Skip to main content

Emily Wilding Davison and the Northumberland connection

JON TAIT, whose great grandmother was called Davison, wonders whether his ancestors had any links with the legendary suffragette

A DISTANT Canadian relative once asked if our family were related to the famous suffragette Emily Wilding Davison.

My third great grandmother was, you see, named Barbara Davison and came from a farm near the small Northumbrian village of Longhorsley that is connected to the celebrated member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), who died of her injuries after walking out in front of the King’s horse Anmer at the 1913 Derby.

Emily’s political activism to secure the vote for women was much more than just that one infamous moment, however; she went on hunger strike seven times, was arrested on at least nine occasions, and famously hid in the Palace of Westminster on the night of the 1911 census.

Emily was also a great organiser and was a chief steward during WSPU marches. Her legacy is continued today in the Unison colours of purple and green — the same as those of the WSPU.

Without going on TV’s Who Do You Think You Are? I couldn’t be sure if Barbara, who lived at Garrett Lee farm with her husband Robert Tait before moving to Rothbury, was related to Emily’s Davisons.

Barbara and Robert’s shift to set up a butcher’s shop in Coquetdale wasn’t a great success and soon after they were living in the Malting Yard in the market town — homes which were later demolished as slum housing.

But Robert’s brother William was a well-known local cattle jobber who lived at nearby East Wingates farm, which was home to the Caisley family, who were almost certainly related to Emily’s mother, Margaret Caisley.

William Tait died of cholera at the farm aged 57 in 1853, when Margaret would have been a child of just five years old. The farmer Edward Caisley stood by his death bed and witnessed the death certificate.

So while I doubt that Emily Wilding Davison is in any way directly connected to my family through blood, I can’t help but wonder if the poverty and disease around about that her mother may have witnessed as a youngster had any influence on her firebrand daughter.

Emily was born down south at Greenwich in 1872, two years after Barbara had passed away. But she remained strongly connected to Northumberland and it was from her mother’s house in Longhorsley that she set off on her fateful journey to Epsom.

She is buried in the grounds of the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Morpeth, where her gravestone is inscribed with the WPSU slogan: “Deeds not words.”

While she didn’t lead the tough rural life of her female relatives, the impact of the stories that she must have heard from her mother, and possibly grandmothers, must have been profound on Emily with her unwavering dedication to equality and social justice.

I’d like to think that my forebears played maybe just a small part in that.


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 11,964
We need:£ 6,036
11 Days remaining
Donate today