Hortense Lane was one of the first active suffragettes in Ipswich. As early as 1909, she appeared in court for refusing to pay her ‘Inhabited House Duty’ as a protest at not having the vote. This was before the No Vote, No Tax campaign really took off across the country.
At this time, suffrage activity in Ipswich amounted to little more than public meetings and lobbying local MPs. But soon afterwards, Constance Andrews formed a local branch of the more radical Women’s Freedom League. Hortense Lane became an active member.
Hardly a year went by, right up to WW1, when Hortense Lane didn’t make her demand for the Vote known by refusing to pay a tax – in 1911 Constance Andrews joined her in refusing to buy a dog licence. Hortense Lane’s farm waggon was frequently offered up to the bailiffs to pay the fine – then famously was bought back at auction.
Hortense Lane was often accompanied by Dr Elizabeth Knight, a wealthy London suffragette who spent a great deal of time in the Lane household in Suffolk. I often wondered about the friendship between the two women, but drew a blank until I was contacted by the grandson and great granddaughter of Hortense Lane, and heard this story:
Hortense Mary and her sister Charlotte Louise were the daughters of Mary Talmarsh Weetman (née Clements) and John Weetman. They were a wealthy family, but John Weetman died when the two girls were small, and their mother brought them up alone. The girls were educated at Ipswich High School where Louise in particular shone, and went on to qualify as a doctor at the London School of Medicine for Women. She became a good friend of co-student Elizabeth Knight. Shortly after qualifying, she took a brand-new ferry to the Channel Islands, which sank. The experience of being lost in the water was so traumatic that she became severely mentally ill. She never recovered and had to be cared for throughout her life. Dr Knight continued to befriend her, and helped her mother care for her.
Shortly after this, Hortense formed a relationship with the stables’ groom, Frank Lane, of which her mother disapproved so much that she cut off financial support to the couple. After her death in 1903, there are a few years when little is known about Louise or Hortense. At the time of Hortense’s first court appearance in 1909, she was living at Whitton with her husband, and shortly afterwards moved to Cowslip Farm in Witnesham. This farm had been bought by Elizabeth Knight on the understanding that Hortense and Frank could live there and work the farm, and would provide care for Louise. Elizabeth and Hortense continued with their suffragette protests, and it is said within the family that sometimes Emmeline Pankhurst would stay there.
The dairy farm had an innovative golden period, but later on Hortense and Frank fell on bad times. Nevertheless, the Lanes and their four children struggled on, with Louise living in her own annexe, and the farm became profitable again. Eventually, it became the Fynn Valley Golf Club and is still run by Hortense’s grandson, Tony Tyrell, and great-granddaughter Jenny.
As a suffragette, Hortense Lane was brave and determined, and carried out acts of civil disobedience as part of the campaign to get the Vote for Women. Over the span of her life, however, she experienced hardship and tragedy, which perhaps got the better of her in later life.