Kettering education pioneer to be first woman in town honoured with blue plaque

Sophie Green lived in St Peter's Avenue in the town

Friday, 5th March 2021, 7:00 am

A Kettering education pioneer will be honoured on International Women's Day (Monday, March 8) with the first blue plaque dedicated to the memory of a woman in the town.

Sophie Green, who lived in St Peter’s Avenue, will have her achievements recognised publically when the specially commissioned metal tribute will be unveiled by a former mayor of Kettering Keli Watts.

A pioneer of women’s education and a development of the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) such was Sophie Green's popularity in Kettering she was known simply as 'Our Sophie'.

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Sophie Green lived in St Peter's Avenue

The idea for the tenth blue plaque dedicated to a person in Kettering was the brainchild of Kettering Civic Society secretary (KCS) Monica Ozdemir and KCS member, Sushila Wright.

Monica said: "Last year we were invited to the mayor's parlour on International Women's Day by the then mayor Keli Watts.

"We were discussing the blue plaque scheme and realised that we hadn't got a blue plaque for a woman.

"I asked people our next newsletter who we should have.

The blue plaque is the first in Kettering dedicated to a woman

"Someone mentioned Sophie Green. I vaguely knew something about her because I'd been on a tour of London Road cemetery before and was told about her life by tour guide David Brown.

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

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.

The WEA, a democratic and voluntary adult education movement, was founded in 1903 and over a century later it is the UK's largest voluntary sector provider of adult education and one of Britain's biggest charities.

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.

She was also on the Board of Education and Poor Law Guardians.

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.”

When she died in 1956 the Evening Telegraph reported her death, saying she was generally known as “Our Sophie”.

Her grave is located in London Road Cemetery just behind her house and although the location of the plot is known, she has no gravestone.

Monica said: "With celebration also comes sadness, in that Sushila Wright, approached the society for a plaque for Sophie and even offered to pay for it.

"Sadly Sushila died before the plaque could be unveiled."

The plaque has been paid for by the Cooperative Society to honour the education pioneer.

By fortuitous coincidence the plaque will be attached to the family home of Labour councillor 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.

He said: "We're really pleased and proud to have Sophie Green recognised in this way.

"We've lived here for 20 years and did know about her because one day there was a knock at the door and Shona's WEA regional manager was standing there.

"He was confused to see her. He'd been doing some research about Sophie Green and had knocked the door not knowing who lived there.

"When we first learnt about her we were very proud. She did some of her first classes in our front room.

"I shall be watching the ceremony from my house as I am self-isolating."

One of Cllr Scrimshaw's long-standing Labour Party colleagues and close friend, former mayor of Kettering Keli Watts will be unveiling the plaque.

She said: "It's going to be a super special event. Unveiling the first plaque to honour a woman, on International Women's Day, on my best friend and colleague's house, it's brilliant.

"I'm very pleased that Sophie Green has finally been recognised in Kettering."

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; John Alfred Gotch, architect.