Author recalls growing up near feminist icon and radical campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst in Woodford Green
A WOMAN who grew up close to the home of political activist and feminist icon Sylvia Pankhurst in Woodford Green has just released a second edition of her biography. Melanie Attlesey hears of suburban paranoia, radical feminism and memories prompted by a chance encounter.
When Shirley Harrison was a small child, her conservative parents ordered her to cross the road when she passed the home of Sylvia Pankhurst on her way to the shops.
The couple, according to their daughter, made the strange request because they were so fearful that the radical campaigner would exert influence over the young Shirley if they met in the street, such was her notoriety in pre-Second World War suburbia.
Mrs Harrison, now aged 77, grew up in Parkland Road, Woodford Green, and used to regularly walk by the house Sylvia shared with her long-term partner Silvo Corio in Charteris Road.
Pankhurst, along with her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel, had worked full-time for the Women's Social and Political Union, but later broke with the organisation to form the East London Federation of Suffragettes.
Her radical activities, opposition to the First World War and communist sympathies brought her nationwide fame and widespread criticism, including in the quiet streets of Woodford Green.
"My parents were terribly right wing and told me to walk on the other side of the road because they were worried about Sylvia and her activities," Mrs Harrison recalls.
"I never saw her, but was acutely aware that she lived there.
"I remember being wary of her, but I can't remember why. That was my first brush with her."
But it wasn't until almost two decades later that Mrs Harrison, came into close contact with Pankhurst.
Fresh out of Woodford County High School, the budding writer took a job as a reporter on the Walthamstow Guardian.
"Sylvia used to publish her newspaper, The New Times and Ethiopia News, at the Guardian's office in Forest Road, Walthamstow," Mrs Harrison said.
"She was very formidable when she used to come in and check how the printing was coming along.
"I left the Guardian after a year and didn't think about Sylvia for many years after that."
But that changed when Mrs Harrison's daughter, Dr Elizabeth Harrison, worked alongside Sylvia's grandson, Alula Pankhurst, during the 1990s at Sussex University.
"It was a huge coincidence when my daughter became friends with Alula, it reignited my interest in Sylvia.
"She was the most remarkable woman of the 20th century. She was such a fighter and such a campaigner. I have huge respect for everything she did."
Mrs Harrison has since written several books on Pankhurst.
The most recent, Sylvia Pankhurst - The Rebellious Suffragette, has just been released in a second edition.
It includes a forward by Pankhurst's son Richard Pankhurst.