Millicent Fawcett’s statue by artist Gillian Wearing was unveiled in Westminster on 24 April 2018 to mark the 100th anniversary of the right of some women to vote. To coincide with Millicent Fawcett’s 172nd birthday on 11 June we publish an article by Elizabeth Crawford on her work to create Vauxhall Park.
Vauxhall Park owes its existence to the marriage on 23 April 1867 of 19-year old Millicent Garrett to 33-year-old Henry Fawcett who, despite being blind, was both professor of political economy at the University of Cambridge and Liberal MP for Brighton.
For some years the couple were based in Cambridge, where their only child Philippa was born in 1868, but from 1875 rented a London house, 51 South Lambeth Road, on what was known as the ‘Lawn estate’. Their double-fronted house, one of eight, probably dated from the early years of the 19th century and was set far back from the South Lambeth Road, behind the lawn for which it was named. Each house in the terrace had behind it a long, wide garden of about three-quarters of an acre.
The house was convenient for the House of Commons and Henry was pleased that within a short walk from Vauxhall Station ‘he was able to hear real birds, and the sound of wind among real leaves’. However, by the mid-1880s ‘The Lawn’ and the neighbouring ‘Carroun House’ estate had been sold to a developer, who planned to replace them with speculative housing.
In 1884 Henry Fawcett died suddenly, aged 51, whereupon Octavia Hill’s Kyrle Society, whose mission was ‘to bring beauty home to the people’, launched a campaign to save the area as a ‘Pleasure Ground’ in Henry’s memory. Millicent, who was by now a well-known speaker and writer on the rights of women, led the campaign, with the backing of Henry Doulton, whose pottery works stood close by. Henry had previously worked with him on preserving open spaces.
Eventually £17,500 was raised to buy the freehold of the eight-acre site, the houses were demolished, and the area laid out by the Kyrle Society’s landscape gardener, Fanny Rollo Wilkinson.
Coincidentally, Fanny was not only the first woman in Britain to become a professionally trained landscape gardener but had for some years been a close friend of Millicent Fawcett. The two women worked together on a projects to improve the position of women and became both neighbours and eventually sisters-in-law. (Millicent lived at 2 Gower Street, Bloomsbury and Fanny at number 6, and Fanny’s sister Louisa married Millicent’s youngest brother George in 1900.)
Millicent and her daughter Philippa were among the vast crowds when the Prince of Wales opened Vauxhall Park on 7 July 1890,
Elizabeth Crawford‘s books include Enterprising Women: The Garretts and Their Circle (London: Francis Boutle, 2002), which includes details of Millicent Fawcett’s leadership of the suffrage campaign as well as a survey of Fanny Wilkinson’s work in laying out public gardens in London, together with a study of the careers of Millicent’s sisters, Elizabeth Garrett, Britain’s first woman doctor, and Agnes Garrett who, with her cousin Rhoda Garrett, was Britain’s first professional interior designer.