Interesting Conversations


Millfield: the family home of William Stephens Clark, Helen Priestman Bright Clark and their children from 1889 to 1935

Reading Edwardian letters can be a tricky thing! Handwriting may look stylish on the page, beautiful even, but getting to grips with their actual reading can be an altogether different matter. So, in conjunction with our MCG cataloguing project one of our talented volunteers, Wendy, has been producing transcripts of associated documents to assist researchers in the future to understand the contents and context of this resource.

What began as an associated project however is beginning to illuminate the value of many other family archive collections. Take for example the Millfield Visitors Book of 1897-1910. One can only imagine the dinner party conversations between the Clarks and the continuous flow of suffragist, liberal, socially aware and academic visitors, many of the Quakers, who stayed with them. How influential would this forum have been to the spread and development of ideas?

On this anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 it is interesting to reflect on the visitors to Millfield in just one year 1904, a year when frustration with the lack of progress in women gaining the vote led to the beginnings of militant action. Helen Priestman Bright Clark, who had been publicly campaigning for women’s suffrage since the 1870s, played hostess to her equally long-time suffragist aunts Margaret Tanner, Anna M Priestman and Mary Priestman in July 1904.


The Priestman sisters photographed at Millfield in 1891: Anna Maria Priestman (L), Margaret Tanner (standing) and Mary Priestman (R)

Early August 1904 sees the signatures of American guests Anna Howard Shaw and Lucy E Anthony, alongside this very special greeting written by the American activist Susan B Anthony:

at the home of William S Clark – Street – Somerset – England
At last I have been in the home of my friend Helen Bright Clark and have seen her
all – except the son John, is just married and away on his wedding tour – it is
an ideal home – all the daughters have chosen their profession – and seem to
have a purpose in life – may they all be prosperous and all be happy, is the best wish of their friend Susan B Anthony

September of the same year sees a visit by young relations Fay McLaren (later known as the activist Lady Norman) and Henry McLaren (elected Liberal MP in 1906) at the same time as Joseph Chamberlain’s niece Charlotte. Staying with the family from 4-7 October Emily Hobhouse – whose descriptions of work post Boer War in South Africa were to have such an influence on Margaret Clark.

Altogether 74 visitors are known to have stayed at Millfield during 1904 – a mix of relations, Quaker Friends and fellow campaigners from around the globe from Somerset to Australia.

I for one would have loved to have been a fly on the wall!

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