Local suffragettes, tax resistance and a priceless diamond ring
by Alison Bailey
To celebrate Women’s History Month here is another story about extraordinary local women. After the First World War many suffrage campaigners were living near Amersham drawn by bonds of friendship and the usual attractions of the Chiltern countryside. Amongst these women were two celebrities; society portrait painter, Louise Jopling, who settled in Chesham Bois and the Sikh Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, who moved to Penn. As committed suffragettes they had campaigned together at London branches of Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and were both active in the highly effective Tax Resistance League (TRL).
The Tax Resistance League
The motto of the League was ‘No Vote No Tax’ and, as a protest against their unfranchised status, members consistently refused to pay taxes. They were prepared to go to prison for such serious crimes as keeping a dog without a licence, as happened to Emma Sproson, a suffragette from West Bromwich! Louise Jopling had been earning her own living as an artist from the 1860s when she was abandoned by her first husband, Francis Romer. She also ran a successful business, an art school for women and had published several books. She strongly resented that she had to declare her income to her husband, who paid taxes on her behalf, but as she had no vote, she had no say in how these taxes were spent.
The Princess was Queen Victoria’s goddaughter and lived in Faraday House, a ‘grace and favour’ residence, at Hampton Court. She had her own income and did not have to earn money. However, the Princess still had to pay tax and repeatedly declined to do so. In 1911 her refusal to pay 6s in arrears for licences for her five dogs, her carriage, and her manservant, led to a seven stone diamond ring being impounded by bailiffs. The ring, which was presumably far more valuable than the taxes due, was to be sold at Hick’s Auction Rooms in Ashford, Kent on July 25. The TRL immediately mobilised and summoned its members: “Meeting to be held in Auction Rooms after sale. Please come and bring friends to support Protest Meeting at 4 o’clock”.
As the Princess’s suffrage activities were widely reported in the press, much to the embarrassment of the Royal Family, the auction sale was guaranteed to generate great publicity for the cause. July 27, 1911 the Bath Chronicle reported that “the princess, who was supported by many members of the League, made a protest against the sale, but the auctioneer intimated that it must proceed. Bidding commenced at £5 and went up to £10, at which price the ring was secured by Mrs Jobling (their spelling) Rowe, who subsequently, on behalf of the League, returned it to the princess. Mrs Cobden Sanderson afterwards addressed a protest meeting held in the auction room”.
Louise Jopling, who after her third marriage became Mrs Jopling Rowe, was indeed one of the League members at the sale. Smartly dressed, with presumably a large hat, her role was to intimidate the other customers to ensure her bid was successful, so that the ring could be presented back to the Princess with maximum ceremony.
Born in 1843, Louise Jopling was 33 years older than the Princess, a veteran campaigner for women’s rights, and an activist for women’s suffrage since the 1880s. At the centre of London’s fashionable artistic circle, she too often featured in the society pages but managed to stay true to her political convictions whilst embracing upper-middle-class respectability. She was a regular contributor to the letter pages: “The qualities I most admire in a man? Ah! Many. But there is one I should like to see more highly developed, that is his sense of justice! Signed a VOTELESS TAX PAYING WOMAN”.
After Louise Jopling moved to Chesham Bois, unusually she continued to campaign for votes for women during WWI as a member of the United Suffragists, which lead by Sophie Colenso and Alice Harben, was particularly active in Amersham and Chorleywood. She died at Manor Farm Chesham Bois in 1933.
Princess Sophia Duleep Singh
The Princess was the daughter of the deposed Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire and, with her sisters, grew up amongst the British aristocracy. A great beauty, she was frequently in the press as a fashion icon and celebrity socialite. After her social conscience was awakened following a visit to India, she became a militant suffragette.
In addition to campaigning for the TRL, the Princess was a major donor to the WSPU. An active campaigner for the Richmond Branch, she drove round London in a press cart selling The Suffragette and illegally defaced her census paper in 1911. On another occasion she threw herself, and her Votes for Women placard, at Prime Minister Asquith’s car. She was prepared to go to prison for her beliefs, but her royal connections meant that the police wouldn’t arrest her as they feared the consequences. During the WSPU’s Black Friday protests, she marched in the original deputation with Emmeline Pankhurst. She rushed to intervene when she witnessed a policeman violently attacking a fellow suffragette. Today it would have been like the Duchess of Sussex popping up in the middle of a riot. Immediately recognizing her, the policeman tried to run away but the 4ft nothing princess ran after him demanding his number, so that she could report him.
After the war, the Princess joined the Suffragette Fellowship and was appointed President in 1928 upon the death of Mrs Pankhurst. With her sister Princess Catherine, she bought two properties in Hammersley Lane, Penn. The sisters didn’t live together as Catherine disliked Sophia’s dogs and her smoking, but they spent every evening together and were very close. After Catherine’s death Sophia moved into her house, Coalhatch House and renamed it Hilden Hall (Hilda was Catherine’s middle name) living here until her death in 1948.
English Heritage announced in January 2023 that Princess Sophia Duleep Singh will be honoured with a commemorative Blue Plaque at Faraday House in Hampton Court Palace, London. This was the house granted to Sophia and her sisters as a grace and favour apartment by Queen Victoria in 1896.
The princess was commemorated with a postage stamp back in 2018, as well as the small photo of her on the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London.
Here is an excellent film on Princess Sophia:
Women at War, our local suffrage campaigners and their contribution to WWI, Amersham Museum
Women’s Library at LSE
Museum of London
British Newspaper Archive
Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, Anita Anand