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Kent actress spots suffragette killed by King's horse in rare film

By Rachael Woods

Rare footage of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who died after being struck by King George V's horse, has been unearthed by a Kent actress.

The discovery of the grainy film is a world-first as it was previously thought the only film of the campaigner was of the 1913 Epsom derby where Emily lost her life, and of her funeral procession.

Deborah Clair from Wittersham was trawling through online images held in the British Film Institute's (BFI) national archive of a 1910 suffragettes procession, while researching her play on the subject.

Emily Davison in Scenes in the Record Demonstration of Suffragettes (1910), BFI National Archive
Emily Davison in Scenes in the Record Demonstration of Suffragettes (1910), BFI National Archive

"Emily was in the film and in plain sight but no one had recognised that it was her before," said Deborah.

"She was looking directly at the camera and I screamed 'that's her, that's Emily'."

It was a surreal moment for Deborah, 42, who compared it to an image that she knew of Emily, where the campaigner was photographed with Christabel Pankhurst, which confirmed her instincts. She then scoured the internet, convinced that the historic footage must have already been made public.

Deborah Clair, centre, with actress Philippa Urquhart and director Dominique Gerrard in A Necessary Woman
Deborah Clair, centre, with actress Philippa Urquhart and director Dominique Gerrard in A Necessary Woman

"I searched to see if the film had been used elsewhere but it hadn't and that's when I knew that no one else knew of its existence," she said.

Deborah, an actress and mother of two made her find after putting together a preview of her play A Necessary Woman, which is about Emily Wilding, before its showing at the Kino cinema in St Leonard's, east Sussex.

"Emily was looking directly at the camera and the footage was only for a few seconds but I almost felt that she could hear and see me and was telling me to get her message across," she said.

Deborah will perform her play A Necessary Woman, together with Philippa Urquhart at the National Trust's Smallhythe Place, near Tenterden on Sunday. It tells of Emily's concealment in a cleaning cupboard in the crypt beneath the palace of Westminster as she evaded the census and of her daring plan to address parliament.

VIDEO: Rare footage of Suffragette Emily Wilding found. Credit: Scenes in the Record Demonstration of Suffragettes (1910), BFI National Archive

The BFI described Deborah's discovery as a "significant find" in the centenary year of votes for women, which will be marked on Sunday by mass processions of women and girls in UK cities, part of a UK arts programme for the First World War centenary.

Shot in June 1910 by Pathe News the original film was donated to the BFI National Archive in 1946 and has since being digitised and put online.

BFI curator Bryony Dixon said: “Congratulations to Deborah for spotting Emily Davison in the crowd of this 1910 film.

“It’s so exciting that we can now share our film heritage online so that viewers can help us make these type of discoveries. Every contribution, large or small, to our knowledge of these films is great – but this is a really significant case.

"As an icon of the suffrage movement Emily Davison is a hugely important national figure; her positive identification in this film is especially poignant given this centenary year.”

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