Preston Remembers Beatrice Blackhurst

 

100 years on and the events of 1914-1918 First World War continue to have a profound effect on public life. Such was the scale of the conflict – never had so many people been involved in a war – every village, town and city was affected and every family had its own story.  Preston as a garrison town felt the impact of the war immediately losing men in early September 1914. As the war waged on the lists of dead and injured continued to grow forcing the government to resort to conscription which entailed requiring every man between the ages of 18 and 45 (unless they were in an occupation considered essential for the war effort) to serve in the armed forces if they were “called up”. With vast numbers of men away at the front fighting created shortages in the labour force which were filled by women. So everyone was in it together to borrow a phrase.

 

Preston Remembers is a partnership project that has developed activities, exhibitions and events with local communities in Preston to mark the centenary of the First World War. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, this project started with the restoration of Preston’s Cenotaph in 2013. Since then there have been a number of initiatives and events commemorating the 1914-1918 War and more are planned. Readers should refer to the Preston Remembers website to find out more (www.prestonremembers.org.uk )
Three walking trails that have been developed as part of the project. A number of the Preston Remembers volunteers have undertaken in-depth research and used local individuals to show how drastically lives were affected by the First World War. These have been produced as booklets which are available in local libraries and museums or can be downloaded from the website. These allow the reader to follow a self-guided trail visiting places where that person lived and work.
Below we set out the trail that follows the life of Beatrice Blackhurst (1869-1955).The walk starts at Avenham Park and finishes on the Railway Station.

The guided tour starts at the entrance to Avenham Park

 

29, Ribblesdale Place
Beatrice Blackhurst (nee Boyce) was born at Stumps Cross Farm on 26th March 1869 in Goosnargh her mother's home. She was one of a family of 5 and had 3 sisters and 1 brother. Her father, George Boyce was a gardener for Colonel Birchalls at Ribbleton Hall. He was born in Woodmanstere, Reigate and learnt his trade at the Royal Philanthropic School at Redhill. In 1880 he took over as licence of the Fulwood & Railway Hotel (now the Gamull)

 

which had been built by the station for the branch line to Grimsagh. He died in May 1882 and his wife Elizabeth Boyce (nee Howarth) took over the as licence, however she died aged 39 in 1885 and her niece Elizabeth Hewitt (nee Boyce) and her husband William Hewitt, took over the licence.

Beatrice was now 19 and stayed on at the Railway Hotel run by her cousin's husband, as a domestic servant, but in her spare time she was involved with the local churches, including Christ Church in Fulwood. She is on several occasions mentioned in the orders of service singing solos. (Preston Chronical 30/08/1891, 22/05/1892) She was also involved with the Chapel of Ease, St. Paul, completed and consecrated in 1890. In 1892 Miss B. Boyce "occupied the chair" for a social gathering raising money for an organ. (Preston Chronical 03/12/1892). This was reported as being organised by the fairer sex in response to a previous event organised by the "young men"…..
Where and when she met her Alfred Blackhurst (1886-1942) is open to speculation, was it through the involve-ment of the family firm with the Licensed Victuallers Association, through Christ Church or through the possibil-ity he visited the premises she worked in. Alfred came from a family that had been solicitors for 4 generations, he like his father and uncle (and his eldest son) had been educated at the Preston Grammar School off Winkley Square.
28 Winkley Square
Beatrice was prominent in the woman's suffrage movement, although not militant but as a suffragist.
 

The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) the suffragette militant organisation was founded by the Pankhurst family in Manchester in 1903. Edith Rigby formed the Preston branch in 1907. Suffragettes in 1912-13 have been peacefully campaigning for the right to vote for 50 years

 

In 1908, the WSPU had called a meeting in Preston at the covered market. Miss Rose from Manchester was to address the crowd. However, the acoustics of the covered market were unsuitable for female voices, so they moved into the space behind the post office. A crowd of 200, mainly irresponsible youths and young men had gathered. Miss Rose and her companions spoke "from a lorry platform", giving the reasons and arguments for women suffrage. They were interrupted several times, missiles were thrown, but the police were on the alert, and there were no serious incidences. A man rather the worse for drink became difficult, someone shouted "throw him out" and Miss Rose replied "We do not want to throw anyone out, this is not a liberal meeting." [LEP 18-6-1908]
 

