Stella Winifred Newsome, the daughter of George Newsome, "Grocer & Tea Dealer", and his second wife, Caroline Rice Newsome, was born on 28th July 1889 at 3 Museum Terrace, Leicester. (1) Her mother was a supporter of women's suffrage and attended meetings held by the Women Social & Political Union at 14 Bowling Green Street, Leicester. (2)
George Newsome died on 29th April 1909 at the age of 68. At his death, Newsome had effects valued at £2,109. 2s 9d. (3) By this time Newsome was an elementary schoolteacher and became a member of the National Federation of Women Teachers. (4) She also became involved in the campaign for women's suffrage and in 1911 she joined the WSPU. (5)
At a meeting in France in October, 1912, Christabel Pankhurst told Frederick Pethick-Lawrence and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence about the proposed arson campaign. When they objected, Christabel arranged for them to be expelled from the organisation. Emmeline later recalled in her autobiography, My Part in a Changing World (1938): "My husband and I were not prepared to accept this decision as final. We felt that Christabel, who had lived for so many years with us in closest intimacy, could not be party to it. But when we met again to go further into the question… Christabel made it quite clear that she had no further use for us." (6)
As Fern Riddell has pointed out: "From 1912 to 1914, Christabel Pankhurst orchestrated a nationwide bombing and arson campaign the likes of which Britain had never seen before and hasn't experienced since. Hundreds of attacks by either bombs or fire, carried out by women using codenames and aliases, destroyed timber yards, cotton mills, railway stations, MPs' homes, mansions, racecourses, sporting pavilions, churches, glasshouses, even Edinburgh's Royal Observatory. Chemical attacks on postmen, postboxes, golfing greens and even the prime minister - whenever a suffragette could get close enough - left victims with terrible burns and sorely irritated eyes and throats, and destroyed precious correspondence." (7)
According to Sylvia Pankhurst: "When the policy was fully underway, certain officials of the Union were given, as their main work, the task of advising incendiaries, and arranging for the supply of such inflammable material, house-breaking tools and other matters as they might require. Women, most of them very young, toiled through the night across unfamiliar country, carrying heavy cases of petrol and paraffin. Sometimes they failed, sometimes succeeded in setting fire to an untenanted building - all the better if it were the residence of a notability - or a church, or other place of historic interest." (8)
Young Hot Bloods
The WSPU used a secret group called Young Hot Bloods to carry out these acts. No married women were eligible for membership and they had to pledge to "danger duty". (9) The existence of the group remained a closely guarded secret until May 1913, when it was uncovered as a result of a conspiracy trial of eight members of the suffragette leadership, including Flora Drummond, Annie Kenney and Rachel Barrett. (10)
It has been argued that this group included Stella Newsome, Helen Craggs, Olive Hockin, Kitty Marion, Lilian Lenton, Miriam Pratt, Norah Smyth, Clara Giveen, Eileen Casey, Hilda Burkitt, Mary Leigh, Gladys Evans, Olive Wharry, Vera Wentworth, Jessie Kenney, Elsie Howey, Elsie Duval, Mary Phillips, Olive Beamish and Florence Tunks. (11)
According to an interview Stella Newsome gave to The Daily Herald she took part in the WSPU arson campaign including the "burning of pillar-boxes and houses and railway stations." (12) Later she felt guilty that she had never been to prison and suffered hunger-strikes and force-feeding like her comrades. (13)
First World War
The British government declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914. Two days later, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the leader of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies declared that the organization was suspending all political activity until the conflict was over. Fawcett supported the war effort, but she refused to become involved in persuading young men to join the armed forces. The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) took a different view to the war. It was a spent force with very few active members. According to Martin Pugh, the WSPU were aware "that their campaign had been no more successful in winning the vote than that of the non-militants whom they so freely derided". (14)
The WSPU carried out secret negotiations with the government and on the 10th August the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities and help the war effort. Christabel Pankhurst, arrived back in England after living in exile in Paris. She told the press: "I feel that my duty lies in England now, and I have come back. The British citizenship for which we suffragettes have been fighting is now in jeopardy." (15)
After receiving a £2,000 grant from the government, the WSPU organised a demonstration in London. Members carried banners with slogans such as "We Demand the Right to Serve", "For Men Must Fight and Women Must Work" and "Let None Be Kaiser's Cat's Paws". At the meeting, attended by 30,000 people, Emmeline Pankhurst called on trade unions to let women work in those industries traditionally dominated by men. She told the audience: "What would be the good of a vote without a country to vote in!". (16)
