Suffragette's hunger strike medal sells for thousands

Posted on 27/06/2019 in Press Coverage

A suffragette’s hunger strike medal, which had been gathering dust in a drawer for years, sold for thousands of pounds at auction on June 27.

Three phone bidders battled it out to buy a medal of valour awarded to Elsie Wolff Van Sandau in 1912 at Hansons Auctioneers.

The medal, which had an estimate of £7,000-£10,000, eventually sold to a private UK buyer for £12,500.

The original case containing the rich historical find stated: ‘Presented to Elsie Wolff Van Sandau. By the Women’s Social & Political Union in recognition of a gallant action whereby through endurance to the last extremity of hunger and hardship great principle of political justice was vindicated’.

Miss Wolff Van Sandau, granddaughter of Dr E Schwabe, private chaplain to the late Duchess of Kent, was arrested after allegedly smashing a window in London’s Covent Garden during the March 4, 1912 campaign. She subsequently went on trial and began a hunger strike.

She was also arrested on November 18, 1910 following the infamous ‘Black Friday’ riots, a demonstration by 300 women at Westminster led by political activist Emmeline Pankhurst. The day earned its name due to the violence meted out to protesters, some being of a sexual nature, by the Metropolitan Police and male bystanders.

The medal was discovered in a bureau drawer in a house in East Sheen, South West London, by sisters Anne Alford, 64, of Twickenham, and Joan Woolman, 61, a retired classroom assistant from Leicestershire.

But though they remember the medal from decades ago, they are unclear about its connection to their family.

Mrs Alford, a retired receptionist, said: “My family moved to a Victorian terraced house in East Sheen in the 1960s and it was our home for many years. Two great aunts lived with us and we wonder if they may have known Elsie or been connected to the suffragette movement. I first became aware of the medal’s existence in the early 1970s.”

The sisters, who both attended the auction, rediscovered the medal when their father, Jim Nunn, was taken ill with Alzheimer’s and they had to clear his home.

Mrs Alford said: “We lost my dad at the age of 90 in 2018 and our mum, Edna, died in 1994. The two great aunts who used to live with us are no longer alive. I’ve done as much research as I can about Elsie, but how our family came to own the medal is something of a mystery."

Isabel Murtough, who auctioned the medal at Hansons, said: “It was an honour to sell this medal and I was delighted to see it do so well. I hope this find reminds people of the sacrifices Miss Wolff Van Sandau and her fellow suffragettes made a century ago to help women gain rights many of us now take for granted.”

The hunger strike medal was sold on June 27 at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire. To find out more or to arrange a free valuation, email [email protected].