The Le Lacheur Family
Several members of the Le Lacheur family of the Wilderness, Tunbridge Wells were involved in the women’s suffrage movement.
Kate Le Lacheur (back row, second from the right) at Cambridge University
source: Newnham College
The family, originally from Guernsey, had moved to Tunbridge Wells by 1880. John Allez Le Lacheur was described in the census of the following year as ‘merchant, ship owner and Consul General’, roles which he inherited from his father, William Le Lacheur, who had opened up the coffee trade with Costa Rica and been rewarded by its government with the title of Consul General. John’s wife, Lydia, gave birth to at least eleven children between c.1867 and 1890, including eight girls, while he developed many business interests in the city of London with a variety of shipping, transport and insurance companies as well as the family firm. The Le Lacheurs were generous supporters of philanthropic causes especially those related the Congregational church: John served on the national Congregationalists’ Missionary Committee. In Tunbridge Wells he supported local causes including the Leisure Hour Club which was run for working girls by members of the National Union of Women Workers.
The Le Lacheurs’ home in Tunbridge Wells, which was pulled down decades ago, was probably one of the most impressive dwellings in the Pembury Road, where some of the town’s greatest mansions could be found. It was described by auctioneers in 1905 as ‘occupying the finest position’ in the town, with ‘commanding views stretching into three counties’. A ‘handsome gothic mansion’, the house had five reception rooms, eleven bedrooms, a conservatory and a billiard room. It also had extensive and ‘magnificently timbered grounds, with tennis and other lawns; kitchen garden; extensive glasshouses, ornamental water, wild gardens and woods’.
John and Lydia’s two surviving sons, William and Edward Tom, followed John into the family business and soon after John’s death in 1904 William took over as Consul General for Costa Rica. Of the eight daughters at least two were educated at the Tunbridge Wells Girls’ High School. These two, Emma Margarita and Edith Kate, went onto Newnham College at Cambridge, so the family were evidently supporters of female education. Another daughter studied agriculture at a college in Swanley, Kent.
Lydia was very active in the Tunbridge Wells branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, where she served as treasurer and hosted many meetings and ‘at homes’, both at the Society’s shop and club rooms in Crescent Road and at the Wilderness. She was also a supporter of the Women’s Tax Resistance League and presided over a meeting in support of the League’s campaign of passive resistance held at Crescent Road in the summer of 1911. After the outbreak of the First World War Lydia and one of her daughters joined a committee to receive and support Belgian refugees who were coming to Tunbridge Wells, and Lydia was reported by a local newspaper to be in charge of receiving a group of refugees at Grosvenor Lodge. Lydia showed an interest in progressive politics as well as philanthropy. In 1915, by which time she was in her seventies, she hosted a meeting at her home at which a MP named Percy Alden spoke in favour of the establishment of an international organisation to prevent future wars.
Of her daughters, (Edith) Kate (born c.1877) is the best-known for suffrage activities. After Newnham, Kate took up farming, becoming a member of the recently-formed British section of the Women’s Agricultural and Horticultural International Union (WAHIU) early in 1901. Later the Women’s Farm and Garden Association, the WAHIU was formed to promote farming as a profession for women. The following year, she was appointed Manageress of the Leckhampstead Manor Farm School near Newbury. By 1904 she was running Lovegrove’s Dairy at Checkendon near Reading, an establishment described as in Raeburn’s book The Militant Suffragettes as ‘a suffragette dairy and farm school’, and in the photograph of the farm in Raeburn’s book a ‘votes for women’ poster is visible on a barn. In retrospect, Kate was especially proud of running one of the first dairies to use motorised transport for milk delivery. Kate married in 1912 but did not change her name, merely altering the prefix to ‘Mrs’. In 1913 she started advertising courses offering ‘practical training for Home or Colonial farming’ at Checkendon in the newsletter of the WAHIU. Kate and her husband had three sons, but she was soon widowed, as her husband volunteered for the army at the outbreak of war and died in the Dardanelles campaign of 1915.
Kate seems to have been associated mainly with the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). She is reported in the first issue of The Vote in 1909 as having donated £2 to the WFL legal defence fund. In November 1910 she was arrested alongside 161 other people for obstruction in Downing Street, a few days after the famous ‘Black Friday’ demonstration which is remembered for police assaults on women. On that occasion she was discharged at Bow Street Court when no evidence was offered. Her later involvement with the Women’s Peace Crusade – which opposed war and militarism - suggests close connections to the WFL leadership and world view. The WFL also spawned the Women’s Tax Resistance League in which Kate played a part, famously having a cow seized by bailiffs for non-payment of tax.
Some of the other Le Lacheur daughters were also involved in the suffrage campaign. At least one of them belonged to the Tunbridge Wells Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), and demonstrated alongside Olive Walton outside the Great Hall anti-suffrage rally in 1913. Miss M M Le Lacheur, who followed her older sister Kate into farming and the WAHIU, was in the car driven by ‘Mr Le Lacheur’ (presumably one of her brothers) to the WSPU ‘Women’s Sunday’ demonstration in June1908. Unfortunately, newspaper reports rarely gave a first name or initials, but it seems likely that one or two of the younger daughters who still lived at home in the years leading up to the First World War were active alongside their mother in the town’s suffrage movement. As studies in other towns have found, families like the Le Lacheurs were active in several suffrage societies, and the dividing lines between ‘militants’ and ‘non-militants’ were far from clear. The Tunbridge Wells anti-suffragist, Margaret Backhouse perhaps had some justification when she argued that the local NUWSS leadership were being disingenuous when they tried to disassociate themselves totally from the actions of militants in the wake of the cricket pavilion fire in 1913.