Women's Freedom League
Like many members of the Women Social & Political Union she disaproved of its pro-war policy and she resigned from the organisation and in 1916 she joined the United Suffragists. She went on to join the Women's Freedom League, and became secretary to its mid-London branch. Newsome was also an executive member of the Six Point Group, and focused particularly on broadening the educational opportunities of girls. In November 1920 the National Federation of Women Teachers called a demonstration on the issue of equal pay for equal work. "In the run-up to the march, spoke on the issue to London women's organizations." (17)
Stella Newsome continued to live with her mother at 26 West End Lane, Hampstead, Middlesex, until her death on 25th March 1937 at the age of 87. At the time of her death, Stella's mother had effects valued at £2,003. 16s 1d. In 1938 Stella Newsome was living at Apple Trees Cottage, Purser's Lane, Peaslake, Surrey, and when the General Register of England & Wales was compiled on 29th September 1939, Miss Stella Newsome is listed lodging at 55 Edburton Avenue, Brighton, Sussex. By the end of the Second World War, Stella Newsome was back in the family home at 26 West End Lane, Hampstead. (18)
In 1954 Stella Newsome set herself the task of compiling a composite list of all the men and women who went to prison in the battle of the women's vote. At Holloway Prison she had a room to herself while she spent nearly a year going through prison records. It was reported that a "Prisoners' Book has been compiled hand-bound in a gold-embossed green leather, at a cost of £30. There are 1,180 names." (19)
Newsome was appointed as secretary of the Suffragette Fellowship and became its archivist. June Hulbert, the women's editor of The Daily Herald visited her in her bed-sit in Kilburn in May 1957. "This little Victorian bedsitter was the headquarters of the Suffragette Movement. This little Victorian woman who looked like everybody's favourite aunt was its unpaid secretary." Hulbert suggested to Newsome: " There's just nothing left to fight for, is there? She replied: "We're fighting so that women peers can take their seats in the House of Lords. We're fighting to get women into the Church of England Ministry. We're fighting to get equal pay for all women as quickly as possible." (20)
As part of the celebrations marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Women's Freedom League she wrote an account of its history: Women's Freedom League, 1907–1957 (1960). In the pamphlet she praised the role played by Charlotte Despard: "As first President of the League she shirked nothing – the difficulties of finance, of organisation, of propaganda were difficulties to be overcome. At any meeting, indoors or outdoors, large or small, she gave of her best. Many times her goods were seized for non-payment of taxes which she refused to pay on the grounds of 'no taxation without representation.' Three times she was imprisoned for going on a deputation to the House of Commons. She was absolutely fearless, and her courage, both physical and moral, was an inspiration to all." (21)
Stella Newsome, who lived at 26 West End Lane, West Hampstead, was knocked down by a car and taken to St Mary's Hospital, Harrow Road, Paddington, where she died three days later. (22) Newsome was cremated at Golders Green on 24 November. (23) According to the National Probate Calendar, Miss Newsome left effects valued at £228. (24)
(1) The Eastbourne Herald (8th March 1950)
I am not surprised to hear that Miss Ada Flatman has been consulted by Dame Vera Laughton Mathews, who is writing a book on the Suffragette movement from the rank and file points of view, and has been asked to give some of her personal experiences of those stormy days….
This new book, telling of the early struggles of the suffragettes, should enhance her reputation as an author and it is interesting to know that an Eastbourne resident has been called upon to help.
Miss Flatman possesses many treasured souvenirs of the movement, also a letter file including hand-written correspondence from Mrs Pankhurst and Christabel; an autographed volume, "Votes for Women," and invaluable Press cuttings, all of which have been safely guarded by Miss Stella Newsome, honorary secretary of the Fellowship, and will have their place in the museum.
(2) The Northern Whig (14th October 1954)
Tonight members of the Suffragette Fellowship saw for the first time a composite list of all the men and women who went to prison in the battle of the women's vote.
A Prisoners' Book has been compiled hand-bound in a gold-embossed green leather, at a cost of £30. There are 1,180 names.
Mrs Stella Newsome 65-year-old honorary secretary to the fellowship, who did most of the research, has spent nearly a year in gaol going through prison records. At Holloway Prison she had a room to herself.
(3) Bristol Evening Post (2nd February 1955)
Former suffragettes, the woman who fought for the vote, are meeting at Caxton Hall this week to celebrate the 50 th anniversary of the birth of their campaign. It is also 50 years ago that the first suffragettes – Miss Christabel Pankhurst and Miss Annie Kenney – were imprisoned.
