News comes in of the death of Richard Pankhurst, son of Sylvia, arguably Manchester’s greatest ever citizen, who has passed away aged 89 in Ethiopia and might well be afforded a state funeral.
Here’s the piece I’ve written for the Manchester Evening News.
Richard Pankhurst, the only son of Sylvia Pankhurst, the suffragette leader who was one of Manchester’s greatest ever figures, has died aged 89 at his home in Ethiopia.
Calls have gone out to grant the late academic and political agitator a state funeral in the east African country. Ethiopia’s foreign ministry described him as “one of this country’s greatest friends”. Indeed his mother, the doughty Old-Trafford-born feminist campaigner who led the battle to get women the vote on the same terms as men a hundred years ago, is the only Englishwoman to be buried outside the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. This was in gratitude to her support for the country during the Italian fascist colonisation of the 1930s.
Richard Pankhurst was born to Sylvia in 1927, His father was Silvio Corio an Italian anarchist. When Sylvia’s mother Emmeline discovered her daughter had given birth to a child out of wedlock she never spoke to her again. The two women had split over the aims of the suffragettes when the Great War broke out in 1914. Emmeline wanted the women to stop their push for the vote to help the war effort. Sylvia, a pacifist, was horrified and vowed to keep campaigning. When War ended in 1918 David Lloyd George’s Coalition government partly granted the vote to women as a thankyou. Sylvia maintained the fight was to continue till all women had the vote, which wasn’t granted until 1928, just after Emmeline had died.
The child was named Richard after Sylvia’s late father, Emmeline’s husband, who was a Manchester barrister. Richard Pankhurst senior helped draw up the legislation that in 1870 allowed married women to own property in their own right for the first time. He also stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in east Manchester for the left-wing Independent Labour Party. Following his sudden death in 1898 Emmeline Pankhurst, his widow, described how she suffered the rest of her life from an indescribable sense of loneliness”.
The Pankhursts’ story is essential to an understanding of Manchester’s political history. During the 1906 General Election campaign Sylvia clashed a number of times with the Liberal candidate for Manchester North-West, one Winston Churchill.
• “The Pankhursts/Suffragette City”. Guided tour. Saturday 4 March, 1.30pm from St Ann’s Church.