Women’s Suffrage: 100 years after votes victory, meet four women who shaped Islington’s history

PUBLISHED: 11:36 07 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:49 07 February 2018

Tour guide Jen Pedler in Islington this week. Picture: Polly Hancock

Tour guide Jen Pedler in Islington this week. Picture: Polly Hancock


As we mark the 100th anniversary of the first women winning the right to vote, specialist Islington tour guide Jen Pedler tells the Gazette the stories of four key figures from the borough’s history.

Islington tour guide Jen Pedler at the entrance to Owens Field, next to the former gateposts of the almshouses built by Alice Owen. Picture: Polly HancockIslington tour guide Jen Pedler at the entrance to Owens Field, next to the former gateposts of the almshouses built by Alice Owen. Picture: Polly Hancock

Dame Alice Owen

Ever wondered who Owens Field off Goswell Road is named after? It all starts with a cow being milked in the 16th century.

It is named after Dame Alice Owen, who opened a school next to the park in 1613 – the year she died.

Jen explains: “One day, Dame Alice was walking with her maid through the fields in Finsbury. In the 16th century, people would do archery in fields like they play golf today. She bent down to milk a cow, as you do, and while doing this an arrow pierced her hat.

“It was a miraculous escape, and swore that if she ever became wealthy, she would atone for her luck by doing good for the people of Islington. She managed this and the school was there for over 300 years.”

Dame Alice Owen’s School was relocated to Potter’s Bar, Hertfordshire, in 1976. Dame Alice was buried at St Mary’s Church in Upper Street.

'Jiu-Jitsu Suffragette' Edith Garrud. Picture: Islington Local History Centre'Jiu-Jitsu Suffragette' Edith Garrud. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

Edith Garrud

“Edith Garrud is Islington’s own Suffragette,” Jen says.

She lived in Thornhill Square, Barnsbury, and was one of the first professional martial arts teachers in the western world.

Jen continues: “She was the one who knew Jiu-Jitsu. She realised it was great for women to learn to defend themselves because there was lots of violence against suffragettes by the police. She was only 4ft 11ins, but she once threw a 13st policeman over her shoulder.

“In the 2015 film Suffragette [incidentally shot in Myddelton Square], there was a fictitious character called Edith Ellyn. She was a pharmacist and bomb maker played by Helena Bonham Carter, and she said it was Edith Garrud who inspired her acting.

“The character was meant to be called Caroline, but Helena Bonham Carter had it changed to Edith.”

Ms Garrud died in 1971, aged 99. There is an Islington People’s Plaque at her old home in Thornhill Square.

32 Charlton Place, the former home of Caroline Chisholm. Picture: Polly Hancock32 Charlton Place, the former home of Caroline Chisholm. Picture: Polly Hancock

Caroline Chisholm

Caroline Chisholm was known as the “emigrant’s friend”. During her life, in the 19th century, emigration to Australia was common as people sought a better life (and weather) away from the slums of London.

From her home in Charlton Place, off Colebrooke Row, Caroline formed the Family Colonisation Loan Society. It set families on their way with financial help and practical advice, with Caroline having lived in Sydney herself.

“The passage to Australia was obviously quite expensive,” Jen says. “People would be encouraged to save half for the trip, and she would give out loans to pay for the other half. This would be paid back once they were settled in Australia.

“What I find really interesting about Caroline Chisholm is she has largely been forgotten. But back in the 1800s, she was so famous that you could address a letter to “Caroline Chisholm, London” and they would know who to post it to even without the street name.”

She died in 1877, aged 68.

Crystal Hale

“Crystal Hale is important to Islington because she was the saviour of the City Road Basin,” Jen recalls.

In the 1980s, developers wanted to fill in the basin and build on it. It was Crystal who led a successful campaign against the plans and the basin survives to this day.

Jen adds: “Crystal lived in Noel Road and had a dinghy that she used to sail along the canal. She thought it was a great resource for kids to learn watersports.

“She founded Islington Boat Club, which now does watersports for children, adults and the ‘upperdeckers’ class for over-50s. So it’s thanks to Crystal Hale that I’m going kayaking today!”

Crystal also founded Islington’s famous Angel Canal Festival, which takes place on the first Sunday of each September and is set to reach its 32nd year in 2018.

She died in 1999, aged 83.

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