Secretary of the rally is Mrs Stella Newsome, who campaigned up to 1914 but did not go to prison – "unfortunately", she says.
(4) June Hulbert, The Daily Herald (30th May 1957)
I chuckled as I clomped up an uncarpeted staircase to a bed-sitter in the dreary district of Kilburn, North-West London. I chuckled because I was going to see a Suffragette.
"Poor old dear," I thought "What on earth is there left for women to fight for?"
I had heard with amusement that the Suffragettes of 1957 have a motto: "We will fight on."
I noticed with exasperation that my hostess – the Suffragettes' secretary, Stella Newsome – was panting a little as we reached the top of the stairs.
I noticed, too, that her slip was showing for a dipping, old-fashioned inch.
This little Victorian bedsitter was the headquarters of the Suffragette Movement. This little Victorian woman who looked like everybody's favourite aunt was its unpaid secretary.
I smiled a tolerant smile and said: "Now, admit it – you've had your day. There's just nothing left to fight for, is there?
Stella Newsome blinked at me through double-barrelled spectacles. She looked sad.
"We're fighting so that women peers can take their seats in the House of Lords," she said. "We're fighting to get women into the Church of England Ministry. We're fighting to get equal pay for all women as quickly as possible."
I stopped smiling.
Stella Newsome paused, then dug out and old case from under the bed and showed me cuttings and pictures and badges and treasures that were half a century old.
I asked Miss Newsome if she had been imprisoned. "No such luck," she said with surprising vigour. Because, she said, when she was creeping about at dead of night with explosives, it was the fashion not to be caught. But she regretted it ever since.
"No," she said sadly. The worst thing I did was burning."
"Burning? Burning what?" I asked with alarm.
"Oh – just pillar-boxes and houses and railway stations," said Stella Newsome in her gentle, old-ladyish way.
Miss Newsome and I drank tea from a Suffragette tea-set that had been designed by Miss Pankhurst herself. We ate currant buns that had been carefully baked by the lady in the bedsitter next door."
When I left, I noticed with regret that Miss Newsome was panting a little as she turned to clomp back up the uncarpeted stairs.
I noticed with affection that her slip was showing for a dipping, old-fashioned inch.
And, now, I wasn't chuckling.
(5) Stella Newsome, Women's Freedom League, 1907–1957 (1960) page 19
Dr Elizabeth Knight trained at the London School of Medicine for Women at the same time as Dr Louise Garrett Anderson. She worked at several hospitals for women and children and was a tower of strength to all her patients.
It was, however, as a stalwart champion of the rights of women that we best remember Dr Knight. She was brought into the WFL in the early days by Dr Lewin and in 1908 served two weeks imprisonment for calling at 10 Downing Street to ask Mr Asquith why he had promised Manhood Suffrage in answer to the demand for votes for women. She took an active part in the Census protests of 1911, was prosecuted on several occasions for refusing to pay taxes as a protest against women's continued disenfranchisement, and was imprisoned on two occasions for these protests.
In 1913 she became Hon. Treasurer of the League and so continued until her death in 1933.
She was, however, much more than Hon. Treasurer, arduous and difficult as that task has often been. Throughout the war, the WFL urged on by Dr Knight, was always first in the field to attack any attempt to re-introduce any provisions of the odious Contagious Diseases Acts. She was untiring in her opposition to the hateful 40D Regulation which involved the compulsory examination of women suspected of having transmitted venereal disease to a member of his Majesty's Forces. Largely through her instigation the League was responsible for getting nearly 150 resolutions passed against it in various parts of the country.
She was an uncompromising fighter for the recognition of an equal moral standard for men and women. She was a strong advocate for women police and urged their inclusion in every police force in the country – their status, promotion and pay to be on equal terms with men.
It was a happy day when she took Mrs Despard to the House of Lords on 2 nd July, 1928, to hear the Royal Assent to the Equal Franchise Act, but she was never under the illusion that franchise meant complete freedom to women.
Those of us who worked with her will always remember her friendship, her loyalty and the staunch support she always gave her fellow members.
(6) Stella Newsome, Women's Freedom League, 1907–1957 (1960) page 18
Among the many well-known women who have served the Women's Freedom League the most outstanding is Mrs Charlotte Despard whose name is known throughout the world.
On the foundation of the League in 1907 she became its first president, and so continued for many years. She was a picturesque and gracious personality with indomitable courage in opposing all injustice and oppression wherever they were shown.
Her happy marriage having terminated with the death of her husband in 1890, she turned to social service. She became a member of the Lambeth Board of Guardians, established a working men's club in Battersea, and a clinic for members and babies. These later developed into the Nine Elms Settlement which did noteworthy work in both wars.
