This article was published in the March 2019 issue of the magazine of the Bromley Borough Local History Society, It is reproduced here by permission.

Striding along the footpath that ploughed three-quarters of a mile across open fields from Glentrammon Road at Green Street Green to Chelsfield Station in the 1920s, 30s and early 40s, Dorothy Evans must have cut a striking figure in her customary cape or cloak and floppy black felt hat as she hurried to catch the train to London Bridge and her job in the City.

Swinging her large fur-trimmed grey handbag, perhaps puffing on one of those strong Turkish cigarettes she habitually favoured, checking the time on the gold wristwatch she always wore, she was clearly an uncommon creature in this hamlet on the edge of countryside gradually being transformed into a quiet outpost of Orpington commuterland.

Her fellow travellers knew Dorothy didn’t always go to the City. Sometimes she made her way to Westminster or diverted to meetings with important people elsewhere in Town. Occasionally she was absent on business abroad. Not an everyday woman resident of Green Street Green by any means.

She had arrived, five months pregnant, at Glentrammon Road in September 1920. Her home – among the first of the few scattered along this new unmade road running like a ribbon across the hillside above the High Street – was a small, weatherboarded detached bungalow that looked like an army hut. She’d named it “Redcap”. Nobody now remembers why.

The house sat on a big sloping plot with an apple orchard at the bottom and a spectacular view across the valley towards Farnborough and the Lubbock family estate at High Elms (nowadays a golf course and country park).

Her neighbours were astonished that, despite her “condition”, Dorothy attacked the scrubby land behind the house with gusto to create a garden, even digging out a large flat lawn area herself. She loved the nearness to the soil that gardening brought, she said. Producing the fruits of the earth made her “feel of some use in the world”. Tending her plants, shrubs and flowers; growing fruit and vegetables – that was her passion, her “relaxation and joy”.

Undoubtedly, Dorothy Evans gave the good folk of Glentrammon Road and the swelling ranks in new suburban streets nearby plenty to wonder at and whisper about. For those days, their neighbour’s lifestyle was unconventional, to say the least.

For one thing, Dorothy was a sun-worshipper. She did her gardening wearing a swimsuit, people reported in deliciously outraged tones. Some swore she even sunbathed on the lawn naked and quite unashamed! She didn’t appear to be married – indeed, anyone who bothered to check could see she was listed in Kelly’s Directory as “Miss D Evans”. But she had a young daughter, born in January 1921. Visitors frequently turned up at the house – and watchful locals couldn’t fail to notice that among them was a dark, bearded, slightly older Welshman with an air of authority who regularly arrived on the scene and (scandal!) stayed overnight or even for whole weekends.

The neighbours knew that Miss Evans owned the house and employed a live-in housekeeper. And her daughter Lyndal went to a private school. Must have had a bit of money, they probably mused. But who was the younger woman “friend” Sybil, who moved in at “Redcap” in the late 1930s with Dorothy? If such delicate matters as the nature of the women’s relationship were talked of, they’d have been shocked to learn that Sybil was the strident peace campaigner Sybil Morrison, a lesbian once dubbed “the most famous dyke in London”.

And still that dark Welshman came calling as well! Who knew that he was a man of substance – Albert Emil Davies, a staunch Socialist of the Fabian persuasion and fierce advocate of nationalisation; an Alderman of the London County Council, later its chairman; an investment fund operator in the City; author; financial editor of a newspaper; a lecturer in business economics.

Married with four children and a home in Hertfordshire, Davies was also father of Lyndal, who, illegitimate, had been given the surname Evans by her mother. Dorothy, a strong and self-reliant character, didn’t want marriage: she believed in a partnership bound together by love, comradeship and mutual respect, not by legal ties and a certificate.

Nor did she want to destroy Davies’s family. But she happily continued her affair with him for the rest of her life as well as working for him in the City as a financial manager. And he funded Lyndal’s education, first at a local Dame school, then down the road at Halstead Place preparatory school and through a scholarship at Bromley County Girls’ Grammar and supported her further when she took an economics degree. Davies, Dorothy and Lyndal even spent holidays together.

