Public appeal success in filling in the missing pieces of Norfolk suffragette’s life

09 January 2018

A public appeal asking for more details about a Norfolk suffragette has provided historians with fresh insight into her life.

In November, Norfolk Museums Service (NMS) appealed for information into the life of Caprina Fahey. Two people have now come forward with further details about her life and work which has helped to fill in some of the missing pieces of her life.

The new information includes confirmation of her work as a midwife, the date and place of her birth and death, and confirmation that she lived in the Norfolk village of Hainford, in a home called Rose Cottage which was later demolished.

Norfolk County Council’s Deputy Leader, Councillor Alison Thomas, said: “Caprina was an independent, strong and principled woman. Following our appeal, we had two people get in touch with more information about her. The information they gave us has helped us to gain more understanding of her life and her actions. However, we still don’t have a picture of Caprina so would welcome that, or more information.”

Museums staff have nominated Caprina Fahey for a project which recognises ordinary women who did extraordinary things to win the vote for women and then used their political voice to improve things in their communities. The project is organised by the Women’s Local Government Society and marks 100 years of Suffrage Pioneers, from 1918-2018.

They are also planning several events this year across Norfolk's Museums to mark the 100th anniversary.

Before the appeal, some information was already known, including that Caprina was an active campaigner for women’s suffrage and that she had been imprisoned twice. Her Women’s Social and Political Union medal is in the museum’s collection.

Historians also now know that:

Caprina was born on 13 September 1883 in Capri, Italy, and died at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on 26 October 1959.

Her funeral was held on 29 October in All Saints Church, Hainford.

Her given first name was Charlotte and she was one of five children.

Her father Alfred Gilbert was a sculptor whose work included the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus.

Her mother Alice Gilbert was Alfred’s cousin and they eloped to Paris.

Alfred filed for bankruptcy in 1901. He and Alice separated but never divorced.

Caprina was left out of her father’s will.

Caprina married Alfred Edward Fahey and gave birth to Dennis Montiford Fahey in 1905. Shortly afterwards she sued Alfred for adultery and desertion and divorced him, which was very unusual at the time. Caprina was awarded custody of Dennis.

During WWI, Caprina served with the French Red Cross as a masseuse. This may be how she came to meet her second husband Edward Knight in France.

Caprina married her second husband Edward J.J. Knight in Havre, France at some point between 1916-7th May 1917.

Caprina trained as a midwife, qualifying on 7 May 1917.

On 19 December 1930, the Sussex Agricultural Express reported that Caprina’s son Dennis had been fined £1 for driving without a road fund licence, and that Caprina (then living in Beeding, Sussex) had also been fined £1 for assisting him.
The 1939 electoral register shows Edward J.J. Knight and Caprina living at 5A Lewes Crescent, Brighton. Caprina’s occupation is listed as ‘Midwife’ and the notes in the register state that she was an ARP warden.

Dennis is shown as living with his wife Ivy in Uckfield, Sussex in the 1939 Register. There are 3 additional records at the same address, which are officially closed (potentially children who are still alive).

Dennis Fahey died in Brighton, aged 35.

Caprina and Edward moved to Rose Cottage, Hainford, at some point during the Second World War. We know this because they hosted at least one evacuee at Rose Cottage between 1939 and 1945. This evacuee visited the site where Rose Cottage stood from her home in Canada some years ago, but the current owner does not have a name or contact details for her.

Rose Cottage was demolished around 1975 after the land it stood on was purchased by a new owner. The cottage had been derelict at the time, but contained items including furniture and books. Among the items in the cottage were a certificate and bookstand with the wording 'Votes for Women'. (Images attached)

Caprina died at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on 26 October 1959 “… after long and great suffering, bravely borne”. Her funeral took place at All Saints’ Church, Hainford on October 29th. Her death notice makes no mention of her activities as a suffragette, but acknowledges her service with the British Red Cross (B.R.X.), as a state-certified midwife (S.C.M.), an ARP warden, and member of the Women’s Institute (W.I.).

If you have any information relating to Caprina or her family, please contact Andy Bowen, Norfolk Museums Service via email or telephone 01603 493655.

Pictured above: Andy Bowen with Caprina Fahey’s WSPU medal. It is inscribed ‘for valour’ and dated 14 March 1914 and 21 May 1914. The medal may have been awarded in recognition of the prison sentence she served at HM Prison Holloway and for the hunger strike she took part in.

Certificate and bookstand found in Rose Cottage.

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