Emily Wilding Davison, the accidental martyr of the 1913 Epsom Derby, is arguably the most famous suffragette of them all. And as she is buried in Morpeth it is often assumed that she was a Northumbrian ‘made good’. The truth, though, is not quite as straightforward. So just what exactly were the woman’s North-East credentials?
Firstly, she wasn’t born up here. She barely lived here, either. And we all know how and when she died. So how is it that she is interred in Northumberland’s county town and held so close to our North-Eastern hearts?
Essentially, it’s down to her ancestry. On both her father’s and her mother’s side, Emily is rooted in England’s most northerly county. Her dad, Charles Davison, was 50 when baby Emily was born – a retired merchant who had been born in Alnwick with extensive connections in and around Morpeth. Emily’s mother, Margaret (nee Caisley), was Charles’ second wife and hailed from Longhirst, a little to the north-east of Morpeth – and was a good deal younger, too. Extended family of the couple was (and still is) scattered widely throughout the immediate area. However, shortly before Emily’s birth in 1872, the family had relocated to London – and she entered this world at Blackheath, in the south-east of the capital.
After a childhood and youth spent at a considerable distance from her parents’ homeland, a promising education was cut short on her father’s death in 1893. With funds running short, her mother moved back to the North-East, settling in Longhorsley, to the north-west of Morpeth, and opened a shop. Though Emily never permanently lived in the village or the area thereafter, she would often visit her mother and relatives in the ensuing couple of decades.
In 1906, Emily joined the Women’s Social & Political Union and became ever more involved and embroiled in the suffrage cause. Her repeated imprisonments and episodes of force-feeding often left her in a poor state of health. She would regularly retire to Longhorsley to recuperate … and to deliver the occasional provocative speech on the village green!
Her horrific death at the feet of the King’s horse at Epsom in June 1913 immortalised her name and ensured her everlasting fame. She had left her mother’s home (until recently, the Post Office building in Longhorsley) a few short days before the tragic accident in order to make the trip south. After a funeral procession and memorial service fit for a heroine in London, her coffin was brought north by train, where she was laid to rest – in front of huge crowds – in her father’s family plot in the churchyard of St.Mary the Virgin, Morpeth.