The Harbens, the radical history of Newland Park and it’s notorious visitors

by Alison Bailey

Newland Park at the beginning of the 20th Century copyright Simon Dawson 2022
Newland Park at the beginning of the 20th Century copyright Simon Dawson 2022

Grade II Listed Newland Park in Chalfont St Peter was once a grand country estate in hundreds of acres, which was re-built in the neo-classical style around 1770. It is currently being developed into luxury homes after being occupied by educational institutes for many years. In 1785, a visit by George III was commemorated by the building of a 60ft tall stone obelisk. There are different traditions as to why this spot was chosen. It is said to have been where a stag was killed by the king, where he was found after being lost in the forest, or where he fell from his horse. The monument, now reduced to 20ft, will be restored as part of the developer’s regeneration works.

In the early part of the 20th Century the house also hosted leading intellectuals, left wing politicians, artists, and writers. These included the first official war artist Christopher Nevinson, playwright George Bernard Shaw and novelist H G Wells. Luckily the household had been warned of the imminent raid and the fugitives, who were indeed sheltering in the house, were hidden inside rolls of linoleum stacked in the cellar. After the fruitless police search the women were smuggled across the park to Chorleywood. One of the house’s most notorious visitors is acknowledged in the naming of part of the new development – the Pankhurst Apartments!

The Harbens, Henry Devenish Harben (1874-1967) and Agnes Harben (1879-1961)

Garden aspect of Newland Park copyright Simon Dawson 2022
Garden aspect of Newland Park copyright Simon Dawson 2022

At the time the owners of the house were barrister Henry Devenish Harben and his wife, Agnes, staunch supporters of the women’s Suffrage Movement. His father, Henry Andrade Harben, had bought Newland Park in 1903. He was the son of Sir Henry Harben, the founder of the Prudential Insurance Company. Henry A Harben, provided model homes for the workers on the estate, built the village hall at Horn Hill, laid out a formal drive from Chalfont St. Peter and created classical gardens with terraces and pergolas designed by the landscape architect Thomas Mawson. When Henry Devenish Harben inherited the estate in 1909 it comprised 550 acres. He had studied farming and was a member of the Board of Agriculture. Henry’s model farm continues as the working farm which is part of the 45-acre site of the Chiltern Open Air Museum.  

 

Garden aspect of Newland Park copyright Simon Dawson 2022
Garden aspect of Newland Park copyright Simon Dawson 2022

 

A Radical Marriage

Henry Devenish Harben (1874–1967)
Henry Devenish Harben (1874–1967)

Henry Devenish Harben was born in Primrose Hill at the family home but also spent time at his grandfather’s country house in Horsham, West Sussex. As was traditional for such a wealthy family, he was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford and soon joined the Conservative party, standing unsuccessfully as a candidate in the 1900 General Election. Gradually moving to the left he joined the Liberal Party and stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate in the 1906 General Election. However, he resigned as a member of the Liberal Party in 1912, after being chosen as the Liberal Candidate for Barnstaple. This was over their lack of support for women’s suffrage and as a protest against the force feeding of women prisoners. He then joined the Labour Party.

 

Sir Henry Harben (seated with great grandson) with his son Henry Andrade Harben (right), and his grandson Henry Devenish Harben (left)
Sir Henry Harben (seated with great grandson) with his son Henry Andrade Harben (right), and his grandson Henry Devenish Harben (left)

Henry married Agnes Bostock, the daughter of a doctor from Horsham in 1899, and the couple initially lived in Primrose Hill and Rowledge near Farnham where five of their children were born. Their last daughter, Eve, was born at Newland Park. Their son Henry became a first-class cricketer. Agnes shared Henry’s views on social reform and with him joined the Fabian Society and then the Labour party. They were active supporters and funders of many suffrage societies, and contributed substantially to the movement’s Election Fighting Fund. They also funded labour movement publications the Daily Herald, and the New Statesman.

 

 

 

Agnes Helen Bostock Harben (1879 to 1961)
Agnes Helen Bostock Harben (1879 to 1961)

However, Henry could not follow Agnes as a member of Emmeline Pankhurst’s militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) as they did not permit men to join. Consequently in 1907, with Hugh Franklin he was one of the founder members of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage. In 1910 the Men’s Political Union was formed as a militant male counterpart to the WSPU and Henry joined this, becoming honorary treasurer in 1913.

Sanctuary

The Harbens became closely involved with the Pankhursts, in particular Sylvia, who shared their socialist beliefs. They provided £50 annually to Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes. Their country estate, Newland Park, became a refuge for any suffragettes who were on the run or needed somewhere to recover after the ordeal of being force fed in prison. Emmeline Pankhurst and her close associates, Annie Kenney, and Flora Drummond stayed here and were nursed back to health in the lovely Chiltern countryside. Henry presented Emmeline Pankhurst with a bed jacket during her stay.

One of the Harbens’ friends, Cyril Joad, described this radical household: “Suffragettes, let out of prison under the Cat and Mouse Act, used to go to Newlands to recuperate, before returning to prison for a fresh bout of torture. When the county called, as the county still did, it was embarrassed to find haggard-looking young women in dressing-gowns and djibbahs reclining on sofas in the Newlands drawing-room talking unashamedly about their prison experiences. This social clash of county and criminals at Newlands was an early example of the mixing of different social strata which the war was soon to make a familiar event in national life. At that time it was considered startling enough, and it required all the tact of Harben and his socially very competent wife to oil the wheels of tea-table intercourse, and to fill the embarrassed pauses which punctuated any attempt at conversation.”

