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A refurbished Tunbridge Wells Museum includes particular women – and supports certain animals

2024 March 1

A mortuary established by
Amelia Scott

Going to a newly changed museum isn’t always positive, even if objects are revised or created in other ways. However, the central museum in Tunbridge Wells has been revamped in many engaging ways. Thus the museum’s new title, Amelia Scott, has given attention to Amelia Scott, who has recently been described in the Oxford DNB by Anne Logan as “social reformer & women’s suffrage campaigner”. She had been a local vice president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and a supporter of the Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage through local towns to London in 1913, as recorded in the museum’s photos.

As a councillor she explored the poor law, the development of a mortuary, in addition to the welfare of women and a soup kitchen for the unemployed.

A page from a suffrage diary

However, in addition to a few artefacts presenting Amelia there is another fascinating item. This was a sheet from a diary written by Olive Grace Walton, a local activist in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) while she was imprisoned in various prisons before the 1914 war. As shown in a suffrage book of 1913 she recorded that “Mrs Pankhurst’s trial has been put off until next week. 100 witnesses to be called”. Although Olive is not yet covered in the DNB she had previously been both on hunger strike and repressed with forcible feeding in April and June 1912 when locked up in Aylesbury prison.Let’s hope this information can also be included.

Upstairs , good arguments have even been presented towards many previously killed and displayed birds and animals which have been shown here since it opened in 1885 in earlier ways. Displays now attending the taxidermy collection “streamline”, prioritising local links.As the historical staff recognise, their broad exploration of modern conservation and natural history must survive. As earlier reported ,the newly interested heritage, culture and learning hub suggested “it will be rich with objects and will offer and imaginative programme to engage and inspire visitors.” Already this seems on track!

A plinth commemorating Lord Dowding not far from the museum

However, the extant nearby plinth to Air Chief Marshal Hugh, Caswall Tremenheere Dowding, recognises he was particularly decisive in aspects of the Second World War, but ignores his later supportive position on animals. Dowding used his later position in the House of Lords to speak against animal experimentation and the cruel ways in which animals were poisoned in the wild; indeed most of his speeches in the Lords were on animal welfare. After his death in 1970 the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research, to promote practical alternatives to animal experiments, was established in his name by the National Anti-Vivisection Society. He had lived, with his wife Muriel, in Calverley Park,Tunbridge Wells. Perhaps the new museum with its interesting engagement with people – and former animals – might also acknowledge the local resident’s own performance to support them?

3 Responses Post a comment
  1. March 1, 2024

    I don’t know if Wilfred Risdon actively cultivated Lord Dowding’s support, during the former’s tenure at the London Anti-Vivisection Society, and later the National Anti-Vivisection Society, or whether it was a serendipitous result of the latter’s interests, but they did have a close association in their animal welfare work.

    • Hilda Kean permalink
      March 7, 2024

      As recorded in my account of Muriel Dowding in Oxford DNB, she had tried unsuccessfully to reunite the BUAV and NAVS in 1967. This was after Risdon’s attempts as secretary of Anti-Vivisection societies in 1955, as you helpfully describe in your Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles book. As you note ,Lord Dowding and Wilfred Risdon were in contact through anti- vivisection. Given that Dowding lived locally hence my query that the local council should surely acknowledge him and Muriel inside the new museum. Your account of Risdon is interesting but Wilfred Risdon is NOT included in the Oxford DNB. Do consider raising it with them.

  2. Felicity Harvest permalink
    March 4, 2024

    A fascinating visit which I would not have thought of had you not suggested it. Many thanks

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