Burnley Civic Trust Heritage Image Collection

A life remembered: Mary Lizzie Hedges

A trailblazer for women in public office.

Lizzie Hedges (20.9.1860-1.8.1942) -
the obituary in the Burnley Express 8th August 1942,
summed up her life of public service:

A well-known personality in Burnley social and political life for over 40 years, Mrs. Mary Lizzie Hedges, J.P., was elected to the Burnley Board of Guardians in 1904, and became its first woman chairman in 1924, when she was also appointed magistrate for the borough. She occupied practically every important position on the Board...

Mrs. Hedges was also a member and former chairman of the Central Lancashire Association for Mental Welfare. The House of Help also claimed her attention, and other societies which she served were the Burnley and District After-care Committee, the Burnley Nursing Association and the Burnley Distress Committee. She was also connected with the National Insurance Committee.

During the Great War she was an indefatigable Worker for the Red Cross and the Red Triangle.


A grocer's daughter from Lowerhouse

She was from a family of shopkeepers. Her father William Leeming was a grocer in Lowerhouse, and her mother, Elizabeth was still running Lowerhouse post office at the time of her death in 1899. Lizzie was also related by a cousin's marriage to Tom Redman, founder of the Redman grocery chain which was once such an integral part of local life.

Lizzie was the second child, but eldest daughter. She had a brother John, just a year older than her, and, eventually, seven younger siblings. She was 5 years older than the next eldest, Ellen. (There were two children who died in early infancy born between Lizzie and Ellen, hence the gap.)

In April 1876,when Lizzie was about 15, her mother gave birth to Richard, who only lived a matter of hours. The previous last child, William was still only 18 months old, and there were another five children under 11. Her brother John may also have needed care, as in 1878 he was admitted to Lancaster Lunatic Asylum, where he died in 1892 aged 33. The final child, Ernest, came along in 1879. So, instead of taking a job working outside the home, or in the grocery shop, Lizzie was perhaps kept at home to help her mother. At any rate, at the time of the 1881 census, although the next 3 girls were all employed outside the home or in the shop, Lizzie at nearly 21, was not, and was classed as a servant.

Her parents were Methodists, and involved with the local Liberal Party, Lizzie helped out in elections from being a very young child. Her mother was much in demand as a speaker at Temperance meetings where Lizzie, a soprano, would often sing.


Marriage to (Albert) Wilfred Hedges

Lizzie and her family worshipped at Salem Methodists. Around 1876, Isaac Hedges, a Primitive Methodist Minister, was appointed to the Burnley circuit. He brought with him his son, (Albert) Wilfred. who was born in 1862 in St. Austell, Cornwall and had lived in several parts of the country already, but Burnley was to be his widowed father's last appointment. Wilfred was a talented musician, and was only 16 when he became organist at Salem Methodists, and subsequently choirmaster and organist at Fulledge Methodist Chapel, a post he held for 38 years, until his death in 1934. He also became a popular piano teacher.

He and Lizzie were married by his father, at Salem, in September 1890. She was a few days short of her 30th birthday, and he a little younger, and she became a housewife, and even more involved in religious, political and social work.


Election to the Burnley Union Board of Poor Law Guardians

A seat on the Board of Guardians was an important one, the lay Guardians, guided by a professional Clerk, were responsible for supervising the workhouse, relieving the distressed and needy poor, etc., and setting the Poor Law Rate, which the ratepayers paid, not always willingly. A third of the Guardians had to stand for re-election every year, and were elected for a term of 3 years. This was an opportunity for ordinary men and women to stand for election and, by this date, there were no nominated members, they were all elected, although the Board could co-opt specialists, such as Doctors.

The election of 1904, in Burnley, was the most hotly contested ever, with 56 candidates for 15 places. Burnley was divided into East and West Wards. In the East Ward which included Lizzie's former home territory, Lowerhouse, there were 25 candidates for eight seats. Lizzie stood on behalf of the Liberals, and took the eighth seat, pushing Dan Irvine, into ninth place. Irvine was one of the retiring Guardians up for re-election, and was the most significant figure in local socialist politics. He later became Burnley's M.P. (His Monument can be seen in Burnley Cemetery.) The Liberals took all eight seats in the East Ward. They consisted of a Baptist minister, a retired weaver, a grocer, a cabinet maker, a pawnbroker, a Cotton Manufacturer, a boot and shoe dealer, and one married woman, Lizzie.

