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Archive -> Esther Knowles -> Extracts from Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence's 'My Part in a Changing World' by Lucy Neal and Margaret Dean-Smith

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Extracts from Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence's 'My Part in a Changing World' by Lucy Neal and Margaret Dean-Smith

Taken from combination of notes from Margaret Dean-Smith and Lucy Neal.

NB. Miss Esther Knowles is thanked for typing Margaret Dean-Smith's
'A labour of love'.

Background on: Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence herself

Chapter I:
1st of 13 children (5 died in infancy). Sent to boarding school at 8 in Devizes. Unhappy childhood, not much of mother but good relations with parents.

Toynbee influenced by Hugh Price Hughes. William Morris, John Burns, Keir Hardie all champs of the working classes.

p.70.
Wanted to get in touch with ‘working girls’. Summoned by Price Hughes as ‘the sister’ in charge of girls had fallen ill, so EPL comes up to London.

Chapter IV
Katherine House in Fitzroy Square, West of Tottenham Court Road. Taken up by Elsie Appleby on 1st day. Price Hughes affected by Joseph Mazzini. ‘
Difficult to imagine how restricted were the lives of girls of the leisured middle classes’

p.74 Mary Neal to Bournemouth because she has rapid consumption of the lungs (her brother died of it soon after). It was not expected she would return.
A shock because Mary Neal only one of them ‘who had been able to cope with the factory girls of the district who in those days belonged to the roughest class’. “…they broke club up and gas pipes torn down’. “Her strong character and her direct and witty talk had subdued the ruffians”.

p.73 EP sets off for Cleveland Hall in Cleveland St alone ‘to meet my fate’. Tires them out with games she played with her younger brothers.
MN returns.

P.74 ‘My life is my own…mine to risk, or I choose to throw away’ (MN)
‘If folk had imagined that Mary Neal would go home to Bournemouth to live the life of an invalid..they had reckoned without their host’. This 45 years ago and ‘since then Mary Neal has continued to work and thrive’

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence on Mary Neal
‘Mary Neal was a challenging person who provoked others to violent reactions of like and dislike’. She had a strong sense of humour and a profound aversion from unreality; she had also a sharp tongue. She cared nothing for popularity, and was cautious about admitting any person into her very small circle of intimate friendship. She was was tall and extremely emaciated. Her eyes were a vivid blue, so blue and so alive that they seemed to determine the colour of her personality. Her hair was light brown, with a vigorous natural curliness. Daily life was more interesting when she was present. She brought into the atmosphere the sparkle of a clear, frosty winter day. Meals were not dull if she was at the table; she made unexpected remarks and criticisms. If there was a fantastic side to any subject, however serious, she saw it and delighted in it; and if a spice of malice in her speech gave offence to some people there was no malice in her actions. She was incapable of doing her worst enemy, if she had one, a bad turn.”

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Mary Neal's shared social ideals
p.75 “It was a queer destiny that threw two people together so unlike in temperament as we are and not only threw us together more than 40 years ago, but kept us together for the whole of our life and sees us together still.’

Mary Neal pretends she is incapable of sentiment and ‘says that her heart is nothing but a dried up piece of leather. I never attempted to pretend my heart was like that. Nevertheless we worked together and later lived together in complete harmony, and so far as practical methods of everyday living were in question, we were completely at one. And we had the same ideas about our work. We thought of it not only as an attempt to a happier and more successful life, but also a field of study and an opportunity of working out new ideas which, if they proved successful, would pave the way for greater things. We recognised the fact that almost all national reform had been originated by individuals who had been inspired by imagination and courage to carry out initial experiments, and then, fortified with their practical experience, had entered upon the task of educating public opinion, with the result that eventually their ideas were adopted and put into practical shape on national lines. So far, we shared the purpose which inspired all University settlements. But we went a step further. Both Mary Neal and I accepted quite definitely the gospel of Socialism as it was preached in our day by Keir Hardie in the political field, and by Edward Carpenter as a philosopher and a poet. We were rebels against the system that decreed that those who did the hard and unpleasant work of the world should be shut out from any enjoyment of the wealth which they wrought with their hands…”

"It seemed to us the world was upside down and being young we felt very hot about it, and had perhaps half unconsciously an idea that we and the enlightened people of our day could do something to set it the right way up."