Beatrice joined the Preston branch of the Conservative and Unionist Women's Franchise Association (CUWFA), which was affiliated to the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies who were Suffragists, not Suffragettes. They were non-militant and law abiding. NUWSS protested against militancy, and wanted to form a bond of union between all Conservatives and Unionists. They sought to convince members of the Conservative and Unionist Party to give active support to official candidates at elections when they are in favour of the enfranchisement of women. They also wished to educate, hold meetings and lectures and provide literature on the subject.

In 1913, a march was organised by the NUWWS, from Carlisle to London. It left Carlisle on 18th June 1913, arriving at London on the 26th July. The North West contingent would join at Garstang on June 28th, and Preston on the 30th. Beatrice Blackhurst took part in the pilgrimage, "to tell all England why women want the vote", and to show parliament how many women wanted the vote. All law abiding Suffragists were invited to join the pilgrimage, both men and women took part.

 

The Times estimated that 50,000 people attended the peaceful demonstration in Hyde Park on Saturday 26th July 1913. The march was hailed as a success.
Beatrice stayed over in London in order to attend the church service in St Paul's Cathedral at 3.15pm on Sunday 27th July. She kept her raffia badge as a memento of the event. By 1914, the NUWSS had over 500 branches and over 100,000 members.
 

Edith Rigby (nee Rayner) 1872-1948

 

Born at 1 Pole Street, she was one of the seven children of Dr. Alexander Clement Rayner and was educated at Penrose College in North Wales: her brother Arthur who set up the PRI X-ray department.
Just before her 21st birthday she married Dr. Charles Rigby in 1893 and moved into 28 Winkley Square.
She became involved with the Suffrage movement and in 1907 formed a branch of the Women's Social and Political Union with herself as the secretary. Her home became the focus of the Suffrage movement in Preston, with notable people staying there and dinners/meetings hosted there. Her ideals led her to become part of the militant Suffragette unlike Beatrice who was a non-militant Suffragist. She was responsible for arranging for the tarring Lord Derby's statue in Miller Park, she did burn down Lord Levers wooden bungalow on Rivington Pike and throwing a bomb into the Liverpool Corn Exchange.
She was arrested on numerous occasions, imprisoned 7 times and force fed. On one occasion she escaped to Ireland via the back of her house on a bike dressed as a workman!
During WW1 she bought a cottage near Preston named Marigold Cottage and used it to produce food, it is said that with short hair and wearing men's clothes, she grew fruit and vegetables and kept animals and bees. She had a happy marriage with her husband, who retired and lived with her at her cottage. They adopted a son called Sandy. In the 1920s Rigby was a founding member and the president of the Hutton and Howick Women's Institute.
No 5 Winkley Square
This house was built by Thomas Miller a partner in the Horrocks business, originally he lived in number 3 then number 7 and built this house on land that was part of number 7. He gave the land Miller Park is built on.
Beatrice's family
Beatrice Boyce & Alfred Blackhurst married at Grimsagh Church on 5th June 1895 and initially moved to High Street Garstang then to 29 Ribblesdale Place near to where the family firms opened offices in Fox Street in 1898. They had 3 children, (Maude) Mary in 1897, William in 1899 and (Alfred) Bernard in 1904.
 

Their daughter Maude Mary went to school at Preston High School for Girls opened at the corner of Chapel Street and Winkley Square, occupying no. 1a Chapel Street which had been the home of the Gorst family. It was one of the earliest girls' grammar schools in England and was intended to give them 'a thorough liberal and useful education'. This was a Church of England school with the traditional emphasis on needlework, divinity, composition, drawing and class singing as well as languages and natural sciences.

