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Blue plaque marks the Duchess of Woking’s former home

Date: 

Monday, 24 September, 2018

A blue plaque was unveiled to commemorate the residence of composer, author, sportswoman and suffragette, Ethel Smyth on Saturday (22 September 2018) outside Brettanby Cottage in Hook Heath, Woking.

Ethel moved to Hook Heath, Woking in 1910 to a newly-built house she named ‘Coign’. A rarity of the era, Dame Ethel was a keen sportswoman. She was a member of the Woking Golf Club, and moved to Hook Heath to be near to her beloved golf course.

Ethel had ten books published in her lifetime, all of them written after she had settled in Woking. Her works from 1910 to 1930 were also composed at the property and she remained there until her death in 1944. Many notable female figures were known to have visited Ethel at her home including Emmeline Pankhurst, who was arrested just outside the cottage, and Virginia Woolfe.

At her own request, after cremation at Woking Crematorium, her ashes were scattered in the woodland next to the golf course by her brother Robert. Ethel never married, having rejected an offer from her long-standing friend Henry Brewster. She was a proud citizen of Woking and is reported to have stated that “if ever I were to be ennobled, the title I would choose would be Ethel, Duchess of Woking”.

The Woking cottage has since been renamed to Brettanby Cottage and is home to the Gavey family. The blue plaque was unveiled by Mayor of Woking, Cllr Will Forster, and in attendance were the Gavey family and Dr Chris Wiley from the University of Surrey, a leading expert on the life of Ethel Smyth.

Cllr Will Forster, said: “The current residents of Dame Ethel’s cottage are exceedingly proud of their connection to this significant historic landmark and it was a real honour to mark the life of such an accomplished and important figure in the history of women’s rights with an iconic blue plaque.”

Dame Ethel’s part in the campaign for Votes for Women is commemorated through the Surrey History Centre’s Heritage Lottery Fund project 'The March of the Women: Surrey's Road to the Vote'.

Visit www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk for more information. To see more photographs and video footage of the plaque unveiling, visit www.celebratewoking.info