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The Vote Road Trip: Day 20 Leicester, Knebworth

Leicester Seamstress

Alice Hawkins

8/15 There were two statues to visit in the city center of Leicester, one of the oldest cities in England.  The Leicester Seamtress by James Butler dedicated in 1990 in honor of hosiery makers, an important

industry in Leicester, and A Sister in Freedom,  Alice Hawkins by Sean Hedges-Quinn dedicated in 2018. We found both statues near each other, but drove around and around searching for nearby parking. We finally parked in a hopefully legal spot. Linda stayed with the car and I raced off, again in the rain, forgetting to scan the environment in order to remember my way back. At Hawkins’ statue, a hot dog vendor and I got into a  tug of war over his yellow sign beside the statue. I would move it.  By the time I got in place to take a picture, he had replaced it. (Click on a picture to enlarge it.)

Add on purple shoelaces

back view

Depicted forthrightly speaking, Hawkins is gesturing with one hand and holding a scroll in the other. A “Votes for Women” sash is across her long dress, and a fashionable hat on her head. Striving to project respectability suffragettes typically wore hats, as did British and American suffragists.  I am planning to do a photo essay on the hats worn by women fighting for the vote!

Constance Lytton

Happily I found my way back to Linda. Then we were on to a stop I had been anticipating—the Lytton Mausoleum In Knebworth, the burial place of Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer-Lytton, known as Constance Lytton. Involved in prison reform, she became interested in the WSPU, although she didn’t approve of the militant tactics. But the government’s harsh opposition and police brutality changed her mind: In 1908 she wrote to her aunt—“I go deeper and deeper in my enthusiasm . . .as I understand more and more—not only what they do, but what has been done to them to drive them to their tactics.”

Lytton as Jane Warton

Arrested in 1909 and given a 30 day sentence, she was released after fourteen days. Convinced that she received special treatment because of her family (her brother was a member of Parliament), Constance Lytton disguised herself as Jane Wharton, a London seamstress. She threw a stone to get arrested and imprisoned as Jane Wharton. In the Walton Gaol in Liverpool, she was brutally force fed eight times and smacked in the face by a doctor. Her sister finally tracked her down and she was immediately released. (The incident was covered in American newspapers and I included it in my book The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight.) Constance Lytton spoke and wrote a book Prisons and Prisoners about her experience and helped bring about prison reforms. In 1920, she sent a telegram to the National Woman’s Party celebrating the victory of the American fight for the vote. Never a physically healthy

person she had been greatly weakened by her treatment in prison. In 1923, she died at the age of 54. Lady Constance Lytton was buried in the Lytton Mausoleum near the medieval St. Mary’s Church, on the grounds of the Knebworth House, home of the Lytton family since 1490. Part of her epitaph inscribed on a sidewall of the mausoleum notes that she  “. . . sacrificed her health and talents in helping to bring victory to the cause.”

Open to the public Knebworth House, an elegant English country house, is the site of various events. Its grounds feature gardens, an adventure playground, and a dinosaur park. We arrived late in the afternoon on a cold, rainy day. I explained our purpose and the attendant at the toll booth allowed us to enter without paying.

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