Tunbridge Wells Borough Council unveiled its multi-million new cultural centre to much fanfare at the end of April. The opening of the new library, visitor centre, museum and art gallery, which is open seven days a week, saw around 1,000 people flock into town to visit the attraction when it opened its doors on April 28.
Named after the town’s social reformer Amelia Scott, the building on Monson Road, is the Council’s flagship project and was first conceived around nine years ago.
In celebration of the opening, The Friends of the Amelia Scott (formerly The Friends of Tunbridge Wells Museum, Library and Art Gallery) commissioned Anne Carwardine, a local historian and writer to write a short biography of the life and times of Amelia Scott. Ms Scott is best known for being a suffragist which is a non-militant campaigner for women’s suffrage.
“Anne has freely given of her time, energy and talent to this project and we sincerely thank her for her work,” Friends of the Amelia Scott chair Anne Stobo told the Times.
“Amelia Scott was a remarkable woman of whom little was known about apart from that she was a suffragist, a Poor Law Guardian and one of the first women councillors in Tunbridge Wells.
“One of her passions was for a free library in Tunbridge Wells. This was finally achieved in 1922 when the first public library in Tunbridge Wells was opened in Dudley Road. Tonbridge had theirs in 1882! It is therefore especially appropriate that the new centre should bear her name.”
“Anne Carwardine’s new book is a fascinating account of the life and times of Amelia Scott”
Mrs Stobo went on to say that Anne Carwardine’s book is a ‘fascinating account’. And that the Friends’ chief desire was ‘to bring the life and works of this real pioneer to the attention of the wider public.’
On the day of the official opening it was the great-niece of Amelia, Helen Boyce, who cut the ribbon in order to open the new cultural centre. She told the gathered crowd all about meeting the great campaigner for the first time when she was a girl of just nine years old.
“Cousin Milly, as she was known in the family, insisted on pouring the tea, although she was 90 years old and could barely see,” Ms Boyce recalled.
“So we had to call out when she reached the rim of the cup. I can see now how determined she was, even at the age of 90.”
Inheriting Miss Scott’s possessions from her parents in 1993, Helen Boyce offered the collection to the Women’s Library in London, which accepted and sent a large van to collect everything.
She said that knowledge about the work of Amelia Scott and other women’s activities started to grow around 20 years ago as the internet and consequently Amelia Scott’s work became known to women’s history researchers all over the globe.
However, she added that despite bequeathing most of Amelia Scott’s possessions, Ms Boyce – who attended the ceremony with her daughter Amelia Bodfish – revealed she did keep her great aunt’s brooch which she has subsequently lent to the new cultural centre.
In Anne Carawardine’s book about Amelia Scott she reveals how the turn of the century reformer became socially aware after attending a conference of the National Union of Women Workers (NUWW) in Bristol.
On her return to Tunbridge Wells, Amelia Scott immediately started a local NUWW branch in 1895, and from then did not stop striving for justice.
“All proceeds from the sales of the book will go towards The Friends at the Amelia Scott’s new project: a conservation of a Georgian suit”
Ms Carawardine also states that although Amelia Scott is known as a suffragist, she was also particularly dedicated to benefiting poor and working-class women and mothers, providing housing and a social club, and later a maternity home.
All proceeds from the sales of the new book will go towards The Friends’ new project: a conservation of a Georgian suit.
“The man’s suit was donated along with the Georgian Gown which we, as the Friends have just recently had conserved, and is now on view at The Amelia Scott. The suit however is in need of conservation and we are actively seeking estimates for this work,” explained Mrs Stobo.
She also revealed that the book’s launch took place via Zoom with local social group Tunbridge Wells U3A joining in.
“I wonder what Amelia would have thought of all this technology? She would probably have loved it – thinking ‘it gets the job done’! She was a very much ‘can do lady’!” added Mrs Stobo.
On the day of the opening of the Amelia Scott, the Kent Archives tweeted an archive photograph of Miss Scott with her sister Louisa ‘Louie’ Scott saying “After a lifetime of social activism and campaigning for women’s suffrage, we like to think this photograph of Amelia Scott and her sister, both in their 90s, captures yet another day of philanthropy and community outreach in Tunbridge Wells.”
The inscription for the picture read: “Lived every moment of their long-life thinking, working and serving others, in Public and Private life. Passed March 1952.”
Anne Carwaradine’s book on Amelia Scott is on sale from The Friends and is priced £5.