Australian MP aims to discover more about leading suffragette

04/08/2010.  Photo by Paul Kelly.  7 Pelham Crescent, Hastings.  Unveiling of a plaque by Frances Bedford MP JP, State Member for Florey, South Australia and Cllr. Kim Forward, Mayor of Hastings, in commemoration of Muriel Matters-Porter, Adelaide born activist and first woman to "speak" in the House of Commons, who lived here 1949-1969.
04/08/2010. Photo by Paul Kelly. 7 Pelham Crescent, Hastings. Unveiling of a plaque by Frances Bedford MP JP, State Member for Florey, South Australia and Cllr. Kim Forward, Mayor of Hastings, in commemoration of Muriel Matters-Porter, Adelaide born activist and first woman to "speak" in the House of Commons, who lived here 1949-1969.

AN Australian MP is returning to Hastings on Tuesday (April 10) in her quest to discover more about pioneering suffragette Muriel Matters.

Frances Bedford, pictured right, a member of the South Australian Parliament, and secretary of The Muriel Matters Society, will be at the café in St Mary-in-the-Castle, from 9am to noon so anyone with information can help her.

Muriel was an expat who lived beside St Mary-in-the-Castle in Pelham Crescent, during the last years of her life.

She came to England from Australia as an aspiring actress, but made her name in the Suffragette movement, becoming the first woman to ‘speak’ in the House of Commons.

Ms Bedford said a successful play about Muriel had already been staged in Australia, and the potential for a feature film is being explored.

She added: “Muriel arrived in London in 1905 and became involved in the Woman’s Freedom League (WFL) and in 1907, led the first caravan tour of south east England and Wales promoting the league.

“On that trip she first saw Hastings. Obviously, she loved it enough to go on to buy property there, and to stand for election for the Labour Party in 1924.”

In 1908, Muriel led The Grille Protest, which saw her and two other WFL activists close proceedings in the House of Commons. She was jailed for her part in the protest.

In 1909, she sailed over London as a passenger in the first powered balloon flight, with the plan to drop brochures promoting the cause of women’s suffrage on the King on his way to open Parliament.

After these adventures, and following the death of her husband in 1949, she returned to Hastings and lived alone until her death in 1969.

Ms Bedford said: “My hope is to meet local people who know about Muriel and her life in Hastings. The only person I have located so far worked in the Brassey Institute while Muriel was alive. He migrated from the UK and now lives in Adelaide.

“I look forward to meeting anyone with information on Tuesday.”