photo by Granville Sharp


To celebrate women who fought for the right to vote, this month’s object is this photo of suffragist Amy Sharp, who lived in Ambleside and Skelwith Bridge in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, becoming a lynchpin for the Cumbrian movement for woman’s suffrage.

Amelia (Amy) Sharp was born in Rugby in 1856. Her father was Dr William Sharp and her mother was Emma (nee Scott). Amy was the youngest of 12 children, and one of only five Sharp siblings who lived to adulthood.

In 1879, Sharp became one of the first women in the UK to attend university when she joined Newnham College at Cambridge. She was awarded an Upper Second Class (2.1) in the Moral Sciences Tripos in 1882. However, because she was a woman, she was not granted a full bachelor’s degree until Trinity College, Dublin, awarded her a BA in 1905. It reportedly cost Sharp £1 plus expenses of £19 to obtain her degree. This would cost you almost £2434 in today’s money!

After leaving Cambridge, Sharp returned to Rugby, where she joined the local branch of the Women’s Guild, eventually becoming its president, and edited the Women’s Corner of The Cooperative News. In 1890, she became the joint Local Secretary of the Oxford University Extension Centre in Rugby, although she retired from this position and The Cooperative News in 1896.
The Sharp family knew the descendants of Thomas Arnold, the twentieth headmaster of Rugby School who famously oversaw major educational reforms there. He bought the family holiday home Fox How near Ambleside in 1832, so it is possible the Arnolds and the Sharps met each other when visited the area on family holidays. 

Sharp first fell ill with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1891 and spent six months convalescing at Tarn Foot Farm near Loughrigg tarn. It is no surprise she chose to return to this area of happy holidays and peaceful recovery in later life.
Amy and her mother Emma moved to Ambleside in 1896 after her father’s death, initially renting various local houses. Unfortunately, Emma died in 1899 before they could buy a property together, but Amy bought land near Neaum Quarry and began building her own cottage, Silverthwaite, near Skelwith Bridge. 

While Sharp lived in Silverthwaite, she became increasingly involved in the local suffrage movement. She considered herself a ‘suffragist’ rather than a ‘suffragette’, as she disapproved of violent protest. She was part of the Ambleside Liberal Women’s Association, the Vice President of the Ambleside and District Women’s Suffrage Society, and the Divisional Secretary for North Westmorland of the North West Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies. She was noted for her “pithy turn of phrase” on women’s issues in local council meetings.

As she got older, Sharp’s MS took a toll on her, and she was eventually forced to sell Silverthwaite and move to Windermere. She died at home at 4 The Terrace, Windermere in 1939. She was cremated, and her ashes were scattered at Golder’s Green, London. Her former home is now owned by the National Trust.
Amy Sharp is just one of the many amazing women whose work is in our archive, and we’re so proud her legacy here in the Lake District. We hope everyone has a fantastic International Women’s History Month, and remember:
“Deeds, not words” – Emmeline Pankhurst, 1903

  • Amy Sharp of Silverthwaite 1856-1939 by Rosemary Park, The Armitt Collection
  • National Trust
  • Cambridge University Library
  • Westmorland and Furness County Council Record Office
  • Cumberland Council Record Office
  • CPI Inflation Calculator
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