“YOU could have heard a pin drop” – ruffs, robes and bicorn hats have been ruffled after two courageous women challenged a centuries old male dominated tradition in Alcester.
Kathrin Foster and Emma Randle stood up and spoke out at Alcester Town Hall as the ‘great and the good’ gathered to elect the High Bailiff of the town’s popular Court Leet at its Annual General Meeting.
Alcester’s Court Leet is one of only 22 in the country and incredibly, appears to be the only one that doesn’t allow women to vote, let alone stand, for any of its positions.
Men and women even have to sit on opposite sides of the room.
“It’s the principle of the thing we were protesting about,” said Emma.
“We live in Alcester, we love Alcester and it’s made up of men and women. The Court Leet has been likened to a club, men have their clubs, women have theirs, but it’s not a club it’s a civic duty and to preclude women from the decision making process is outrageous.”
Bizarrely two women representing more enlightened Court Leets were present for the evening – Gail Warrington, High Bailiff at Warwick Court Leet and Jo Slade, Reeve at Bromsgrove Court Leet.
“We felt that women shouldn’t be there just to make the tea and cakes,” said Kathrin.
“The steward, who represents the Marquis of Hertford, went through proceedings and then, as is tradition, asked for some male residents to stand as ‘jury men’ to vote for the bailiffs.
“Myself and Emma also stood up and the room froze; you could have heard a pin drop. The steward seemed shocked. He said he only asked for male residents and we should sit down.
“We asked to speak but were denied but Emma spoke out anyway.”
“I said we wanted a vote – we have to be up to date with everywhere else in society,” said Emma.
The chosen jury men duly went off to make their decision but on their return said the diversity of the Court Leet had to debated, albeit at a later date.
“Immediately afterwards both Gail and Jo came over to congratulate us and there were a lot of men saying ‘Here! Here!” said Kathrin.
But Emma added: “This topic has been broached before and just mere fact that it has to be debated is anachronistic.
“How is that advancing the cause of equality?”
Paul Stephens, the newly elected High Bailiff said: “What happens at the Court is a private matter. There is nothing going to be decided in the immediate future and it’s not a subject I want to discuss with the Press.”
Court Leets today are a colourful but largely ceremonial organisations that uphold a number of traditions and hold fairs and markets.