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The Dreadnought Suffragette

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Norah Smyth was brought up in Great Barrow, the small Cheshire village where I live. Her father was a wealthy corn merchant originally from Ireland & their home, Barrowmore Hall, destroyed by a stray German bomb in WW2 was one of the county's finest Victorian country houses.  She was an activist for social change and a close friend of (and chauffeur to) the Pankhursts, using most of her £30,000 inheritance from 1911 to fund the activities of Sylvia Pankhurst's East London Federation of the Suffragettes, including the Woman's Dreadnought magazine. She was also a brilliant documentary photographer, artist and carver in stone and wood. The sandstone family grave in the churchyard features her carving skills in a beautiful Celtic cross and inscription. I walk and run regularly in the grounds of her former home, which is a bluebell wood, open to everyone and often think about how a young woman from this place became a (largely unsung) hero of the suffragette movement. The poem grew slowly from those walks. If you search Norah Smyth suffragette you can discover more about this remarkable woman and her work. 


The Dreadnought Suffragette 


Walk with me to Barrowmore

Where keening buzzards fly

And scan the distant glistening shore

Gold beneath the sky


The shimmering waters’ fill and fall

Square church towers west and south

Moss capped, sunlit sandstone walls

The river’s mud brown mouth


See the silt slipped river

Kiss the estuary 

As fields of barley quiver

And ripple like the sea


And high above the gilded land

The red Victorian keep

Where beech and oak and Scots pines stand

And bluebells stir from sleep


In Spring they push through dew lipped leaves

And will for ever more

Hear softly how the morning breathes

For the flowers of Barrowmore


The flowers of Barrowmore 

That hide in winter’s chill

And fill the michorrizal floor

With bowing purple still


On summer days I feel her here

Her steady gaze, ice blue

Who saw the path away from fear

In the shadow of the yew


She lies beneath the sycamore

Bluebell columns rise each year

And honeysuckle tangles

And buttercups appear


Coils carved below a sandstone cross

So no one may forget

The fierceness, beauty, love and loss

Of the dreadnought suffragette

Suffragettephotographywomens rightswomans issuesparliamentary reform

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John Coopey

Wed 18th Oct 2023 11:56

Wonderful, RA.

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Wed 18th Oct 2023 09:59

Wonderful poem, fascinating back story. I'm gonna google that

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Stephen Gospage

Tue 17th Oct 2023 21:45

Thanks, RA. I know Ethel Smyth's music.

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R A Porter

Tue 17th Oct 2023 18:23

Thank you Stephen - I’m ver glad you liked it. She was indeed remarkable. Her sister Una was an evidently talented and radical novelist writing under the pseudonym of Marius Lyle and her Aunt Ethel Smyth was a composer and also a suffragette who reportedly taught Emmeline Pankhurst how to throw stones (!) Quite a family.

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Stephen Gospage

Fri 13th Oct 2023 17:07

An outstanding poem. Thanks for introducing us to this remarkable woman.

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