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Pankhurst, Estelle Sylvia (1882–1960), political activist, writer, and artist Pièce Image Avec objets numériques
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Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

(Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead.)—Thanks her for helping to arrange for the safe birth of her son.

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Transcript

Dearest Emmeline,

I am only allowed to write to Silvio so slip in a note for you to sign.

Yes dear friend he is a fine healthy beautiful Child perfect in every way. Yet I am told if I had not come here {1} when I did I should not have brought him out alive. And that I could not have done so without Lady Barretts help in the nick of time as it was.

So dear it seems I owe him to you and Silvio {1}–You first and through all.

Thanks thanks and love.

Till Friday

Sylvia.

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This letter was evidently written shortly after the birth of Sylvia Pankhurst’s son Richard on 3 December 1927. A few of the words are indistinct.

{1} The reference is to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, where Lady Barrett was a consultant surgeon. See PETH 9/61.

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

(3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex?)—Sends news of Richard’s health and development.

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Transcript

Boxing Day

Dearest Emmeline,

The spirit moves me to write to you to say that in spite of plenty of anxieties I feel a flood of happiness today. Raddie {1} and Richard are in the garden. It is warm and spring-like.

Richard has not had so much as a cold this winter! He is bright and well. Instead of having the doctor like last year he was able to make Christmas presents for his friends and dress the tree Mrs Brimley {1} brought him. He stitched over a pencil drawing on paper tacked to the ribbon to make me little calendar banners. Then we tore the paper away, and the red ribbon was left. He was greatly pleased.

He looks straight and tall. His brows are straight, and his thoughts are kind. He puts bread and cheese by the mousehold†, crumbs for the birds, milk for the cat. He brought his money box to me to buy a present for Daddy. He has his own ways and his own character. He does things one would never think of and says: “I have a good idea.” I gaze at him, amazed, and say to myself: where have you come from, little man? He is physically joyous as I never was—plunging into nearly cold water with a zest—not every day—but when he feels like it (other days prefers warm) {2}. He loves to “dance” and jump and climb.

It is a daily marvel this new person—like noone else—himself. One realises the miracle more when one knows one bore him. I look at his father—the boy is not him—not me—new entirely. How have you—so entirely—individual—sprung from us? I ask it to myself so often. This year when I heard the carol singers I thought so often of waiting for him at Hampstead. How wonderful it all was. How you came to make his happy arrival safe and all that one could desire. So I feel a great flood of gratitude and joy.

With love
Sylvia P.

What I feel so vividly of his being a new person is true of all the children I know, but it comes home so forcibly when every day one sees it in a close intimate way one felt generally before—not with this piercing astonishme[nt] {3}.

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{1} Reading uncertain.

{2} ‘other … warm’ interlined. Brackets supplied.

{3} A small piece of the paper has been torn away.

† Sic.

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

West Dene, 3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex.—She was too upset to attend Lady Pethick-Lawrence’s cremation, but has written tributes for the press.

(Letter-head of the New Times and Ethiopia News. Sylvia Pankhurst is named as Editor.)

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

West Dene, 3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex.—She and Richard are moving to Ethiopia. Explains the reasons for the decision.

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Transcript

‘West Dene’, 3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex, England
May 1st.

Dear Fred,

I am going away to Ethiopia for a long time and shall have to say goodbye to you and everyone. Probably I shall never return.

Richard was asked to take a post at the University College of Addis Ababa. I thanked the Emperor but wrote that I could not spare Richard. That is a couple of years ago. Then I began to think it would be best for us both to go. I could be of more use to them there than here I think. This has been agreed. The Emperor is making all arrangements for us.

It means ending “New Times and Ethiopia News” which has completed twenty years, but I hope to run a monthly there and to write some books.

In many ways I am sad to go—to part with dear friends—and packing and disposing of house and goods is a terrible toil. But it seems best.

Perhaps I shall have an opportunity to see you to say goodbye before I go.

We expect to leave about June.

