As part of my toothless ‘words not deeds’ campaign to get Stockport’s Suffragette Square renamed Suffragist Square, I will recount a few stories I’ve unearthed from the British Newspaper Archive (BNA) relating to my new heroine Hannah Winbolt. For over thirty years she lived in the same Stockport Street and her name is commemorated on a bench in Stockport. Our Hannah was no suffragette. No indeed. She believed women were equal politically, socially, morally and intellectually with men and she fought her battle on the podium not with stones or bombs…
Unlike so many of her fellow suffragists, Hannah was working class. Daughter of a silk hand-loom weaver, she was a silk weaver herself. She finished her mainstream education (as far as education went in the 1860s) aged 8 to work as a ‘nurse child.’ Now I’ve done a little research on what a ‘nurse child’ entailed and the internet is full of posts suggesting a type of wet nurse but, sceptic that I am, a 9 year old girl would never be expected to wet nurse someone else’s baby. On the front page of the Windsor and Eton Express, Saturday 12 November 1897, is an advert for a ‘child nurse’ specifically requesting a respectable person who has much experience with children, a CHILD TO NURSE, references will be given and required. Hannah was sent to a family to work as a nurse.
By the following year she was a part-timer (half the day in school, half the day working) at a mill until she was eleven and the export of raw cotton was blockaded by the Unionists during the American Civil War. The resulting Lancashire Cotton Famine 1861-1865 was a terrible time for Lancashire and parts of Cheshire. By 15, she was teaching other children to read, eventually joining the Women’s Liberal Federation. Under this umbrella, she promoted female franchise by travelling the country speaking at public meetings under her married name of Mrs John Winbolt. They had married in 1874 and by 1881 the couple were living in Store Street, Great Moor, Stockport, both working in silk manufacturing. Thirty years later, they were still living in the same road in a modest two-up two-down.
Yes, I appreciate this is a pretty dry biography but Hannah was an exceptional lady and never indulged in the terrorist tactics of full blown militant suffragettes of the Women’s Social and Political Union (Mrs Pankhurst’s mob).
No. Hannah believed ‘If a woman is not able to persuade her husband that her side of a question is the right one, she is not worthy to have a husband.’ (Heywood Advertiser 24 March 1893 P4) and introduced her address to the audience of this very meeting with the immortal words ‘Anyone who has come here expecting to listen to a grand grammatical speech has come to the wrong shop.’
Oh my goodness, Hannah, you are my sort of woman!