After seeing first hand the results of the governments treatment of the imprisoned suffragettes and caring for those emaciated, frail women in his home, Henry became increasingly militant. In February 1913 he was evicted from the House of Commons for causing a disturbance by loudly demanding better treatment for women prisoners. In June he accompanied Agnes as a delegate to the International Suffrage Alliance in Budapest and in February 1914 he was arrested with the writers Laurence Houseman and Henry Nevinson, amongst others, for holding a protest meeting against force feeding outside the House of Commons, at the foot of the Richard the Lionheart Statue.

 

Newland Park at the beginning of the 20th Century copyright Simon Dawson 2022
Newland Park at the beginning of the 20th Century copyright Simon Dawson 2022

 

United Suffragists

In 1914 Agnes Harben was one of the founding members of the United Suffragists with Louisa Garrett Anderson, George Lansbury and Louise Jopling Rowe and other disillusioned former members of the WSPU.  

According to the Elephant and Castle history website, where the group founded a busy club and crèche for working women: “many of the founding members were pioneers – Caroline Spurgeon was the University of London’s first female professor, Louise Jopling the first female member of the Royal Society of British Artists, and Hertha Ayrton the first female member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. Others were reformers, like Gertrude and Harold Bailie-Weaver (prominent animal rights activists) or Maud Pember Reeves and Charlotte Payne-Townshend, who were members of the Fabian Society. Others were well-known artists, such as the ceramicist William De Morgan, playwright Laurence Houseman, actress Lena Ashwell and pianist Gertrude Peppercorn”.

United Suffragist colours were purple, white and orange and Votes for Women became the newspaper of the group. This had been independent since 1912 when its founders, the Pethick-Lawrences, were expelled from the WSPU. In contrast to the WSPU, it admitted men because according to Votes for Women “it seemed desirable for men and women to work together for political equality” and “that there was just one kind of suffrage society that did not exist anywhere at all, and that was one that any suffragist could join…this little group of people felt that…there should be some society big enough and broad enough to include men and women, militants and non-militants, and all the various sects and classes of suffragists in equal terms.” It was the first suffrage society in which men and women sat in equal numbers on the executive committee.

Unlike many other suffrage groups, the United Suffragists were pacifist and continued to actively campaign for women’s enfranchisement during WWI. Chesham, Amersham and Chesham Bois had a particularly active group based round Sophie Colenso’s house, Elangeni. The Chorleywood and Amersham branches of the United Suffragists, both founded and supported by the Harbens, appear in most issues of Votes for Women during this period.

By 1914 the suffrage campaign had finally arrived in Amersham and was no longer just a discussion topic for the breakfast tables. The Secretary of the Amersham and Chesham branch was the unusually named Lufina Copsey Drinkwater. Originally from Cambridgeshire, she married an accountant, James Drinkwater, and moved to Fieldtop, Amersham-on-the-Hill. The group seems to have been particularly active in the months leading up to the war with “members joining fast”. There were drawing room meetings, garden parties, a flower show, and a crowded meeting in an Amersham field. Many familiar names pop up in the Votes for Women newspaper reports, including Kathleen Williams, who joined Emily Brandon’s WSPU and Margaret Wright sending a subscription from Kashmir (where her sister, Isabella, lived) in 1915. In her letter she wishes that “some suffragettes would come over here and get up meetings on the subject of the vote”. Louise Jopling Rowe was a member of the Amersham United Suffragists and attended a meeting at Elangeni in November 1914 to judge an art competition.

Sylvia Pankhurst in Chorleywood

Agnes Harben organised the Bucks Suffrage Week in July 1914, with events planned all over the district culminating in a grand procession and fete at Newland Park. The Harbens’ circle meant that United Suffragist meetings in the district attracted prominent suffrage speakers. Labour MP George Lansbury came to Amersham to speak in May 1914. Edith Bigland gave a talk in Chorleywood in April 1915 on the need to reform legislation for the protection of women and children.

Sylvia Pankhurst must have been a real star attraction when she came to Chorleywood. According to Votes for Women: “There was an unusually large gathering in the Chorley Wood Hotel on Friday, February 26, when Mr Arthur Bird took the chair, and Miss Sylvia Pankhurst gave the address. The celebrity of the speaker had attracted a number of visitors, and the audience listened with keen attention to Miss Pankhurst’s recital of the sufferings of the poor in the East of London – a subject on which she could speak with the authority of one who possessed first-hand knowledge and experience”.

During WWI, the Harbens bought the Hotel Majestic in Paris and converted it into a hospital for injured soldiers. They spent the war travelling between Paris, London and Chalfont St Peter dividing their time between commitments to the Red Cross and the United Suffragists. They also joined the League of Rights for Soldiers and Sailors Wives and Relatives with others including George & Bessie Lansbury.

With the introduction of women’s suffrage in 1918, the United Suffragists dissolved itself and stopped publishing their newspaper. They joined in the NUWSS celebrations on 13 March 1918, and held their own event on 16 March 1918, presenting their Votes for Women editor, Evelyn Sharp with a book signed by the members. The Harbens retained their friendship with Sylvia Pankhurst, and paid for her son Richard‘s university education at the London School of Economics.

Recent photos of Newland Park when it was used as a wedding venue
Recent photos of Newland Park when it was used as a wedding venue

Sources

 Women at War, a celebration of our local suffrage campaigners and their contribution to WWI, Alison Bailey for Amersham Museum

Henry Devenish Harben (spartacus-educational.com)

Mr Henry Devenish Harben / Database – Women’s Suffrage Resources

United Suffragists: Votes for Women (elephantandcastle.org.uk)

Agnes Harben – Wikipedia

Simon Dawson

Ian Johnson

Votes for Women

British Newspaper Archive

Plan Your Visit

We are currently closed for our Winter break.

We will re-open in March 2024.

 

49 High Street
Old Amersham
Buckinghamshire
HP7 0DP

01494 723700
[email protected]

 

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