In 1878 a 14 year old girl called Margaret Bondfield moved from Sommerset to Hove where she started an apprenticeship at a drapers. Something remarkable then happened.... She struck up a friendship with a customer called Louisa Martindale who mentored her and introduced Margaret to some of the radical political thinking of the time. She lend her books on the nascent women’s suffrage movement, for example.
In the midst of regency Hove in it’s heyday, a bastion of conservatism, a radical spark was ignited in young Margaret that took her from Hove to London after five years at the drapers shop. Before long she became the first female general secretary of the TUC, one of the first women Labour MP’s, the first female minister and then, in 1929, the first female cabinet minister. Wow!
Margaret’s life and achievements resonate to this day. She championed rights for part time workers from her position as Labour Minister. Today we continue that fight in the form of rights for people on low pay and zero-hours contracts. And today we are still underrepresented by women in politics at all levels. Looking at Margaret Bondfield’s achievements shines a light on how far we are yet to go to complete the political mission she began.
Mystery surrounded the location of the drapers shop where she served as apprentice…until now.
It had been assumed to be Hanningtons by some historians. However, in Margaret Bondfield’s biography she said the shop owner was a Mrs White. A local Labour party member, John Warmington, has don't the painstaking work of going through all of the records for that period and astonishingly found a drapers shop in Church Road owned by a ‘Mrs White’ at exactly the same time period of Bondfield’s apprenticeship. We found it!
And here it is - 14 Church Road, where today stands a Londis store! I think this is so wonderful. It seems so relevant to the lessons of Margaret’s life that something so ‘every day’ as a convenience store marks the spot where a momentous personal journey began. 125 years ago out of an ordinary shop on a victorian high street sprung an extraordinary story and I want her story to continue today by inspiring other young people to believe more in themselves.
So lets mark this place with a ‘blue plaque’! Today I was joined by Jacqui Smith, Britain’s first female Home Secretary, and other women with an interest in local history and feminism to kick off my campaign. Tomorrow I will submit our case to the council committee that makes a decision.
If in the future another young person pops into Londis with their parents and notices the plaque then they too could realise that extraordinary things come from ordinary places and people. If just one youngster finds inspiration from Margaret’s life as a result then surely it will make this campaign very worthwhile indeed.
PS here’s coverage of the story by the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-27654880