A protesting suffragette – Miss Emily Davison – brought down the King’s horse by running onto the course at Tattenham Corner, while minutes later, the stewards objected to and disqualified the winning favourite Craganour, amid claims of prejudice.
Emily Wilding Davison was born on 11 October 1872, in Blackheath, London but lived in Longhorsley, Northumberland. After attaining B.A. Honours at the Royal Holloway College, she went on to study English Language and Literature at St Hugh’s College, Oxford where she won first class honours.
However, and this may have proved significant, women, at that time, were not admitted to obtaining degrees at Oxford. In 1906, Emily joined the Women’s Social and Political Union, known as the WSPU, a movement led by Emmeline Pankhurst, who defiantly believed that ‘direct action’ would lead to women gaining the vote.
Three years later, Emily gave up her position as the teacher to a family in Berkshire, to promote the cause of women’s suffrage and very quickly came to the forefront of the ‘direct action’ groups. Although her following police record has little to do with the Derby, it is only with the knowledge of the dedication and fervency of Miss Davison that her action at Tattenham Corner can be understood.
Never one for compromise, Emily once barricaded herself in her cell to avoid being force-fed, but a prison officer forcing a nozzle of a hosepipe through the window, drenched her and flooded her cell. On another occasion, in protest to her fellow suffragist’s being force-fed even when not on hunger strike she jumped down an iron staircase and received severe spinal injuries.
Her seven prison sentences included six months for setting fire to post boxes in Holloway. She soaked rags in paraffin, set them alight and then pushed them into the boxes – a crime that started a wave of similar incidents. Sentenced at the Old Bailey and force-fed, she was released only 10 days before the end of her sentence due to injuries incurred.
Emily was also imprisoned for 10 days for assaulting a Baptist Minister in Aberdeen, mistakenly identified as David Lloyd George. However, she was mercifully released after four days’ hunger strike. Although completely dedicated to the cause, Emily Davison was regarded by many in the movement as a maverick and few if any knew what disruption she had planned for Derby Day.