A wry view of life for the world-weary

On My Doorstep – Part Thirteen


Along the Guildford Road on the left just after the Old Guildford Road forks off it is to be found Frimhurst Family House which offers a much needed refuge for children and parents from the stresses of daily life. Laudable as the charity is, that is not the reason why the Victorian house set in its own extensive woodland and grounds comes under our spotlight. Rather it was one of the residences in the area of Ethel Smyth (1858 – 1944), the prominent suffragette and composer.

Her father, Major-General, upon promotion to the command of the royal Artillery at Aldershot, took up residence there in 1867 until his death in 1897. The property, though, first appeared on a map in 1847 and was part of the 80-acre estate of John Bimie. In its early days it housed a brewery which supplied beer to the Rose and Thistle in Frimley Green.


Ethel was the fourth of eight children and caused some consternation in the area because she was the first woman to ride a bicycle in Frimley Green, dressed in bloomers, and frequently cycled across the Hatches – a series of pools – to visit her friend, Princess Eugenie, who was in residence at Farnborough Mount. This outrageous behaviour was a portent of what was to come as we shall see in a moment.

In the 1940s Frimhurst became a rather upmarket Country Club hotel boasting a 9 hole golf course as well as tennis and croquet facilities, a snip I’m sure at two pounds and two shillings a day. The actress, Rita Hayworth, stayed there for the Ascot season, as you do. The house was bought in the 1950s by a Mrs Goodman who converted it for its charitable purposes.

Upon the death of Major-General Smyth the family upped sticks and moved to a house on the Portsmouth Road, now a Toby Carvery. Ethel lived there from 1895 to 1908 as a blue plaque at the front of the building proclaims. She studied music in Leipzig and wrote six operas as well as a Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra and a Mass in D. The Mass and her third opera, The Wreckers, were critically acclaimed on their first performance but, generally, reactions to her works were mixed. Notwithstanding that, she was made a Dame in 1922 for her contribution to music but grew increasingly deaf which made it difficult for to compose. Tragically, at a concert to celebrate her 75th birthday Ethel was so deaf she could neither hear the music nor the audience’s reaction. Ethel also published ten books, principally memoirs and polemics.


Smyth was also prominent in what we call the Suffragette movement but then was known as the Women’s Social and Political Union, suspending her musical activities for a couple of years to concentrate on promoting the movement. Her battle song, The March of the Women, was sung by suffragettes up and down the land. In 1912 she was one of 109 women who responded to Emmeline Pankhurst’s call to throw a brick through the window of any politician who opposed votes for women and received a two month sentence at Holloway prison for her pains.

By this time Ethel had moved away from the Frimley area and was living at Hook Heath near Woking. It was at her house that Emmeline Pankhurst was re-arrested on May 26th 1913 under the so-called Cat and Mouse Act which allowed hunger striking prisoners to be released when they were so weak as to be near death but then be rearrested when they had perked up.

Ethel trained as a radiographer in the First World War and was attached to a military hospital in Vichy. A remarkable character and fittingly, as a keen golfer, her ashes were scattered in the woods near Woking Golf Club.


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