Roger Ottewill ‘Edith Sharp, a character of Edwardian Lymington’
The speaker at the November meeting of the Society last year was Roger Ottewill whose subject was ‘Edith Sharp, a character and early feminist of Edwardian Lymington’.
Edith Sharp was born in 1853, one of three sisters. Her father, Richard and her mother Lucy lived at 53 High Street, Lymington (often known as the Red House and currently occupied by John Wood, the Estate Agents). Both parents were committed members of the Congregational Church. Richard, a solicitor by profession was one of the trustees when the new Congregational Church (now the United Reformed Church) which was built in 1847. Edith was educated at boarding school in Epsom, so it is not surprising that this young, privately educated, middle-class lady with a background of non-conformity would develop an independent outlook.
No doubt, encouraged by her father, Edith took an active part in church affairs throughout her life and was particularly interested in the welfare of the two Congregational Mission Churches at Pilley and East End. It is recorded that in 1911 she gave £100 towards the cost of building a manse at East End and in later life (1926) she opened a new schoolroom at the Pilley church.
Among other official positions held by Edith in the Church was that of Deacon, probably she was the first woman in Hampshire to be so elected. For some thirty years she served as the church treasurer.
In his introduction, the speaker had reminded the meeting that the late Victorian period was still very much the age of women being restricted in participating in a meaningful way in any activity of responsibility but things were changing; led in South Hampshire by women like Edith Sharp.
Edith was also active in the wider community of Lymington. In 1894 she was elected to the Lymington Board of Guardians who administered the Poor Law workhouse and which, until that date, had been managed by an all male committee. The board was elected and in the first election in which she offered herself as a candidate she came second receiving 279 votes—a result undoubtedly reflecting both her popularity and the tolerance of the voters towards female candidates. She retained this role for over thirty years, serving as a member of the board until 1925.
Politically, Edith was a staunch Liberal and played a significant role during the revival of the Liberal Party fortunes in 1905-6: she became an active supporter of the Liberal Women’s Organization. She was active in Lymington during the by-election of 1906 when the Liberal candidate, Sir Robert Hobart, defeated the Conservative. This activity, of course, was significant being prior to women first obtaining the parliamentary vote in 1918. Unfortunately, the speaker was unable to find out whether Edith was ever an active Suffragist or Suffragette. Nevertheless, it is the result of the work undertaken by women like Edith Sharp that has been instrumental in bringing about the momentous changes in the lives of women up to the present day.
Edith Sharp died in 1929 and her ashes were interred in her parent’s grave in the Lymington Cemetery.
This well researched talk was much enjoyed by all those attending. The next meeting of the Society is on 31 January 2014 when the speaker is Dr Cheryl Butler and her subject has the intriguing title of ‘Tudor Southampton—the People Project’.