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With Love From Violet…The Suffragist Connection

Anita talks about her family’s connections with Conway Hall, The Bonham Carters’ and the Suffragist Movement.

Annie Lidstone“I grew up in a household of powerful women. An only child I spent a lot of time with my grandma and grandpa – him an amateur photographer – surrounded by images and albums, often chatting about their memories.

My great-grandparents, Annie and Nicholas Lidstone, were big movers in the South Place Ethical Society. This was (and still is) a non-secular movement of non-conformists who believed, not in religion but the power of humanity. It was concerned with the abolition of slavery and early women’s rights.

In 1929, the SPES moved to Conway Hall and became Conway Hall Ethical Society – to this day functioning as a social community space and upholding the values and mission statement of the humanists. My great-grandfather oversaw the build fundraising. Him and Annie were very involved from the start.

Conway Hall was a social hub for recitals and lectures. It was also for radicals sharing modern ideas, and a gathering place for suffragists and speakers about the subject, about which my family felt passionately. Letters from grandma to grandpa spoke of the gold, green and purple fairs they attended and mixing with campaigners.

In 2008, As I approached my 50th year, influenced by my past, a desire to leave a body of work came upon me and the perfect idea landed overnight. I would ensure that everyone would know about ourmodern trailblazing women, breaking down barriers in the 20th and 21st centuries, just as the suffragists had. And I would launch the collection to celebrate the 100 years that have passed since women getting the vote.

Thus, ‘First Women’ project was born out of my genetic and anecdotal heritage, and the archive of letters, art and photographs I inherited.

One particularly exciting link is a small painting that hangs in my home. Left to me by my grandparents, it is thought that it was gifted to my great grandpa for his efforts in building Conway Hall.

Conway Hall  conway2


The back of the painting reads: ‘with love from Violet’ who research is indicating to be Violet Bonham-Carter, married to Maurice Bonham-Carter, private secretary to the then Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith.

The painting itself is by Sibella Bonham-Carter (1899-2005), related to the actress Helena Bonham Carter, who happens to be playing a lead role in the film Suffragette coming out at the end of 2015!

It’s quite something to think that my ancestors and Helena Bonham-Carter’s ancestors would have socialized, despite the societal differences. A meeting of worlds across the strict barriers of the British class system, all thanks to the leveling nature of the humanist ways championed within the walls of Conway Hall.

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