“The Privilege of a Citizen”

I spotted on twitter today – with thanks to @ThatLauraKnox and @WomensLibrary – a link to a spoiled 1911 census page displayed on the BBC website (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/31_01_11_census.pdf).

It is not known just how many women refused to fill in the 1911 census schedules, but it is possible that thousands of women joined the ‘No Vote No Census’ boycott. Some simply refused to fill in the form or ensured their husbands or brothers listed only male members of the household; others deliberately slept out in the open on census night so as not to be recorded as resident at a dwelling. The Police were supposed to enumerate everyone who slept in the open, but with so many involved in the boycott, that was nigh on impossible.

The link above got me thinking about a census record I uncovered while researching my own family tree which I found particularly thought provoking. I post about it here for interest’s sake and also in case anybody can tell me more about the individuals concerned.

Ada Jane Bumstead was born in Bramford, a village in Suffolk, in 1880. She was the daughter of Charles Bumstead, a flour miller, and Jane Harvey Fulcher, his wife. Ada was my Great Grandmother Kitty Larter’s second cousin, and we share a couple of common ancestors: John Harvey (1801, Stoke Ash?) and Sarah Blomfield (1796, Brundish) – my 4x Great Grandparents.

In 1911, Ada appears in Colne Engaine, Earl’s Colne, Essex, working as a housemaid. There is nothing unusual about this – thousands and thousands of women up and down the country were in service at the time. What is a little unusual however is the form she appears on, and in particular, the additions made by the head of the household, one Miss Katherine Mina Courtauld.

Miss Courtauld was 54 in 1911 and working as a farmer. 30 years before, the 1881 census shows Katherine at home with her father at ‘Cut Hedge Mansion’. Evidently, Katherine was a lady of some influence and it seems that influence was to grow – some 22 years later, the Kelly’s Directory of Essex for 1933 gives credit to her for both the erection of the Village Hall in 1921 (in memory of her father) and the restoration of the church tower in 1928 (at a cost of £800 – perhaps £24,000 in today’s money according to the National Archives’ currency coverter). On describing the village of Colne Engaine, the Directory also notes:

 “Miss Katherine Mina Courtauld and George F Brown esq. are the principal landowners”.

Although the household schedule has been filled in – unlike so many others which were spoiled – Katherine has used red pen to write at the bottom of the form:

“As a householder and rate payer I deeply resent being denied the privilege of a citizen in the exercise of the Parliamentary franchise”.

Further research finds her mentioned on the online catalogue for the Essex Record Office within the Minutes for the Halstead Literary and Mechanics’ Institute January 1908 to January 1916 (see http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/result_details.asp?DocID=818565).

Katherine’s half sister Dorothy is mentioned first. She is evidently also concerned with politics as the minute books include a refusal of a request from Miss Dorothy Courtauld to display notices regarding the National Service League [a pressure group proposing national service for men between 18 and 30] in January 1911.

Having looked up Dorothy’s 1911 census record I found her own schedule was not spoiled  – perhaps because it was filled in by her father? Or did Dorothy not support Katherine’s views? Dorothy, her father and another sister share eight servants at Cut Hedge.

Later in the minute books, there is an ‘eventual acceptance of a donation by Miss K. M. Courtauld of “The Common Cause”’ in the latter half of 1911. [The Common Cause was a magazine supporting the Policies of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Socieities first published in 1909]. Katherine was evidently not keeping her views to herself!

Dorothy and Katherine’s father, George Courtauld, justice of the peace, was president of the said Institute.

So much about Katherine, but Ada and Katherine were not alone in the house on census night.

Mary Gladstone, also 54 and unmarried, is listed as ‘joint occupier’ on the record and described as living on ‘private means’. The descriptive of ’joint occupier’ itself is a little unusual as the 1911 census instructions included the terms ‘visitor’ or ‘boarder’ only for non family members/staff. Perhaps this was a deliberate attempt to show that the household did not conform to such an old fashioned hierarchical order as the census would normally require. Looking back at previous census transcripts, Mary had been living with Katherine for at least thirty years.

A visitor, Alice Geraldine Cooke, also features on the return. Alice is 43 and describes herself as a ‘Women’s Suffrage Organiser’ connected to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society. I would like to know more about Alice, who was born near Birmingham.

I hope somebody reading this will be able to tell me whether Alice was more commonly known by her middle name. A Geraldine Cooke is noted as providing regular speeches around the West Midlands at around the same time supporting the suffragette movement, and the National Archives holds a circular sent by Geraldine Cooke, a secretary of the NUWSS, on behalf of the Parliamentary War Savings Committee in 1915 (ref M50/7/2/1-16).

Finally, the household is completed by two other domestic servants, Elizabeth Hale (cook) and Alice Wakeling (parlourmaid).

As with so many of my blogs, I can for now only wonder what Ada might have thought about the other members of the household. Did she agree with their views? Did she know much about their political interests? Did she perhaps even get involved? Was she, as an acquaintance suggested, completely overlooked by the other women?

To finish in the realms of the unknown, and almost certainly my own wishful thinking, I cannot help but wonder: In 1920, could her first born son’s name (‘Victor’) relate in any way to the suffrage campaign? 

0 Responses

  1. I don't think I have ever been so jealous of another persons ancestors as I am of yours! Votes for Women and Women's History in general as has always been a interest of mine, and having done a bit of work into my own family history I would have loved to have found a similar story myself. But that doesn't mean I didn't get unbelievably excited when you showed me this census return, even though the return doesn't show what Ada Jane thought about the politics that obviously existed in her home, the possibilities are very intriguing. And that's what looking into your family history is all about, find things out, asking questions and creating stories from the answers you find.

  2. I’m afraid I do not know anything about your ancestor who worked at Knights Farm but it may interest you to know that K. M Courtauld [my great-aunt Min] like her four sisters was a leading suffragette and helped found the Women’s Land Army; at Knights Farm she founded and managed a training college for women who wanted to farm [an occupation normally inherited by the eldest son of farmer or landowner]. Mary Gladstone was her ‘female companion’ for many years.
    Anyone near Colne Engaine, Essex may like to visit the church and see the stained-glass window dedicated to KMC. She is depicted as the prophetess Ruth, holding a sheaf of corn, Boaz her husband is also there, looking a bit effete and limp.
    Compliments, George Courtauld, Knights Farm, Colne Engaine.

    1. Good evening, Sincere apologies for my delay in responding – I have recently had a baby! Thank you for your comment, it is great to know family are still there a century later. In the years since this blog was originally published (it definitely doesn’t seem like seven of them) I had found out about the window from other sources, but it is lovely to hear a little more from a relation. All my very best wishes, Elizabeth.

  3. Alice Geraldine Cooke (the same person as the Geraldine Cooke you are referring to) was educated at Somerville College (1913).

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