Will Forster

Mayor of Woking and Lib Dem County Councillor for Woking South Learn more

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Blue plaque marks the Duchess of Woking’s former home

by willforster on 24 September, 2018

Over the weekend, I unveiled a blue plaque to commemorate the residence of composor, author, sportswoman and suffragette, Ethel Smyth.

Ethel moved into a newly built house in Hook Heath Road in 1910 that she named ‘Coign’.  A rarity of the era, Dame Ethel was a keen sportswoman.  She was a member of the Woking Golf Club, and moved to Hook Heath to be near to her beloved golf course.

Ethel had ten books published in her lifetime, all of them written after she had settled in Woking.  Her works from 1910 to 1930 were also composed at the property and she remained there until her death in 1944.  Many notable female figures were known to have visited Ethel at her home including Emmeline Pankhurst, who was arrested just outside the cottage, and Virginia Woolfe.

At her own request, after cremation at Woking Crematorium, her ashes were scattered in the woodland next to the golf course by her brother Robert.  Ethel never married, having rejected an offer from her long-standing friend Henry Brewster – she was a proud citizen of Woking and is reported to have stated that “if ever I were to be ennobled, the title I would choose would be Ethel, Duchess of Woking”.

The Woking cottage has since been renamed Brettanby Cottage and is home to the Gavey family.  I know the current residents of Dame Ethel’s cottage are exceedingly proud of their connection to this significant historic landmark and it was a real honour to mark the life of such an accomplished and important figure in the history of women’s rights with an iconic blue plaque.

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One Response

  1. Jonathan Miles says:

    very interesting. There is still a house in Hook Heath Road called “Coign” , so it would be interesting to know whether that is part of the Ethel Smyth story (or perhaps it could be connected to the eponymous – until recently – church?).

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