With love from Richard and from
Sylvia.

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Letter-head of the New Times and Ethiopia News. Sylvia Pankhurst is named as Editor. At the head Gladys Groom has written, ‘P-L. replied personally 5/5/56’.

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

P.O. Box 1896, Addis Ababa.—Describes her new house and the local soil and flora. Richard is teaching history at the University College of Addis Ababa. Discusses plans for the Ethiopia Observer, and the effects of the stopping of the Suez Canal on Ethiopian trade.

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Transcript

P. O. Box 1896, Addis Ababa
19 November 1956

Dear Fred,

After the weariness of an hotel, we at last have a charming house surrounded by eucalyptus trees. We reach it up an avenue of eucalyptus and there is a row of them bordering our land all round and quite a wood behind the house. We have some geraniums some of which grow 8 feet high and mean to have more. They bloom all the year round here. We have a few roses and hope to have any more as well as other flowers. There is a room in front, as you will see from the photograph {1}, which has windows the entire length. This is where I work. There is a little veranda where we have lunch and a round summerhouse with a thatched roof with a window on two sides. I believe that will be a good place for writing on chilly days of which there are many. At present it is used by a man who does odd jobs and gardening. Later there will be a house for him built in Ethiopian style. They make a rather elaborate framework of thin would {2} and new plaster the walls outside and in until they are quite thick. Such houses are warm and durable. The plaster they use is very elaborate; they make a sort of pudding on the ground of the earth mixed with water; after stirring and waiting several days they sprinkle into† it with chopped grass, and finally it becomes a durable plaster which will last it is said for twenty years or more without repair when applied to the walls.

The earth is very light here; much of it is red. It is volcanic. It is very deep; one can see where the streams have worn it away 10, 20 or even more feet of earth often without a stone, which looks as though it had been cut artificially it is so sheer and straight. Where they are cutting new walls one can see high banks on one or both sides, all fine earth with hardly a stone. This is like the earth the Blue Nile carries to the Sudan and Egypt from the Ethiopian highlands.

Towards the end of September one suddenly sees all the fields, all the grass by the roadside, golden yellow with the so-called Maskal flowers. They come out at this season, the anniversary of the bringing to Ethiopia of a piece of the “true cross” found by the Empress Helena in Jerusalem. These flowers last only a couple of months or so at that season and then disappear. That is whey they are called Maskal flowers. Maskal means the Cross. It is curious that though the plants bearing these flowers grow from one foot to ten foot high according to whether they are in a field or just by the roadside without much soil or moisture one does not notice them till suddenly the hills and valleys are all golden yellow. The green buds do not show among the green and the flowers all seem to burst out together. They are born† on branches sticking out from the main stems which are frail and slender. They make an amazingly beautiful show. About the same season yellow acacia and the little golden balls of the mimosa come into bloom and Addis Ababa which was all blue-grey-green becomes glorified with gold.

Richard is teaching at the University College of Addis Ababa Economic History, African History and Ethiopian History. He is studying hard as well as teaching.

I suppose by this time you will have had a copy of our new monthly “The Ethiopian Observer”. We have devoted the first issue to the Emperor’s visit to the Ogaden and to Somali problems. The second issue will be Addis Ababa: Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s plan for it, a survey of population, History of the town and descriptons as it is, poem inspired by its history. The third issue will be devoted to the Ethiopian woman: history, education, prospects. The fourth will be Public Health in Ethiopia. The most difficult thing here is to find efficient secretarial assistance.

We often think of you and all friends at home. What an awful mess about Suez! {1}

With love from us both
Affectionately Sylvia P.

The stopping of Suez Canal is ruinous to this country. Coffee is their greatest export—after that hides, skins, oilseeds, honey, beeswax and various agricultural products. Coffee is far and away the greatest source of revenue. It goes in largest quantity to U.S.A., after that Britain and Europe. The East does not take it. The Emperor’s visit to India, Japan, etc., is opportune and some trade will result, but not to compare I fear with coffee. Transport problems in this mountainous land make cereals a costly export and cereals can be obtained much more cheaply from the great farms, highly mechanised elsewhere on the great plains.

