A rare watercolour sketch depicting the reality of women’s exclusion from political life 200 years ago will go on display for the first time, in the UK Parliament.
The sketch, attributed to Lady Georgiana Chatterton c.1821, depicts the ventilator, an attic space above the old House of Commons Chamber that women used to observe political debates, after their exclusion from the public galleries in 1778.
It will go on display for the first time in Voice and Vote: “Women’s Place in Parliament” which will open on 27 June 2018. It is on loan to Parliament from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which holds extensive local historic collections relating to the playwright’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon and South Warwickshire, as well as the internationally-designated Shakespeare collections.
The exhibition will tell the story of women and parliament through immersive and interactive technologies to help recreate lost historic spaces that were used by women in the Palace of Westminster.
It will include key historic objects from Parliamentary collections and significant loans from around the UK.
Amy Galvin-Elliott, a PhD student working on a joint project between Warwick University and the Parliamentary Archives, said: “The discovery of this watercolour of the ventilator is an exciting moment in the telling of the ‘her-story’ of women in Parliament.
“It is a rare and unique example of an artwork representing early nineteenth-century women’s experiences of viewing Commons debates from a marginalised space.
“The ventilator is a complex symbol of both political subjugation and, paradoxically, the determination and perseverance of women. At a time when we are commemorating the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, the ventilator is still a pertinent symbol, and we have much to learn by looking back to it.”
The sketch was discovered after being shared on Twitter. It was recognised as an image of the House of Commons, including the ventilator, by parliamentary archivist Mari Takayanagi.
Mari Takayanagi, Senior Archivist in the Parliamentary Archives, said: “Back in 2015, a researcher called Simon Pickering took lots of photographs of all sorts of documents during research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Later, he was going through them and wondered if this might be the House of Commons. He
asked Twitter, and one of my colleagues spotted it. I was thrilled to recognise it as the Ventilator – it was on Christmas Eve too, a wonderful Christmas present!”
Simon Pickering discovered it in a sketch book where Lady Georgiana collected a variety of paintings and sketches by both herself and her friends, and it was next to two tickets to Westminster Hall dated 11th July 1821. This was the day of the King’s Speech to the House of Lords. Georgiana would have been 15 at the time, and due to her social status, it is highly likely that she would have attended such an occasion with a chaperone.
The painting shares artistic features with other paintings signed by Georgiana, although the watercolour of the ventilator itself has no signature.
The sketch was found tucked in the back of a volume of watercolours by Rebecca Dulcibella Ferrers in the extensive archives of the Baddesley Clinton Estate (1200-1981). The volume has been cared for by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust since 1992, when it was deposited by a member of the Ferrers family.
Rosalyn Sklar, Museums Collections Officer at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said: “It is thrilling to be able to share a wonderful piece of history from our collection. The Ventilator watercolour sketch, interesting and characterful in itself, has also been a catalyst for further research and discoveries that can enrich our understanding of the place of women in British political history.”
Alongside the sketch two tickets admitting the bearer to view Westminster Hall dated July 11th 1821 were found. Research conducted by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust shows that the Office of Great Chamberlain, which issued the tickets, was at the time held jointly by two women, shedding a further dimension on the ongoing female influence in the circles of power.
Melanie Unwin, Co-curator of the Voice and Vote exhibition, said: “This exciting exhibition should really give the public a sense of the barriers that women had to overcome to participate in democracy. For the first time, we are able to recreate the sounds and atmosphere of those spaces which women were confined to – it is incredible to see how much campaigners and early women MPs achieved despite the limitations placed on them.”
About the Ventilator
The sketch of the Ventilator in the Palace of Westminster: 200 years ago, this loft space above the House of Commons Chamber was where women watched and listened to Parliamentary debates. Women were banned from the public galleries. Those who were politically engaged and wanted to watch discussions of issues they were campaigning for, such as the abolition of the slave trade, would make their way to this space to watch and listen.
About the Artist
The painting is believed to have been painted by Lady Georgiana Chatterton a novelist, whose work includes Aunt Dorothy’s Tales (published in 1837) and Rambles in the South of Ireland (1839). Georgiana was born Henrietta Georgiana Marcia Lascelles Iremonger on 11th November 1806 in London. Her parents were Rev. Lascelles Iremonger, prebendary of Winchester Cathedral and his second wife, Harriett. She married Sir William Abraham Chatterton, 2nd Baronet of Castle Mahon, County Cork, on 3rd August 1824. Sir William died on 5th August 1855. In 1859, Georgiana married fellow novelist Edward Heneage Dering.
2018 marks 100 years since The Representation of the People Act 1918 extended the right to vote to all men over 21 and the first women, making this one of the most important centenaries in British democratic history.
Four significant milestones in the fight for universal suffrage in 2018 are:
● Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave all men over 21 and women over 30 who met a property qualification the right to vote. (100 years)
● Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 – allowing women to be MPs (100 years)
● Equal Franchise Act 1928 – giving women the vote on the same terms as men (90 years)
● Life Peerages Act 1958 – allowing women to sit in the House of Lords as life peers (60 years)
These acts followed years of campaigning, with the first petition to Parliament asking for votes for women presented to the House of Commons on 3 August 1832.
There will also be an exciting programme of talks and tours in Parliament, and a number of UK-wide events, such as UK Parliament Week 2018 and EqualiTeas to mark the centenary.
About the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is the independent charity that cares for the world’s greatest Shakespeare heritage in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.
It is the global centre for learning about and experiencing the works, life and times of the world’s best-known writer. Through the five historic Shakespeare family homes (Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Hall’s Croft and Mary Arden’s Farm), internationally-designated archive, library and museum collections, award-winning learning programmes and digital channels, it provides imaginative, immersive and interactive opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to get up-close-and-personal with Shakespeare.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is a self-sustaining charity which generates 98% of its income through the support of visitors, donors, volunteers and Friends. In April 2018 it was granted National Portfolio funding from Arts Council England for the first time, enabling new creative and outreach programmes with a particular focus on communities which are currently less engaged in arts, culture and heritage.
For more information, visit: www.shakespeare.org.uk.
About women in Parliament Today
Earlier this year The House of Commons Library published new research and statistics on women in Parliament and politics. The research shows that:
● 208 women were elected to the UK Parliament in 2017, a record high of 32%. In January 2018 there were 206 female peers, 26% of Members of the House of Lords.
● There are currently six women in Cabinet including the Prime Minister, 26% of the total 23 permanent Cabinet posts.
● Just over one-third (36%) of members in the Scottish Parliament are women, compared to just over two-fifths (42%) of members of National Assembly for Wales and 30% of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Following the 2014 European Parliament elections, 41% of UK MEPs are women.