Sylvia Pankhurst is my absolute heroine. As a feminist and a socialist, I am very proud that Sylvia, who campaigned for women’s votes and human rights; for the disadvantaged in East London; and who was a fighter for peace and against fascism and racism, lived and worked for 32 years from 1924 to 1956 in my Borough where I have lived since 1973 and been elected as a local councillor, Mayor and Member of Parliament.
I am also delighted that I have a personal connection to Sylvia in that I worked with her daughter-in-law, Rita, who married her son, Richard. Rita was Chief Librarian of the then City of London Polytechnic (now the London Metropolitan University) who stepped in to save the Fawcett Library (now The Women’s Library) when it lost its premises in 1977. As Rita’s Staffing Librarian, I had to find the first people to run the Fawcett Library, and when I returned to work after having my children, I worked there from 1981 to 1992.
When I became Mayor of Redbridge in 1994, I was contacted by the indefatigable Sylvia Ayling, a Woodford resident, about raising awareness of Sylvia’s residence in the Borough and of her achievements. I managed to persuade Redbridge Council to rename a green in Woodford near Sylvia’s last home: West Dene, 3 Charteris Road – Pankhurst Green, and performed a ceremony on the morning of 5 May (Sylvia Pankhurst’s birthday) 1995 as part of the VE Day 50th anniversary celebrations. Later that morning I hosted an event at Sylvia’s Anti-Air War Memorial in Woodford Green.
I also commissioned a portrait of Sylvia by a local artist and Woodford resident, Jennifer Taylor, to present to the Council as my gift to the Borough at the end of my mayoral year.
It was my great honour and privilege to be asked to chair the very successful Sylvia Pankhurst Festival organised in Woodford in July 2007 by Susan Homewood, and to play a part in perpetuating the memory of Sylvia’s place in the history of our local area as well as her lasting contributions in the wider world to the cause of peace and human rights.
LINDA PERHAM is a former MP and former Mayor of Redbridge. Before turning to politics she was a librarian at the Women's Library, having previously worked at the London Metropolitan University under Rita Pankhurst. Linda is a Justice of the Peace and an active force on many committees. She chairs East Living which offers supported housing for vulnerable people, and she is a Consumer Director of TrustMark, promoting standards in home maintenance. Linda has been a very active force in gaining wider recognition of Sylvia Pankhurst within the Borough of Redbridge