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Letter-head of the Ethiopia Observer. Sylvia Pankhurst is named as the Editor. A few changes have been made to the punctuation.

{1} PETH 9/68.

{2} This is the apparent reading. Presumably the intended word is ‘wood’.

† Sic.

Letter from Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

Holloway Prison.—Refers to the restrictions placed on their correspondence. Is convinced that all with be well with them both, as they are accomplishing their purpose in life. Describes her surroundings and usual activities, and discusses her reading. Expresses confidence in his courage and judgement.

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Transcript

Holloway Prison
June 18th 1912.

Dearest. What a joy to write to you at last! A fortnight ago I should have written in spite of our agreement. But then it occurred to me that if you accepted my letter, it would mean that no news of the outside world or of your many friends would reach you. As for me—well you knew then and you know now how it is with me. And I knew then & I know now how it is with you—Well—infinitely well! For, the purpose to which we were born & for which we were mated is accomplished. The hour is come & we are delivered. Since I received my letter a fortnight ago, & especially since I saw my sisters last Saturday, I have had those definite tidings of you for which of course I was longing. Indeed my assurance born of knowledge of you, & faith in the universal sustaining Life of which we partake—& then the news of you that I have received from those who have seen you, are the last drop in my cup of content. It will not surprise you when I tell you that these past weeks have been a time of peace. Like the hermits of old, I often feel inclined to exclaim—

O beata solitudo!
O sola beatitudo!

