Ground-breaking festival celebrates women’s words

The Mead School in Tunbridge Wells gave a professional level performance in the  ISA drama contests

A PIONEERING new festival is being staged in the town to celebrate women’s voices, 100 years after they were first given the vote.

To mark the achievements of the Suffragettes whose campaign led to the Representation of the People Act in 1918, Deeds and Words will focus on how women have made themselves heard across the decades, both politically and personally.

The three-day extravaganza in the EM Forster Theatre at Tonbridge School will be held from Friday October 5 to Sunday October 7.

Festival Director Kat Portman-Smith said: ‘We will showcase a broad range of exciting poets, artists, writers, politicians and commentators. It’s about being heard and being bold.

‘We wanted to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage in Tonbridge. The festival has snowballed from that original thought.

She added: ‘It is about celebrating women’s achievements past and present as well as recognising there is still so much to do.

‘We have brought together an amazing mix of women to talk about the political and the personal alongside the artistic and literary.

‘We really hope it will be an exciting weekend of discussion and debate around the issues of equality for men and women, all in the fantastic surroundings of Tonbridge School.’

The festival begins with Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst and women’s rights campaigner.

She will reflect on the changes in the UK since the first women were enfranchised. ‘Combining historical insight with inspiring argument, she will reveal how far women have come since the Suffragettes, how far there is still to go, and how we might get there,’ said Ms Portman.

Also among the stellar line-up is historian and TV presenter Lucy Worsley talking about Queen Victoria, a ‘complex, contradictory woman’.

Journalist and broadcaster Jenni Murray will describe A History of the World in 21 Women, looking at artists, politicians, activists, reporters and heads of state who helped shape the world.

She has been at the helm of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour for more than 20 years, and will also talk about the programme’s 64-year history and her ‘most engaging and most terrifying interviewees’ from Monica Lewinsky to Margaret Thatcher.

Local historian Pam Mills will conduct a walk around the town entitled Suffrage in Tonbridge, taking in key places relating to the movement.

Mrs Mills is one of the Tonbridge Poppy Appeal’s organisers, and the festival also includes a musical offering to raise money for the Royal British Legion – on what is also the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Patricia Hammond will sing and tell the stories behind inter-war classics like Pack Up Your Troubles, Roses of Picardy and Long Long Trail, while Les Femmes, an all-female harmonic trio, perform hits from the 1940s to the present day.

Other performers include stand-up poet Kate Fox, Labour MP for Canterbury Rosie Duffield and Frances Scott, founder of 50:50 Parliament, a pressure group seeking to narrow the gender gap among political parties.

Tickets are available by calling 01732 304241 or visiting or

PICTURE: LEADING LIGHTS: TV historian Lucy Worsley will discuss Queen Victoria

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