ALCESTER Court Leet has once again refused to allow women to stand or even vote for its officers – despite a major protest at its annual meeting at the town hall last night (Thursday, October 7).
Both women and men wearing ‘equality’ facemasks and waving signs saying ‘Now’ stood up as the chosen men, having paid their ‘penny’ prepared to file out to cast their votes.
The protest – 100 years after some women were finally allowed to vote in general elections – sparked some angry outburst and brought Jo Slade, the female high bailiff of Bromsgrove and there as an official guest of the Court Leet, to her feet in support.
The court plays a key role in the civic life of the market town and the elections were for positions like ale tasters, bread weighers and constable.
It’s a male only tradition that’s been going for some 800 years and its steward, Steve Brown, was in no mood to allow any changes to that tradition now.
Instead he told the campaigners to take their protest to the ‘lord of the manor’ the Marquess of Hertford of Ragley Hall.
Speaking afterwards, he said: “The correct procedure was to take their protest to the Marquess of Hertford and he is adamant he does not want to change the court.”
“What we are doing is re-enacting what the court leets across the country did before they lost their powers in the 1970s.
“It’s an historical tradition.
“We do not exclude women from helping with organising events, only on the election of officers.”
However Ms Slade said traditionally the route to the lord of the manor was through the steward, and added: “For me, I think tradition can be upheld by anyone interested in doing so, in fact I believe they should encouraged and made to feel welcome.”
Protester Kathrin Foster said: “We all support the Court Leet, but other courts have moved into current times and modernised and they are still maintaining tradition.
“Just because you allow women to take part doesn’t mean you can’t maintain the tradition.”
Many women present were in support of keeping those male only traditions but there was also an undercurrent of angst over ‘incomers’ upsetting the town’s traditions.
Diane Jackson, who has lived in Alcester for 14 years sat by many of those women.
She said: “They were not quite critical, but wanted to know whether we lived in Alcester, what we contributed to Alcester which I found was quite offensive, because I do contribute to the town and I believe the Court Leet needs to be representative of both men and women.”
Kathrin Foster’s husband, Andrew, singled out the success of the town’s pandemic resilience group, four fifths of whom were women and said it wasn’t just about keeping alive a tradition.
“With the election of officers they are in a position to make key decisions in the town,” he said.
The high bailiff and the low bailiff get automatic places in five of the town’s charities and so they get voting rights on how money is spent around the town.”
As the meeting closed a conciliatory note was struck by High Bailiff David Henderson, himself a Scot and an ‘incomer’. He said: “A big thank you to everyone who turned out tonight, and I mean everyone.
“I recognise that you have rights like all of us.
“Don’t take that the wrong way, I’m not taking any sides here, but it’s been quite hard work getting a full court together and I really look forward to working with my new court in the year ahead.”
Steven Brown, also an incomer who has also left to live in Wales and had returned to preside over the elections, is standing down as steward.
A petition has been launched supporting the protesters. To sign it, click: here