Blue plaque unveiled for Kettering women's education pioneeer 'Our Sophie'

The plaque dedicated to Sophie Green was unveiled in St Peter's Avenue

Monday, 8th March 2021, 3:20 pm
Updated Monday, 8th March 2021, 9:24 pm

A Kettering education pioneer has been honoured today to mark International Women's Day, with the first blue plaque dedicated to the memory of a woman in the town.

Sophie Green, a resident of St Peter’s Avenue and educator of women and children, was publically recognised with the commissioned memorial paid for by Central England Co-operative.

Unveiled by former mayor of Kettering Cllr Keli Watts, the plaque celebrates the Kettering pioneer of women’s education and her role in the development of the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) in the town.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

l-r Paul Ansell, Keli Watts and Marta Mayhew (Board of Directors - Centre England Co-operative)

Kettering Civic Society secretary (KCS) Monica Ozdemir has been working for a year on the project helped by the KCS member, Sushila Wright.

At the socially-distanced ceremony Monica said: "I'm pleased this day has come. It's taken a great deal of hard work to get to this day. I'm glad it's gone well. Sophie Green is the perfect woman to have this plaque and for the plaque to be unveiled on International Women's Day is most appropriate.

"The more I researched her the more I discovered that she was a very important lady."

Such was Sophie Green's popularity in Kettering she was known simply as 'Our Sophie' and the factory worker is the tenth person in Kettering remembered with a plaque.

Keli Watts with Paul Ansell (Kettering Civic Society) with Mick Scrimshaw watching on

Born in 1877, her family had moved to Cobden Street from Titchmarsh to work in the factories in the town. They later moved to St Peter's Avenue.

When she was working as a machinist in the Kettering Clothing Cooperative factory she became involved with the newly founded Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) as a student.

In 1919, Sophie was appointed as Tutor Organiser for a special WEA scheme, educating women in rural areas, a role she carried out for 20 years.

When she retired, historian of the WEA, Mr R.H.Tawney, said: “It was Sophie Green, more than any other single person who laid the foundations on which the WEA’s later achievements in the area have been built. The establishment of new branches of classes, the extension of its influence in rural districts, the development of its work among women, the close and cordial relations between it and the Cooperative and trade union movements - every side in short of the association’s activities bears the mark of her energy and wisdom.”

The plaque

Monica said: "My only sadness is that Sushila Wright died and never got to see the plaque."

Watching the ceremony were Cllr Mick Scrimshaw and his wife Shona, the current occupants of Sophie Green's house. Cllr Scrimshaw is a trustee of KCU, a charity that provides education and support for the unemployed, and his wife once worked for WEA.

Cllr Scrimshaw's long-standing Labour Party colleague and close friend Cllr Watts unveiled the plaque.

She said: "Unveiling the first plaque to honour a woman is very special. For it to be on the home of my best friend and colleague's house is extra special and for it all to happen on International Women's Day is perfect. I'm so pleased to have been asked."

Mick and Shona Scrimshaw

Central England Co-operative paid for the blue plaque supporting Kettering Civic Society's wish to honour Sophie Green and her pioneering work.

Marta Mayhew, Board Director for Central England Co-operative Society, said: "Central England Co-operative were very pleased to support the Kettering Civic Society by funding the plaque that recognises the remarkable achievements of Sophie Green.

"Sophie’s pioneering work with the WEA and her involvement with Women’s Co-operative Guilds, Young Co-operators and local Adult Schools are a powerful demonstration of the founding co-operative principle of ‘education, training and information.

"The co-operative movement has a long and proud history and association with Kettering which dates back to the formation of the Kettering Industrial Co-operative Society in 1865. Kettering Society steadily progressed from that time, expanded its number of grocery branches and other departments and following several mergers with neighbouring co-operatives, we have Central England Co-operative Society today."

The long association with the town also includes the link with Alfred Waterson who was the first Co-operative MP, elected in 1918 for the Kettering and Mid-Northants Division.

The other blue plaques in Kettering dedicated to people are William Knibb, emancipator of enslaved people in the British colonies; Thomas Cooper Gotch artist and member of the Royal Academy; J.L. Carr headteacher, novelist, publisher and artist; HE Bates, writer; Charles Wicksteed engineer and founder of Wicksteed Park; Frank Bellamy comic book artist; Sir Alfred East, artist; Tony Ireson author and a founder member of Kettering Civic Society and John Alfred Gotch, architect.