In early 2017 we started research for a film about the life and times of Ada Salter and are now producing a trailer for the film. The trailer will be used to raise funds for the film's production.
Ada Salter moved from her birth place in Raunds, Northampton, to London in 1896 when she was 29 to carry out humanitarian work. She was an impassioned Socialist Christian who on account of her pacifist convictions became a Quaker shortly after the outbreak of WW1. In 1900 she married Dr Alfred Salter. On many projects, the two worked closely together as a team. Their relationship was marked by profound affection and mutual support for each other until Ada died in 1942. Dr Salter's provision of free health care for the poor was a precursor to the National Health Service. He served as a Labour MP for West Bermondsey for over 20 years. However, Ada's accomplishments extended into realms outside the scope of her husband's work.
Supporting women in their struggle for better working conditions and political recognition
By all accounts, Ada was a gentle, graceful person who could be firm, and certainly unerring in the pursuit of her goals. She was undaunted by challenges of immense proportions. She had a deep love for nature, music and the arts. With spirited resolve, she moved to Bermondsey in 1897 to join the Bermondsey Methodist Settlement where she ran clubs and activities for poor girls and women. She went on to furthering the political emancipation of working class women.
In 1906, she a founding member of the Women's Labour League (WLL) which promoted the political representation of women in local and parliamentarian politics. She contributed to their activities until shortly before her death by which time it had become the women's section of the Labour Party. Her popularity with local people led to her being elected with a large majority onto the Bermondsey Council in 1909, making her the first female councillor in London. In 1910, she recruited women into the National Federation of Women's Workers, a union which campaigned for a minimum wage for working women. She organised food distribution for the families of the 14,000 or so women factory workers who took part in 1911 Bermondsey women's strikes and contributed tremendous effort to the organisation of the 1912 dockers' strike.
As a suffragette, Ada opposed the Women's Social and Political Union's (WSPU) violent campaigns. Unlike the WSPU, she believed in universal suffrage.
An ardent pacifist
During WW1, Ada played a key role in the No Conscription Fellowship. When the war ended, she and her husband sought to the recuperation of an estimated 30 conscientious objectors released from prison, at their farm Fairby Grange in Kent. One conscientious objector, a black man from Jamaica named Isaac Hall, they accommodated in their own Bermondsey home for nine months for him to recover from torture he had been subjected to during his two-year spell in prison. Ada had more time to devote to the COs than did Dr Salter.
Ada was also one of the founders of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. This organisation has had special consultative relations with the United Nations since 1948. It continues to work for global demilitarization, economic justice and environmental sustainability.
Upon being re-elected to the Bermondsey Council with a windfall vote in 1919, Ada set up Committees for Housing, Beautification and Women's Welfare, giving women a high profile on her teams. The committees designed and delivered bold, radical social and environmental projects of a then unprecedented scale. In 1922, Ada was elected Mayor of Bermondsey, a post which carried considerable weight at the time. She became the first woman mayor in London, and the first woman Labour Party mayor in Britain.
A garden village in the middle of Bermondsey
Enthused by the artist and philosopher John Ruskin's love of nature, Ada was an advocate of the Garden City Movement that rose to prominence in the first two decades of the 20th century. A deft negotiator, she successfully campaigned for a garden village style housing development which, carefully designed to meet working womens' needs, replaced a Bermondsey slum area in 1927. Plans to expand this undertaking met with resistance on the basis of cost and fears that displaced slum residents would migrate into neighbouring boroughs. Taking these criticisms on board, Ada redirected her energies to lobby for the creation of a green belt with garden villages to house slum dwellers.
Bringing joy and culture to the people of Bermondsey
Prioritising the wellbeing of local people, the Beautification and Women's Welfare Committees established several playgrounds in Bermondsey, opened swimming baths, women's clinics and a library. The Beautification Committee established its own orchestra and organised regular indoor and outdoor concerts for local inhabitants to enjoy.
Bermondsey in bloom
Ada was mad keen on flowers. Her garden was known as a jewel in Bermondsey. In fact, potted flowers, shoots and saplings proliferated throughout the Salters' house. She would hand them out to local people who frequently dropped by to visit.
She fought and succeeded in bringing to life her long cherished vision for transforming Bermondsey from a dreary, poverty ridden borough into one lined with trees and ablaze with the colour of flowers. Under her leadership, funds were secured and community consultations undertaken to make her dream come true. Between 1920 and 1937, her Beautification Committee planted over 9,000 trees and 40,000 flowers as well as many other plants and shrubs in Bermondsey. Inhabitants of streets too narrow for trees to be planted along them were given window boxes for planting flowers. People were encouraged to enter gardening and flower competitions, many of which Bermondsey won. The Beautification Committee's tremendous success was an unparalleled achievement which at the time won international acclaim.
Our film will look into the nature of the circumstances Ada chose to address through her work; her aims, how she went about achieving them, the women and men with whom she forged working relationships and the personal tragedies and obstacles that fastened her resolve to dedicate herself all the more thoroughly to the alleviation of poverty and environmental oppression. After her death in 1942, Ada's remarkable accomplishments were largely forgotten outside Bermondsey while those of her husband Dr Alfred Salter, which were also remarkable, were immortalised in a biography written by Fenner Brockway.
The film will unravel layers of obscuration that detached Ada's achievements from her name. It will reveal how in recent years her legacy is being rediscovered, providing a springboard for contemporary approaches to environmental conservation and initiatives to increase city inhabitants' contact with nature.