My surroundings lend colour to the convent idea! My room on the ground floor is vaulted above & partitioned by an arch. There are four pointed windows that open top & bottom—in aspect quite ecclesiastic. They look out upon a bank of shrubs & an overshadowing tree, through the leaves of which, the morning sunlight shimmers & throws flickering shadows & lights on floor & wall. Behind them is a sunny path & a tiny garden. It is a little shut in, a little dark except on very bright days. But I feel close to “Mother Earth” & rejoice once more in that sense of union, so vital to the life of my senses. I hear the blackbirds & thrushes morning & night & can watch a very bold & fat robin lording it over the sparrows. At night I can hear the rain falling & trickling through the ground & I can see the brightening sky at dawn. And my earth hunger is appeased. The days pass quickly & are all too short for what I want to put into them. First thing in the morning come the newspaper—before breakfast. First a glance, then a good hour is spent over them. Four hours out of every day are spent in the sunshine. While I was with the others we played very vigorous games. Now my companion & I often take chairs out & she will read aloud some French Play while I work. Sylvia is designing a banner for us to embroider. We shall each have an embroidery frame & shall take them out of doors. My device is “May God defend us, as our Cause is just.” Hers that phrase of Milton’s “O Liberty, thou choicest Treasure.” It will be nice to have some substantial piece of work to remain as a witness & memorial of 1912. Every day I get some Italian done. I like Hugo’s Simplified System very much. I have 3 books. 1. Italian Grammar. 2. Key to Exercises. 3. Italian Reading Simplified. The pronunciation of every word is reproduced in English spelling & the accent noted which is very helpful. I don’t get through 5 books a week like you! But then I have a never-ending conversation going on with one of whom it may be said—“Age cannot wither her nor custom stale, Her infinite variety.” We are great pals & very happy in our intercourse. I am just now deep in a book which I shall pass on to you presently. “Sabatier’s Life of St Francis.” It will (I think) interest you. I read it 15 or 16 years ago. I think I have described to you how Hugh Price Hughes introduced the book & how the influence of it finally broke up his Sisterhood & sent the ardent minds out to seek new paths. Much of the old charm & force of the book comes back to me. It is written by a French mystic, with a flair for the poetry of religion—a mind that understands S. Francis & is in tune with it. Here is one little passage as a sample. Speaking of S. Clare & S. Francis he says: “When he doubted his mission & thought of fleeing to the heights of repose & solitary prayer it was she who showed him the ripening harvest, men going astray with no shepherd to lead them, & drew him once more again into the train of the Galilean, into the number of those who give their lives a ransom for many.” The two characters, in their relative strengths are very interesting. St Clara was the better fighter. She was not so easily taken in with fair words. It was she who withstood the Pope, years after S. Francis had allowed his ideal to be overshadowed. Strange to say, she brought Pope Gregory IX to submission by a sort of Hunger Strike. This is the story. He forbade the preaching Friars to go to her Convent at St Damian’s, without express permission from the Holy See. She forthwith dismissed from the Convent those Friars whose business it was to protect the Nuns & supply them with food. “Go” she said. “Since they deprive us of those who dispense to us spiritual bread, we will not have those who procure for us material bread.” The writer goes on to add “He who wrote that “the necks of kings & princes are bowed at the feet of the priests” was obliged to bow before this woman & raise his prohibition.” Now isn’t that interesting? Mr Healy who came to see us yesterday & promised to see you today is sending me a book about another very wonderful woman saint & mystic. All these things—the thought of those who lived these real intense lives in the past fascinate me deeply. One feels a close sense of union with these striving hearts. Thus with study, with reading, thinking, talking, with needle work & all the little interests & occupations of the hour, the night follows the morning, & the morning the night & time slips along like the swift current of a quiet river. I certainly have no wish to be out in a world where Manhood Suffrage stalks & raves!! Dearest, you must keep this letter as a curiosity. It represents a triumph of the human will. Some day I will tell you the story & we will laugh over it together. At first I felt more like crying! But I shall make you curious! It is a funny world, full of lights & shadows like my tree outside! You do not need that I should refer to any matters of importance. You see the newspapers just as I do, & you know all that you want to know of the world outside your own world. But the words of that song that you used to sing when I first knew you come back to me—“My heart & yours are full of light.” You remember the song? All of it? I do not for one moment forget the promise that I would not entertain any anxiety or fear on your behalf, nor do I forget your promise to the same effect. Courage & Judgment. You remember how we said once these two qualities must go together. I have absolute confidence in your judgment to do what is wisest & best & absolute confidence not only in your courage but in your strength to carry out what will & conscience suggest to you, with perfect serenity & calm resolution. We can have faith in each other because we draw from an inexhaustible Source of Life which is ever open to us. Above & beyond all we trust our destiny & the Hand that guides it. Will you—I wonder will you—read this long letter right through? Your letter that I brought with me here is always near at hand. I often read it. It is enough. That last moment at The Old Bailey! That too is enough. I think we two are the happiest & luckiest people in all the world. You will read between these lines (!!) all that I would say. Goodbye. We go through these next two weeks before we can exchange another letter—we go together.

Ever your loving Wife

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The letter is written on a printed form. The details entered by hand include, besides what is printed above, the prisoner’s number (15581) and name. A few slight alterations have been made to the punctuation of the original.

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

P.O. Box 1896, Addis Ababa.—Sends good wishes on his marriage, and criticises various aspects of British foreign policy.

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Transcript

Post Box 1896 | Addis Ababa
13 February 1957

Dear Fred,

Your news had reached me by a press cutting forwarded by Mrs Tims from England. But I did not recognise Helen Craggs under her married name until I received your letter. I knew her and she will remember me.

I feel sure you will both be very happy though I have not seen her since about 1910. I hope you will keep well for a long time and be able to enjoy life.

In your previous letter you mentioned the international situation. It is a cause of great anxiety and difficulty here. The Suez situation will reduce Ethiopia’s export of coffee to New York—a very important market for her[—]and also doubtless to England and other parts of Europe, giving an advantage to Brazil. That coffee is not so good as Ethiopian, but price counts and the journey round the Cape will increase transport costs. I think the general feeling here is that though Israel was in danger from Egypt the United Nations ought to have been appealed to for action to preserve the peace and that unilateral action by Britain and France was totally out of order.

