Ellen Chapman of Worthing


By Wendy Hughes

What were the ladies of Worthing like during the time of the Suffragettes?

 Were they gentle souls who accepted their lot, or were they part of the feisty brigade who did so much for women? Like all journalists met with a question I set out to discover some answers.

Ellen Chapman  was the first woman to run for election to Worthing Borough Council and in 1910 became their first woman Councillor for Broadwater and later, in 1920, became Worthing’s first female Mayor, and the first in Sussex.  She was greatly admired and respected both in the local community and further afield. Edward Arizzone described her as ‘stout, red in the face and talked nineteen to the dozen,’ and  apparently whilst enjoying an afternoon on the river told risqué stories until the tears run down her cheeks and the boats rocked with laughter.  Hardly what you expect when you look at her rather austere  photograph.


She was born Ellen Preston, daughter of Stanton and Ellen Preston in 1847 in Clerkenwell, London and was a cousin of the politician Joseph Chamberlain, father of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. From a young age Ellen, a devoted Catholic was interested in public affairs.  Although married three times, she didn’t have any children.  Her first marriage was to Harold Lees of Staybridge and took place in a Unitarian Chapel in Taunton, on April 5 1866.  Harold was a very wealthy man and by the time of the census in 1881 they were living in Pickhill Hall near Bangor in north Wales and had a number of servants. Sadly, Harold died unexpectedly in 1887 following a hunting accident, and three years later she married Lieutenant-Colonel William Oughton Giles in Sidmouth, Devon, who died in 1900.  By 1901 she was well known in the Kennel Club and travelled to America to judge, with others, the Beagles and Foxhounds category at the Rhode Island Kennel Club Show.  The following year she married Charles Higford Chapman in London, but they were only married for 7 years when he died at Port Madryn, Buenos Aires leaving her once again a widow.

Ellen had always been interested in women’s rights, particularly in the right to vote and she actively encouraged other women to improve their lot. Very soon, and at the same time she condemned the action of the militant members of the suffrage movement.

She came to Worthing after it was recommended by close friends who said it was a desirable part of Sussex in which to live.  She first moved to Findon but soon moved to Broadwater to a house called the Shrubbery in Ardsheal Road, now Worthing Fire Station and her attractive garden soon became the venue for many fundraising events for local good causes including a tennis tournament.


Brighton Suffragettes

Ellen was a great benefactor of the poor in Worthing and had also been a Poor Law guardian at the East Preston Union. She was also a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and founder and president of the Worthing Women’s Franchise Society, a branch of the NUWSS, a member of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association and the Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society and largely responsible for the Worthing Women’s Franchise Society taking a leading role in the Sussex-wide campaign for ‘Votes for Women’

When she died in 1925 of a heart attack the following tribute was made; “She was detached from everything petty, small or unworthy and, having formed her opinions at an early age on what she believed was best for her country and its constitution, she had the courage of those opinions, and fought for them through thick and thin. There is scarcely a spot in Worthing that will not seem poorer for her passing.”

I am sure you’ll agree that she did so much for the town and it was to their advantage that she chose to live in Worthing.


  • Wendy Hughes

    About Wendy Hughes Wendy Hughes turned to writing in 1989 when ill health and poor vision forced her into early medical retirement. Between then and her death in January 2019 twenty-six non-fiction books and over 1700 articles, on a variety of subjects were published. Her work appeared in magazines as diverse as The Lady, Funeral Service Journal, On the Road, 3 rd Stone, Celtic Connections, Best of British and Guiding. For many years Wendy campaigned and wrote tirelessly on behalf of people affected by Stickler Syndrome, a disorder from which she suffered. She founded the Stickler Syndrome Support Group and raised awareness of the condition amongst the medical profession and produced the group’s literature. Additionally she gave talks and instruction on the craft of writing, was membership secretary of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, and was a member of the Society of Authors. Her catalogue of History Press publications is still available.

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