Best not to tangle with Miss Evans, the locals may have thought. Especially when she proved what a feisty female she was with a forceful response when in the early months of the Second World War the neighbourhood defence committee dared to suggest that householders should offer up their garden implements as weapons to deal with any invading Germans who might descend on the village. She declared herself a conscientious objector, made it clear she didn’t believe in war and would never, ever allow her tools – or her car – to be taken or used for such purposes.

It’s impossible to say for certain today whether many people in Green Street Green and the area around were fully aware that Dorothy Evans – in their midst for nigh on a quarter of a century, almost half her life – was a woman with an extremely colourful past and who was actively engaged in high-level political campaigns for more than two decades.

A close friend of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Sylvia and Christabel, Dorothy was one of the most militant members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), generally known as Suffragettes. Launched by Emmeline in 1903, the WSPU undertook to fight more aggressively for Votes For Women than Suffragists, who had sought to advance the cause, without much success, for nearly 40 years using law-abiding, peaceful methods.
Dorothy was born in Camden in 1888, eldest of three children of an accountant (later a flooring contractor) Edward Evans and his wife Marion. As the family grew, they moved to Twickenham and then South Norwood.

Seated Left to Right – Alice Paul, Elizabeth Robins, Viscountess Rhondda, Dr. Louisa Martindale, Mrs. Virginia Crawford, Dorothy Evans – Standing – Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence, Alison Neilans, Florence Underwood, Miss Barry.

Her Suffragette involvement began at the age of 19, just after leaving her North London school in 1907 and embarking on a career as a gymnastics teacher. Within two years she had become a full-time WSPU organiser and later held a string of major WSPU posts, including in Birmingham and the Midlands, Bristol and the West of England, and Northern Ireland, where she waged “war” akin to terrorism to focus the Government’s attention on the question of women’s enfranchisement.

She was arrested on numerous occasions between 1909 and 1914 for her Suffragette activities. These ranged from refusing to pay a dog licence, disrupting a meeting being addressed by a Cabinet minister, smashing windows, possessing arms and explosive materials and being implicated in the bombing of a cathedral. She went to prison nine times, staged thirst and hunger strikes and endured the torture of forcible feeding as a result.

During the First World War Dorothy broke with the Pankhursts, helped set up the Independent Women’s Social and Political Union, emerged as a prominent pacifist protester and afterwards became a vigorous campaigner on women’s issues. A key figure on numerous bodies concerned with the status of women, she continued as a committed peace activist in the Second World War and was at the forefront of attempts to mobilise and train women to become Members of Parliament.

These and many other efforts on behalf of women and their place in society occupied Dorothy until her sudden death from cancer in August 1944 at the age of 55 while visiting Glasgow with Sybil Morrison to speak on the topic of women MPs. Friends knew she was ill and in some pain, but she never revealed to anyone — not even Emil Davies, Sybil Morrison of her daughter Lyndal — what she was suffering from and bluntly refused her doctor’s entreaties to undergo surgery. That was one thing, according to Lyndal, that Dorothy feared.

She left “Redcap” and all her possessions to Lyndal, apart from a few special bequests to “my loved ones” including paintings and a ring for Emil Davies, a radio set, silver scarf pin and a black cape for Sybil Morrison, rings and watches for other friends.

On a cold and windy Sunday in December 1944, Dorothy was honoured with a memorial service at Caxton Hall, Westminster. It was filled with flowers and the flags and banners of the numerous organisations she was involved with hung all around in tribute. Friends and followers crowded in to celebrate a brave fighter and her work. Among them were big names of the suffrage, feminist and peace movements, including Edith Summerskill and Vera Brittain. Sybil Thorndike gave a reading and Harriet Cohen, a famous concert pianist composer and arranger, gave a recital.

An “appreciation” in International Women’s News a few weeks after Dorothy’s death summed up her place in history and declared: “She was not only a champion of women’s rights, she was a great human being. We shall not see her like again.”

But why Dorothy Evans, described by contemporaries as “one of the outstanding women of the Suffragette movement” and “a woman of genius, courage and kindness”, chose to settle down in Green Street Green remains a mystery.

Perhaps even more puzzling is why this formidable woman seems to have been overlooked or forgotten in the very place she called home for 25 years.

Patrick Hellicar

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