A university is in a race against time to save several tree clippings from a “lost” suffragette plantation that were discovered in their archives 60 years after the plantation was destroyed.
The Suffragette’s Retreat, also known as Annie’s Arboretum, was home to numerous suffragettes, including Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst, between 1909 and 1911 as they recuperated from prison sentences by planting trees and gardening.
Located just outside of Bath, the plantation’s 47 trees were destroyed in the 1960s to make way for a council estate.
But last summer, five clippings were retrieved from the University of East Anglia’s archives by pure chance when the writer in residence recovered them whilst rooting through storage boxes.
Justine Mann, a literary archivist at the University, said the clock is now ticking to ensure the clippings do not “turn into dust” as it is “vital that we can bring the trees to another generation”.
She said: “We want to try and freeze them in time. They are degrading every year.
“When they were first found in the box, I was quite surprised that they were just available to researchers to come and handle them as they wish. The more you handle and touch them, the more starts to break off them.
“Preserving them is very important – because this is all that’s left. If these turn to dust then it really has completely gone.”
The University is currently consulting specialists at Kew Gardens to ensure the clippings are preserved.
Previously unpublished images of the clippings, shared exclusively in the Telegraph, show clippings from the trees planted by Lady Constance Lytton and Annie Kenney in April 1909 and Christabel Pankhurst’s planted in November 1910.
The clippings have been sitting in the archives since 1994, after they were donated to the University by the family of Annie Kenney, a leading suffragette who the plantation is named after.
Commenting on the moment she first discovered the clippings, writer in residence Fiona Sinclair said: “All of a sudden, at the bottom of this box, were these small tree cuttings that had been very carefully tied to bits of card. I didn’t know anything about them.
“I started doing some research and found out about all about Annie’s Arboretum and it felt quite uncanny that the trees were gone but the cuttings were still here, hidden in the archive. I realised all of a sudden that we had to protect them and tell their story.”
The arboretum, which was named after Annie Kenney, has now “been lost to history”, Ms Sinclair said.
“I have talked to a couple of hundred people about the plantation and nobody has heard of it.
“The fact that it was created before women got the vote seems to be a symbol of their active hope. It’s even more important to remember that the trees were being planted at a time when it was not clear at all that women would go onto get the vote.
“These were women who, at the point the trees were planted, were outlaws. The trees are their legacy. They are a sign, I think, that they knew they were on the right side of history.”