Mrs Despard's struggles for social reform convinced her of the need for women's enfranchisement and she joined the suffrage movement in the early days of this century. In 1906 she was working in the militant movement. Believing firmly that women who were demanding self-government from the State should have self-government in their own organisation she became founder of the Women's Freedom League. As first President of the League she shirked nothing – the difficulties of finance, of organisation, of propaganda were difficulties to be overcome. At any meeting, indoors or outdoors, large or small, she gave of her best.
Many times her goods were seized for non-payment of taxes which she refused to pay on the grounds of "no taxation without representation." Three times she was imprisoned for going on a deputation to the House of Commons. She was absolutely fearless, and her courage, both physical and moral, was an inspiration to all.
When women over 30 obtained the vote, Mrs Despard made up her mind that there must be no cessation of activity until women had full voting rights with men. She was well over 80 when she headed a procession to Hyde Park to make their demands.
In 1919 she stood as Labour candidate for Battersea but, although she polled over 5,000 votes, she failed to secure election to the House of Commons. Soon afterwards she returned to Ireland to live.
She was a great and valiant woman who met the strain and stress of life with refreshing gaiety. She truly loved freedom which she whole-heartedly believed to be the birthright of every human being irrespective of race, creed or sex.
(7) The Marylebone Mercury (21st November 1969)
Eighty-year-old Miss Stella Newsome, of West End Lane, Hampstead, was fatally injured when she was knocked down in Kilburn High Road on November 9.
She was taken to St Mary's Hospital, Harrow Road, Paddington, where she died three days later.
Mr Winifred Bradshaw gave evidence of identification when the inquest was opened at Westminster on Mondays. The hearing was adjourned until November 26.
(8) David Simkin, Family History Research (20th April, 2023)
Stella Winifred Newsome was born in Leicester on 28th July 1889, the only child of George Newsome (1841-1908), a wholesale grocer, and his second wife, Caroline Louisa Rice (1849-1937)
George Newsome, Stella's father, was born in Coventry, Warwickshire, in 1841, the son of Mary Anne and John Newsome, a ribbon warehouseman. As a young man, George was apprenticed to his uncle William Pulley, who ran a grocery business in Coventry. After his apprenticeship, George Newsome set up his own grocery business in Leicester at 80 Belgrave Gate. On 10th November 1869, George Newsome married Sarah Anne Bower (born 1843). In 1879, after less than ten years of marriage, Mrs Sarah Newsome, George's wife, died at the age of 36.
On 14th September 1888, George Newsome, a 47-year-old widower, married Caroline Louisa Rice (born 1849, Leicester), the daughter of Caroline & Reuben Strickland Rice (1823-1881), a "Chemist, Botanist, & Druggist" of Leicester. There is a suggestion that, before her marriage to George Newsome, Caroline Louisa Rice had given birth to an illegitimate child. Alfred Strickland Rice Shaw was born in Uppingham, Rutland, in 1870. Although the birth was registered in Uppingham under the name Alfred Strickland Shaw during the 4th Quarter of 1870, when the 1871 Census was taken, the boy is named as Alfred S. Rice and described by the enumerator as the 4-month-old son of Reuben Strickland Rice, a 48-year-old "Medical Chemist". Reuben Rice's 50-year-old wife is not listed but oddly enough, Caroline L. Rice, his 21-year-old daughter is recorded as Reuben Rice senior's "wife". It appears that this was an attempt to disguise the fact that Caroline Louisa Rice had given birth to a child out of wedlock. When the next census was taken 10 years later in 1881, Caroline Louisa Rice is recorded as the 31-year-old daughter of Reuben Strickland Rice, a 58-year-old "Medical Chemist" and 11-year-old Alfred S. Rice is listed as Reuben Rice's grandson. In 1887, Alfred Strickland Rice died at the age of 17, but his death was registered in the Blaby district of Leicestershire under his birthname of Alfred Strickland Shaw. (Shaw was the maiden surname of Reuben Strickland Rice's wife, Mrs Caroline Rice. Interestingly, when Caroline's mother, Mrs Caroline Rice, died in 1878, at the age 56, her death was also registered in the Blaby district of Leicestershire). Caroline's father, Reuben Strickland Rice senior, died on 2nd May 1881 at the age of 58. In his will, he left effects valued at under £500. Caroline Louisa Rice is named as an executor of her father's will, alongside her younger brother, Reuben Strickland Rice junior. (Reuben Rice junior, a chemist like his father, was to die three years later in a "lunatic asylum" at the age of 33). Caroline's other brother, Jabez Lebbeus Alfred Rice (born 1853) went on to run his own printing business and eventually settled in the United States.
