Lydgate meeting catalyst for women’s movement?

A WINDSWEPT field in Lydgate could be the unlikely setting for the birthplace of the suffragette movement.

The discovery predates Springhead-born Annie Kenney’s involvement in the suffrage cause by nearly 100 years.

Helen Leach, the woman behind the claim, and her Grasscroft-based work colleague, Danny Brierley, believe a special plaque of recognition should mark the discovery.
Emmeline Pankhurst is credited with forming the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903.

Danny and Helen at the spot in Lydgate

Two years later daughter, Christabel, and Kenney, then a WSPU activist, were imprisoned for assault and obstruction.

But Helen, a legal officer at Rochdale Council and keen student of the radical reform movement, believes the Lydgate site, adjacent to St Anne’s Church, and opposite the White Hart, occupies a special place in the rise of female emancipation.

Helen’s investigations led her to Passages in the ‘Life of a Radical’ – a book by Middleton born Samuel Bamford (1788-1872) – and subsequent writings of John Livesey, believed to be a Government informer.

The date of the Lydgate gathering was May 4, 1818 – 61 years before Kenney was born.
Bamford suggested women should be given the right to vote in reformers meetings, essentially granting them equal status with their male counterparts.

He wrote: “I, in the course of an address, insisted on the right and the propriety also of females who were present at such assemblages, voting by show of hand, for or against, the resolutions.

“This was a new idea,” said Bamford. “And the women, who attended numerously on that bleak ridge, were mightily pleased with it.

“When the resolution was put, the women held up their hands, amid much laughter, and ever from that time, females voted with the men at the radical meetings.”

Livesey places the meeting “on a piece of waste ground near Lydgate Church in the Parish of Quick.”

Helen, an Oxford University graduate, said: “Everything points to this particular field being the site of the meeting; the meeting being the first recorded one where women were treated equally to men.

“Bamford points to a pub to illustrate some of his points, which is surely the White Hart.

“It was almost another century before women, courtesy of the actions of Annie Kenney, were finally given the vote.

“It is, however, fair to say that the beginnings of female emancipation in the UK originate in a field in Lydgate.”

Danny, Head of Communications at Rochdale Council, added: “We think the meeting is an important, significant and even historical event that should be more widely known about.

“On that basis we are thinking of approaching Oldham Council to ask for a blue plaque with some information about the meeting to be installed in Lydgate.”

*The Lydgate meeting took place against a backdrop of political radicalism caused by chronic unemployment and periods of famine following the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1819, 15 people lost their lives with an estimated 400-700 injured by Cavalry engaged to disperse protestors in Manchester. The incident became known as the Peterloo Massacre.

One Saddleworth resident, dad of four John Brierley, survived in the most bizarre of circumstances… due to his packed lunch!

A report of the time says: “This man’s hat was completely cut through but happening to have some bread and cheese in the crown saved his head. £1 received in relief.”


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