Henry Fawcett and Millicent Garrett Fawcett, campaigners for female suffrage
By Kate Elms
It might seem strange on International Women’s Day to focus on a married couple, Millicent Garrett Fawcett and her husband Henry Fawcett. It’s certainly true that Millicent’s achievements and legacy speak for themselves – she was an early and active campaigner for female suffrage and for higher education for women, and the Fawcett Society, founded in 1866 to fight for gender equality, is named after her. But Henry Fawcett, Brighton’s Liberal MP from 1865 to 1874, was equally committed to the idea of votes for women and encouraged Millicent in both her campaigning and her writing. Theirs appears to have been an equal partnership, which seems worth celebrating.
Millicent Garrett was born in 1847 in Suffolk into a large family in which freedom of speech and political debate was encouraged. At the age of 12, she was sent to boarding school in London, where her elder sister Elizabeth was studying, and it was there, in 1865, that she first heard the radical MP John Stuart Mill speak on women’s rights. Mill was one of the first men to argue against the subordination of women and, in 1866, presented a petition to Parliament on behalf of Elizabeth and a group of women known as the Kensington Society, demanding the right to vote. The petition failed, but it had gained a significant number of signatures as well as the support of certain MPs, suggesting that some men agreed with them. Henry Fawcett was one of these men.
Born in Salisbury in 1833, Fawcett was educated at Cambridge and initially planned a career in law. He was blinded in a shooting accident at the age of 25, but pursued his studies, becoming Professor of Political Economy in 1863. Two years later, he was elected MP for Brighton. A man with profoundly liberal views, he joined Mill and other radical members of parliament in campaigning for equal rights for women, which brought him into contact with Elizabeth Garrett and her circle.
In 1865, he proposed to Elizabeth but she turned him down, choosing instead to focus on her medical studies (she later became Britain’s first female doctor). Henry then met and fell in love with Millicent, Elizabeth’s younger sister, and the pair were married on 23 April 1867. Their meeting was described in Fawcett’s biography A Beacon for the Blind as, ‘the beginning of a rare understanding between two strangely harmonious and independent natures … their affection rested on a strong foundation of common principles and interests and of the love of freedom and justice.’ The couple had one child, Philippa, who was born in 1868.
Millicent assisted her husband in his work as an MP, while he encouraged her in her career as a writer. In 1870, she wrote Political Economy for Beginners and, in the same year, delivered a lecture at Brighton Town Hall on the ‘electoral disabilities of women’ which was reported at length in the local press. She became a well-known speaker, not just on women’s issues but on political and academic subjects too, at a time when few women expressed their views on public platforms.
Meanwhile, Henry supported Mill’s proposed (but unsuccessful) amendment to the 1867 Reform Act, which would give women the same political rights as men, and campaigned for equal access to further education and employment. In 1872, he and Millicent co-produced Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects, and the couple had their portrait painted by Ford Madox Brown; the finished artwork was bequeathed to the National Portrait Gallery in 1911.
Henry Fawcett remained MP for Brighton until 1874, after which he represented Hackney. He was appointed Postmaster General by Gladstone in 1880, and in this role he continued to champion women’s rights, extending their employment opportunities and, after taking advice from his sister-in-law Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, appointing women doctors to care for them. He died in 1884 at the age of 51.
Millicent was only 37 at the time of her husband’s sudden and premature death, and within a short time, she was back at work campaigning for women’s suffrage, among many other things. She became leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, the main Suffragist organisation in the country, with far more members than the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union. Committed to a pragmatic, law-abiding approach, she distanced herself from the more violent campaigning inspired by Suffragettes such as the Pankhursts in the early years of the 20th century, but she acknowledged the impact their actions had on the overall movement, and is said to have commended the bravery of the women who faced imprisonment.
Millicent died in 1929 and until the end of her life she fought for equal access for women not just to the right to vote, but also to education, employment and divorce. Fittingly, she was present in the gallery of the House of Lords to see the Equal Franchise Act passed in 1928, more than 60 years after her first involvement in the struggle, one of the few women involved from the beginning to end.
Brill’s Baths – health, leisure and Victorian splendour
24 January 2017
By Kate Elms
One of the joys of working in an archive is the perpetual sense of discovery – however detailed the catalogue entry for a particular item, there’s always potential for a wonderful surprise. Recently, while looking through some 19th-century building plans to promote our forthcoming talk on Victorian and Edwardian Brighton, archive assistant Drew Boulton spotted some beautiful architectural drawings of Brill’s Baths, designed in the 1860s by Sir George Gilbert Scott.
The popularity of sea bathing was key to Brighton’s growth in the 18th century, and indoor baths evolved initially as a way of enjoying the health benefits of sea water without having to brave the elements. They became increasingly luxurious and leisure-oriented and, by the 1860s, some offered communal swimming as well as a range of personal, therapeutic baths.
Charles Brill was not born locally but inherited his first premises in Brighton from his uncle, Mr Lamprell, in the 1840s. Brill’s business expanded and, by 1861, he was living in Clarendon Mansions on the seafront, with his wife, five children and eight members of staff. One of these was Ellen Ragless, a 19-year-old swimming mistress from Bognor. Her presence is explained by the fact that soon after, Brill opened an elegant Swimming Bath for Ladies in East Street. Patronised by royalty (the Duchess of Cambridge attended the official unveiling), these baths were filled with a continuous stream of fresh sea water that was warmed to summer temperatures even on the coldest days. According to a contemporary guide book, this enabled bathers ‘to enjoy the luxury and healthy recreation of swimming throughout the year.’