In 1876, George Newsome was listed as a "Grocer & Tea Dealer" at 80 Belgrave Gate and Welford Place, Leicester. The following year, the Post Office Directory for Leicester recorded George Newsome as a "Grocer & Provision Dealer" at No. 1, King Street, Leicester. George Newsome's first wife, Mrs Sarah Newsome died in 1879, aged 36. When the 1881 census was taken, George Newsome, a 40-year-old widower, was residing at No. 3, King Street, Leicester, with his late wife's unmarried younger sister, 22-year-old Clara Bower, serving as his "Housekeeper". Also living at No.3 King Street were two grocer's assistants and one domestic servant.
By the time George Newsome married Caroline Louisa Rice on 14th September 1888, he was describing himself as a "Wholesale Grocer" with business premises at 44 York Street, Leicester. On 28th July 1889, at their home in Leicester, George Newsome's new wife gave birth to a baby daughter, who was named Stella Winifred Newsome. Stella was the only child produced by George Newsome's marriage to Caroline Louisa Rice.
When the 1891 Census was taken, George Newsome and his family were residing at No.3, Museum Terrace, New Walk, Leicester. On the census return, George Newsome is described as a "Wholesale Grocer (Employer)", aged 40. His wife, Mrs Caroline Louisa Newsome, gives her age as "32", when, in fact, she was forty-two years old. In addition to their one-year-old daughter, Stella, the house in Museum Terrace, accommodated two live-in servants - a cook and a 14-year-old girl who was employed as Stella's nurse. Ten years later, George Newsome, his wife Caroline and their daughter were still residing at No.3, Museum Terrace, New Walk, Leicester. Sixty-year-old George Newsome was still working as a "Wholesale Grocer. On the 1901 Census return, his wife Caroline gives her age as "49", three years younger than her actual age.
George Newsome, wholesale grocer of 3 Museum Terrace, New Walk, Leicester, died on 29th April 1909 at the age of 68. At his death, Newsome had effects valued at £2,109. 2s 9d.
When the 1911 Census was carried out, Stella Newsome and her widowed mother were living at 77 Belvoir Drive, Aylestone, Leicester. On the census form, Mrs Caroline L. Newsome declared that she was 50 years old (she was actually 62) and was living on "Private Means". Her daughter, Stella W. Newsome, was 21 years old and was employed as an "Elementary School Teacher" by the local town council. Also living at 77 Belvoir Drive was a single woman named Emma Jane Bedder who had been recruited as a "Mother's Help". Mrs Newsome and her daughter Stella lived at the house in Belvoir Drive for the next few years.
By 1923, Stella Winifred Newsome and her mother, Mrs Caroline Newsome, were living at Flat 8, Victoria Villas, Victoria Road, London, NW6. By 1929, Mrs Caroline Newsome and her daughter Stella had moved to the Hampstead area of London and were residing at 26 West End Lane, West Hampstead, London, NW6.
Mrs Caroline Louisa Newsome of 26 West End Lane, Hampstead, Middlesex, died on 25th March 1937 at the age of 87. Her daughter, Stella Winifred Newsome was named in the will. At the time of her death, Stella's mother had effects valued at £2,003. 16s 1d. It appears that Stella Winifred Newsome inherited the house at 26 West End Lane, Hampstead. During the late 1930s, Stella Newsome was recorded at addresses in the village of Peaslake, near Guildford, Surrey, and Brighton in Sussex, but she seemed to have retained ownership of the house in West End Lane, Hampstead. An electoral register in 1938 places Miss Stella Newsome at Apple Trees Cottage, Purser's Lane, Peaslake, Surrey, and when the General Register of England & Wales was compiled on 29th September 1939, Miss Stella Newsome is listed lodging at 55 Edburton Avenue, Brighton, Sussex, the home of an elderly widow named Mrs Elizabeth White. On the 1939 Register, Stella Newsome is recorded as a 50-year-old single woman, employed as a teacher at an elementary school. By the end of the Second World War, Stella Newsome was back at 26 West End Lane, Hampstead, where she was to remain until the end of her life.
Stella Winifred Newsome of 26 West End Lane, Hampstead, London, NW6, died at St Mary's Hospital, Harrow Road, Paddington on 12th November 1969, after being knocked down by a car on Kilburn High Road. At the time of her death. Stella Newsome was 80 years of age. According to the National Probate Calendar, Miss Newsome left effects valued at £228.