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Sylvia Pankhurst - the radical thinker who scandalised Woodford Green - remembered

Sylvia Pankhurst Sylvia Pankhurst

Saturday, January 25, 2014
3:00 PM

A small blue plaque near Woodford Tube station stands as a reminder of one of the area’s most influential residents – Sylvia Pankhurst.

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The suffragette campaignThe suffragette campaign

In the 1920s, Woodford Green was still a rural Essex village – home to the gentry and well-heeled politicians, including future prime ministers.

But the arrival of famous suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, with her anarchist Italian boyfriend, scandalised the area.

The daughter of the founder of the suffragette movement, Emmeline, she had been born into political royalty but pursued her own agenda, sacrificing her family ties in the process.

A century ago, she broke away from the famous Women’s Social & Political Union to set up her own East London Federation of Suffragettes.

Originally run from Bow, Sylvia continued her work when she moved to Woodford Green in 1924.

With Silvio Corio, she went to live in a cottage at 126 High Road, opposite the Horse and Well pub.

Her writing, campaigning with the suffragettes and work to improve working conditions continued unabated.

Sylvia was 45, but the community was scandalised about their life outside wedlock.

Sarah Jackson, is chairman of the East London Suffragette Festival, which is starting this year to celebrate Sylvia’s group.

She said: “She invited everyone into her home at Red Cottage, from refugees fleeing the fascists in Italy to political campaigners. It became a centre of radical thought – more of an HQ than a home.

“I can imagine it was a bit of a shock for the more traditional people.”

Three years after arriving in Woodford Green, their son Richard was born.

But despite the resentment from some neighbours, the couple seemed happy during their 30 years in Woodford Green.

While Sylvia wrote and travelled, Silvio served teas and refreshments at a café, and the couple started radical newspaper The New Times and Ethiopia News.

In a bid to recognise her work and legacy in the area, the Sylvia Pankhurst Trust was formed in Woodford Green in 2007.

A festival was held in her name attended by feminist Germaine Greer as well as Richard Pankhurst, who revisited his old school, Bancroft’s.

The fate of Ethiopia, which was being invaded by Mussolini’s fascist army, became one of Sylvia’s main campaign issues.

A stone sculpture she commissioned in reaction to his air attack on the country in 1932 is all that remains to mark where her cottage stood after it was pulled down for new houses in 1939.

In 1933, the couple moved to a much larger house called West Dene, in Charteris Road.

A blue plaque near their old home at Tamar Square flats commemorates her legacy and the small park opposite the station was renamed Pankhurst Green in her honour.

Silvio died in 1954 and Syliva emigrated to Ethiopia at the invitation of Emperor Haile Selassie, where she died at the age of 78 in 1960.

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