An early photo of Lizzie as a Guardian probably from around 1904 but printed in the Burnley Express 18th July 1925, when she was one of the very few on the photo who were still Guardians (or possibly even alive).

The Woman's View in a Man's World

The only other two women elected in that round, were Selina Cooper and Harriet Beanland, both representing Nelson, and both committed socialists and campaigners for Votes for Women. Lizzie was immediately placed on the Visiting and Vaccination Committees, along with Selina. Lizzie was known to be very much against socialism and it would be interesting to know how those two got on!.

Lizzie proved an efficient, diligent and competent member of the many committees she now worked on. She was one of those early female Guardians and Councillors, who were held up as proof that ordinary women were quite capable of public office - and of exercising the Vote.

"She always made sure the woman's view was voiced with vigour" and could be quite sharp with her male colleagues on committees.

Madam Chairman - no job for a woman?

In 1924 after 20 years' service, and having served the two year term as Vice-Chairman, she was proposed for election as the next Chairman of the Board of Guardians. One male Guardian opposed her election, saying it was too hard a job for a woman. When she came up for re-election for her second year, in 1925, he was happy to admit that he had been wrong. She was said to have brought wisdom and grace to her duties. She was the first, and only, female Chairman of the Burnley Board of Guardians, as the Board was disbanded in 1930 when the 1929 Local Government Act came into force.

Lizzie on her elevation, sitting in the Chairman's big chair! The two ladies on the front row would probably be Mrs. Greenwood and Mrs. Poppleton, the other two female Guardians in 1924.

She can be seen in this photo, in her capacity as Chairman of the Board of Guardians, presiding over the opening ceremony of an extension to the Nurses' home at Primrose Bank Institution (the "Workhouse") in 1925. This and two other photos from that occasion can be seen in the Lancashire Archives Red Rose Image Collection.

Upholding the Law

She became a J.P. at this time, as Guardians often did, "tempering justice with clemency but never afraid to speak her mind". She was appointed to the first Juvenile Panel when it was set up in 1933, and although described by a fellow magistrate after her death as sometimes "sentimental", she certainly stood no nonsense.


The first accident.

One evening in late December, 1928, she got off a tramcar at Elm St., and walked straight out into the path of an over-taking car. She was quite seriously injured, breaking her collar bone, and subsequently became less active in public life.

"A last red rose to Wilfred from Lizzie"

In September 1934, Wilfred Hedges, her musician husband of more than 40 years, died aged 73. They were childless. The obituary for Wilfred spoke of his "lovableness and unfailing courtesy", and his kindness and patience as a teacher. Heading the list of floral tributes was "A last red rose to Wilfred from Lizzie".

Restored by sea air!

In October 1936, she resigned from the Burnley Women's Liberal Association, who presented her with a wallet of banknotes to mark her long service (Lizzie pictured centre right receiving her gift), went on the inactive list as a magistrate and, for health reasons, went to live with her brother Ernest, proprietor of Stile House Hotel, Lyme Regis ("On High Ground, Overlooking Sea, Comfortable Rooms, Excellent Cuisine, Pleasant Gardens, Electric Light."). Lyme Regis must have done the trick, one way or another, as by Spring 1937 she was back in Burnley, active again in the Women's Liberal Association and back on the Magistrates bench, from which she only finally retired in 1941.

A significant life draws to its close

Appropriately for one who had done so much for the public good, she spent her last years living in one of the three Arnold Homes for the aged on Glen View Road, whose founder William Arnold, had also been connected to Fulledge Methodists. (Click the link to go to our page giving more information on the Arnold Homes).

At the beginning of April, 1942, she was again knocked down by a car, in St. James's St. This time she did not recover and died in hospital on August 1st, 1942, aged 81. Her funeral at her spiritual home, Fulledge Methodists, where Wilfred was organist and choirmaster for so many years, was attended by representatives of all the many public bodies and associations she had been involved with.

She shares her grave in Burnley Cemetery with Wilfred, her parents, their three children who died as babies, her tragic brother John, and other members of the extended family.