Sophie Campbell



Votes for women: a patchwork

February 7, 2018

This vivid image of the struggle for female equality is tucked behind a column in the Royal Festival Hall. It’s part of the Patchwork of the Century, stitched by the women’s societies of Twickenham for the Festival of Britain in 1951. The patchwork faces away from the foyer to protect its 67-year old fabric from the light, so is easy to miss.

'Votes for Women', Patchwork of the Century © Sophie Campbell

The whole thing is about five foot square, made from recycled materials in the era when ‘make-do-and-mend’ was a fact of life, and each panel of faded cotton or linen commemorates an event for that year.

Look for the 1851 Great Exhibition (on which the Festival of Britain was based), the publication of Alice in Wonderland and the invention of the penny farthing. While doing so you might find Amy Johnson’s 12,000-mile solo flying record, the Battle of Britain, the arrival of television and the founding of the National Health Service.

The patchwork was first displayed in York House, Twickenham, now home to Richmond Borough Council, and its creation was overseen by the graphic and textile designer Lilian Dring, who embroidered four panels herself.


Zeppelins and General Strike © Sophie Campbell
Flying Scotsman and Wembley Stadium © Sophie Campbell

The patch I picked out (see top) commemorates the Suffragette Campaign for Women, now in the news because of the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in 1918, but it must have chimed with a wartime generation of female workers, turfed out of their jobs the minute the men returned from the fighting.

It’s actually dated 1913, ten years after Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). They and their colleagues in other organisations campaigned tirelessly, often violently and at great personal cost, chaining themselves to railings and confronting the police. This was also the year that the suffragette Emily Davison was killed when she threw herself under King George V’s horse at The Derby.

There’s a useful key to the patchwork here and you can see it on Level 2 in the foyer, admission free.

If you’re interested in women’s suffrage sites in London, see my Telegraph Online piece this week.


Patchwork of the Century (detail), Royal Festival Hall © Sophie Campbell

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