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Post Memories: Women’s centre named after Barking suffragette Annie Huggett

PUBLISHED: 15:00 21 September 2016 | UPDATED: 17:03 03 October 2016

Annie Huggett with her 100th birthdary card from Labour leader John Smith

Annie Huggett with her 100th birthdary card from Labour leader John Smith

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A pioneer who fought for votes for women when she was just a teenager and took tea with notorious rebels is set to be commemorated with a new women’s centre.

Anne Huggett. Photo taken by Steve PykeAnne Huggett. Photo taken by Steve Pyke

Annie Huggett was born Annie Clara French in Halstead, Essex, in 1892 but became a Barking girl when her family moved to one of the first council houses in King Edward’s Road in 1903.

Lots of teenagers go through a rebellious phase but Annie sought to challenge the Establishment at its very core – by giving women a political voice.

“She often had members of the Pankhurst family around for tea, including Emmeline Pankhurst, who was the founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union,” Valence House archivist Clare Sexton explained.

The Pankhursts were infamous for their activism, which saw them jailed and even attacked.

321-329 Heathway is being turned into a women's centre.321-329 Heathway is being turned into a women's centre.

Though Annie was never arrested, she was very much part of the suffragette movement, and organised meetings for the cause in the former George Inn in Barking Broadway – known then as the Three Lamps – when she was just 18.

She moved into a council house in Greatfields Road in 1923 and lived there until her death aged 104 – and her political fire was far from just a passing phase.

“Once votes for women had been achieved she became chair of the women’s branch of the Labour Party,” recalled Eastbrook councillor Tony Ramsay, who was a good friend.

Annie was proud to be both the country’s oldest surviving suffragette and the longest card-carrying member of the Labour Party.

Gerry Balding, who grew up in Barking’s Waverley Gardens, has fond memories of her, as his mum and grandmother were fellow Labour party members.

Annie was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the party conference by then-leader John Smith, something that Gerry remembers that she was very proud of.

He last saw Annie in May 1992 on her 100th birthday and remembers two cards being pride of place on her mantelpiece – one was from the Labour Party, the other was from Barking Town FC.

He said both were very important to her – but there was one birthday message that certainly wasn’t on display: her message from the Queen.

When Gerry asked Annie’s daughter about its whereabouts he was told that they had hidden it for fear of offending her as she was a lifelong and staunch republican.

As an 11-year-old, Gerry was football mad and desperate to watch West Ham play, but his parents said that he was too young to go.

However, they would let Annie and her husband Ted take him to watch Barking Town play at Vicarage Field.

The Red Flag was sung at Annie’s funeral in 1996 when she was laid to rest in Rippleside Cemetery.

In November, the bench dedicated to her in Greatfields Park will be joined by a more fitting tribute – the Huggett Women’s Centre in Dagenham Heathway.

The centre, which is led by nia, aims to create a safe haven for women and girls in the borough and beyond.

A variety of free, accessible services and events will be available – and the group hopes to get in touch with Annie’s relatives to invite them along to the launch.

If you can help, or to find out more, email admin@niaendingviolence.org.uk


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