Suffragette Sarah’s stipulation on Hitchin’s Smithson’s Rec could be scrapped

Steve Biggs: "If Sarah could see todays egalitarian society shed be more than happy to go with it."

Steve Biggs: "If Sarah could see todays egalitarian society shed be more than happy to go with it." - Credit: Archant

A Hitchin park at the centre of people power protests over unpopular plans for a revamp is in the spotlight again with the announcement of plans to officially change the rules over who can use it.

Smithson’s Recreation Ground near the town centre was gifted to the town in 1926 by Sarah Smithson, who a dedicated campaigner for votes for women who lived nearby.

She stipulated the use of the donated area should be limited to women, girls and boys under the age of five – reportedly the first ruling of its kind in England.

But the park, which has been managed by North Herts District Council, has been used by children of all ages for decades.

Now the council is planning a fresh public consultation about whether it should alter the original conditions.


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There has been discussion on social media about what the change might mean, with Steve Biggs from Hitchin commenting on Facebook: ‘Tough one. A simple request by the donor on one hand versus a bit of sexism on the other.’

When contacted by the Comet to expand his viewpoint, he said: “It’s great news the council is deciding whether to lift this restriction – but in reality it’s unlikely that it’s ever been enforced and many park users would be blissfully unaware of the stipulation anyway.

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“Because it’s such an unknown rule it’s probably not even worth debating.

“Times have changed, and I’m sure if Sarah could see today’s far more egalitarian society she’d be more than happy to go with the changes knowing her rule was in place for a good 90 years beforehand.”

Councillor Bernard Lovewell said: “The trustees are asking for everyone who uses the recreation ground to give their comments on changing the proposed restriction to ‘the use and enjoyment of the general public’ as opposed to just women and girls.

“Even though we are not entirely sure if this restriction has ever been enforced, we are hoping that people will have their say.”

To make your opinions heard visit www.north-herts.gov.uk and search ‘Smithson’s Recreation Ground Consultation’.

The four-week consultation period began on Tuesday.

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