Tracing your Female Ancestors – A look at life prior to the Suffrage Movement

This is the third in a series of blog posts written by members of the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society.  We examine some of the social implications and injustices which preceded the main Suffrage Movement in the lead up to the First World War.  What additional databases and resources might be useful to us as family historians tracing our female ancestors ?

The year of 1867 was considered to be pivotal for women when a suffrage amendment was introduced to the 1867 Reform Bill by John Stuart Mills MP. It is from this point, that the suffrage movement began to gather momentum going from no known suffrage societies in 1860 to 56 known societies in 1914.  The highly public fight for women’s rights lasted many years, during which time the suffrage movement deployed a variety of tactics ranging from peaceful campaigning to military style strategies to highlight women’s social standing, lack of position in the political arena and the vote.

One of the first acts of civil disobedience and one of the most frequently deployed was tax evasion.  The inconsistency of women being required to pay their taxes even though they were not enfranchised to vote became something of a sore point for many wealthy, well-educated women who were landowners.  These women were keenly aware that the 1867 Reform Act had enfranchised a portion of urban male working class men to vote (that is to say, working class rate paying men who lived in cities) and yet still they could not. The lack of the vote for this class of women was further exacerbated when women ratepayers were granted municipal voting rights in 1869. The first recorded act of tax evasion was in 1870 when two Quaker suffragists refused to pay taxes and had their property seized by bailiffs.  Most famously in 1906 Dora Montefiore, a suffragist, refused to pay tax without representation.  She barred her house against bailiffs and was under siege for over a month.

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This image shows Clemence Houseman of the  Women’s Tax Resistance League.

Dora Montefiore proposed the formation of this organisation in 1897 which then became formally established in 1909

Image: Wikipedia

The pioneer social reformer Amelia Scott was accredited with saying “Equality is only recognised by this State when the tax-collector comes around!”  Therefore, the view that taxation and representation were inseparable became a “clarion call” to women’s suffrage.

For matters of civil disobedience such as tax evasion, look in the British Newspaper Archives or at newspapers local to the event, where details of these cases may have been reported by the press. Largely these women were not imprisoned but bailiffs would seize goods to the value of the tax owed, then the items would be sold at a series of public auctions in places like village halls, country inns or public auction rooms.  For the women who had goods seized, they were encouraged to use the event to attract as much publicity as possible for the suffrage cause. Many used these types of events as occasions to hold a protest meeting.

Family History and the use of Tax Records

Many of us will not have tax evading female ancestors to locate, however we can still find useful information in places like tax records.  The addition of information from Rate books and Tax Valuation records can provide  a more complete and accurate picture of your family. Some of these datasets will be easy to find online in places like Ancestry and Findmypast.  However, do remember to check the dates on these data sets as not all years are catered for.

What are Rate Books?

Rates were local taxes and the monies collected were used for the maintenance of churches, water supply, prisons, roads and hospitals.  Finding your ancestor listed within this datasets can be helpful as it can be used as a census substitute or to confirm information you have found on a census.  It can place your ancestor in a certain location between census enumerations.  The Rate books were arranged by street and therefore you can also find out who was living on the same street when your ancestor was there.  The Rate Books may also be useful if you are doing a ‘house history’.

Land Tax Valuation records

Land tax records are of value to genealogists because they often list both property owners and tenants, placing them in both a parish and a year.

A CASE STUDY  Esther Allpass –  Provisions Dealer

Esther’s name can be found on the Manchester Citizens’ Roll beginning in 1869.  She is obviously exercising her new found right to vote in a municipal election as a rate payer. Your female ancestors may also have voted in local municipal elections after the passing of the Municipal Franchise Act in 1869.  This act extended the municipal vote to women ratepayers on the same terms as men.  A woman’s name may appear after 1870 if she owned or occupied  a shop or business, or owned a home in her own name. However, it is useful to note that in 1872 these rights were quickly seized after the court case of Regina vs Harrold which limited voting rights to unmarried women ratepayers. It was successfully argued that women’s rights were incorporated into those of her husband’s once they were married.

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Esther Allpass on The Citizens’ Roll of the City of Manchester 1869-70

 The name ‘Esther Allpass’ also appears in the Manchester Rate Books between 1868-1883.   The earliest rate book entry she is noted as paying rates was at 50 Beswick Street, Bradford, Manchester in 1868.  This coincides nicely with the 1871 census which also denotes her living there.  She is listed as a Provisions Dealer, head of the household and married. However, there is no husband recorded.  She has her two small sons Henry (b 1856) and James (b 1858) living with her.  According to the Rate book entries she stays at 50 Beswick Road until 1874 when she then moves and is noted as paying rates on a house and shop at 75 Phillips Park Road.

The 1881 census confirms this and she is still there again listed as married, a general shop keeper and oddly instead of ‘Head’ the census reads ‘Wife’. She is living with Henry, one of her two sons but again no husband is given.  By 1891 she has clearly retired though no profession is specified.  She is now a widow and at age 63 living with her youngest son James and his family in Moss Side, Manchester.  Esther’s death entry is easy to find and we can see that she was  buried in Phillips Park Cemetery on 18 April 1900.

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1883 Rate Book – Esther Allpass  House and Shop at 75 Phillips Park Road, Bradford, Manchester

It is all very odd that on one census she claims to be a widow but on the next two census enumerations Esther is saying that she is married, but no husband is ever listed.  By looking at the Rates books I am intrigued that the entries are in her name and not in her husband’s, if he is indeed alive.

I was able to search LancsBMD marriage index to discover that she married a man called JAMES Allpass  at St Ann’s, Rainhill in 1848 near to her birth home of St Helens, Lancashire.  The marriage certificate of James Allpass and Esther Pinnington  can be viewed on and we are told they are of ‘full age’. Most importantly James’ profession is given as a ‘glass cutter’.  This unusual occupation and the fact he was born in Bristol will help us to track him through the various census enumerations.  James and Esther do appear as a couple together in 1851 however by 1861 she is alone and claims to be a widow,  her occupation is a dressmaker and she is living with her two small children Henry (b.1856) and James (b.1858).  However, a search on the 1861 census does find  James Allpass very much alive and a boarder living with a widow by the name of Rachel Jones, a Manchester glass dealer.

In 1871, I have found another census for James Allpass this time with his ‘wife’ Rachel , and three small children. After a fruitless search for the marriage between James Allpass and his new wife Rachel Jones, I have come to the conclusion that James and Esther are either estranged or James is living a bigamist life.  James and Rachel start a family together in 1864.  Their two elder children are baptised but these births are never registered.  However, their youngest child does have her birth registered.  James also appears in the Rate books and I can track him from 1861 until he dies in 1882.

After examining a variety of information including the help of the Citizen Rolls and Rate book entries we have now unearthed a family mystery and can draw a more accurate account of the life of Esther Allpass.

Useful websites:

 London, England, Land Tax Records, 1692-1932

West Yorkshire, England, Tax Valuation, 1910


Women’s Tax Resistance League

Manchester Central Library – Archives and Local History – Women’s Suffrage Collection


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