At the same time Egypt is feared here. The Egyptians have for a long time been broadcasting against Ethiopia in the Ethiopian languages. Her existence as a Christian state in the Islamic Middle East is resented. You know that in the nineteenth century Egypt repeatedly invaded Ethiopia—and though defeated in two great battles, she occupied Ethiopian territory for some time. The history of Ethiopia, since the sixteenth century, has been one of difficulty owing to the seizure of her Red Sea Coast by Turkey and its subsequent occupation by Egypt as Turkey’s vassal.

Trade with Israel particularly in meat is now hopeful and recalls the ancient trade between the two countries before the Islamic seizure of the Red Sea Coast. Therefore it is natural on all these accounts that there is a certain amount of sympathy for Israel, coupled with anxiety concerning the future actions of Nasser.

The British Foreign Office are playing an unfortunate game in attempting to rouse Somali unrest against the Ethiopian Government but actually they only influence the British Somaliland Protectorate to any degree.
Furlonge, the new British Ambassador here, has been to the Protectorate to address the so-called “Somali United Front”. British policy toward the Ogaden, the Reserved Area and Somaliland generally since 1941 has been a bad mistake.

I sometimes see the Greek Archbishop of Aksum. He is always very friendly, for I expressed to him, as soon as I saw him, that I am grieved about the policy of the present British Government in Cyprus. He is a stately and majestic old man. He told me our Government is “mad” to act so in Cyprus, and expressed sorrow that the traditional Anglo-Greek friendship is destroyed. He said the worst thing our Government has done is to revive the ancient Turko-Greek enmity. Eden is much blamed for this.

I met the other day an American representative of the World Council of Churches, who said he was in Constantinople at the time of the Turkish anti-Greek riots. He said the Turks behaved with great brutality pulling out the beards of the Greek priests and destroying the works of art in their churches. He said it was believed in Constantinople that the British Foreign Office had encouraged the attack. He evidently thought so.

Britain has greatly lost caste with the Americans here, because of Suez and Cyprus, particularly the former. One very temperate steady type of American said the Suez business had cut the umbilical cord between Britain and U.S.A. Previously he said the best type of American considered Britain wiser and more experienced in foreign affairs than U.S.A., but now they regard her as a mere delinquent. That opinion may pass in the next political phase, but is seems fairly strong today among the Americans here.

British trade with this country is greatly handicapped by the poor representation of British firms by The Sabean Company, the Arabian Trading Company, Mitchell Cotts, Gellatly Hankey.

Boots, for example, is represented by the Sabean Company but when you go to the shop where the name Boots is displayed, you can get barely 3 or 4 Boot’s preparations. The shop is mainly stocked with German goods.

British motorcars are liked but the agents have no spare parts, so people buy German or Italian cars—the latter very unsatisfactory in wear.

Goods shipped from England are mainly consigned to Jibuti. Gellatly Hankey used to undertake to arrange transport by the railway to Addis Ababa and intermediate stations. They have now ceased to undertake this service.

Consequently this expanding market is largely closed to British goods by the inefficiency of the agents who have undertaken to deal with them. The manager of the main Ethiopian chemist’s told me when I enquired for one of Boot’s preparations that he has tried to stock them but Boots is “very badly represented by the Sabean Utility Corporation” and consequently he is able to obtain very few Boots preparations. Sabean was started in 1940 and has British[,] Egyptian and Ethiopian capital. It is under British management. Its office is incredibly neglected.

Well this is all a very dull letter, but in case the subject of trade with Ethiopia is raised you will have some light on certain aspects of it. One person connected with it calls himself Colonel Jay Pasha. He has just arrived from Egypt whence he had to flee[.] When I saw him I thought Pasha a bit out of date.

Best wishes and love from both of us. Will you ever come this way? We have a feast of glorious sunshine just now!

Sylvia

I have grateful memories of Helen from long ago.

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{1} The announcement of his forthcoming marriage to Helen McCombie.

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