Plaque to suffragist sees the light

Uncovered at last: even viscountess’s relatives were unaware of Great Aunt Bee’s radical past

Friday, 17th January 2020 — By Tom Foot

Maggie Carman

Cllr Maggie Carman points to the plaque

FOLIAGE and climbing plants have overwhelmed a neglected corner of a small public green dedica­ted to a leading suffragist.

The garden was dedicated to the Viscountess Beatrice Samuel, the great aunt of the famous DNA scientist Rosalind Franklin, who lived in Bayswater from 1871 until her death in 1959.

The sign is one of the few memorials to women in Westminster, where podiums and statues are dominated by rich and powerful men.

A bust of a 15th-century war hero, put up in front of the plaque in the 1990s, has further obscured her memory. And it appears even her close family did not know about her radical roots.

Her great-great niece Shirley Franklin told the Extra: “It’s interesting that few, if any, of us as relatives knew of our Great Aunt Bee’s connection with the suffrage movement.

“My great-aunt Alice Franklin was active in the suffrage movement, as was her sister Helen Bentwich, but more in a trade union and party political context. Their brother Hugh was imprisoned for dog-whipping Winston Churchill for the Suffragettes. And yet my branch of Franklins knew very little of these women’s political activities. So I for one welcome this resurrection and positive exposure of great-great Aunt Bee.”

Ms Franklin said her aunt lived at 35 Porchester Terrace and later Gloucester Terrace, Hyde Park, and that she was married in the New West End Synagogue. The family campaigned for changes in Jewish religious law to give equality to women. A book, with a chapter on her life, tells how her “political career developer” and that she was “an able speaker” and an executive member of the “Women’s Liberal Federation” and a school manager for the London County Council.

Her husband, Viscount Samuel, a former leader of the Liberal Party, put forward the first bill supporting women’s suffrage that later became the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918.

Her great-niece, Rosalind Franklin, was a scientist whose fundamental work in the understanding of the molecular structure of DNA was not appreciated in her lifetime.

The hidden plaque has come to public attention after a resident got in touch with Bayswater councillor Maggie Carman, who asked council officers to cut the shrubbery back.

Cllr Carman said: “Beatrice, Viscountess Samuel, lived in the area all her life and was a prominent suffragist. She was a lifelong member of the New West End Synagogue in St Petersburgh Place and was one of the founders of the Jewish League for Woman Suffrage. There are very few memorials to women in Westminster and I would like Beatrice Viscountess Samuel to regain her rightful place as an iconic woman of Westminster.”

The resident who raised the issue said: “This garden was refurbished by the council in consultation with the residents of Bayswater in January 1992.

“Unfortunately, since the addition several years ago of the bust of Skanderbeg, the 15th-century Albanian national hero, the two plaques on the wall have both become completely obscured by trees and climbing plants, and it now appears as if the garden is dedicated to Skanderbeg.”

The park’s manager has agreed “to have the foliage cut back so that the memorial plaque is clearly visible”.

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