On Friday evening, 8th April at 7.30pm, Mytholmroyd Historical Society met in St. Michael’s Church Hall for the last of its Winter programme of illustrated lectures. The topic was Laura Annie Willson, Suffragette, Engineer and Builder and the speaker was Anne Kirker. There was an audience of 50.
As Anne stated, Laura Annie Willson was born in 1877 in the King Cross area of Halifax but has until recently been rarely recognised though historically her activities have been very influential in her various roles as Suffragette, Engineer and Builder.
She was of a very humble working class origins at a time when women had little education and in her mid to late teens became politically active for she believed that people and women especially deserved better housing and conditions of work. This led her into Trade Unionism and Socialism.
Married in 1899 her husband was very supportive and following his redundancy, he set up his own lathe business which was to become very successful and expand. As Independent Labour Party (ILP) Socialist members, both were committed to giving workers better conditions of work and pay. Laura became more involved in providing women with more rights and this led her into the Suffragette movement and at one stage supported the 1907 Hebden Bridge Fustian workers strike where she spoke alongside the famous Emily Pankhurst. Accused of violence and refusing to pay a fine she was imprisoned for 14 days but this experience made her even more determined and later in London she was again imprisoned for supporting the battle for women’s rights.
The First World War with men at the front meant that women were now recruited into the factories to help make munitions or the tools required. Her husband’s successful expanding lathe business took on women and it led her to open a canteen facility for workers that was to become a model under government encouragement nationally.
After the war many industrial firms were to retain women but Laura’s view was never that women should undercut men’s pay but for equal pay. Though still politically active through her husband’s business she had become actively interested in engineering at a time too, when the Engineering Council sought to promote women and later she became their President. She also supported the Electrical Association and the importation of various new interwar infant electrical appliances such as vacuum cleaners which she saw as crucial towards the emancipation of women from drudgery.
During the inter-war years the expansion of her husband’s business led them to move to their new home at Jumples in Mixenden which then of course, was in the countryside. This coincided with the extensive public and private housing boom where many housing estates were established and once again her interest in better housing for women led her to build small planned estates of houses in the Halifax area complete with internal toilet, running water, family bedrooms and gardens. These houses were largely rented as tenants could not afford to buy property.
In 1932 her husband retired and they moved to the south of England where once again she was to build small estates of houses.
She died in 1941 but during her life she was to receive the MBE. Laurie Annie Willson was a remarkable Halifax woman whose contribution to the growth of modern society is only recently becoming recognised.
The vote of thanks was given by Pam Jordan
For those who don’t have it, you can purchase Mike Darke’s 48 page booklet titled Mytholmroyd Heritage Walks, which consists of four walks around all of Mytholmroyd and its history. Numerous buildings and artefacts have now disappeared. It costs £6.00 but £2.00 will be donated to Mytholmroyd Historical Society.
It is hoped to run for the first time since 2019 because of lockdown the annual Summer day excursion. This is the second Saturday in August which will be Saturday 13th August leaving Mytholmroyd Community Centre at 8.30 am and arriving back circa 7.30pm. The cost is £20.
The Society needs a minimum of 35 persons as the Society cannot afford to run it at a loss. If because of lack of numbers the proposed trip is cancelled then the money will be returned. We need to know the numbers by the end of April. Contact 01422 885873 or 01422 883284 if you wish to go on this trip to Liverpool. The Society’s Committee meets the middle of May and the final decision whether the trip goes ahead will be taken then.
The Society is looking for a new Speaker Finder. Any volunteers?
The Winter Programme of lectures will commence Friday evening September 9th as usual in St. Michael’s Church Hall at 7.30pm