The National Trust reveals funding has been secured, with help from the Dorset Hall Group, from the Architectural Heritage Fund. The funding will support a partnership project which aims to identify a sustainable future for Dorset Hall.
This Grade II listed house in Wimbledon was once home to a remarkable suffragette and social campaigner Rose Lamartine Yates. Described at her funeral as “every inch a fighter”, Rose played a significant public role both in Merton, Wimbledon and Lambeth and as a suffragette on the national and international stage.
Rose received an unusually comprehensive education by the standards of the day, passing Oxford finals.
She was unable to graduate due to the rules at the time and later educated herself in law so she could support her husband in his law practice. A love of cycling had brought her and her husband together and they were both members of the Cyclist’s Touring Club – a 40,000 strong membership organisation and forerunner of today’s Cycling UK. In 1907 she made history by becoming its first female councillor.
In 1908 Rose joined the Wimbledon branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) of which she later became Secretary and Treasurer. In 1909 she spent a month in prison following a march on Westminster for which she was roundly criticised in the press for abandoning her baby. Rose used Dorset Hall as a command centre for WSPU operations, hosting regular meetings and fundraisers, and providing a place for recuperation for suffragettes just released from prison. She was a gifted public speaker and regularly addressed crowds numbering thousands on Wimbledon Common.
Among her close suffragette associates was Emily Wilding Davison and following the latter’s death at the Epsom Derby, Rose was the main organiser of the funeral. After the outbreak of the First World War, Rose helped to set up the ‘Suffragettes of the WSPU’ to keep the suffrage campaign in the public eye. She was also instrumental in helping set up a suffragette archive.
Following the partial granting of the vote to women in 1918, Rose won a seat as the only independent member on the London County Council. As a councillor, she continued to champion women’s and children’s rights, opening a new welfare clinic in Lambeth. Rose also championed women’s rights on the international stage, becoming involved in the Women’s Consultative Committee of the League of Nations in the early 1930s. She sold Dorset Hall to Merton and Morden Urban District Council before her death.
In 2020 Barbara Gorna recognised the building as being Rose’s home and important to the suffragette movement. She formed The Dorset Hall Group to focus on securing a sustainable future for the building.
A group of partners including Clarion Housing Association, who own the building, along with the National Trust, Merton Council and the Architectural Heritage Fund have now joined them and are working together on an options appraisal which will see ideas and information gathered and assessed to work out a set of options for the future of the house. The work will focus on developing a strong understanding of what the house can offer the local Merton community and how these ambitions can be achieved and funded in an ongoing and sustainable way.
Matthew Mckeague, CEO at the Architectural Heritage Fund said, “We are delighted to support this project through our Historic Assets into Community Ownership Programme, funded by Historic England. By funding essential project viability work, we hope that a sustainable future will be found for Dorset Hall that will meet the needs of the community, protect the building’s heritage and helps tell of its story in the women’s suffragette movement.”
Asked why she embarked on the campaign to save Dorset Hall Barbara said, “It will not be until 2028 that women can proudly say that they have had the vote for 100 years. In 1918 they only got a partial vote. That was not so very long ago. There are few monuments to women – because they had no rights – and were thought unimportant – and the buildings still remaining must be preserved for future generations to remind women of the fight for the vote.”
National Trust Regional Director for London and the South East Nicola Briggs said, “The National Trust is pleased and excited to be working as part of a coalition of organisations to identify a potential future solution for Dorset Hall which will hopefully see it brought into community use and its important links to the history of women’s suffrage celebrated.”
Cllr Brenda Fraser, Merton Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Skills, said: “As we celebrate International Women’s Day, Merton is proud to have been the home of such a strong advocate for and champion of the rights of women as Rose Lamartine Yates. It’s fitting that we are now working with partners such as the National Trust on this project to secure a suitable and sustainable future for this architectural gem.”