Julia Varley, Local Suffragette

With the release of the film ‘Suffragette’, I was prompted to have a look at the recent issue by the National Archives of the record series: ‘England, Suffragettes Arrested, 1906-1914’.

This series has been made available on Ancestry.com and includes some covering notes:-

Originally written on index cards, which were often out of order, in 1922 the records were copied into a book. Each record consists of the name of the person arrested, and the date and place of arrest. If a person was arrested more than once, the details of each arrest are documented. In the last half of the book were inserted letters, minutes, reports, and several news articles related to the activities of the suffragists and suffragettes. The value of the index was primarily for day to day office work in the Home Office. However, the clerk notes “should the history of the Suffragette Movement ever …. be written in detail, [it] would be a source of information not otherwise obtainable.”

I decided to look for details relating to Julia Varley, as she was a prominent trade union activist and suffragette who had lived locally in Hay Green Lane, Bournville, Birmingham, and found two entries dating from 1907:-

'England, Suffragettes Arrested, 1906-1914'. National Archives, Kew.

‘England, Suffragettes Arrested, 1906-1914’. National Archives, Kew.

The Unite union has produced a detailed pamphlet of Julia Varley’s life and achievements and this can be found online.

This document confirms that she had joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a militant faction of the Suffrage Movement, and in February 1907 was involved in a raid on the floor of the House of Commons. Refusing to pay a fine for disturbance and obstruction, she was sentenced to 14 days in Holloway prison. She later served a second sentence and was released on April 20 1907.

Subsequently she was invited to Birmingham by Edward Cadbury and George Shann to assist them with their regional organising work and her arrival was announced in the Bournville Works Magazine which, on her death, also recalled ‘she came here in 1909 and chose “a little house in Hay Green Lane, from which she radiated help, advice and encouragement to hundreds who needed it.”’ Her house number was 42 and in 2013 the Birmingham Civic Society mounted a blue plaque upon it in recognition of her tireless campaigning in Birmingham and the Black Country.


Alison Smith

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