Thursday, 21 January 2010


I had to call in to Preston today and parked in the very lovely Winckley Square where I noticed this blue plaque on one of the Georgian houses. Edith Rigby's name was unfamiliar and didn't immediately come to mind when recalling leading lights within the suffragette movement. I remembered learning at school about the Pankhursts and the unfortunate Emily Davison who became a martyr to the cause when throwing herself at the oncoming king's horse during the Epsom Derby. So with an inquisitive mind (or maybe because I'm a nosy sod), I made a mental note to find out a little more about Edith Rigby.

Edith was considered a beauty of her day and had quite a rebellious streak from a young age. She married a local doctor but the marriage was far from conventional. She didn't take on the expected role of a middle-class married woman preferring to striving to improve the working conditions of local mill girls and starting a club to provide educational and leisure activities for the women and girls employed within the mills. Her contemporaries grew increasingly uneasy about Edith's liberal ways when treating her maids as equals and began to shun her. Inevitably, Edith became drawn to the suffrage movement and to the Pankhursts who were becoming more and more prominent in the movement in gaining votes for women. Various imprisonments (and hunger strikes and force-feeding) followed for protest marching, planting a bomb in the Liverpool Corn Exchange and setting fire to Lord Leverhulme's property at Rivington. Obviously an early inspiration for ITV1's Ladette to Lady programme, although I drew a blank on further incidents of Edith's binge drinking and getting her baps out for the lads.

Once votes for women finally became a reality, here comes the good bit, Edith although still happily married and with the consent of her husband, buggers off and buys herself a bungalow to become an organic farmer. The secret to a successful marriage for Mr & Mrs Rigby? live in separate houses. History tells us she later wore men's clothing and cut her hair short whilst tending her parsnips. I think that's a quaint way of hinting that Edith was perhaps on the other bus.

Edith Rigby could have quite easily taken the more expected and comfortable option of a middle-class doctor's wife. She however, bucked convention during a time when women's lives were incredibly restricted in terms of freedom of choice and education. She became one of only a handful of female philanthropists in her attempts to improve the lives of Preston's female mill workers. This was during a time girls were mainly illiterate due to being 'educated' only up to the age of 11 before starting work in the mills.

There's something very appealing about a rebel, someone who's feisty and stands up for their beliefs and if necessary, is willing to go to prison for those beliefs. Because of women like Edith Rigby, I have always trundled off to the election booth despite the fact that the majority of the chinless and spineless wonders don't deserve a duck house on expenses let alone my vote.

History lesson over, back to frivolous stuff about tv and celebs tomorrow I promise...

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