Mary Maude married in 1926 and had twin sons in 1928, unfortunately the marriage broke down and she went to live with her parents with her sons at Breeze Hill, Cadley.
Link: amazingly Beatrice's married name still exists in a business around the corner
 

No 10 Chapel Street, Blackhurst, Swainson & Goodier Solicitors

 

Beatrice & Albert's son William at the outbreak of war lied about his age and enlisted at 17 (family story) in 1917, he joined the flying corp as a Balloon spotter, an experience her recounted as "dangling on a bit of string spotting through field glasses. Feeling terribly seasick". In 1922 he made his debut as advocate, being admitted as a solicitor on 1 June 1922. In WW2 he served as Lieutenant and Assistant Adjutant and later Major, with the 62nd Searchlight Regiment. He was judge advocate general for Filed marshal Montgomery in North Africa and Italy.
 

Their son Bernard (Alfred) attended Rossall School Fleetwood. He was too young to serve in WW1 but was a Captain and later Major in the same regiment as his brother in WW2, and was a solicitor in the family firm.

Beatrice was very active, enjoying civic events with her husband, volunteering her time on committees with welfare, and in particular children's and women's welfare as the focus of her attention. On the 8th July 1913, the King and Queen visited Preston as part of an 8 day tour of Lancashire, where they visited 37 towns by motor car.

 

The King and Queen travelled from Penwortham Bridge, along Fishergate and Cheapside to the Market Place where a specially constructed stand had been erected. Mr. and Mrs Blackhurst were among the invited guests. The band of the 4th Battalion the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment played the National Anthem and a Royal Salute was given by the troops.

St Joseph's Hospital, Mount Street (referred to locally as Mount Street Hospital) and St Joseph's orphanage, Theatre Street

 

In the days before the Welfare State Maria Holland, who was the widow of James Holland a local tallow chandler, funded the opening of "St Joseph's Hospital for the Sick Poor" in Preston which came to be known as Mount St. Hospital. Nearby was an orphanage for Catholic girls. Both were run by the same order of nuns.
St Joseph's Hospital was erected on Mount Street, Preston in 1877. It was opened on 19th September 1879 and run by the Sisters of Charity of our Lady Mother of Mercy, who also ran St Joseph's Orphanage in Theatre Street. In 1884, it opened up two rooms as accommodation for private patients.
The work of the hospital steadily increased and in early 1914 a large room under the chapel was fitted out as a man's ward. The alterations were completed as WW1 started and was offered to the government for the use of soldiers. The offer was quickly accepted and the 1st 12 Belgians casualties were transferred form trains there. The record of the time are full of praise for the people of Person who generously supplied the soldiers with food. Clothing, concerts and took them to the football matches.
In June 1918 the King of the Belgians awarded the Meadville De la Reine Elisabeth (Queen Elizabeth Medal) to several Preston volunteers (including: Mrs. Fitzherbert-Brockholes, Mrs. Hayhurst, Mrs. Jameson, Mrs Firth and the Rev Mother Superior of St Joseph's RC Hospital). This was in recognition of their work on the Preston Belgium Refugees Committee, in helping Belgian refugees and wounded Belgian soldiers. There is one Belgian Soldier buried in the Preston Cemetery (New Hall Lane0
In WW2 it was again used for wounded service men, this tiem for Belfgin and Dutch sailors and was visited by Prince Barnhart to thank the nuns and there staff.
The Hospital was later recognised as a training centre for nurses, and accepted its first trainees in 1940. The Hospital closed in the late 1980s, and the Mount Street Nursing Home in the early 2000's. The last of the Sisters of Charity moved away recently to the Provincial House.
T
Fishergate Baptist Church

 

This church is built in 1858 in the Romanesque style, Beatrice and her family would be familiar with this building. The basement rooms were used by various voluntary groups for meetings in a central place "without the distraction of alcohol".
 

Suffrage movement and its influence.

When war broke out, the Executive of the National Union recommended that political propaganda should cease for the moment. They sought to offer relief from the distress arising from the war by approaching local authorities, in particular on the matters of 1: long needed maternity relief work in order to prevent the waste of infant life arising from a long war, and 2: unemployment amongst women.
 

