Last Friday, we paid tribute to Nottingham’s best-known suffragette Helen Kirkpatrick Watts. We gathered at the Arboretum with members of the Watts family and the Nottingham Women’s History Group, for the planting of a Juniper tree and the unveiling of a memorial plaque.
The 6th February 2018 marked the centennial of the Representation of the People Act, which enabled some women to vote for the first time. We were inspired by the life story of Helen Watts, Nottingham’s most known suffragette, and decided to brew a beer in her honour.
Helen Watts was raised in Lenton, Nottingham, where her father was the appointed vicar of the Holy Trinity.
The recipe was inspired by Helen’s time at Eagle House, where activists went to recuperate after periods of incarnation. Helen herself stayed at Eagle House, and in 1911 she took part in the suffragette act of planting a Juniper tree in the grounds. She returned in 1962 to pick a sprig from the same tree. The beer was accordingly infused with Juniper, with piny tastes at the forefront.
Though some things remain, a lot has changed since then. Helen Watts and women like her made sure of it. By the time Watts was 30 years old, she had been arrested three times and imprisoned twice. The second of these incarcerations also saw her go on hunger strike for 90 hours. As the plaque in her memory states, Helen Watts always maintained that women’s suffrage was about ‘fighting for a human right’.
We had had our eyes on this remarkable woman for quite some time, wanting to pay our tributes to her life and achievements. The suffragettes were fighting for a voice and, as such, it tended to be the case that only women in more privileged positions had the opportunity to step up and speak up. Women with comfortable lives, but who were discontent to be silenced or ignored.
Watts rose through the ranks of the suffragette movement due to her pragmatic and empowering speeches. Her determination to make her voice and the voices of other women heard is even more inspiring, though by no means defining, when one learns that she was partially deaf.
The date is the 14th December, 100 years to the day when some women were able to vote for the first time. Then, women had to be over 30 years old and have a degree from a British university. But – it was progress. To mark the centenary, we joined Watts’ family members, the Nottingham Women’s History Group, the Sheriff of Nottingham and the Councillor at the Arboretum. (The latter two are both women. A physical apparition of the changes Watts and her peers set in motion.) Sales of Helen Watts’ namesake beer earlier in the year meant we were able to contribute to the funding the plaque, which now sits beneath the Juniper tree.
The beer may be long gone now, but Helen Watts’ memory is set in stone. We hope that people will remember all she and her contemporaries did for us, and will continue to strive for equality for everyone. There’s still plenty to be done.