Emma Sproson – by Sara Trayers & Agi Ch

Image Credit Agi Ch & Dave Sproson

Emma sneaked into Moxley Isolation unit via the back doors as she had heard that the patients were not getting the food that the relatives were leaving, this caused an almighty raucous.

Aunt Polly on hearing that Emma was moving to Castle croft (the house is still there but at the time it was 4 houses surrounded by fields) exclaimed that there are Wolves over there, the front door came from Wolverhampton Girls High School.

Emma’s dad was a big drinker at the Bacchus that Emma mentions is the name of the pub. Emma was pregnant with George Herbert when incarcerated, my Dad. 

Dave Sproson

Agi Ch, a specialist fine art photographer from the West Midlands and Sara Trayers Townswomen’s Guilds visited Dave Sproson, Emma Sproson’s grandson in his home in Bridgenorth, West Midlands to look at his memorabilia and talk to him about his Grandmother Emma.

Sara Trayers represents The Townswomen’s Guilds, increasing TG’s membership nationally by opening new, sustainable Guilds, increasing membership of existing Guilds and raising the profile of TG. 

Dave Sproson is Emme Sproson’s Grandson

Thanks to Wolverhampton Archives and Dave Sproson for kind permission to use photographs.

“My Chairman and Gentlemen, I am here to appeal to you against having to serve 30 days in this prison.”

“But you see, Mrs. Sproson”, said the Chairman, “it is the law we have to carry out”.

“But”, I said, “don’t you think the law is very unfair and stupid?”

“Yes”, he said, “but you must use your influence, Mrs. Sproson, to get the law altered”.

“Sir”, I replied, “I was on the steps of the House of Commons, doing all a woman could do to get the law altered, when I was brought here”.

Emma Sproson – Extract Diary

I took the 6.55 a.m. train to Euston, and landed in London with only a few pence in my pocket.  I made my way to Clement’s  Inn, the residence of Mr. and Mrs Pethick Laurence.  A deputation was planned for us to go to the House of Commons the same evening, to protest against the King’ s Speech for not including Votes for Women. Prior to going, we adjourned to the Essex Hall off the Strand, and one of the most beautiful and spirited young women taught us a marching song to the tune of ‘John Brown’s Body:

“We will die for you if that will break your chains,

We will live to battle on and on again,

We will never yield until the wrong is slain, For the Cause goes marching on” 

Emma Sproson – Extract Diary

It’s them Suffragettes, said the bus driver. They come here, upsets the traffic, upsets Parliament , upsets London, they wants to get in Parliament, they wants to get a husband, and if they got a husband, they couldn’t cook a dinner. They couldn’t cook an egg, the policeman went on. I said, ‘I thought they were cultured, educated women?’ Then he got furious. ‘Educated!?’

He said ” If I had my way, l’d tie them back to back and chuck them all in the Thames!

Emma Sproson – Extract Diary

To shorten the long nights which made the long days longer, I would often stand on my wooden stool by the window, from which I could only see the sky and the roofs and chimneys of Holloway, and would read ‘The Narrow Way’ or mostly the Bible, as long as a ray of light enabled me to decipher the words. This, with constant grief through being separated from my family, had a very bad effect on my eyes, and when finally the long vigil ended, and the gates of Holloway prison were opened, I flew out like a captive bird from a cage, a mere shadow of what I was where I went in.

Emma Sproson – Extract Diary

Emma Sproson (13 April 1867 – 22 December 1936), was a suffragette, then a suffragist, socialist, politician and women’s rights activist. Active in the Midlands and from a working-class background, she became Wolverhampton’s first female councillor, gaining the nickname “Red Emma” in the process.

She was ridiculed and abused in the street, imprisoned and suffered violence, but never gave up the fight – indeed, she went on to become the first woman elected to Wolverhampton Borough Council

Image Credit Agi Ch & Dave Sproson

Sproson was born Emily Lloyd on 13 April 1867 in West Bromwich in the West Midlands, England. She was one of seven children of Ann, née Johnson, and her husband, John, a builder of canal boats; he was a heavy drinker, and the family lived in extreme poverty. In the mid-1870s the family moved to Wolverhampton and, at around the same time, Emma began to work part-time, running errands or picking coal off the local tips and slag heaps. In around 1876, at the age of nine, she left home and went into domestic service, although she was able to attend school four days a week. When she was thirteen she obtained a position working in a shop, although she was dismissed after accusing the owner’s brother of making sexual advances towards her. Unemployed, she moved to Lancashire to find work; she taught at a Sunday school and joined a church debating society. Sproson was also a member of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, who refused to pay tax in protest against disenfranchisement; tax resistance was also a policy of the WFL. In May 1911 she was sent to prison for seven days for refusing to pay for a dog licence. She went on hunger strike and was reclassified as a political prisoner. Her dog was shot by the police… [1]

 

It was rather amazing to meet Dave, the grandson of one of the most amazing women that fought for our right to vote and much more. Emma Sproson strikes me as a rebel of her times, but one with principles and power,  able to foresee that things would have to change. I think she had a great understanding that a militant and violent approach would take matters only so far and that the real change could only come from operating with political power, so her victory in local election made her first female councillor in Wolverhampton. I am so pleased and privileged I was able to see all documents, letters and pictures that Dave kept safe in memory of his grandmother. I hope they will inspire future generations to protect and fight for what is right for all of us

Agi Ch

Image Credit Agi Ch & Dave Sproson

In 1906, the Militant Suffrage Movement started at Manchester. Mrs, Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel, both members of the I.L.P suddenly came into the limelight, and my husband, being the local secretary of the I.L.P. at the time, booked Mrs. Pankhurst to speak in Wolverhampton. She stayed at our house in Fordern Road, and I took the chair at the meeting.  She was so impressed with my speech that she urged me to go to London for a demonstration that was then being arranged. I was feeding a young baby at the time and could not consent until the baby could be safely weaned and left with my Mother. The baby was strong and I was weak, so it became essential that he should be weaned and I suckled him for the last time, on Feb 7th. 1907 at 6 am, leaving him and my family in the care of my Mother

Emma Sproson – Extract Diary

I smile when I reflect on one meeting I attended at the Agricultural Hall. At question time, I rose to ask a question. That was enough to cause an uproar, and I heard one local Councillor on the platform say “throw the damned cat out”, and this was one of the men I had helped to get on the Council. That was sufficient to cause others to say “you touch her, if you dare”, and thus we gradually brought it home to Liberals, that they were playing a losing game.

Emma Sproson – Extract Diary

Sources

Photos from Agi Ch & Dave Sproson

Text by Sara Trayers, Townswomens Guild; and Agi Ch

Wolverhampton City Archives

‘The History of Wolverhampton: The City and its People Emma Lloyd Sproson and the Suffragette Movement’

Pin It on Pinterest