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‘Forgotten’ suffragettes remembered in amazing youth play

Sophia Harrison, left, and Lilly-Ann O' Connor, act out the suffrage work of the Princesses Sophia and Catherine Duleep Singh with dolls at the Ancient House Museum at Thetford. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Sophia Harrison, left, and Lilly-Ann O' Connor, act out the suffrage work of the Princesses Sophia and Catherine Duleep Singh with dolls at the Ancient House Museum at Thetford. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

Young historians staged a play at a museum to highlight the incredible sacrifices made by two suffragettes who have been largely forgotten by history.

Thetford schoolchildren act out the suffrage work of the Princesses Sophia and Catherine Duleep Singh at the Ancient House Museum at Thetford. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThetford schoolchildren act out the suffrage work of the Princesses Sophia and Catherine Duleep Singh at the Ancient House Museum at Thetford. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The young people from schools across Thetford, who are members of Ancient House Museum’s after-school history club, staged the show for their families and community leaders about Princesses Sophia and Catherine Duleep Singh, who had strong links to the area.

Born and raised on the Elveden Estate near Thetford, the pair - daughters of Maharajah Duleep Singh, the last king of Punjab - took a brave stand against the aristocracy to fight for women’s right to vote.

That included Princess Sophia leading the 400-strong Black Friday demonstration to parliament with Mrs Pankhurst in November 1910, as well as refusing to pay tax and selling copies of The Suffragette outside Hampton Court.

However their central roles in the campaign are little-known by many, with the Pankhurst family and the likes of Millicent Fawcett and Emily Wilding Davison being most associated with the cause.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. Picture: COURTESY OF ANCIENT HOUSE MUSEUM THETFORDPrincess Sophia Duleep Singh. Picture: COURTESY OF ANCIENT HOUSE MUSEUM THETFORD

The young people have been studying the lives of the Duleep Singh family, who also lived in Old Buckenham and Blo Norton and had strong connections with South West Norfolk.

Norfolk County Council deputy leader Alison Thomas, who attended the play at Thetford’s Ancient House Museum on Wednesday, February 14, said: “It was a fabulous performance by Thetford’s budding historians.

“It was a real pleasure to share in the occasion and listen to what happened to these incredible women who did so much to enable women like myself to be engaged in politics today.”

Melissa Hawker, learning officer at the museum, said the play was a “great opportunity to talk to children about how government works”, as well as educate them about the important sacrifices made by women.

The stamp featuring Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. Picture: ROYAL MAILThe stamp featuring Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. Picture: ROYAL MAIL

The children taking part were aged six to 10 years old and attend a range of nearby schools including Drake Primary, Norwich Road Academy, Admirals Academy and Weeting Primary School.

Philip Venning OBE, East of England committee member for The Heritage Lottery Fund, also spoke at the event.

He said: “It was fascinating to see the enthusiasm the children brought to this difficult subject and their ability to simplify and understand such a complex issue.

“It was a very inspiring performance.”

The event was one of several planned by Norfolk Museums Service this year to mark 100 years of the Suffrage Pioneers.

It also coincided with the launch of a new stamp collection this week by Royal Mail, which features Princess Sophia selling the Votes for Women newspaper outside Hampton Court in 1913.

After years of rigorous campaigning, the suffrage cause achieved a significant victory when the Representation of the People Act was passed on February 6 1918.

This gave the vote to men over 21, but only to women over the age of 30.

Women also had to occupy premises of a yearly value of £5 to qualify for the vote.

It would be another 10 years before women were finally given the vote on the same terms as men.

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