P.76 on Descriptions of work house life. Mother ‘sodden with misery and down trodden’ Nellie brings a plant back as ‘no light to home for it to grow’. A give and take friendship with girls.

p.83. My colleague was gifted with a very ready wit which acted like magic in solving a difficult situation. ‘ example given of shooing off some boys from the window of the club by standing beneath it asking EP ‘which of them do you consider the best-looking?’. Boys melted away…

p.83 Revolutionary idea to take girls away for a week long holiday. A ‘daring suggestion’ in 1892 considered unprecedented.

Chapter V
P 86. Girls Club was a ‘seed-bed of social developments’

P/95 ‘we were called ‘that element’.

P.105 worked out how to live on ‘£80 a year’.

Chapter VII
Mary and I had a tiny income ‘quite insufficient to support us for very long’ Difficulties, Percy Alden was the warden of Canning Town settlement and wanted them to work in association. Found a flat in Somerset Terrace overlooking Euston Road. ‘malodorous poverty’ of 1901. Vermin. How to raise living standards of girls they knew ‘to the same level as our own’.

p.118 ‘rent was 14s 6d a week. £1 each a week into house-keeping box. ‘We revelled in our freedom. We had no committee, only talks and discussions and co-operation’,
p.121. We called our beautiful home ‘The Green Lady Hostel’.

1901 Wedding to Fred Lawrence
"I know that the wedding arrangements that had been made by Mary Neal were a complete success."

'In after years this Club was to become famous for the part it played under the able superindendence of Mary Neal, in the revival of the old English folk songs and Morris dances all over the country'.

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence describes encounter with Cecil Sharp, Clive Carey
p.344 EPL talks of ‘Dream the impossible Dream’.

Chapter XII
There was a National Committee. It consisted of Mrs Pankhurst, the Chairman, myself, the honourable treasurer, Mrs Tuke, the honourable secretary, Christabel Pankhurst and to represent the outside world – Mary Neal of the Esperance Guild and Club and Miss Elizabeth Robins, the distinguished writer who in a novel and a play has already championed our cause’.

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence on Mary Neal Folk Dance work
p.134
After my marriage my colleague Mary Neal embarked on the biggest venture of her life which became her biggest success. This adventure was the revival of the practice of the old English Folk Dances throughout the length and breadth of the country. The treasure of Folk Songs and Folk Dances had been discovered by the distinguished musician, Mr Cecil Sharp, just when it was on the point of being lost to the world for ever. He had published several collections of songs before Miss Neal knew him. She was fascinated by his story of the way he had come into possession of them. Whenever he heard a rumour that an old song was remembered by some ancient villager, he unearthed it by hook or by crook; sometimes by persuasion, sometimes by the help of a pot of beer or by any other inducement that could break down the reluctance of the old fellow to sing to him. As he sang, Mr Cecil Sharp took down the notes and words from the quavering voice. One song for example, he had taken down from an old woman a few days before her death in a workhouse infirmary.
There was something in the rhythm of the folk music that found an eager response in the heart of my colleague. Her immediate impulse was to have the Folk Songs taught to London working girls and with the co-operation of Mr. Herbert MacIlwaine, the novelist, who taught the singing class, they soon became the possession of the Espérance Club. Mr Sharp told Mary Neal that in Oxfordshire some of the traditional Morris Dances were still being practised by a team of old men. She went to the village in which they lived to make their acquaintance to get them to talk to her and to see then dance. The idea then occurred to her that these men should teach the dances to our young folk. Some of them had never left their village before, but in spite of many difficulties one or tow of them were induced to come to London to teach the boys and girls in our Espérance Club. The whole idea caught on with such fervour that we decided to give a public performance and Mr Herbert MacIlwaine gave his valuable assistance. The performance created great interest and many of our friends, and in particular Mr Laurence Housman, urged Miss Neal to extend the knowledge and the practice of the Morris to as wide a public as possible. She was inspired to say “within five years I will have the children of England dancing their traditional dances”.

