From Arctic climes to the place where I lived through my ‘teens: Morpeth in Northumberland. It is a modest market town, almost on the edge of provincial English civilization since only Alnwick and Berwick-on-Tweed lie north of it on the A1 before you cross the border into the Great Beyond. Morpeth boasts a well-preserved medieval town plan, a free-standing bell-tower (the only other secular one in England is in St. Albans), a bagpipe museum (sensu Northumbrian pipes which don’t have a ‘bag’) in the medieval chantry close by the end of what was the medieval bridge, and a former grammar school founded (1552) by that well-known educational promoter, King Edward VI.
Such a modest place can also justifiably be quietly proud of some distinguished sons and daughters. William Turner, pioneering botanist, lived here, as did the real victor of Trafalgar, Admiral Collingwood. Downing Street is so called because it was built by an eponymous Morpeth lad. And then came Emily Davison:
The ‘she’ of the caption above was of course Emily Wilding Davison who left Morpeth station and returned in a coffin after fatally throwing herself in front of the King George V’s horse Anmer in the Derby; and ‘Votes for Women’ was her cause. My attention was drawn to her by a newspaper report (Guardian 12 Sept., from which this blog’s title comes) that a steel statue of her had been unveiled on 11 September in Carlisle Park, Morpeth, a place well-known to me during my above-mentioned ‘teens. So on my pilgrimage to Lindisfarne this year I diverted on to the old A1 through Morpeth to have a look at it.
But first I stopped to look for her grave in St. Mary’s churchyard. I had walked past that churchyard hundreds of times but, shamefully, had not once walked through it to see the grave. It lies about a mile outside the present town centre because the present St Mary’s church perpetuates the site of the medieval church that served the early Morpeth when, before the new planned town was laid out down in the valley, it straggled along a ridge of high ground culminating above Carlisle Park in the presumably Norman motte.
The Davison grave was not difficult to spot for, like other places which have become for whatever reason minor cult centres in the present day, it was marked by a doubtless sincere but now slightly untidy array of bedraggled ribbons, flowers and messages:
Clearly, the site is the family burial place, undoubtedly seeking to make a statement but not aggrandising Emily at the expense of her relatives. Her elevation to the ranks of near-saintliness in the present is more appropriately marked now by the slightly larger than life-size steel statue of her created by Ray Lonsdale. It is strictly, almost rigidly, figurative, sitting on a bench among the municipal flower beds of Carlisle Park next to a more practical memorialisation of William Turner:
Emily has had to wait for over a century for such recognition. How right that it has now come.