For any respectable citizen of my home town the second Sunday in June has a red ring around it as that is the day of the annual Morpeth fair. It is an opportunity for all the people to come together, the well healed and the less so, the older and the young to enjoy the festivities on offer and to parade up and down Bridge Street and Oldgate visiting the various stalls. There is even a fun fair set up down by the leisure centre. On a sunny day, as it was this year, the town is crowded and it feels good to be part of such a community.
This year’s fair day was fun but it wasn’t a classic however, in no small part due to the long awaited flood prevention works going on in the Stanners. This resulted in the opening parade being cancelled. So this year there were no pipers, Harley Davison’s, miniature horses and classic cars which would normally make their way through the town before setting up camp down by the river.
But it was still worth a visit if only for the small exhibition in the Town Hall celebrating the life and death of one of the town’s most celebrated children, the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison. Almost to the day, this weekend saw the hundred year anniversary of the Epsom Derby during which Emily ran in front of the King’s horse ‘Anmer’ with the intention of placing a sash in support of the suffragette movement around its neck. Many people will have seen the old footage showing the horse colliding with Emily who broke her skull and died four days later in Epsom Cottage Hospital.
The silk sash, with its fading green and purple stripes and letters proclaiming the aims of the movement was on display in a simple glass case within the lobby of the Town Hall. Its story however was immense, you could feel its presence through the glass and many onlookers were left clearly emotional just at the sight of it and the thought that anyone would lay down their life, intentionally or not for something they so strongly believed in.
Apparently she was not fighting for votes for all women, just equality with men. At the start of the twentieth century only around thirty per cent of men could vote. The irony is that during our most recent elections not much more than the same percentage of the populous turned out at the ballot box despite universal suffrage. Ms Davison will no doubt be turning in her grave at the thought of such voter apathy and the sight, no doubt, of neo-racists handing out leaflets in the streets in the name of democracy.
This year’s fair day was fun. The weather certainly helped but that short visit to the Town Hall to see the poignant and politically charged exhibition made the walk down into Morpeth much more meaningful. The sash will be making its way down south again soon but more information about her life can be found at www.emilyinspires.co.uk .