News / Astonishing 1911 census find – Emily Davison in Parliament’s crypt

Astonishing 1911 census find – Emily Davison in Parliament’s crypt

30 April, 2010

This morning, after months of searching, we finally came across an astonishing historical document in the 1911 census. Emily Davison, the suffragette who was to die in 1913 after throwing herself in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom derby, is famously said to have secreted herself in the House of Commons at the time of the 1911 Census in order to have herself enumerated within Westminster.

We have now uncovered the actual historical documents that prove this is the case and will perhaps throw some more light on this key moment in parliamentary history. The event is considered to be such a landmark event in British politics that a plaque was secretly installed in Parliament in honour of her rebellious act  by Tony Benn, with the aid of Helena Kennedy QC and Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.

We had already found Emily Davison on the census listed at her boarding house, but had wanted for some time to discover how much truth there was in the parliament story. Thinking laterally, we realised that there was a possibility that she had been incorrectly recorded, and decided to try searching for her using the “variants” search on the findmypast.co.uk 1911 Census search. This search not only looks at exact names searched for, but also looks for common variants of names.

Sure enough, when we repeated the search with the surname variants search on and allowing a few more years flexibility than her actual age at the time of the census, she immediately appeared listed as Emily Wilding Davidson (note the extra D in her surname). Most astonishingly, her address was listed on the census transcript as “Found Hiding in Crypt of Westminster Hall Westminster”.

Emily Davison on the findmypast.co.uk 1911 census

Emily Davison on the findmypast.co.uk 1911 census

Click here to view the full size image

Intrigued, we decided to look at the original documents. First of all, we looked at the RG14 Household page – this has been signed by the Clerk of Works at the House of Commons, a Mr Percy Ridge (for a bit of fun, you can also find him in the 1911 census, living in South London).

1911 census Household form filled in by the Clerk of Works

1911 census Household form filled in by the Clerk of Works

Click here to view the full size image.

We can see that Ridge’s handwriting only records Emily’s name (spelt wrongly), age (3 or 4 years off her actual age) and marital status. Somebody else (likely to be the enumerator – the handwriting looks very similar) has filled in her occupation and place of birth. It is notable that both of these bits of information are wrong too – Davison had given up full-time teaching in 1909 to concentrate on her work for the Women’s Social and Political Union and her birth was registered in Greenwich, not Northumberland (Davison’s mother, however, had been born in Morpeth, Northumberland).

So now on to the back of the household form, to see where this extraordinary address from the transcription had come from.

address panel from the household form

address panel from the household form

Click here for full size image

Sure enough, Ridge has put her address as “found hiding in the crypt of Westminster Hall since Saturday” There’s also a note at the top which says “apply Common Row police station for more information”.

So finally, a quick look at the Enumerator’s Summary to see whether she succeeded in her aim of being enumerated at Westminster.

The enumerator's summary listing her as sole occupant of the crypt

The enumerator's summary listing her as sole occupant of the crypt

Click here for full size image

Sure enough, she has been enumerated as the sole occupant of the Crypt in the “Houses of Parliament”.

A few interesting lessons for family historians in this discovery:

  1. Think laterally when searching for names and dates of birth and allow for wide margins of error even if you think you have the exact information
  2. Use the “variants” search on findmypast.co.uk – it really is a powerful piece of technology!

Emily Davison, we salute you, and are proud and humbled to have found the documents that record your astonishing census night 99 years later.

If any of our readers can shed any further light on this astonishing find, we’d be delighted for you to add notes and observations in the comments below.

  • Caroline Gurney

    The police station was Cannon Row not Common Row. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannon_Row_Police_Station. There ought to be a police report of the incident.

    • http://www.findmypast.com iantester

      Hi Caroline – thanks for this, another clue in the trail.

  • Ros Dee

    In the 1911 census EWD’s birthplace appears as non-existent Long Worsley, Northumberland. Although her parents Charles and Margaret were born in villages near Morpeth, Northumberland, Emily was born at Roxburgh House, Vanbrugh Park Road, Greenwich on 11th October, 1872. Her parents later returned to their native Northumberland and after the death of her husband Emily’s mother opened a bakery in the village of Longhorsley about 7 miles NW of Morpeth. This is now the village post office and a photograph of this can be seen at http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/156436.
    Emily clearly misled the ennumerator about her place of birth but it is possible that he may have mis-heard Long Horsley as Long Worsley. She is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Morpeth. The inscription on her grave reads ‘Deeds, not words’

    • http://www.findmypast.co.uk jessmoore

      Thanks Ros. There are many possibilities surrounding what Emily did/didn’t tell the enumerator – and we know the enumerators sometimes got things wrong. Fascinating stuff isn’t it?

  • Carol

    I forwarded the story on Emily Davison to my sister who works in Parliament and who loves history. This is what she has to say: “The plaque in the crypt says that the person who hid there was Emeline Pankhurst! It’s a tiny, tiny little room off the St Mary Undercroft Chapel, a tiny very ancient chapel just off Westminster Hall. The room is just a cupboard holding switchboards but if you squeeze in you can see the plaque behind the door. The chapel isn’t open to the public and even with a pass you have to get a policeman to unlock it for you but I’ve been there a couple of times specially just to look at the little cupboard and I took my friend …there the other day to show her a tiny little bit of history that I thought hardly anyone else knew about. The chapel is stunningly beautiful in its own right.”

    • Martin

      The plaque reads:

      In loving memory of Emily Wilding-Davison.

      In this broom cupboard Emily Wilding-Davison hid herself, illegally, during the night of the 1911 census. She was a brave Suffragette campaigning for votes for women at a time when Parliament denied them that right. In this way she was able to record her address on the night of the census as being the House of Commons: thus making her claim to the same political rights as men. Emily Wilding-Davison died in June 1913 from injuries sustained when she threw herself under the King’s horse at the Derby to draw public attention to the injustice suffered by women.

      By such means was democracy won for the people of Britain.

      There’s a photo of the plaque on Wikipedia.

  • http://www.findmypast.co.uk Amy from findmypast.co.uk

    Thanks Carol, fascinating to get an insight from somebody working in Westminster!

    You can take a look at the plaque that was installed in Parliament by Tony Benn, Helena Kennedy QC and Jeremy Corbyn here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Davison

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  • Aileen McKAY

    This was the defiant act of a courageous woman. New Zealand women gained the vote in 1893 – the first to do so in the world. It is amazing that British women were not also enfranchised at that time.

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  • Emma

    Hello,

    I know from my great-grandma that i am related to Emily. My great-grandma has since passed away without telling my family how we are related. If anyone has any information about Emily’s family (names would be fantastic) i would greatly appreciate it.

  • Irving Anderson

    To access the chapel can be done by one of two ways.

    Write to your MP and ask for either them or one of their staff to show you the Chapel. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see inside the chapel. They can show you the actually cupboard she hide herself in.

    Or know someone who work in Parliament who has a Silver, Red, Green or Orange pass who can show you the cupboard.

    It is fantastic bit of history that you should try and see.

    Irving

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