Brill’s next project – the baths designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott – was built between 1865 and 1869 on an even grander scale. Gilbert Scott himself is remembered for prominent public buildings such as the Albert Memorial and the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station, both of which showcase his love of medieval architecture and the Gothic Revival style. He’s said to have designed more than 800 buildings nationally, and assisted with the restoration of many more but, as far as we know, there are no other baths bearing his name. The drawings shown here were submitted to the Brighton borough surveyor’s office on 16 August 1865 and, by today’s standards, they’re remarkable both for their simplicity and their artistry.
The centrepiece of the scheme, the circular Gentlemen’s bath, measured 65 feet (nearly 20 metres) in diameter, making it the largest in Europe at the time. Sea water – 80,000 gallons of it – was piped from Hove, where it was reputed to be purer than Brighton, and beneath the domed roof, there was a balcony seating up to 400 spectators. Also for non-swimmers, the establishment featured a reading room, billiard room and barber shop. Reporting on the opening in August 1869, the Brighton Gazette was lavish in its praise, stating that, ‘In elegance it rivals the magnificent Thermae of the ancient Romans; in convenience it is unsurpassed by any effort of modern times.’
The entire building is said to have cost more than £90,000 and, to make way for it, three public houses were demolished (one of these, the Rising Sun, was thought to be haunted, but that’s another story). And for a time, Brill’s was one of the most fashionable destinations in town. But fashions change and, by the early 20th century, the baths had lost their allure. They were knocked down in 1929, and their demolition was captured by The Argus in a series of photographs held in our archive, shown below. The Art-Deco Savoy Cinema opened on the site the following year.
Science in the Archive: Magnus Volk
2 February 2016
By Kate Elms
Mention the words Brighton and Magnus Volk and, for most people, Volk’s electric railway and his extraordinary ‘Daddy Long Legs’ spring to mind. Volk’s other achievements – and there were many of them – are perhaps less well known. In a series of posts written to coincide with Brighton Science Festival, which runs from 2-28 February, we’re taking a closer look at how science is represented in our archives here at The Keep. This post focuses on how Magnus Volk’s endless curiosity and invention helped bring electric light to Brighton’s public buildings and spaces towards the end of the 19th century.
Brighton claims to have the longest continuous public electricity supply in the world. The first steps were taken in 1881, when Robert Hammond arrived in town. He demonstrated an arc lighting system that seems to have dazzled a group of observers, including members of Brighton Corporation. A brief experimental period followed, during which time local people – or those who could afford it – were able to try out the service, and in February 1882, Hammond set up his eponymous Electric Light Company.
Meanwhile, Magnus Volk was busily experimenting at his home and workshop in Brighton. First, he decided to build an organ. Then he set up a telephone connection linking his house with that of his friend William Jago; he also began to think about installing electric lighting. Volk’s endeavours may or may not have overlapped with Hammond’s, but he was certainly making progress at around the same time. In December 1881, for example, he demonstrated ‘Swan’s Incandescent Electric Lamps’ (alongside electric bells, clocks, fire alarms and a complete telephone exchange) at The Brighton Health Congress and Domestic & Scientific Exhibition, which was held at the Royal Pavilion.
What seems to have happened next is that Hammond’s initiative spurred Brighton Corporation into action and, in 1882, Volk was asked to use the new incandescent lamps to light parts of the Royal Pavilion during a promenade concert and display of electrical appliances. The operation was a success, and on 4 November 1882, the Brighton Gazette reported that, ‘The room…was brilliantly lit by means of the electric current …The light was dispensed from arc and incandescent lamps, there being three varieties of the latter…’
On 5 April the following year, the same newspaper reported that ‘the powers that be’ had engaged Volk to oversee the installation of electric lighting at the Pavilion, starting with an ‘experimental display’ in the Banqueting and Music Rooms. 216 lamps were required to light the Banqueting Room – 96 for the central chandelier and 30 for each of the side lights – and the effect was described as, ‘a light of great purity, strength and softness’. It was also considerably safer than gas lighting.
Electric lighting was adopted by Brighton and Hove Councils in 1890 and 1891 respectively, and during the 1890s, arc lighting was used to illuminate the seafront and other main arteries. When the Palace (Brighton) Pier was opened in 1899, it’s said that it was lit from end to end with more than 3,000 lightbulbs. The rest, as they say, is history. It’s difficult to imagine a town such as Brighton without its landmark buildings lit up at night, but in the late 19th century this new technology – and the skill and tenacity of men such as Magnus Volk – enabled people to see their home town quite literally in a new light.
Look out for more science-inspired posts later in the month.
The Keep News: Brighton West Pier plan joins its brothers and sisters at The Keep
On Saturday 6 October 1866, Brighton’s West Pier was opened to the public for the first time. Designed by Eugenius Birch, it was a classic Victorian structure that was described by one observer as ‘a kind of butterfly upon the ocean to carry visitors upon its wings’. The opening ceremony, to which 1,200 guests were invited and a further 1,675 paid one shilling to attend, was followed by a celebratory dinner at the Royal Pavilion and a grand display of fireworks. Once the official proceedings were over, the two Promenade Tolls were thrown open to the general public and, according to the Brighton Gazette, more than 5,000 people paid the admission charge of fourpence for the privilege of ‘walking on water’ on that opening day.
The Keep holds many fascinating resources relating to the West Pier, ranging from postcards, photographs, books and pamphlets, to programmes from its theatre and concert hall. There is also a collection of plans, including Birch’s initial designs dating from 1863. East Sussex Record Office has recently acquired a further plan and elevation showing the proposed widening of the pier, dated 4 February 1891 and signed by R W Peregrine Birch, thought to be Eugenius’ nephew. The plan is currently in conservation but will soon join its brothers and sisters, which are catalogued under DB/D/15: Engineer and Surveyor’s Department: Beach and groynes plans.