In 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed which allowed women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification to vote. Although 8.5 million women met this criteria, it only represented 40 per cent of the total population of women in the UK.

The same act abolished property and other restrictions for men, and extended the vote to all men over the age of 21. Additionally, men in the armed forces could vote from the age of 19. The electorate increased from eight to 21 million, but there was still huge inequality between women and men.
 

It was not until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that women over 21 were able to vote and women finally achieved the same voting rights as men. This act increased the number of women eligible to vote to 15 million

Surprisingly for such an active social person Beatrice was also enjoyed needlecraft and she persuaded the ladies of the Needle Work Guild to produce bandages and dressings of which over 30,000 were produced. As part of their war work they were also involved in producing food parcels for POW's.
 

In 1907 the "Notification of birth act" included the power for town councils to employ "health visitors". Preston initially employed 2 and set up the Preston Health Committee. This was shortly before the setting up the Preston branch of the national Union of Women's Suffrage societies in 1911.

The Preston CUWFA branch of the NUWSS had 258 members and they had helped to organise assistance for "necessitous" mothers, provided education for mothers, and baby clinics.
 

Local meetings were held in December 1913, January and March 1914 at Emanuel's, Croft Street and St Mary's schoolrooms on questions affecting the welfare of the mother, child, and of professional and industrial women, with talks such as "Why women need the vote" and " The treatment of Widows with children under the poor law".

As war approached Lady Selbourne, President of the NUWSS, said: "To women war brings nothing but sorrow, to some men it also brings glory, so that they do not always fairly weigh the evil side of it."
In July 1914 a circular to local councils from HMG advised the setting up of Baby and

Maternity centres to give dietetic & hygiene advice, free dinners and milk and as a centre for doctors and midwives in the community. The aim was to staff these during the war with volunteers. In October 1914 with many young men now uniform leaving many women with young families the secretary of the society Mrs Todd wrote the council asking "permission" for the society to set up a "relief committee". This was named the Preston Infant Welfare Voluntary Women's Association. When there was no response so a deputation women went to see the Health committee……who were "awaiting further advice from HMG". Eventually in July 1915 the 1st 2 clinics were opened at Deep dale Mill and on Fylde Road, this may have been because of the link with the 1st baby clinic in London "The Mrs Ramsey McDonald Clinic" (named for the prime Minister's wife) which was initially run by Mrs. Todd's university colleague, Mrs. Player. Beatrice was a member of the executive committee.

Photograph of the Walker Street Clinic 1916: left to Right Mrs Blackhurst, Dr Mary Lowry, mother & baby, health visitor, Mrs Player

 

Further clinics were opened, in November the one in Walker Street (with Mrs. Blackhurst acting as clerk) in September the Manchester Road Centre and in 1917 Savoy Street. By the end of 1916 over 2000 babies were being seen and supported each year. They set up a Rest Home in Lytham, funded by donations and fund raising, to give mothers to be a rest "from the worry and anxiety of constant meal preparing" [LEP 4-12-1933

 

Regular meetings were happening between the health committee (all men) and the WVC (all women). The group also ran Christmas parties, baby weeks and parades, they fund raiser for these with flag days, a ball in January 1919 and linked with the emerging local W.I.'s. Their work was recognised by a visit by Princess Mary in 1929.
Preston Railway Approach
This building replaced the 1st station erected here in 1838, it was designed by Cooper & Tullis and built in 1880.

