ISABEL GIBERNE SIEVEKING

1857-1936
Author and suffragist


Book Cover from Autumn Impressions of The Gironde
Book Cover from Autumn Impressions of The Gironde
Image source: project Gutenberg

Isabel was the youngest of the four children of George Giberne and Maria (nee Smith) of Rose Villa and, later, Richmond House, Church Street, Epsom. More information about the Gibernes can be found on this website within the article on Richmond House.

Richmond House, Church Street
Richmond House, Church Street in 1966
Photograph by L R James and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre

The other children were Evelyn (female, 1847-1932, unmarried), Harold (born and died 1848) and Edgar (1850-89 - see THE BULLERS). Maria Giberne's sister, Kate, was the mother of the renowned poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

I know nothing in particular about Isabel's early life, beyond the fact that she lived at home with her parents (and latterly with her widowed mother), but she obviously had a good education, as her literary works subsequently demonstrated.

On 25 April 1891 at St Martin's, Epsom Isabel, then aged 33, married 25 year old timber merchant Edward Gustavus Sieveking. Her uncle, Manley Hopkins, father of the now deceased Gerard, was one of the witnesses. The Sievekings were originally from Germany but Edward's branch had been in England for very many years.

There were four children of the marriage, being Valentine Edgar (born 1892 Baker Street, London), Geoffrey Edward (1893 Baker Street), Lancelot Giberne (1896 Harrow) and Elinor Beatrice (1898 Harrow), and we shall return to them in due course.

After their spells in London and Harrow the Sievekings moved to Hastings, where Isabel began to write books and involved herself in the women's suffrage movement; she was also something of an expert on growing herbs.

Hastings might not strike you as a hotbed for the suffrage movement, but apparently it was. There were a couple of riots, one of which was described by a Mrs Strickland in The Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 24 May 1913 as follows.
'She did not think that anyone who was not present could have any idea of the brutalities on the Hastings Front. Women had their hats torn off, their clothes torn from their shoulders. They were struck in the face, they were pelted and unnameable indignities were offered to them.' It was a sort of "fight with wild beasts at Ephesus".
I should make it crystal clear at this point that the antagonists in this confrontation were anti-suffrage supporters, who presumably felt that the prospective enfranchisement of women warranted violence. However, suffragettes were not blameless in Hastings. In April 1913 a group of them, which allegedly contained activist Kitty Marion, had burned down a mansion called Levetleigh at St Leonard's, which had belonged to a Member of Parliament. Two months later Ms Marion destroyed stands at Hurst Park Racecourse and was jailed for it (briefly).

Isabel seems to have confined her suffrage activities to words and there are many newspaper quotes which give a flavour of her views (she appeared frequently in the letter columns of her local paper, expounding on a variety of subjects). Here is an example.
'Mrs Sieveking said that sex was merely temporal. Why, therefore, was so much importance placed upon that small word "sex"? The highest ideal was not marriage. It could not be when sex was purely temporal.'
(Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 3 December 1910)

She clearly had no problem with the burning of Levetleigh, for in the same newspaper, on 26 April 1913, she was quoted as saying, '… the Union fully agreed with all the protests made as they only affected property and never endangered human life.' If you want to see the damage caused to Levetleigh there is a photo at www.1066online.co.uk.

Her rather casual attitude towards fire was emphasised in 1924, when she was fined 10 shillings (50 pence) for allowing her own chimney to catch light, which necessitated the attentions of the police and Fire Brigade - she could not say when it was last swept. As for Mr Sieveking, he is conspicuous by his absence from the Hastings newspaper, apart from a 1907 conviction for riding a cycle without lights.

At around the same time as her suffrage activities Isabel was publishing books on very diverse subject matter. Examples are 'Autumn Impressions of the Gironde' (online at www.gutenberg.org), 'A Turning Point in the Indian Mutiny', 'Memoir and Letters of Francis W Newman' and 'The Memoir of Sir Horace Mann'

Title page of A Turning Point in the Indian Mutiny
Title page of A Turning Point in the Indian Mutiny
Image source: openlibrary.org

There is an interesting note on the Sievekings' 1911 census form, written and signed by the enumerator. He said, 'Husband had left the town when I called and the wife, who is a suffragette, refused to sign as correct'. She also refused to write down the address (it was 1 Exmouth Place, Hastings) or to reveal the number of rooms in the house, so the enumerator wrote 'probably 10'. This was undoubtedly part of the 1911 protest campaign by suffragists/suffragettes, embodied in the slogan ''if women don't count, neither shall they be counted'. Many supporters of the campaign contrived to be away from home on census night (is this why Mr Sieveking had left the town?), to avoid being recorded, but Isabel was in residence and the dogged enumerator, who was the Superintendent of the local Children's Cottage Homes and probably well accustomed to truculence, prised the names and particulars out of her somehow.

It seems that Isabel's health broke down in later life and that Edward's business failed. Isabel died on 30 March 1936, then living at Queen's Gate, Kensington. She was buried in Epsom Cemetery (Grave D149A). Edward died on 30 October 1950 and was interred at St Mary's Churchyard, Farnham, Suffolk.

The children

Valentine Edgar Sieveking farmed near St Leonard's, but joined the Royal Naval Air Service when the First World War broke out, becoming a Captain in 214 Squadron of the RAF and being awarded the DSC and Bar. On the night of 18 May 1918 he was flying a bombing mission in a Handley Page 01/100 from Coudekerque in northern France and was shot down and killed over Zeebrugge; his observer also died but the gunner survived. Valentine is buried in Zeebrugge Churchyard. More information on him, plus a photo of the crashed aircraft, appears in 'Airfields and Airmen of the Channel Coast' by Mike O'Connor at http://books.google.co.uk/books

Geoffrey Edward served in World War 1, latterly as a Lieutenant in the Machine Gun Corps; he died in 1979. Lancelot Giberne (known as Lance) was also a flier in the War and held the DFC; he was shot down over the Rhine in 1917 and held as a prisoner of war. Subsequently he became a successful writer and BBC radio/TV producer. He died in 1972. There is a photo online at http://www.npg.org.uk and a comprehensive account of his life at http://sro.sussex.ac.uk.

Elinor Beatrice, who remained unmarried, died in 1989.

Written and Researched by Linda Jackson © 2014



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