The curious tale of Emily Wilding Davison’s haunted scarf
PUBLISHED: 08:38 06 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:38 06 February 2018
This story is not rational. It is the story of a strange presence surrounding the scarf of Emily Wilding Davison. It is my story as I experienced it, no one else’s.
The year was 2005.
I had just published my first book on women MPs that September: “Women in Parliament the New Suffragettes”!
It told the story through 83 interviews with women of all parties including Theresa May and Harriet Harman of women’s modern political progress from the 80s 90s and 2000s including the first proper interviews with those much ridiculed 101 Labour women who got elected in 1997 and have now become known as Blair’s Babes.
Mo Mowlam said she didn’t mind the label but others did and still do.
Those 83 interviews over nine months led me and my team of reporters regularly into Westminster.
It is a large estate with over 100 staircases and three miles of corridors and you never know who you will bump into particularly when the division bells are sounding at full pitch and MPs scuttle out of their offices to vote.
It was my good fortune to bump into the fellow feminist campaigner and writer Barbara Gorna whose family had acquired Emily Wilding Davison’s scarf from an auction at Sotheby’s in 1997.
There were just two bidders. Barbara and the Jockey Club and Barbara’s was the highest bid.
She thought ‘Emily’, then resident in a plastic carrier bag under a bed in her house, deserved a proper place in Westminster.
Would I like to see the scarf, she asked?
She also hinted that there was something else I needed to know.
‘Emily’ was troubling her family and she appeared to be causing some minor disturbances in her home.
Nothing specific just a feeling that Emily was not at rest.
Davison had become a martyr to the suffragette cause when she was injured and later died in hospital after being knocked down by the King’s horse at Epsom Derby on 4th June 1913 while trying to pin a scarf round the neck of the horse.
Her funeral procession through London attracted huge crowds and she was subsequently buried in Morpeth, Northumberland.
In interviews, Ms Gorna, a film-maker, writer and political campaigner, has said: “While standing as a Conservative candidate in the 1997 general election I was giving a speech at a Manchester golf club and they told me I couldn’t go into the men’s bar. The same thing happened at the Carlton. I thought this was outrageous. At around the same time, by coincidence, I read an article about Emily Davison which implied she threw herself under the horse in a suicidal act. I didn’t think this sounded right, so did some research of my own.
“I went to the archive’s office, looked at the film clip and thought ‘this woman wasn’t chucking herself anywhere’.
Another coincidence, or maybe fate dropping into my lap, was that the scarf then came up for sale in Sotheby’s. I thought ‘I’m going to have this’, although I was not quite sure what to do with it.”
When later Barbara was giving a speech on the scarf at the Palace of Westminster, the deputy curator Melanie Unwin came up to her and said ‘we should have that here’. She commented: “ ‘It’s the most important relic of women’s history and it’s under your bed in a carrier bag’.”
Barbara offered to loan the scarf for display in Parliament, hence its display, occasionally Barbara retrieves it for special events.
She has travelled with it to Morpeth.
A few weeks later I stopped over at Barbara’s and out came the plastic bag and Emily’s neatly folded scarf.
I am never one to dispute a good story, particularly if it is of a quirky nature.
As a ‘cub’ reporter at the East Anglian Daily Times I had once tried to fry an egg on the bonnet of a car in a summer heat wave.
I was eager to see if I could make Emily happier. As the bells of the nearby Church that Sunday struck 11 in the morning I hung Emily over the outdoor washing line and as she swayed in the wind I gently said “leave now”!
Emily was a church goer and such exorcism I had read sometimes worked.
When the bells stopped I returned Emily and back, neatly folded, she went in her bag under the bed.
Months passed and Barbara’s offer of a loan of Emily and her scarf had been accepted by the authorities at Westminster. About lunchtime that day I rang Barbara and said with my journalist “nose” in place that I sensed Emily might be a bit happier now. “How’s Emily,” I asked”?
Barbara told me she had just handed the scarf over and that she felt as if she had left a child behind.
We joked that we hoped that Emily was at rest; if not maybe there might be a suffragette-inspired fire in Parliament that night.
Emily does indeed seem to be happy in her pride of place in a glass case to the right as you walk through to take your place in the visitors’ public gallery.
There have been no sightings or hauntings of Emily in Westminster yet. I just checked.
She has gained the recognition she deserves.
The only suffragette to die for the cause is peaceful.
Her scarf and plaque in the Broom cupboard where she spent the night illegally during the 1911 Census so that she could record here address as “The House of Commons” appear to provide fitting recognition.
100 years since women gained the vote, Emily would no doubt still be militant feminist campaigner.
I often chat to her in her glass case as I pass by just to ensure she remains there!
One day I do secretly expect the glass to be broken to find Emily the militant campaigner wandering those corridors demanding more deeds not words.
This is my story of Emily and the small part I played in helping her and her scarf to rest, well for the time being at least!