University of Essex student Ben Davey has been researching the story of Grace Chappelow, known locally in later life as the Goat Lady of Ramsden Heath. As Ben discovered, Grace was an avid campaigner for the vote and an inspiring Essex Woman.
Grace Chappelow, a woman who had been dubbed the ‘goat lady’ to her locals had an unsuspecting past. You, the reader, wouldn’t imagine that this ‘Goat Lady’ had been imprisoned alongside the famous Rock sisters of Essex in 1911, for her involvement with the terrorist organisation the Women’s Social Political Union, or more commonly known, The Suffragettes.
Grace was born in Islington in 1884 and she enjoyed a wealthy upbringing, being able to attend school and growing up with a female role model in her head mistress Dr Sophie Bryant. This is suggested by some to be an early influencer of her interest to female suffrage.
Fast forward to her 20’s, It is agreed that she joined by 1910 after her move to Hatfield Peverell. This is due to finding of a report in the Essex Weekly News explain her involvement in a planned raid of the Houses of Commons.
But what was she arrested for, and what did she have in common with the Rock sisters? In 1911, Grace was amongst 200 other women who decided to smash the windows of Mansion House. All to aid the effort for women to gain the vote. She along with 4 others, was imprisoned for 4 months in Holloway prison where she also took part in hunger strikes, maintaining her resistance to the patriarchy.
The tenure at Holloway prison was not the only time Grace found herself imprisoned. In 1910 she had disrupted a meeting in Leicester by the home secretary at the time Winston Churchill. During this disruption she exclaimed ‘Why don’t they secure the vote of the women in the country? How dare you stand on a democratic platform?’. She was escorted out and imprisoned for five days. Her story can be found on the ‘Vote for Women’ newspaper article on 25th November 1910
Grace Chappelow however militant she was in the years of 1910-1912 pursued a quieter role after her time in prison. She sold the ‘Votes for Women’ Newspaper, she still attended suffrage meetings in Chelmsford, she also spoke at one showing her belief in the progress of the movement. But it is apparent that after her time in prison, her radical behaviour had subsided, and she was more active behind the lines.
Her past did not leave her when she left the front lines though. She was arrested once again by Witham police after her dog had attacked a political agent and refused to pay the 5 shillings fine. She was taken to prison for a fortnight. What I think is telling of the context of this arrest is the news report from the Essex Newsman on her arrest. She is constantly related to her involvement with the suffragette movement and there is no dialogue of the actual crime. Therefore, this could have alienated the public away from her and made her look irrational. The Chelmsford Chronicle had also covered this story in a similar light but had not mentioned the actual offence, leaving the crime to the imagination of the audience.
So, what happened to this suffragette? She had purchased a house in Ramsden heath and decided to sell goats milk on a bike. Her house had no telephone or television, but she was an avid nature lover and was pleased to move into a house cut off from the noise of the cities. After doing this for many years she had gained her reputation as the Goat Lady and continued to live in Ramsden Heath until she died in 1971.
This women’s journey through life is one of inspiration. At an early age she felt it upon herself to make a change in the world, to question the inequality that society had set upon her, and to fight for her rights as a citizen of England. Her and many women amongst her took up the militant action to further their cause and in 1918 some women were allowed the vote. Votes for all women were achieved in 1928.
This once ‘Caged’ Goat Lady had lived through the Suffragette movement, witnessed the hunger strikes and imprisonment first hand and outlived the patriarchal society of which she endured. Stories like Graces’ are not often televised or taught in our schools, this must change. The stories of individual women like Grace show the reach and impact that the Suffrage movement had. It also is important, in my opinion, to educating further generations of the importance of equal rights.
- Chelmsford Museum, Suffragettes and Chelmsford, Chelmsford Library (2018)
- East Anglian Daily Times, Women’s Battle for the Vote! , East Anglian Daily Times (2010) , <https://www.eadt.co.uk/ea-life/women-s-battle-for-the-vote-1-210466>
- Essex Record Office, The Smashing Rock Sisters, Dorothea and Madeline Rock: Essex Suffragettes, Essex Record Office (2018),
- Gazette News, How Essex Suffragettes fought the ‘freaks and frumps’ jibes in push for the vote, Gazette Newspaper Online (2017)
- Newspaper Articles on Grace Chappelow