Daring as this assertion was, in less than five years that dream of hers was fulfilled. All this happened a long time ago. In order to carry out her plan, Miss Neal had the working girls of the Espérance Club taught and trained by over thirty traditional dancers brought to London from different parts of England. Displays were given periodically. Sometimes in the Queen’s Hall, sometimes in a theatre. These displays not only brought in an even wider public, but paid the very considerable expenses connected with the scheme.

Sir George Newman, then on the Board of Education, subsequently made Morris dancing part of the school curriculum and acknowledged that this was due to the work done by Miss Neal.

Thus for five or six years this revival of the Folk Dancing spread throughout the land. It was as though a match had been applied to furze on a parched heath – so did it blaze up throughout the countryside. The staff of our travelling teachers grew from year to year as enthusiasm for the dances increased. Punch gave a full page picture of boys and girls dancing in procession through the village streets led by Mr. Punch himself playing his pipe and drum.

This national organisation was carried on, without a committee and without a special subscription list, as part of the ordinary programme of our Girl’s Club and social settlement. The co-operation of the expert musician who had found this treasure and the practical organiser who was able to make it a possession of the people was for many years a triumphant success.

The very growth and popularity of this movement led in the long run to new development and inevitable change. Mr Cecil Sharp, quite naturally was not wholly satisfied that his discovery should become merely a popular movement to set children and young folk dancing. As a musician he desired to see his work more fully recognised in the musical world, and he wished it to take a place as a new achievement in the realm of national art. This necessitated a new kind of organisation directed by people who held specific qualifications …..unavoidable differences of opinion arose between the two people who for many years had worked harmoniously together. Mr Cecil Shapr regarded the Morris dance primarily as an art; Mary Neal regarded it as the restoration to the masses of the people of their rhythm. It should, she considered, be allowed to develop as a natural expression of joy and delight, as had been the case in Merrie England long ago. There could, of course, be no doubt as to the issue. The control passed into the hands of those who were able to bring it to new levels of acknowledged success, and eventually an influential council was formed and national headquarters established in London. International relations with Folk dances were cultivated, and later international displays on a great scale organised year by year in the Royal Albert Hall and in Hyde Park. Great and successful as the organisation has now become, the story of the first five years cannot be forgotten – those years during which public indifference and inertia were conquered by one who gave unstinted service and devotion to the restoration of the folk rhythm to the actual life of the common people.

Mary Neal was able to carry on for many years with the co-operation of Mr Clive Carey, who is now on of the producers of opera at Sadler’s Wells. While no one had a deeper appreciation of the genius and work of Mr Sharp in collecting and publishing the songs and dances and giving this treasure back to the British people, My Carey recognised also the value of Mary Neal’s inspiration. He produced a season of Dance Displays for her at the Exhibition at Earl’s Court in 1912 with very great success.”

p.137 Notes on the influence of the folk dance movement upon working girls. These had to travel the country, often staying with the “County”, and their outlook was broadened. Quotes letters from Florrie Warren (no named, but described as having accompanied M.N. to U.S.A, and married there.)

Among persons mentioned as part of the County are:
Lord Sandwich’ Lady Muriel Paget; Mrs Herbert Gladstone; also Laurence Housman; Neville Lytton; Rolph Gardner.

Handwritten notes by M-Dean Smith Clive Carey is still alive, 85 Marks Road, W10.
Florrie Warren was her chief teacher – still alive in USA I believe.

Credit: 'My Part in A Changing World' by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (out of print).
 



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