The Forgotten Women of Wakefield

Forgotten Women Wake

The Staynes Sisters

The Staynes sisters with their involvement in protecting lives during the Siege of Quebec Street and their continued contributions to their local communities left a mark on Wakefield even if their former home is not there to honour it. Their blue plaque reminds us that peace, equality and justice are qualities in a society worth standing up for and that as individuals, we always have the choice to protect these.

The Staynes Sisters are Numbers 11 and 12 in our quest for #BluePlaqueParity!

The Staynes Sisters’ blue plaque was unveiled as part of a dedicated Forgotten Women of Wakefield event with Wakefield Civic Society October 2019 at Wakefield Town Hall.

The following is an article by Toni Stephenson which was written for the project:

Quebec Street, running between Ings Road and Piccadilly, is now surrounded by a car park at one side and a DIY shop on the other but at the turn of the twentieth century the street boasted a completely different landscape. A number of the houses that once stood here were the homes of the Staynes family.

Nellie and Emily Staynes, who worked in the offices of knitting wool manufacturers Paton and Baldwins, were the eldest daughters of Lilly and Joe Staynes. Joe was an employee of the family’s coach building business also on Quebec Street.

Their father having given a speech on ‘Women’s Rights and How to Obtain Them’ in 1907 along with growing up in a Wakefield which saw the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies led a pilgrimage march through the city in 1913, the girls were much influenced by the politics and world views that surrounded them.

Nellie, Emily and their mother were members of the Society of Friends (also known as the Quakers), a religious movement which highlighted the importance of peace, equality and justice. Sympathetic to the cause of pacifism, on outbreak of the First World War, the society became one of the few refuges in Wakefield which welcomed the Conscientious Objectors (C.O.s) who were transferred to the city following the closing of a local work centre.

By 1918, Wakefield prison held some 125 Conscientious Objectors who at first were treated more leniently than other prisoners. They were allowed free movement within the prison itself; they could freely receive letters, packages and visitors. Some were able to take up work in Leeds and return to the prison at the end of the day and all were allowed out of the prison grounds after 5.30pm. This liberal treatment of the C.O.s was not looked upon favourably by some Wakefield citizens. People tended to view these the C.O.s as ‘idle cowards’, deserving of a more severe reprimand for avoiding the service called upon them by the government whilst others called up were fighting in the trenches. Tensions rose within the group of citizens and as a result, on 20th May 1918, a number of people decided to showcase their discontent towards the authorities and attempt to ‘rid themselves of the cowards in their midst’ by seeking direct action against the C.O.s and blocking their route back to the prison.

Nellie and Emily

Recorded attacks on Conscientious Objectors that day include one man being repeated thrown into Balne Lane Beck; numerous men having their bicycles damaged and assaults on men by the growing crowd. Nellie and Emily Staynes retaliated by going to Westgate Train Station to warn six C.O.s returning from their days work in Leeds of the danger blocking their path home. They took them instead to their house, 58 Quebec Street, where the men sought refuge in the cellars. As word spread of the men in hiding, the crowd moved in pursuit of them. The mob began to force their way through the gates and break the windows of the properties on the street to which the elder two Staynes women responded by defending their position: throwing loose tiles and mounds of earth from their roof whilst their mother Lillie threw a bucket of water at the mob after a window was broken.

The crowd eventually dispersed following the 75 year old Staynes Grandmother emerging from her home at number 56 next door with a wooden broom to defend her flower beds and recently washed flagstones from further damage and the six refugees in the cellar were unharmed. The series of events which took place on this day became known as the Siege of Quebec Street by residents and those involved and were recorded in 1947 by the Staynes Sisters’ nephew, John.

Following the end of the Great War, both Nellie and Emily went on to marry men they had sheltered during the Siege: Nellie to Fred Watson and Emily to Sydney Hines.

Nellie and Fred moved to Leicester where she became a prominent member of the local Labour Party as the secretary of the women’s section and as representative on the board of governors for the local hospital and secondary schools. She became a somewhat upstanding figure in Leicester with a reputation as a ‘battle-axe’ among members of the family.

Emily and Sidney who had married in 1924 initially moved to Birmingham where Sidney attended Fircroft College with the aid of the Quakers before the family emigrated to New Zealand on the £10 passage deal in want of a life in a single class society. They were later joined by their niece, Gwen.

The youngest sister Lillie later attended Darlington Teacher Training College and returned to teach in a number of Wakefield’s primary school including Belle Vue, Alverthorpe and Flanshaw Infants Schools. In addition she was involved in numerous Wakefield groups such as the Society of Friends, Alverthorpe Aged Welfare Committee and became chair of the Alverthorpe Community Association. She was one of the youngest women to reach the position of head teacher and was well respected by the city education committee on her retirement.

Emily was the first sister to pass away, following a long battle with breast cancer in 1941. Nellie lived until the age of 64, passing in 1957. Lillie, the youngest sister lived until the age of 83.

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