A talk at Cliveden: ‘Lady (Nancy) Astor (1879-1964) and Cliveden’s political landscape’

A talk, at Cliveden, in August 2018 on ‘Lady (Nancy) Astor (1879-1964) and Cliveden’s political landscape’ to members of the volunteer research group preparing for the National Trust marking the centenary of Lady Astor’s election to parliament in 1919. The talk drew on research in 2017 in the Astor archives held in the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), University of Reading. This had detailed how Nancy Astor consciously-or unconsciously, used invitations to Cliveden to support women active in public life, as well as offering the more usual country house roles such as coping with the rocky marriage of a future Prime Minister -Harold Macmillan (later 1st Earl of Stockton, 1894-1986), and entertaining celebrities.

Some of the leading figures from the first intakes of women MPs, and campaigners for women’s rights, were guests at Cliveden including Margaret Wintringham (1879-1955), the first woman Liberal MP; the Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson (1891-1947), Irene (later Baroness) Ward (1895-1980), and Mavis Tate (1893-1947). In 1935 Tate had been instrumental with other women MPs in securing the release from detention in Germany of the wife and child of Herr Seger, the first SDP member of the Reichstag to be arrested in 1933. A less fortunate guest was Frau Dr Luders, an economist and women’s rights activist who briefly appears in the Astor archive, her fate uncertain in war-time Germany (despite Nancy Astor’s intervention). In another of those fortunate discoveries, in February I came across a 1951 document in the BBC Written Archives which  revealed that despite terrible suffering she had survived and at seventy five was an inspirational figure at post war international conferences.