In the centenary year of women in Britain first getting the vote, TV auction expert Catherine Southon is staging a sale in Croydon where the leading lot is a wonderful archive of one suffragette’s fight for the cause, including a rare silver hunger strike medal.
It is believed that only 100 of these medals – with the inscription “For Valour”, the same as is used on the country’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross – were ever awarded.
Southon’s auction house is staging the sale at Farleigh Court golf club on July 25, when the collection of artefacts from Kate Evans will be offered for sale and is expected to fetch up to £10,000.
Kate Williams Evans was born in 1866 in the small Mid-Wales village of Llansantffraid, in modern-day Powys.
Growing up, she was interested in politics and spent a considerable time in Paris. While there, she met members of the Women’s Social and Political Union, the organisation founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903.
By her early 30s, Evans had joined the Union and was an active member. To the apparent dismay of her parents, who thought the behaviour of these women was quite shocking, Evans became a suffragette.
In March 1912, Evans was arrested and imprisoned for 54 days in Holloway prison, where she undertook a life-threatening hunger strike which won her the medal.
Included in the collection is the rare silver suffragette hunger strike medal, together with a fascinating archive of letters, books and ephemera.
The medal is engraved “Hunger Strike” and is complete with the distinctive three-coloured ribbon in purple (representing dignity), green (hope) and white (purity). It has two silver bars, one engraved March 4th 1912.
Only 100 of these medals are known to exist and this one is contained within original velvet lined presentation box with printed inscription to the silk lined lid, sold together with an accompanying letter from the Women’s Social and Political Union stating that Miss Evans has been presented with a prison brooch.
Also included in the collection is the Metropolitan Police arrest warrant issued to Evans for “Malicious damage”, a pocket book given to Kate by Meg – her sister – with hand-written pencil autographs from a number of suffragettes including Emily Wilding Davison, “E Pankhurst” and Sarah Benett. Davison was the suffragette who would die when she threw herself in front of the King’s racehorse at the 1913 Epsom Derby.
There is also a copy of Holloway Jingles, a collection of poems written by the suffragettes contained within a pictorial printed outer green covers with images of the inside of the prison cells. This is possibly a first edition and includes with two poems by Evans herself, entitled Who? and The cleaners of Holloway.
Another item signed by Pankhurst is a framed and signed letter of Commendation to Kate Evans on behalf of the Women’s Social Political Union.
Also of interest is a hand-written letter from fellow inmate and suffragette Sarah Benett to her maid Jane regarding the health of Evans as the hunger strike began. The letter reads “Miss Evans will be my guest till she is a little stronger. She has been starving so treat her as an invalid…”.
The collection includes a prescient letter from Mary Griffiths to Evans’s great aunt regarding her niece’s courage: “We can hardly realise at present what a debt of gratitude we owe the militant section of the suffragists, but I am quite sure that later on their heroism and devotion will be appreciated.”
This collection has been offered for auction by the family.
“We are honoured to be offering such an important private and comprehensive collection at such a poignant time,” Southon said.
“The collection has been kept within the family and has been treasured which would account for the condition of the hunger strike medal which is exceptional.”
A former auctioneer at Sotheby’s, Southon established Catherine Southon Auctioneers and Valuers in south London in 2012.
Southon is a regular expert on BBC antiques programmes, and her business stages six large auctions each year, regularly using Farleigh Court for its events.
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