The woman behind that fateful race day

Launch of Emily Davison play at Morpeth's Chantry Middle School with (left to right) Kay Renner who plays Emily's mother and Kate Willoughby who plays Emily.
Launch of Emily Davison play at Morpeth's Chantry Middle School with (left to right) Kay Renner who plays Emily's mother and Kate Willoughby who plays Emily.

A new play about Emily Wilding Davison comes to north Northumberland later this month as the spotlight turns to the women’s rights campaigner on the centenary of her death.

To Freedom’s Cause, by Kate Willoughby, will be staged at the Alnwick Playhouse and Rothbury Jubilee Hall on Friday, June 21.

And while Emily Davison is known around the world for what was to be her final protest for women’s rights when she stepped onto the course at the 1913 Epsom Derby and was struck by the King’s horse Anmer, Miss Willoughby’s play focuses more on Emily the person and her relationship with her mother, family and Northumberland home than on the drama of that fateful race day.

She said: “I was always interested in Emily and I started in about 2009 doing a lot of research on her.

“I came across a letter from Emily’s mother Margaret, which was written after Emily’s Derby protest when she was in hospital. It was so full of love and hurt and she really didn’t understand what had happened. Emily’s mother supported her, but it was difficult for her to keep seeing her daughter coming back to Longhorsley so battered and bruised from force-feeding and protests and then there was this. There was also the fact that Emily had told her mother never to go to her if ever she got into a scrape.

“The heart of the play is the mother and daughter in Northumberland. People forget that, they see only the image of Emily at the Derby.

“There is an image of Emily as a dour, serious woman and not much fun to be around. She was called the lawless lassie and she could be lawless, but there was another side to her. Children loved her and she was a teacher.

“I wanted to explore the other side to Emily Wilding Davison because there is so much more to her than the image. She was a really interesting woman and daughter and she was a lot of fun.”

Miss Willoughby, who is from Yorkshire, but has relatives from Northumberland, has already penned plays about Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth Fry.

Miss Willoughby, who plays the part of Emily herself, said there was some difficulty writing the piece because it is impossible to know for certain why the Suffragette stepped onto the course that day.

And actress Kay Renner, who plays Emily’s mother Margaret, also had to consider the question. “I think that the only way that Margaret could cope with what happened was if she felt that her daughter had done this on the spur of the moment,” she said.

Miss Willoughby got more of a feeling for Emily’s character when she joined descendants of the Suffragette’s family at Epsom Racecourse for the unveiling of a plaque earlier this year, and one of the family members, 19-year-old Lauren Caisley, will be involved in some of the performances.