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Archive -> 1888-1895 -> Emmeline Pethick Lawrennce, Extracts from 'My Part in a Changing World'


Emmeline Pethick Lawrennce, Extracts from 'My Part in a Changing World'


Victor Gollancz, London. 1938

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

Chapter I
Emmeline (EP) gives an account of her early life. 1st of 13 children, Sent to boarding school in Devizes. Good relations with parents, but not very happy childhood. ‘Difficult to imagine how restricted were the lives of girls of the leisured middle classes’

Chapter IV
Emmeline joins The West London Mission in Fitzroy Square,

West London Mission, West of Tottenham Court Road, run by Mr and Mrs Price Hughes, who are very affected by ideas of Joseph Mazzini.

Emmeline describes how Mary Neal (MN) is sent to Bournemouth. She has rapid consumption of the lungs (her brother died of it soon after). It was not expected she would return. This was a shock to all at West London Mission, as 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’. Mary’s ‘strong character and her direct and witty talk had subdued the ruffians’.

p.73 Emmeline is to take up Mary’s role with the Girls’ Club. She sets off for Cleveland Hall in Cleveland St alone ‘to meet my fate’. She tires them out with games she played with her younger brothers.
MN then returns to London.
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 was 45 years ago and ‘since then Mary Neal has continued to work and thrive’

Emmeline describes Mary
‘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 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 and Mary’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.”

Emmeline describes relations with girls
Emmeline describes workhouse life and the conditions in which the girls live. Parents are ‘sodden with misery and down trodden’. A girl called Nellie is given plant but brings it back as ‘no light to home for it to grow’. Mary and Emmeline have ‘A give and take friendship with girls.’

Emmeline on Mary’s wit
p.83. ‘My colleague was gifted with a very ready wit which acted like magic in solving a difficult situation.’ An example is 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?’ The boys melted away…

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

Chapter V
Girls Club is a ‘Seed-bed of social developments’

P 86. The Girls Club was a ‘seed-bed of social developments’. Mary and Emmeline were called ‘that element’. They plan to leave the Mission and work out how to live on £80 a year.

Chapter VII
Mary and Emmeline find a flat on the Euston Road
They have a ‘tiny income’ ‘insufficient to support us for very long’. They find a flat in Somerset Terrace overlooking Euston Road next to the ‘malodorous poverty’ and vermin in housing of 1901. They consider how to raise living standards of girls they knew ‘to the same level as our own’.

p.118 ‘rent was 14s 6d a week.’ They put £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. They set up hostel in Littlehampton. ‘We called our beautiful home ‘The Green Lady Hostel’.

Emmeline marries Fred Lawrence in 1901

‘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’.
EPL describes encounter with Cecil Sharp, Clive Carey

Chapter XII

Early days of the London WSPU
‘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 Espérance Guild and Club and Miss Elizabeth Robins, the distinguished writer who in a novel and a play has already championed our cause’.

EPL on MN Folk Dance work
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.

The Espérance Club
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 two 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’.

Public performances
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.

Spread of Folk Revival
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.

Mary Neal and Cecil Sharp
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 Sharp 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 and Clive Carey
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, Mr 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.’

The Influence of Folk Dance Movement
p.137 Emmeline writes of the influence of the folk dance movement upon working girls. Travelling the country, staying with the “County”, their outlook ‘was broadened.’

p. 344, Emmeline refers to dreaming ‘the impossible dream’. This is a phrase Mary Neal also refers to when writing about setting up the Espérance Club.


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