 

The 1st railway connection was with Wigand on the 31st October 1838.This line was operated by the North Union Railway company. Further connections were made in the 1830's and 1840's to Liverpool, Manchester & Lancaster. Preston emerged as the midpoint between Glasgow and London. The numerous companies operating locally and several stations making for poor connections, the need to walk between the tracks and illegally running on each other's lines. The smaller companies merged to form the London North Western and the Lancashire & Yorkshire.
By WW1 the station became the junction point of many changes, with soldiers and sailors waiting there for their connections. The panels either side of the door celebrate the 1st Preston charter.
Preston Railway Buffet
Volunteers in Preston provided refreshments at the railway station for 700 Belgian refugees who were on their way to Glasgow. A group of 60, of all ages, arrived at the Town Hall in Preston on 21 October 1914 with little more than they could carry. In total 270 would be housed in Preston and outlying districts, such as Leyland, Howick, Grimsargh, Barton, Longridge and Goosnargh. English language classes were arranged for them at the Harris Institute and the Belgians settled into life in Lancashire.
Preston Sailors and Soldiers Free Buffett Committee was set up to formally run a continuous buffet with a team of 700 volunteer women manning it 24 hours a day. Its aim was to"to provide and supply light refreshments to all members of His Majesty's Naval and Military Forces passing through Preston Station who are genuine travelers." The chairman was Beatrice Todd, a close friend of the Blackhurst.Beatrice was a member of the Executive Committee.
Ladies were responsible in pairs for the working of the buffet for twelve hour shifts, each paid a monthly subscription of 2/6, to be eligible for membership. If they wished to withdraw, they gave 1 months' notice. The buffet was not closed night or day. In 1917, the average weekly expenditure was around £150 (£6,500 in 2005), and the numbers served were between 70,000 and 80,000.
During the week in the run up to Christmas 1916 12,449 men were served in 36 hours and through January 1917 3,250 were served daily…..over the 4 years of the war over 3 million men were served.

 

They held fundraising events, other towns in the district raised money for the buffet, for example an "Entire horse parade" was held at Garstang, a "Splendid Fair" was held on the Market ground in September 1917 in aid of the buffet.
The committee met regularly to discuss the running of it. As food prices rose, there was a call for "strict economy in dispensing food" The committee opened a "Buffet Gift House" at 8 Fishergate, where they would accept donations of items that they could sell for the charity, "from pipe mounts, thimbles and umbrella handles upwards" to gold, jeweler and antiques.
Officials and Executive Committee of the Preston Sailors and Soldiers' Free Buffet Association

 

(Standing) Mrs. Blackhurst. Mrs. Bell. Mrs. Foster. Mrs. Threlfall. (Sitting). Mrs. Woodcock. The Mayoress (Mrs. Cartmell). Mrs. Todd. Mrs. Eastwood.
 

War worn and hungry they arrived at the station, refreshments were brought round the carriages day or night. They could sleep on forms, and a label was attached to them to alert the ladies of the time they needed to be woken. They wrote letters of thanks for the kindly welcome, the substantial comforts, the cheering cup of tea, the buns and biscuits, the cozy shelter, and the continuous hospitality in the well-equipped hostel in Fishergate for extended stays, and then the rousing "send-off".

The Buffet's reputation was discussed as far away as Mesopotamia, Salonika, Egypt France and the North Sea. Buffet mugs went to Plymouth, Aberdeen and were even found in the trenches.

 

As well as serving refreshments at the station, the committee helped munitions workers after an explosion, and were thanked by the Minister of Munitions. They were thanked by the Prime Minister of Canada for helping Canadian women and children who had been submarined. In 1918, Sir William Pitcairn Campbell, commanding the Western Area presented the committee with decorations in recognition of their work.
According to Beatrice Todd, the Buffet became a branch of National Service with which the name Proud Preston was readily identified. It closed in 1919.

 

Beatrice's legacy
Beatrice Blackhurst lived to see women get the vote, to see the first women KC's (King's Counsel) in 1949 and women serving on juries in 1921. She died in Lytham in 1955 aged 85.
It was said of her that "She was prominent in the Women Suffrage movement, though not militantly. Preston Conservatism, the municipal clinics, the sailors' and soldiers' buffet on the railway station in the Great War, the Harris Trust, the NSPCC and the Cancer Campaign provided outlets for the energy with which Mrs Blackhurst undertakes all to which she sets her hand." [LEP 9-11-1939]

We would like to thank members of the Preston Remembers Project its officers, volunteer researchers and volunteer guides for making the above information available to Lancashire Walks.  

Preston Remembers Trail 1