those developed by Rudolph Steiner.

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Marigold Cottage in Penwortham, where Edith Rigby lived during the First World War

Edith pursued a wide range of interest in her later life, which ranged from stone circles to translating works from German to English. She died near Llandudno in Wales in 1948.

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Edith (second from left) on LLandudno Pier

After the war, advancements were made for the women’s cause. By 1918, women over thirty who owned land were granted the right to vote and this was extended in 1928 to full suffrage and all women over the age of 21 were able to vote in their first election, often referred to as the ‘flapper election’.

It is fair to say that Edith was a remarkable and unusual woman. It is thanks to women like her that women have the right to vote today. This was achieved with a struggle, and many suffragettes paid a high price for their commitment. It is important to know their stories, as they can continue to inspire us and we hope this determination will be reflected in her meeting room at UCLan Students’ Union.

Picture credits

Edith Rigby, image courtesy of Lancashire Archives via http://friendsoftheharris.tumblr.com/post/89842164634/of-course-she-was-years-ahead-of-her-time

Blue Plaque at 28 Winckley Square, image courtesy of Tony Worrall via https://www.flickr.com/photos/tonyworrall/822009632/

Earl of Derby Statue at Miller Park, Preston, image courtesy of Preston Digital Archive via https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpsmithbarney/5215766134/in/photolist-t5tX39-9VaqRR-vy74h8-Jd5rRE-9VdowA-9Vde5E-5KER5V-HjY1GN-9Vdpvb-8642Mn-9VdiTN-9VazDk-9VavqM-ayDeC6-pwqjaZ-nXhJHv-kdSUSz-deJb6p-8WUayj-7h8awr-7hc8xG-6v35Yx-65Ynqy-7TQd7Q-9VaADP-9VaCnk-GzdjvB-9VdnSY-9Vds4o-FjqCi-9VdeLw-56WpvS-BRrsk-867c61-65GdNk-9Vaw5M-9Vdniu-9VamPi-9Vasf6-9VapWn-9VdkpE-GUxtEM-G698v8-KTByH5-K6KAsc-a8JeLx-9UejTx-7h8coP-7ewLCT-6XvGRR

Marigold Cottage in Penwortham, image courtesy of Heather Crook via https://www.flickr.com/photos/heathercrook/7537406172

Edith Rigby on Llandudno Pier, image courtesy of Paul Swarbrick via https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpsmithbarney/14409

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