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Topical Budget 93-1: The Derby 1913 (1913)


Main image of Topical Budget 93-1: The Derby 1913 (1913)
35mm, black and white, 229 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Co.

The Derby in 1913 and the various festivities surrounding it - together with a tragedy as suffragette Emily Davison is trampled by the King's horse.

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A routine account of the 1913 Epsom Derby, one of many horse races that Topical Budget covered that year, this film inadvertently made a contribution to the history of the suffragette movement by capturing the moment when activist Emily Davison (1872-1913) was trampled by Anmer, King George V's horse, after she had invaded the track and attempted to grab its reins. Her friend Marie Richardson was with her, and described the events in her autobiography Laugh a Defiance (1953):

"A minute before the race started she raised a paper on her own or some kind of card before her eyes. I was watching her hand. It did not shake. Even when I heard the pounding of the horses' hoofs moving closer I saw she was still smiling. And suddenly she slipped under the rail and ran out into the middle of the racecourse. It was all over so quickly."

This might seem a suicidally foolish thing to do, but it was in line with similar stunts that Davison had attempted in recent years. According to Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the Women's Social and Political Union, "Emily Davison clung to her conviction that one great tragedy, the deliberate throwing into the breach of a human life, would put an end to the intolerable torture of women".

She had already been arrested and imprisoned on numerous occasions for acts ranging from petty vandalism to arson to throwing stones at David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (and future Prime Minister). There was no doubting the political motivation: the stones were wrapped in pieces of paper bearing suffragette slogans.

In prison, she took part in numerous hunger strikes, and on one occasion after resisting force-feeding, she barricaded herself in her cell. A prison officer placed a hose through the bars to force her to come out, but she seemed content to die: the cell had almost filled with water by the time the door was finally broken down. In 1911, she tried to commit suicide by flinging herself down an iron staircase, but only succeeded in injuring her spine.

She died a few days after the Derby incident without regaining consciousness. Her death was greeted with widespread public indifference, with more concern shown for the welfare of horse and jockey. However, Davison has since achieved the status that she openly sought: that of becoming the suffragette movement's first martyr.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
Complete item (3:25)
Derby, The (1895)
Derby, The (1896)
Topical Budget 876-1: The Derby 1928 (1928)
A Very Topical Year: 1913
Topical Budget: Royalty
Topical Budget: Women